I was born into a world of constructs. Human-made pools of thought. Made to oppress. To other. To generate individuality and destroy Indigenious community and ways of being. Ways of being that worked. Such is our reality in colonization. It constructs us. Puts us into binary thinking. Everything is either/or.
I was raised in the Black Pentecostal church. My middle class Black family taught me about the construct of race first. I was given lessons on how I was supposed to show up. As a Black little girl, I knew exactly what my role was in each room. Often being seen and not heard. Holding space for others. Creating comfort and ease for all in the room. I was blessed to be in Montessori school and then private school with the finest education. The Black people were sparse. There were people of different ethnicities and people of color present.
I actually learned in these spaces that race was created. I read CASTE by Isabel Wilkerson. It confirmed all my internal knowing. That melanin is actually a gift. Culture is an honor. And fear creates the need to dominate. I began to understand the depth of how far people will go to preserve their notions of supremacy and how all of that lands on us individually and collectively. All of this to say that around issues of race, I learned early on how to comply. How to shrink. How to fit in the binary of Black and White. I knew there was a world bigger than that however, I was taught to assimilate. For safety. For access to success. This is where I became an astute learner, observer, and internal processor.
People would never understand me if they knew what I actually thought about these constructs. The way that my mind leaves and runs and returns always. The gift winds up being the ability to think freely and then have to return to a box. Often one that is suffocating. For others’ comfort. Mostly of White folx who are fascinated by my brilliance and savvy. I’m not like most Black people they know. I don’t fit the stereotypes.
I always hated being called a lady. I wore skirts 3-5 days a week. I snuck shorts underneath them so I could play football in between choir rehearsal and Bible study. I was generally the only girl on the basketball court at the church picnics. I had a boyfriend. We were official after the note he sent asking if I would be his girlfriend. I checked maybe first and laughed to let him know I was kidding. Of course I would be his girlfriend. He was perfect. Years later, we never kissed, and he asked why I had to be the only girl playing with the fellas. It was the first of many who didn’t understand.
I dated very pretty boys throughout high school and did not think anything of long night phone conversations and sneak away retreats with my favorite girl friends. I cared about relationship. I was/am a fantastic friend and partner. I got a lot of questions when I did not comply or fit into their constructs. Those socialized messages would haunt me...for what seems like forever. I have just begun at 39 to dismantle those systems within me. The infrastructure that says I had to choose what gender I liked to be in intimate relationship with. The socialization that called me promiscuous even though I spent late nights talking with my then boyfriend about any and everything. Stayed on the phone listening to him rehearse his saxophone and electric guitar. You can’t tell me that wasn’t love. I didn’t need to kiss him to know that.
I dated my first woman in college. We took 30 second time outs in the Pennsylvania hills and enjoyed the closeness of those mountain stars. I would tell myself that I would date her until she graduated and then I would be straight again. I knew that a life with her would mean damnation to a fiery pit. I really enjoyed her. I wanted to be softer. She would cry when we disagreed. I would not understand how to comfort her until we both had made our stance. She never cared about who was right or wrong, she only cared about staying together and protecting each others’ feelings.
I realize she was too monogamous for me. Once we broke up, I started hooking up with boys on campus. She would tell me it was gross and shame me for that. I am sure I was the topic of many a conversation on a small campus. People had different reasons for their inquiry. Some wanted to be with me and some wanted to understand my mystery. Why the boys and the girls seemed to want me.
I don’t think people realize how lonely it is when you never feel fully yourself. Always compartmentalizing for the crowd you are in at the moment. I could go from tomboy to pencil skirt in 20 minutes. As baffling as it was to watch, it felt really natural to me. Despite the messages that I got. Somehow the idea that I needed to choose...who I date, what aesthetic I wear, what gender my mannerisms lean toward, how I thought about others...kept creeping in.
Once I left PA and headed back to Ohio. I spent most of my time with friends in Columbus, Ohio. There were so many that were trans F to M. I loved them dearly. I found comfort in their clarity around their gender and found ways to affirm them whenever I could. We were all figuring out what it meant to be ourselves. I started to do drag. I actually missed performing and this was a great start to get back in the game. I had a persona and a drag daddy and was off to create magic. I hated packing and costuming. I would wear a thong to hold it in place and it would feel strange to be in a traditionally woman associated garment to wear my man piece. So strange. I also had a mentor who’s drag king...had a drag queen. So I created a drag queen for my drag king. It was then I felt like I was dressing up the most. This is where I started to really lean into the freedom to express all aspects of my gender and gender in general.
I arrived at my job at Kaleidoscope Youth Center in 2018. I was clear I had the lived experience to be helpful to the youth and the staff. What I didn’t realize I would get was a deep dive into who I am while serving at this organization. The youth and staff gave me language around parts of my identity that finally made sense. At 36, I learned the terms genderfluid, non gender conforming, pansexual, demisexual, graysexual, and was also given neo pronouns by the youth. I learned the term Queer and understand it as a theology, a practice, politics, a lifestyle. The umbrella under which all my fluidity can flow.
I facilitated sessions on gender identity and expression and shared my own stories about standing in my closet and feeling into how I wanted to express my gender that day. I watched folx of all sexual orientations' eyes light up as they had new language that applied to them. Everything felt like it made sense. It literally felt like all was right in the world with new language and context about my gender identity and expression.
Spiritually it made sense as well as I moved through divine masculine and divine feminine fairly easily. I was able to acknowledge that I am non monogamous. I fumbled to that conclusion and was hurt and hurt others along the way. Fluidity is so deep in me that I want choice. I want to be able to choose everything based on my mood that day. It is a deep connection with my knowing that begs for the agency to make decisions and choose everything. I move through rooms as a facilitator and learner like water. In relationship, I am mostly wired towards one individual but can surely hold space for more than one as long as boundaries and expectations are clear. Non monogamy is really just a lot of communication and that is what I enjoy. We are really more fluid than we think.
Gender is a construct. A man-made pool of thought. Two ends of a binary with nothing in between. I believe in God, in spirit, in universe, in ancestor...and the one thing I am sure of is that there is everything in between. I watch sunrises and sunsets and I am sure that there is so much I don’t know. There are stories and existence between the water, the sand, the air. Everything is a process. And a continuum.
I have been told before after telling someone I was genderfluid that they don’t believe in more than two genders. I thought to myself how constricting that must be. To put everything in one box or another. To believe in an all powerful God that can only see in Black and White. I don’t conform to that God either. I believe God is genderfluid. That fluidity allows them to be whoever we need in the moment. I don’t think God hates us. I think we are their favorites. Yes, God has favorites. I think we are the most in their image. We are complex and dynamic and can hold so much. It’s also not a choice. It is how we are made. The choice is in following the knowing or complying to socialized constructs.
I think the thing that is most frustrating to me is when people act like it is too hard. They are committed to being right where they are, believing whatever they have been told to believe and don’t care to expand. I have friends who give me a hard time. About my pronouns, about my clarity and mental dexterity around the nuance of pronouns, gender identity and expression.
I think of all the degrees they have and why this challenges them so much. Why they choose to be upset with me for understanding it. Upset at me for not complying. Because I am woman presenting. Just comply. Just do what they want me to do. And like, no. Absolutely not. They do not understand how long it took to get here and that it would slowly kill me inside to do so. I already do it with those in my family who wouldn’t quite get it nor want to. I already shrink in a world that can’t hold all of my fluidity in thought and expression.
When I think of the ability to sit with complexity and nuance, all of the theories and constructs are supposed to provide order. Give us understanding of the world around us. I realize the amount of surrender that it would require to say that this is what we understand and we realize that there is so much in between that we don’t fully know...but it is there. There is a liberation in perpetual exploration and interrogation. I will continue to live there. In the in between. Free. Liberated. Joyful. Fully myself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen Marie is committed to doing the work of building connection, belonging, and community. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Karen is currently a resident of Columbus, Ohio. Ze is a non-negotiable stand for the most marginalized and the dignity and value of every human life. Her professional reach is vast and includes competency and expertise in Human Resources, Leadership Development, Anti-Racism Facilitation, Poetry, Writing, Music, Comedy, and overall performance. Karen is seen as a necessary contribution at various community tables and conversations and is both celebrated and respected for her ability to be strategic in navigating difficult and nuanced conversations and barriers in a brave and productive way.
Karen is also a published author, creative, and musician. Ze is a 2020 recipient of the Create Columbus Visionary Award, a 2021 Cohort Poet in Scott Woods’ Rhapsody and Refrain, and an ensemble member in Counterfeit Madison’s Aretha Franklin Tribute; which performed in front of a sold out Lincoln Theatre in February 2020. In 2019, Karen self- published hir first book of poetry "Grounded" and recently released "Fire: Poetic Memoirs of a Movement" in August, 2021. Currently, Karen is the Associate Director for Leadership Columbus and also a facilitator and curator with K Hewitt Consulting. Karen is also the co-founder of The Ohio REST Collective. The Ohio REST Collective (Restorative Equity through Sustainable Transformation) was founded to create space for individual and collective restoration.