My name is Eli. I’m from Austin, Texas.
As my mother was nearing the end of an incredibly short labor, especially considering that I was her first child, the doctor, the delivering surgeon, poked his little head up over the blue curtain that they’d put up on her belly. As he pulled my little legs on out, he said, “Well, Susie, I don’t know about the rest of it, but this part’s a girl.”
My parents then named me and it’s a name that I keep, even though it is not the name that I use, for fantastic etymological serendipity. They named me Elizabeth Marie. Elizabeth means “word of God,” “oath of God,” “commandment of God,” “promise of God,” right? All these things that God is going to do. Marie is frequently interpreted as tempestuous ocean but can also mean rebellion, so, albeit unintentionally, my parents did name me “God-sent rebellion.” That’s a fact that I carry with me every single day.
That God-sent or that God-mandated rebelliousness continued to exhibit itself throughout the rest of my life and I quickly apparently became “not like other girls.” So it became very apparent very quickly that I was weird, that I was a weirdo, right? And the question always was what type of weirdo am I? Am I the type of weirdo that we can talk about being weird? Or am I the type of weirdo whose weirdness we all know shouldn’t be called weird because that’s rude?
And then things sort of came to a head at the end of my time in college. I had been dating this nice girl. We’re having a great time. We’d had just a really nice, like, solid afternoon and evening together. We’d made some snacks, watched a movie, made and eaten dinner. It was great, right?
And so we’re having a conversation and I finally decided to tell her, “Hey, you know, I’ve really been keenly interested in this idea of top surgery and I’ve been reading about it and I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking about it.” And she just, very nonchalantly, very casually, issued the ultimatum that if I pursued or got top surgery, that our dating relationship would be over.
I laughed it off in the moment: “I don’t have the money for that!” That smoothed things over for that moment. I didn’t break up with her as I impulsively wanted to do because I hate an ultimatum. But I could never quite trust her the same way after that. Eventually that decline in trust led to a decline in the relationship and we stopped dating, which was for the better.
About 15 months after that, still struck by her reaction to my telling her about my interest in top surgery and also her reaction to my reaction, I thought, perhaps, you know, maybe there’s something to this and so I decided to try he/him pronouns for a brief time. I had a robust social circle outside of college.
I asked them all, “Hey, use he/him pronouns for me. I’ll check back in with you six weeks from now. We’ll see how it’s going.” I made it 1.5 weeks out of six. And the immense, immense wrongness of those pronouns used for me immediately just brought me right back to, you know, maybe this non-binary thing. And so I circle back around to my friends and they’re all very gracious, very gracious, gender – gender allies, gender explorers themselves, were all absolutely onboard. “Let’s use they/them for them.” I reset my 6-week timer. All right, let’s go. And I never noticed that six weeks coming or going.
I ended up using they/them pronouns and also eventually ended up getting that top surgery that would have ended that relationship that ended anyway. But I only did so after I was certain that I could manage the financial and, like, logistical aspects about myself without the intervention of my parents. I also waited until I was certain that I was willing to tell my parents that I was going to have that surgery.
Once I was absolutely ready to have the conversation with my parents, I’d prepared for the worst and hoped for the best and they delivered right in between. They took it well and understood that this was the thing that was going to happen even if it’s not the thing that they would have chosen to happen. And it turns out that that God-sent rebellion had come home to roost and we all had to make peace with the fact that I am non-binary, I am an NB, and move forward from there. Fortunately, they were able to get on board we’ve all moved forward together. It’s was a beautiful bookend on the bookshelf of the volumes between my birth and their naming of me and this moment and all of those experiences in between in which we didn’t yet have that name for my weirdness.
Everybody has things that they feel weird about and if gender is one of those things that you’re feeling like you might be kind of weird about, there’s no – there’s no shame in sitting with that weirdness. There’s no shame in working through that weirdness. Only benefits await delving into that and looking into that. But denying that sentiment of weirdness, denying the fact that you feel weird, or trying to cover it up or trying to wish it away, will never benefit anyone, most especially not yourself.