DiversifYA: Jessie Devine
|September 2, 2013||Posted by DiversifYA under DiversifYA, QUILTBAG|
I’m so excited to welcome Jessie Devine to the blog today! In case you don’t know Jessie yet (you should probably rectify that), he is an awesome writer of equally awesome sounding (dark) YA. He joins us today to talk about his experiences with being genderqueer.
1. How do you identify yourself?
I identify as genderqueer.
2. What did it feel like growing up genderqueer?
When I was a kid, I didn’t think much of it. I always wanted to be “the boy” in make believe games, which my friends loved, because someone had to do it, and it wasn’t going to be them.
Things got more complicated in junior high and high school—through puberty I guess. When people start talking about you “becoming a woman” and something about that just doesn’t feel right, it’s confusing. I never felt comfortable in my own skin until sophomore year when I started researching gender possibilities and came across the term ‘genderqueer.’ The more I searched and found people like me, the more at-home I felt in my body.
3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?
One challenge is feeling at home in my body. Because although I usually have mountains of confidence, sometimes it wears on me to be referred to incorrectly, and even have people flat out tell me I’m wrong about my gender because I have boobs.
Another challenge is relating to other people. Most people, whether they think they do or not, have a certain set of ‘rules’ they follow when they interact with people of different genders. People who don’t know me often refer to me with female pronouns and treat me “like a girl” because of an automatic judgment they make when they look at my “girl” body. That’s tough, because I want to explain that I prefer male pronouns and this isn’t a girl body, it’s just my body—but that’s a lot longer conversation than you want to have with the Starbucks barista who said, “Thank you, ma’am,” because you left a tip.
Conversely, some people who do know me don’t know how to treat me because they don’t know if I’m a boy or a girl. The real answer is neither, but many people don’t know how to handle that or fit it into the frameworks of their worldviews, and that’s challenging to deal with.
Getting into relationships can be tricky, because while I identify as pansexual and don’t give a flip what my love interest’s gender is, I’ve found that most people do care. And when they think they’re getting a girl and later find out they’re not—well, I’ve lost people over that. Even if they say they’re okay with it, I’ve discovered it’s difficult for some people to change the way they think of me. Only in my current relationship have I been open about my gender from the very beginning, and it’s much, much, much better.
A massive perk is being a part of the LGBTQ community. There is so much support here, and it’s great to feel loved and accepted.
Another big perk is feeling like I don’t have to follow the rules. There are lines people have for women and men that I don’t have to walk. “Genderqueer” is a relatively new term, and I don’t have to feel like there’s something about my identity that “doesn’t fit” by the standards of society, because society doesn’t have any standards for genderqueer people. For example, a tomboy might feel like the things she likes don’t fit into what’s expected of her as a woman. But I never feel that way. I can be a black belt with a fighting championship and also the king of glitter, and feel absolutely secure about it. It doesn’t matter.
This is off topic a bit, but I feel like everyone should get to feel this way. It shouldn’t matter. No one of any gender should feel uncomfortable liking or doing something just because the ‘rules’ of their gender or sex don’t condone it.
4. What do you wish people knew about being genderqueer?
Well, first I have to start with something I wish people understood about gender: sex and gender are not the same thing. Your sex is determined by your genitals. Your gender is determined by how you identify in your head and heart.
Second, there are many definitions of the word ‘genderqueer,’ and it doesn’t mean the same thing to each genderqueer person. To me, it means I have a female body and both femme and masculine personality traits, and I prefer male pronouns. I think of myself as more male, but I don’t want to change my body. That’s a big one. I wish people understood that I don’t have to change my body to be my gender.
I don’t even have to want to change my body to be my gender.
Genderqueer people are who we are, utterly regardless of our genitals.
5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?
I haven’t seen a lot of clichés or stereotypes about genderqueer people yet. What I’ve seen is a great lack of these characters in literature.
BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?
I have three things to say about writing diverse characters
One: DO IT. Don’t be scared just because, “I’m not that, so I can’t write about it.”
Two: Do your research. You don’t want to be reinforcing stereotypes just because you’re afraid to ask the questions. Think of that one thing that you know, whether it’s your race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political leaning, a sport you do, a hobby you have, whatever, anything that you know, that you’re an expert on from personal experience. You’d probably want someone to ask you about it rather than write about it blindly and have you be like, “That’s SO NOT HOW IT IS” when you read it later.
And it’s just like anything else you write about. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t write about 18th century France without researching it, would you?
Three: Make your diverse characters more than their ‘diverse’ feature. Queer characters aren’t just queer. Disabled characters aren’t just disabled. Colored characters aren’t just colored. They have dreams, fears, loves, and all kinds of other stuff totally unrelated to their diversity. They’re people. Even if you’re writing a book ABOUT the feature, (Hey, I am. My book’s called SOME KIND OF QUEER.) make sure they’re like real people. No one is entirely focused on just one thing, all the time.