“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
I’ve started and stopped this post about ten times now. Not because I’m afraid or worried about what people will think or say. Mostly because once I settled into the reality of me, I ceased giving a shit about what people thought about who I was or what I was.
Then something came up very recently and I thought; Well, I should put something out there.
I’m going to be writing this from a purely personal voice. Nothing professional about it. The time is right for me to talk about this because it’s Pride Month and well, a neutral time for me. And it kind of saddens me that I have to lay this out with those factors in mind but it is what it is and people are who they are.
Just like I am who I am.
So, in the spirit of Pride Month and coming out, I would like to tell all of you I am agender.
I know, right? Birds didn’t fall from the sky, the erupting volcano down the street from my mom’s house is still going at it and my dog still eats cat shit out of the litter box.
So let me back this ramen cart up a bit and talk about why I’m sharing this.
A little bit is because I’m irritated (mostly at myself) but I’ll get into that later.
Anger is one of the most stupidest of reasons to be talking about this because honestly, I’ve always known I’m not a girl or a boy. I’ve just never given a shit once I settled there. I’ve always been a mix. And not the social construct of gender identity but rather the sheer lack of identifying with either one. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m not much of a joiner of things. I’m so much of a non-joiner, I opted out of a gender.
I’ve never felt like a girl or a boy. And I struggled with that. I’ve struggled the fuck out of that. I’ve explored being more femme and trying to see if I wasn’t really a guy. I tried male on. It didn’t fit. Neither did female. There were a lot of identity things that caused a lot of confusion, heartache, rage, loneliness and most of all, disassociation from society and people.
At the end of it all, I realized one very significant thing… it just didn’t fucking matter.
I’m not in this life to fight about who or what I am. Shit, I’m barely holding onto my sanity and my willingness to BE in this life, what other people think about the state of my soul and how I fall on some gender spectrum is literally the last thing I’m going to be concerned about.
So… agender. Yeah that fits. Because I’ve never been one or the other but rather a mixture of both, depending on my mood and what I feel like doing.
For those playing at home:
adjective: agender; adjective: a-gender
- denoting or relating to a person who does not identify themselves as having a particular gender.
“one of the mistakes is the presumption that an agender person must also be asexual”
But see, that doesn’t define me. I know. People say that shit all the time. It kind of defines a bit of you but truthfully, it’s not like I wake up every morning and chant in the mirror.
You are left-handed,
You are agender,
You are a cultural and ethnic mutt.
So why irritation or anger? Well not all of it is anger. Some of it is the realization I should share because much like writing people of colour, if I don’t write or share about my experiences or truths, how will someone who has that path ahead of them find some of the stones they need to lay down? It’s like the first time you discover your hair isn’t “wrong or broken” but something genetic and there are things you can do with it… things that are different from what media portrays. Or when you discover there are other people who can feel the push of others’ physical presence against their bodies even though they’re not touching you. To have someone’s existence echo into you. Or to learn other people are overwhelmed to the point of breaking just from social interaction?
Or that the colour red or green really looks different to the rest of the world.
You’re not going to know snow exists unless you hear about or see it. The world is a huge, vast mysterious place with an infinity of experiences only available to us if we talk about them. Even if I don’t choose to fall into a group of people going in one direction, I still want to know them, hear them. I am eager to hear about their lives and what brings them to that space. My world grows bigger with each word, with each drop of awareness I am given. And I love that about my existence, that I can go places I never will go through the others’ words.
I’m a writer in a rainbow genre and my physical form is female which sometimes makes it hard to deal with some of the crap attached to that. I’ve had no control over my body’s default setting and honestly, it’s an okay form. Gets me from point A to B. Does it shape and define me? Sometimes. Mostly when I run up against people for whom having a vagina DOES define a person and I’m left bemused and sometimes irritated that there’s a box they want to put me in.
Because if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not one for boxes.
Fuck you usually rolls off my tongue at that point. It’s my default for a lot of things, especially when someone tries to minimize me.
So… over the past few years I’ve taken a lot of shit from people about being female and writing gay protagonists. I’ve gotten emails from men telling me I shouldn’t be writing what I write. I’ve seen raging posts about women writing in the M/M genre, and I’ve seen some of my peers jump in on that bandwagon and say… “YEAH, WOMEN SUCK! They have no room or space here!” I’ve been told to my face I’m not good enough, not male enough, to be here because of a piece of flesh or the bizarre belief some have about women not having or enjoying anal so they can’t write about it.1
I’ve been told I can’t write Asian protagonists because I obviously have never met one. Or that I write too florid for consumption. That I should be driven out of the genre because I’m too old / old school to write. Or too weird. Or too…whatever
It amuses me to be told I can’t be here.
It angers me to hear anyone be told they cannot be here.
Because I’ve always felt passionately everyone should be here, regardless of their own gender or what turns them on. Or if nothing turns them on. Or if everyone does.
We all have our own unique perspectives and voices. Everyone brings something different to the table. We should welcome everyone and guide those who might get something wrong. Even if they get it horribly wrong and hopefully they listen and adjust accordingly. If not, that’s on them and not on us. We can only go forward and hope others catch up…and serve as examples of decent human beings along the way.
I’ve never spoken up about how male I am. Or female for that matter. And I had no intention of doing so because well, it didn’t matter and it’s not like I’m invested in people’s negative opinions.
Then during this past LA Times Book Festival, a man came into the booth looking for a book by Rhys Ford because he was told he should read one. And he was onboard, until he saw I was female. He picked up Rebel, read a bit of it, said oh this is well-written, then left without buying a book. Not one of mine. Not anyone else’s either.
I could be projecting but my gut tells me I’m not. If I’m wrong, then many apologies for my leaping to conclusions but it was… that kind of uncomfortable.
Now he didn’t come out and say… well, fuck that’s a chick, Hell No and I’m out of here but it was fairly clear. Body language, the simmering tenseness in his body and well, the general fuck-this-shit kind of vibe.
And when he left, everyone around me made sure to tell me it was okay. My gender was his problem, not mine. And it was. But not for the reasons they think.
I could have given him a couple of hours of entertainment if he’d wanted it but he chose to walk away from a book he may have loved (or hated) because of the flesh I was born into. A book I’d written from my oddly-gendered perspective. Because as I’ve said in the past, I don’t write with my vagina and my life experiences are not shaped by some female identity. I’m okay with who I am now. Even if others aren’t.
He chose to walk away because I didn’t fit into his narrative. So I stayed silent because well, I’m not going to beg someone to change their minds about something like that. It’s like trying to convince someone to eat a writhing squid dipped in hot sauce, they are either all in or not.
But in my habitual silence, I am not seen nor heard. And by staying silent, I am encouraging silence in others. I was not speaking up.
See, it really was about him. I wasn’t the problem. My gender or skin colour wasn’t the problem. The people around me were concerned I’d be hurt and I am grateful for that. I am. Because sometimes, you’ve got to hear you’re not the asshole or the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit.
It became complicated in my head because I felt like I never should have to speak for the right for anyone to be a writer. It didn’t matter what he thought but still, I wasn’t doing right by others either. I wasn’t putting a pin down for others to see and maybe say, hey I’m that way too. I forgot I should speak up because how are people going to know snow exists if you don’t share its existence? Same thing with being agender.
That’s on me. That’s my fuck up.
The unknown remains the unknown if we do not share, do not speak, do not question, do not say I am here. We need to show people to be less afraid of the unknown. We need to be seen, regardless of who we are. And be the best people we can be.
Everyone deserves to be a writer if that’s what they want to do. And I can only hope readers give those writers a chance not based on anything but their writing.
Unless of course they violate Rule Number One2 because free speech does not mean freedom from consequences. People shouldn’t get to be assholes and not get called on it.
I’ve never talked about being agender because I didn’t ever believe I needed to validate my place. I don’t believe in drawing the lines between people that way. I do have lines. I’ve got a line that separates tolerant and intolerant and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty clear to see who are the assholes on that spectrum.
Being a woman or a man or agender doesn’t change who I am or how I act or how I write. I’m going to write to entertain a reader. It’s okay to be a woman. Or a man. Or both. Or neither. Because regardless of what you think you are or who you are, it is how you treat others and what you give to this world truly is what defines you.
I might wear makeup sometimes. I like doing it. I won’t wear skirts. I don’t feel comfortable in them. I prefer leather and muscle cars but I also love kittens and cooking. I like action films and not much on chick-lit or films. I like dick in bed but I can totally get into the presence of a strong, independent woman. I can debone a pig with knives I’ve sharpened myself and listen to someone’s heart break then try to comfort them.
I don’t care what pronoun you want to use for me. I’m pretty open. Do what you feel comfortable with. I don’t mind she/her. I’m not a gender activist, mostly because I’ve got no time and I’ve picked enough fights already so I’m waging a few other battles. I’m not going claim outrage against things I can’t speak to but I will defend to the death someone’s right to be called by the pronoun of their choice and their willingness to throw themselves on the mercy of public opinion when they write and publish a book. I will also willingly enter into the fray and fuck someone up if they try to hurt you because of how you look or who you love. I won’t eat ketchup on my eggs and though I may tease about it, I’ll pass you the bottle if you ask for it.
Because my own personal likes, dislikes and perspectives shouldn’t damage or minimize your existence.
Any more than someone else’s should infringe on mine.
And if somehow discovering this one thing about me changes someone’s perception of me then I don’t know what to say. Because I’m still the same me I was before I hit post on this blog. I write things as I see them and my gender shouldn’t validate or invalidate me in this community.
My writing should.
What I can do and who I want to fuck doesn’t have more weight in my existence than anything else I am and the bits I was given were pretty much luck of the draw. Because in the end, I’m just Rhys.
I’ve always been Rhys, even if it took me a little bit to understand that. Okay a long bit. But I got there.
So there you go and take what you want out of this. Hopefully nothing will change. Or if it does, it’s because you’ve got questions and think maybe I can answer them. I’m not looking for accolades and I’m not asking for permission to be who I am. What I am saying here is, if you are wondering if you are alone… you’re not. As Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote; “…if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom…”
It’s just in our case, the A’s a rainbow and it’s totally fine to let it blaze forth.
1 They do. Mind you, I don’t think I’ve ever gone through the elaborate rituals of preparation I’ve read about in some books because dudes, that much planning for sex is kind of weird. But that’s just my perspective and whatever makes them feel comfortable. We’ve actually talked about this a couple of times and have all agreed the general consensus should be lubrication is key… as well as listening to your partner’s needs.
2 Don’t be an asshole. (Deacon, Fish Stick Fridays)