My name is Renee and I grew up in Herndon, Virginia. When I was in middle school and early high school I was a pretty big tomboy. My mom was pretty cool with that actually, I was pretty lucky, she just kind of let me be. She kind of figured I wasn’t her pink and purple girl, “Renee is going to do what Renee is going to do.”
And I was a part of a youth group at the time, it was an all-girls youth group, and I was selected from this youth group to represent them at this pageant. And at this pageant I had to wear a formal gown. And so my fifteen-year-old self decided that to wear this formal gown, I was going to wear it with a fedora and a tie and elbow length gloves. It was my way of asserting some kind of like gender mixing. If I have to wear this formal gown, this is what I’m going to do and this is how I’m going to do it as me.
So over the course of the weekend, we had some down time and this mom decided to take it upon herself to kind of fix my gender. She was the epitome of J. Crew mom, she was always so neat and put together and had this perfect little brown bob cut. She took me in her minivan, because of course she drove a minivan, and we went to The Gap and she took me pants shopping to find more appropriate girly pants. I was kind of trapped because I couldn’t really leave, she was my ride and I couldn’t leave until I got this pair or real girl pants and she was looking at me with this desperation in her perfect eyeliner trying to get me to buy these real girl pants that she thought would save me from something. So I found some tight flare-leg jeans, and I was like, “Fine” and we left. I think she really did want to do right by me but all I could remember in that moment was my ears getting hot and my stomach was in my throat and I just wanted to cry. That moment was the first time I was really consciously aware of someone actively policing my gender. And this little tomboy kind of felt like they needed to go back in the closet.
So in college I was really fortunate and got really involved with the LGBTQ community and it’s funny because especially towards the end of college I started to do a lot more research, particularly around the trans community and I had a professor say to me once, “Oh, well, research is me search” and I sort of rolled my eyes at her.
It wasn’t until my second year internship that someone in my workplace came out as genderqueer. And they asserted that they were going to change their name, that they would be regarded as “they”, “them”, and “their” for their pronouns and that this is the situation and this is how they were going to be respected. And for the first time I had a role model to show me what was possible, how I could integrate something that maybe I wanted or had thought about into my whole life.
Finally by the end of that year I went up to my supervisor in my end-of-the-year evaluation and I was like, “You know, so this is what’s going on with my gender and I just want to be referred to in my end-of-the-year evaluation by my name and no pronouns. And I don’t really know what I’m going but that’s where I’m at right now.” And I was lucky because he was wonderful and very okay with it and I decided that when I started my career, that’s what I was going to do was be my whole self.
It’s really hard to tease apart what you genuinely enjoy versus what everyone else is telling you that you want. If it makes you happy, if it makes your heart warm and fuzzy, if it’s what you genuinely enjoy, if you want to wear a bowtie and paint your nails, do it. If it’s not hurting anyone, if it makes you feel good, if it makes you feel beautiful, then feel beautiful.