Are You a Boy or a Girl?
The Development of One Person's Gender Identity
Names and places have been changed for anonymity, but this is a true story.
I grew up in the rural parts of Virginia. Living in rural counties, there’s lots of mud, country music, trucks, and guns. In areas like that, despite having a very strong sense of traditional gender roles, like your stereotypical pink for girls and camo for boys, there was a large overlap in those categories. Girls could hunt, but their guns were mostly pink cameo as opposed to the normal colors the boys would have. Boys would come to school in their full regalia of hunting gear, but so would the girls. Girls could be strong and drive trucks as long as they were good at it. Even then, they were expected to have a girly side. To have pink clothes and long hair down to their but. To want a boyfriend and wear dresses, even if they were going to out into the woods every weekend.
I was one of the girls who liked acting like the boys. I liked bugs and getting dirty and being a little violent. I didn’t like pink or dresses. I didn’t want a boyfriend, I just wanted boys who were friends. They called me a tomboy, even though I never really felt like that fit. Some days, it didn’t matter that much. I’d rather be a tomboy than a girl. I’d want to be thought of as "just one of the guys." Other days, I’d want to be acknowledged as a girl. I’d want someone to call me pretty and invite to their princess themed birthday party. Most days, I was somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t really feeling like a girl, so I’d avoid the other girls, but I also wasn’t really feeling very tomboy-ish, so I’d pull out a book and hide where the other kids couldn’t find me. I’d feel out of place and unsure of who, or, more accurately, what I was.
Band started to change that insecurity. When I started band, I chose the biggest instrument I could start on, the trombone, because I didn’t want to be "like other girls" with their flutes and clarinets and saxophones. I had never seen a female low brass player, so that was what I wanted to do. I thought that if I had to be a girl, I’d be the strangest girl you’d ever meet. I wanted to be different, but I also wanted to fit in. I wanted to be in a place where it didn’t feel like I was excluded. In band, I could do that. Even though I still struggled with how I wanted to be seen, I had band. I had music and art. I didn’t need to be girly or boyish. I just needed to be me.
When I got to middle school, I would be around boys most of the time, because the brass section was mostly boys. And I’d do stuff with them that got me permanently branded as a tomboy, despite my protests. I started trying to be ambiguous, though, I probably wouldn’t have used that term. I just wanted people to stop calling me stuff I wasn’t, like tomboy, so I gave them other things to call me like "Goth," "know-it-all," "band geek," or "Trombone girl." It was also around this time when I started thinking about my name. Growing up, my name was Lilliana Anne Grace, but I went by Lily. I liked it. It fit me pretty well… for a while. But when I got to middle school, it wasn’t starting to feel distant. It was me, or it had been, but it wasn’t really me anymore. Around this time I also got really interested in writing, and the name "Lily" definitely didn’t seem right for a writer. So, in eighth grade, I join a website for amateur writers under the name Alex Cutter. It was better for writing to have a catchy name like that, and, besides, I liked it.
By the time I’d gotten to high school, I’d mostly shunted the "tomboy" label in exchange for band geek. I was fully immersed in every part of the band that I could, and, while I was in the band room, I wasn’t a boy or girl. I was a trombone. That’s how they called us. We were given numbers to go with our instruments. Some people had titles, but when the director called for us, it was by instrument. Gender wasn’t an issue in the band marching, pep, or concert. That was great. It gave me a place to belong. It gave me a sense of identity. It also gave me an excuse to ignore the issues I was having with how people thought of me. Issues where it frustrated me if I was grouped with the girls in class, or it annoyed me when I was mistaken for a boy at a band competition, or my own name felt out of place to me. I didn’t deal with it, because I didn’t have to. I was a trombone. I had an identity. I didn’t need to look for a new one.
When I got to college, I lost the protective shell of band. I wasn’t really in any of the bands on campus so I didn’t feel like a trombone player anymore. I still played and practiced, but it wasn’t life-consuming like it had been in high school. I struggled more with my name, and I found myself going back to that writing website, just to stare at my page, and read my bio over and over. By the end of my first semester, I was starting to get those same feelings of not fitting in. I wasn’t a boy, so I wasn’t able to fully be included in some things that I probably would’ve liked. I didn’t feel like a girl, so I skipped things I would’ve enjoyed because I had this sense that I wouldn’t belong. I couldn’t find a place, an identity that really fit me.
By the end of my second semester, I was starting to understand a little bit better. It wasn’t that I never fit into a female identity. I was that I only fit into it sometimes. Over the summer, I researched every gender identity I could, looking at terms over and over again. Trying to find the one that fit me. I realized, fairly early on in my discernment, that Rebekah Lynne is not a gender neutral name. More importantly, it didn’t feel like my name anymore. I went back to that website, filled with my poems and stories from high school and middle school. There at the top of the page was the name Alex Cutter. That was good. Well, it was better, but it wasn’t quite right, and I wasn’t ready to tell anyone yet. As my third semester started, I thought more and more about my name. Eventually, I settled on Alexandra Grace Cutter. Alex for short. The first time I told someone my name and heard them say it back, my heart skipped a beat.
That was me. That was my name. Now, if only I could figure out how I identified. When I first changed my name, I was just placing myself under the non-binary umbrella, but, just like tomboy, it didn’t feel right. I kept looking for different terms, and there were plenty to look at, but none of them seemed to fit right. Finally, I found the term genderfluid. When I first saw it, I wasn’t actually looking for it, I was reading an article on gender identities and it was listed at the very bottom. I saw the word and something clicked. Like the metaphoric light bulb turning on. That seemed right. I looked for more information and, with everything I found, I was more and more certain that this was me. The reason that some days I didn’t mind being grouped in with the boys is because some days I am a boy. The reason that some days I liked being recognized as a girl is because some days I am a girl. Those days where I didn’t care, I was both or neither.
My name is Alex Grace Cutter. I am Genderfluid. I am me.