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My life without gender: ‘Strangers are desperate to know what genitalia I have’

My life without gender: ‘Strangers are desperate to know what genitalia I have’

I spent weeks struggling to pull my eyes away from her and, every afternoon, would spend hours Googling my way into my sexuality: I think I like a girl

Raised a girl, became a boy, and now? From navigating public bathrooms, to choosing what to wear, Tyler Ford on living as a genderless person

T his morning, I got out of bed, put on a yellow vinyl miniskirt with a tight black-and-white striped crop top and posted a picture of myself on Instagram. I often post selfies online and today the comments range from “Slay, Tyler!” to “WTF! Is this a boy or a girl?” to “rehab would be the solution”.

Am I gay?

Later, on the street, a man standing two feet behind me yells, “ Damn, I wanna smack that ass! You look so good!” I don’t respond. I am a poet who sings, and later, after a performance, a 60-year-old hugs me and tells me how wonderful I am. But on the train home, the people sitting opposite whisper about me, trying surreptitiously to take pictures of me on their iPhones.

Five years before actor Laverne Cox became a household name, five years before Miley Cyrus said, “I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl” and five years before Caitlyn Jenner would share her transition with the world, I came across the term “transgender” for the first time. I was 20 years old and attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee – if it is possible to “attend” when you are depressed to the point of not being able to get out of bed. I happened to discover a YouTube video of a trans man documenting his first year on testosterone. When I shared the video with some of my close friends, they mostly replied, “Oh, wow, that’s cool.” I didn’t know how to tell them what I was screaming internally: “This might be me!”

I was brought up in Florida, the only daughter of a single mother, who was always working to support us. I spent 11 hours a day in school and, during holidays, at summer and winter camp. I was very solitary – the quiet, sple to others – so I had plenty of time and freedom to experiment with my clothes and my identity.

At 17, I was sitting in a psychology class when I found myself admiring a girl in the corner of the room. Over the next two years I voraciously watched The L Word and South Of Nowhere (both dramas that centre around lesbian characters), trying to work out where I fitted in. I read autostraddle – an entertainment/news website and community resource for “girl-on-girl culture” – and was part of an LGBTQ messageboard, but I knew something was wrong. Instead of feeling relief upon discovering that I was what other people would call a lesbian, I felt guilt, as though I were an impostor. I knew I was not like the girl I admired from the back of the classroom. I was not like any girl I had ever known. I did not know any more than this.

As time went on, I attempted to embrace the Data de CharmDate word “lesbian”, but it wriggled away uncomfortably. I didn’t know how to embody sexuality like the girls I attempted to identify with on television. I wondered if I needed to have sex with a girl to finally feel like a lesbian, but the idea of having sex with anyone felt so distant from my everyday desires that I was not sure how to, or if I even wanted to. Every day was more isolating than the last. Where could I find a place to exist if I didn’t even feel at home within myself?

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