Opening Words from Sun. June 9 by Kathryn Bellrose

My name is Kathryn Bellrose and my pronouns are he/she/they and today I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about what that means.

As far back as I can remember, what I was told about being a girl bumped up against my experience of being myself. I did not appreciate being told all the things I had to do or could not do because I was a girl. Early in elementary school, I verbalized that I did not like being a girl. More specifically, I asserted that I was NOT a girl, I was a boy. I know this distressed the adults in my life. They really wanted me to stop proclaiming myself a boy, and while I did stop saying it, I did not stop feeling frustrated. As I imagine is true for many of us here, when I was a kid, I didn’t have access to language around gender beyond “girl” and “boy,” and I was confused by gender rules that seemed so obviously arbitrary. So absurd. I didn’t necessarily want to change my body, nor did I feel uncomfortable in it, but if anything that left me more confused and unsure of how to express my objections to the gender I had been assigned as I got older. After all, at least I knew what being trans meant. That was an identity. That was SOMETHING. And I was … eh?

The world has changed a great deal since then, and we have more and better language and awareness around the diversity of gender expression and experiences; thanks in large part to the internet and social media, people like me — who previously felt out of step with most people’s experience of gender— can finally find a sense of shared experience. And one of the great gifts of the internet — and language in general — is that it enables us to share our lived experience with each other. For a long time, I kept my feelings and sense of identity fairly private. Thanks to the privilege of being able to pass, I could be selectively out as both gender queer and bisexual. I was out to just friend groups, but not to my family, not out at work. Somehow it didn’t feel like I had a right to be my full self. Like it would be too much trouble to bring it up. But then it occurred to me, that if I had had access to stories like mine when I was younger, it could have saved me a lot of stress and confusion knowing someone else shared my experiences, which is why I decided I wanted formally and publicly come out to you all today.

For me, gender has always felt like a costume. Do you remember how much fun it was to pick out a Halloween costume when you were a kid? Maybe you had a specific vision of what you wanted to look like, and who you wanted to be for Halloween. Maybe you had an adult who helped you craft your vision, or maybe you worked hard to create it yourself. Regardless, when the big night came, it was always exciting to put on your costume, show it off, play at being a vampire or a witch or your favorite super hero for a night. But some costumes are more comfortable than others. Some are flimsy, some are itchy. If it’s hot, by the end of the night your make up might feel a little gross. Or, since this is Missouri, maybe it snowed on Halloween and your feet are wet and cold.

So while it was exciting, sometimes it was also a relief to shed that costume and start over, looking forward to what you want to look like next. That is what gender feels like for me — something that can be put on and taken off or set aside and ignored completely for a while. And it still feels frustrating when I think I am very obviously a pirate and someone assumes I am a princess, but at least now I know what I’m about and who I want to be.

So this is who I am: my name is Kathryn and I am gender queer. For me, that means I do not feel fully tied to either a male or female identity, but put on and take off what feels right at the time. Most of the time, like 95%, that trends masculine, but wearing sundresses with pockets is just the most fun, and I have great respect and appreciation for the camaraderie in a bathroom full of drunk women. So here I am somewhere in between. And maybe in the future we will have even clearer language or new terms for me to be able to share my experience with you. But for today, my pronouns are, in order of my preference, he, she, and they, and you are welcome to use any or all of them to refer to me. Thanks for listening, and happy Pride, ya’ll.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.