I was waiting in line at the gate in the Oakland airport to board a flight to Los Angeles, and out of nowhere I felt someone tapping my hip. It was a five- or six-year-old girl, accompanied by her father and brother, and she was anxious to fly home.
After she played a version of hide and seek with me, she whispered something into her brother's ear. She turned, looked at me, and asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I chuckled a bit, and her father pulled her aside. I told him, “It’s okay; she’s fine.” Then, I leaned over to the little girl and whispered back, “I’m a boy.” She giggled, gave me a high five, and went on to board the plane.
To tell that girl I was a boy required a long, complicated journey. Towards the end of my sophomore year, when I first came out as transgender, I identified as gender-neutral or androgynous. Basically, I wasn't a boy or a girl; I was simply genderless. Coming out felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. At first, everything was fine: My friends accepted me with open arms, and I began to socially transition.
My understanding of my identity continued to evolve after I first came out. Later, I thought, “I know for sure I’m a boy.” And then even later, “Maybe I don’t identify with any gender.” Finally, after months of wrestling with how to articulate who I truly was, I discovered that I identify as a trans, gender non-conforming boy. To me, this means that I am a boy, but my gender expression doesn’t align to traditional gender norms for boys.
But it is important for me to recognize how my gender identity is intertwined with other identities that are important to me, like my racial identity. I identify as Latinx and Black. As I’ve learned more about my identity, and after reading texts like Strong Families’ Femifesto, I’ve grown in my belief that the gender binary – the idea of “male” and “female” as the only two genders – is a system created by and for white people, not brown bois like me.
Since European colonization, white people have actively erased examples of Indigenous and other non-white cultures having various sexual orientations and non-binary gender identities and expressions. For example, Two-Spirit Indigenous folks, whose identity falls outside the gender binary, are hardly anywhere to be found in my school history textbooks or mainstream media, despite their important contributions to Indigenous culture.
White people have used the gender binary to force white-focused gender norms on people of color – one of the many ways that white people have controlled people of color. This means that no matter how hard I try to fit into the label of “boy” or “girl,” I will never be afforded the same status as a white person of that gender.
Although I identify as a trans, gender non-conforming boy, my identity is rooted in a racist and binary system that is not made for me. To truly feel liberated, I cannot be confined by the gender binary, which means I’m constantly pushing back against white gender norms. To support me in school, educators and my fellow students must fight all ways white supremacy shows up in our lives. Because only through dismantling white supremacy can we destroy systems like the gender binary.
Ezra Morales is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.