Bois and Grrls

Genderqueer: Straight or gay, these kids refuse to play dress-up by the rules

San Jose, 2006: Three men in their mid-20s are sentenced for strangling transgender teen Edward "Gwen" Araujo in 2002. Two of the men had had sex with Araujo on multiple occasions before discovering his true sex.

Araujo's case is not unique, in that many of the victims listed on GenderPAC's site engaged in risky behavior. Many did not inform sexual partners of their true sex. Others prostituted themselves.

"A lot of young people lack most fundamental rights when it comes to their gender, which mainly, you know, is the rights to self-expression and security of person," says Sam Sewell, GenderPAC's Youth Network coordinator.

Naomi Toledo jokingly calls herself a gay man trapped in a lesbian's body.
Dan Kramer
Naomi Toledo jokingly calls herself a gay man trapped in a lesbian's body.

She adds, "Many students don't believe their schools are safe if they...are gender-nonconforming. It is a gay and lesbian issue, but it's also a very straight issue...Because gender affects everybody. It's just this huge spectrum, and we're constantly caught up in this binary construct of male versus female, and you have to be in that category."

GenderPAC's Youth Network program has chapters on college campuses in 24 states. (Sewell says the University of Houston has a chapter; however, it doesn't seem to be a particularly effective one: Sewell had difficulty contacting members and could not make them available for interviews.)

She says the Youth Network has persuaded 50 universities to add gender identity and/or gender expression to their nondiscrimination and EEO policies. The network also has a high school outreach program.

That high school and college outreach probably would've benefited people like Toledo or her friend Monique Jamail.

Like Toledo, Jamail came out twice. She was 14 when she told her family she was a lesbian. She graduated from high school in Houston in 1999 and moved to Austin, where she still lives. Shortly afterward, she had a feeling something was missing. She felt disconnected from her body, but she kept the feeling at bay until about a year ago.

"It's almost like when you can't stand things anymore," the 25-year-old says. "It kind of hits you like a brick, and you're just like, OK, you have to do something about it."

Like Toledo, Jamail has a delicate, feminine face punctuated by piercings and a shaved head. Of her many tattoos, the most special might be the kissing seahorses on her stomach. Seahorses are bona fide genderfuckers. The males give birth. Jamail is also quick to point out that they mate for life.

Jamail's biggest concern is the space above the seahorses. She hates her breasts. If she weren't a large C-cup, she says, she'd probably bind them. Toward the end of her last relationship, she couldn't even enjoy sex because of the damn things.

"I don't want them," she says. "They're in my way. I look at my profile in the mirror and I go, 'That's not right!'...After a while, you're just like, 'God, just give me scissors, I can't stand them anymore!'"

Jamail plans to have breast removal surgery in a year. But she doesn't want to be called a man. Right now, the only thing she wants to be is comfortable in her own skin.

"It's kind of funny to say 'who I am,' because really on the outside, it's just your shell," she says. "It's not really who you are on the inside. But the hardest part is trying to say, 'This is what I need on the outside to feel like who I am on the inside.' And that's really what it's all about."

She grew up playing with GI Joe and wearing her brother's hand-me-down jeans. The last time she wore a dress (outside of an S&M ball) was at her sister's wedding. She was the maid of honor; her sister picked the dress. Jamail at first refused to wear it, and the two eventually compromised. Jamail got to wear a sleeveless and backless gown so she could show her tattoos. She swapped heels for Doc Martens.

"I think I'm feminine, but that doesn't make me a woman, because there are feminine men," she says. "But I don't really see myself having the genitalia of a man. I mean, it's still kind of in question, but it's not one of those things--'Oh, I know I'm definitely meant to have that.' It's not like that with me; it's still so up in the air."

Strong inside but you don't know it

Good little girls they never show it

When you open up your mouth to speak

Could you be a little weak? --Madonna

Being up in the air is one of the benefits of being genderqueer.

Transgender writer and activist Kate Bornstein says she never had that option. Born Albert Bornstein, she never felt like a man. She says doctors told her that sexual reassignment surgery would probably solve that. So, in 1986, she went under the knife. She spent the next few years contemplating suicide.

The problem was, she wasn't sure if she felt like a woman, either.

"There was no room for neither/nor," she says from New Jersey, where she was scheduled to give a talk at Yale. When her doctors recommended surgery, "I bought it hook, line and sinker, and they put me on this medical cattle-trough down toward surgery. No choice, you know. You either stayed the way you were or you got everything modified."

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