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Turning Off Gender Code Switching

I use to step into an unfamiliar space and instantly begin to read the room, “Who’s here?” My behavior would reflect the vibe of the space. I came out in a small city in Alabama, a community where in order to attract a prospective partner one had to present on the opposite side of the spectrum from the individual. This wasn’t assumed it was felt. In fact, it was spoken. I knew not to dance to “Rude Boy” - by Rihanna, a favorite of mine at the time. Showing too much femininity as a masculine presenting person was a turn off. We acted like peacocks with masculinity and the one who put on the best show would have their pick. I was the weakest link. I was often labeled as a “stem”, a term that still makes my skin crawl and my face scrunch. When you’re placed in this grey area, in a place that’s black or white, no one knows how to respond.

Code-switching is inheirant in the Black community when going from being amongst each other and interacting with the rest of America. I began to do this with my gender. I wanted my straight friends and family to be comfortable around me. I grew accustom to this behavior from being the only Black person in a room, the only queer person, the only masculine presenting person, the only. Therefore, it was easy to become accustom to doing so in queer spaces as well. I wanted new partners to see me as masculine initially. Now I have a distaste when I find myself compromising my gender identity.

After moving to Chicago, where gender expression was more fluid, I still behaved the same. I was not aware of code-switching my gender until I would hear my voice as high as the ceiling in cis-het spaces, or catch myself sitting with the “studs” against the wall with my legs gaped in Black queer environments. Either way, a part of me would be compromised to please my surroundings. I still wasn’t successful in dating. The folks I dated were always left confused when I expressed femininity and more that not would express their discomfort with my sudden change in behavior. I felt I hadn’t left Alabama and the heteronormative behavior of the southern Black queer community.

Either way, a part of me would be compromised to please my surroundings.

I’m always aware of how I present. If it’s not my Blackness, it’s my queerness, to how my “womanhood” fits into my role in society. It’s in queer spaces, when I’m aware of the level of “femininity” I display. When the masculine of center folks question my validity in my presentation due to my lack of masculine qualities. There’s this unspoken question of “what are they?” The confusion I am meant to answer before folks proceed with their interactions with me. I see it in how they interact with others who don’t fit the mold of gender binaries.

As I grew into myself over time, I learned I was never meant to fit the limiting boxes of gender. I remember the moments I found the words genderqueer and androgynous. I didn’t see my reflection in images but I felt it. Although it was still difficult navigating spaces within the Black queer community, I released my habit of trying to be something I was not to attract someone. Honestly, do you want someone who has a limited view of who you are because you’re hiding?

There are times when folks attempted to make me feel like I am not enough. Still to this day, the folks stuck in heteronormativity creep their way in through cracked doors. They can’t stay for long because I refuse to allow anyone to change my view of self. Being femme and masculine presenting is a space I hold everyday. I navigate spaces within my duality and not without. I no longer switch or perform for anyone’s comfort or attention.

Photo by Ally Almore

Over the past few years, I’ve been celebrated more and more for who I am. I found love in being myself. Which made me realize it was never that I wasn’t masculine enough, it was that I wasn’t confident enough in my femininity and the duality of my existence. The masculine presenting folks in Alabama weren’t putting on a show, I was. They were being themselves. It was a show to me because I was the one performing. Seeking love and validation instead of being myself. People have preferences. They will always exist. They are valid in what they want in a partner and I’m not hurt by anyone’s decision to no longer date me if I’m too feminine in behavior. I no longer gender code-switch. I’m the same at work, at home, at the club, and at the coffee shop where I’m writing this piece.

It’s not easy. The world doesn’t always understand nor do they accept. But when they do, the gates open and an outrageous amount of love pours through. I started this blog because I felt that love. I felt it from myself and from you. I hold my femininity close to my heart. I protect it because that’s how I express myself. I am a boi and I am femme.

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