by Alex Knepper
This is copy-pasted from a Facebook post with slight revisions. It is a casual post and a little discursive, but I think it is valuable nonetheless.
Ever since I was ready to admit to myself what is my nature, I have conceived of myself as having an androgynous soul: full of both masculine and feminine desires, not as a mixture or a balance but as two separate drives, each demanding full expression. This has been the overwhelming — I mean ‘overwhelming’ in so many ways — reason for the intensity that has always been an indispensable or inextricable part of existence for me. I am 100% male and have never for a second doubted that identity: but I am a male who is as full of feminine desires and expressions as I am full of masculine ones, and this dynamic has helped define so much of my life, so much more than I can possibly recount in a post like this — so I will try to focus on what growing up was like.
Both/and, not either/or: this has been the case from the time I was a child and was equally obsessed with Hot Wheels cars, shooting games, and video games as I adored the Easy-Bake Oven, Barbies, and giant deluxe dollhouse I asked for one year at Christmas. I told my first-grade class about the dollhouse I received and just about every student in the class erupted in derisive laughter that lasted for a good couple of minutes. I put my head down on my desk in shame. For some unknown reason I really did not think they would react that way. I thought they would be accepting of me for me, as my mother was. My dear, sweet library teacher Miss Hicks told me after class that she thought it was awesome that I got the dollhouse I wanted. This was 1996.
Around this same time, I fall in love with my first Broadway musical: My Fair Lady. I am also falling in love with computer games like Wolfenstein 3D, Civilization II, Doom, and other games no girl in my school has ever heard of. As elementary school goes on, I also fall in love with shows like Sailor Moon, beloved almost exclusively by girls, even as I am on the verge of also falling in love with Yu-Gi-Oh and the card game a couple of years later, beloved almost exclusively by boys. The dynamic persists.
Fast forward from elementary to middle school, where I am no longer accepted by both boy and girl peers but rejected by both. I am deeply obsessed with Britney Spears, and it is not for her physical appearance, and I decide to request and dance along to her ‘Slave 4 U’ dance at my middle school dance, which earns me months of ridicule. I once put together a bunch of chairs and tables and outfits in my room and tried to dress up like Britney and would put on little mini-concerts in my room where I would pretend I was Britney. Through middle school, judged purely by a raw tally, one would conclude that my name is F***** rather than Alex. I’m afraid of going to school in the morning. I get in a fight once with a boy who keeps calling me homophobic slurs, physically taunting me, and so forth; my mom treats my three-day suspension like a vacation for me. My friendships at the time consist mostly of nerdy boys with shared interests. I actually still am getting crushes on girls at this point; prior to my proper sexual awakening I just channeled ‘crush’ instincts into thoughts of girls, since that’s what I thought I was ‘supposed’ to do. But when I had my sexual awakening, all of a sudden I would be overcome with the desire to hold the hand of the boys I would catch movies with, or feel excited when a male character would take off his shirt. I was 12.
Middle school was a time of deep despair, self-loathing, being made to feel like a freak, feeling socially radioactive, feeling like everyone was embarrassed to be around me because I was the rhymes-with-bag. What a horrible thing for a young boy aged 11, 12, 13 years old, to have to endure. Being met with groans and boos when I would try to sit with boys during lunch, having boys yell out ‘I don’t want that f**king f** on our team’ when teams would get ‘stuck’ with me in gym class, being asked sexual questions by boys in class in front of peers because he thought it would be funny to show off to others how he could humiliate the queer. Imagine being 12 and having groups of boys asking you if you love the idea of sucking dick, or if you wish you could get molested by male teachers, or if you have considered killing yourself because everyone hates what you are.
By my freshman year of high school, now obsessed with Phantom of the Opera, I have the audacity to start telling people I am bisexual. I chose the right people to tell, and in general it was still unofficial as far as the general student body was concerned, but few people — rightly so– seemed to take it as anything other than a confession that I was making a pit stop on the way to homosexuality. Like many gay boys, I found solace in chorus and musical theater, and, besides having been featured on the front page of the local newspaper for my political activism — I must admit that being a Republican at the time was appealing to me in part because I could demonstrate that I was in the party not associated with gay people — I was now also known for something else: being cast as the principal lead in the school musical, which was practically unheard of for a sophomore in my school of over 1,000 students. It might have been a stereotypically gay domain, but I sure was kicking ass in it, and it helped give me a newfound confidence. By the second half of high school, few people were still making fun of me for my sexuality. I’d still get jabs here and there, but my confidence was growing.
By my senior year, I had lost a ton of weight, I came out as gay, and I started dressing like I wanted to dress; my newfound scrawny, slinky body accommodated feminine clothes of all kinds, and there were some days in 2007, in my two-thirds Republican-voting county, where I would show up for school exclusively wearing clothes I found in the juniors’ section: girls’ jeans, girls’ shirts, necklaces and bracelets, shaving my arms and legs. Besides intrinsically enjoying it, it was a gigantic fuck-you to those who had ever made fun of me. I was going to a better university than nearly everyone in the school, I looked great for the first time in my life, I was damn good at everything I had been applying myself to, I had my own car, I had friends who gave a damn about me: I was on fire that year. I was happy to be letting out that pent-up femininity that had longed for an outlet.
By college, I was on national TV and radio admitting I am gay, I was publishing articles all the time in venues left, right, and center relating my homosexuality to my politics, I was a proud gay lover of the newly-resurgent Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Kesha, Kylie Minogue, and a host of other divas whose dance music was the soundtrack of my college years. (That, and the diva-fronted symphonic metal scene!) I never really had a proper boyfriend until I was 23-24, but we had a great time, traveling across America and the world together, from Hong Kong to Vegas to Virginia Beach.
The last step, which came much later than it should have and which was delayed for quite some time because I had come to believe that the church and religious faith were enemies of my dignity — especially due to years of immersion in the Republican Party, which had led me to believe that the evangelicals were the primary face of the Christian faith, although even as a Republican I pushed back hard against anti-gay bigotry within the party — was accepting that God loves my gay ass. God sure made me run the gauntlet before arriving at that point. But now I can tell other gay people (and beyond) what I wish I had someone in my life to tell me.
It’s all been a peculiar journey; when I was 12 or 13, full of shame and despair about it all, if someone would have told me that under a decade later I’d be on TV telling the world I am gay, I’d have been scared and shocked. I am still blown away by how the country moved from rejection and loathing in the early 00s to tolerance and even acceptance and affirmation by the mid-10s. It is hard to say right now whether all of that progress is fragile or not, but I think now that most Americans know and care about at least one gay person in their lives, putting the genie back in the bottle will be no small feat for reactionary forces. I don’t know why I am this way, but I have always been this way, and being gay is about a hell of a lot more than who you want to have sex with or what your sexual fantasies are. For me, it’s about the nature of my soul, the way I experience gender on an interior basis. I’ll always be a bit ‘different’ and that’s OK. I don’t know if ‘pride’ is the right word for how I feel, but I sure don’t feel ashamed anymore, and don’t want any boy to go through what I did when I was 12, because there’s nothing wrong with who I am, who we are. We’re different. And God loves us all the same.