• NP – nondeterministic polynomial time, a classification of computational complexity. Difficult because of the need to resolve connected conditions.
  • NB – nonbinary, a classification of one of many gender identities. Difficult because of societal norms.

For a very brief portion of my life, I went to a private Catholic school. I was in the fifth or sixth grade, just old enough to be interested in everything and just young not to understand religious dogma. A bunch of visiting priests were giving various presentations about their missions in various parts of the globe, and one had brought a Chinese Zodiac calendar primer. You know, the type you’d find at a restaurant, except perhaps a little fancier. And I was instantly enamored with this sheet of paper and immediately started asking every classmate and every teacher either what year they were born in or how old they were so I can figure out their zodiac sign. This does not sit well with one of my very Catholic priest-in-training teachers who thought what I was doing was near sacrilege and confiscated the paper and reluctantly returned it to me at the end of the day.

And I know it’s very much a stereotype for queer folk to be obsessed with zodiacs and Tarots, but there is something to be said about the value of self-assigned iconography and symbology. I mostly mention this because my high school math teacher once told me, “it’s easy to solve a problem when you know the answer,” which seems self-evident; however, when I look back and see all the signposts and the journey it took me to understand my own gender identity, it’s kinda funny going, “oh…oh, oh I see now,” repeatedly.

Like many other Filipino-Americans, I was raised Catholic. Several times over, I have seen what faith can do for people when it comes to the resolve to endure harrowing situations, the power of collective community and belief, and the underlying baseline thought of “be kind, be helpful.” But I have also very much seen the aggressiveness of the dogma, the strict adherence to a translated translated translated text from centuries ago, and the conditionality of kindness. Heaven as a reward for straightness. Heaven as a reward for obedience. Hell as a punishment not just for disobedience, but deviancy of any kind.

I very clearly remember the first crack in that thinking happened while reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods in high school. That book helped me understand the nature and power of belief. That maybe there wasn’t just one singular interpretation of the world. That ideology wasn’t as binary as I was taught. Although, it’d still take more to unpack everything going on in my silly little head with its silly little thoughts.

I was a military brat, always moving around place to place, although I did end up in one of the richest counties in Maryland (and the US at the time), with a predominantly white population. Among other things, the environment forced me to garner a deeper understanding of what it meant to be biracial and that both the Filipino and American sides of my identity were intrinsic to who I was as a person. At their intersection, there were going to be fun new problems that I’d have to face for the rest of my days (including a constant inquiry into where exactly my accent was from). And I also ended up being the only “guy” in the room before eventually graduating to being one of the *few* “guys” in the room. Apparently, at this particular juncture of the early 2000s, singing was “feminine” or “not manly.” I’m not entirely sure. But even back then, I was always so confused by the arbitrary lines in the sand, the separation between things. I just wanted to have fun, and for a while that meant martial arts and then afterwards that meant musical theater.

Given how relatively homogeneous demographics and conventional thought was, I don’t think my worldview was ever actually challenged. Of course, when I ended up applying and accepted to a “liberal university” (look, sometimes a stereotype is models off functional truths), that changed oh so quickly. The confluence of people I met in St. Louis (pun very much intended) put me off kilter and forced a reevaluation of what I thought were commonly held beliefs. It becomes increasingly hard to accept a dogma that says gay people go to hell when you become friends with gay folk, when you actually see them as the people they are and not a vague concept that a book says is nebulously against the course of nature. When you see an honest love, it makes you question why and how anyone could be against it. And it certainly helps when you learn all of this through the eloquence of very passionate poets, so thank you to all of them for helping me realize the error in my ways and for being there for me during a variety of stressful times and then some.

During this time, I also had the fortune of seeing Marvel comics feature a full-on gay wedding for their characters and a Green Lantern officially come out, at which point, it definitely really clicked that I was stuck in a past that I didn’t actually want to be in.

It also really helped playing Persona 4 Golden on the Vita and having a surprisingly amount of empathy for Kanji’s storyline with Naoto (I continue to enjoy laughing at past me for ignoring several signs that are now just… glaringly obvious). And it was at the tail end of undergrad that I think I understood that I was “mostly straight” but not so foolish to ignore the possibility of something else.

That was really the last significant moment of self-reflection I had for a while. And as is probably aggressive common, the world as we knew it kinda ended and inadvertently forced me to take stock about things I never really thought about because I thought I had the answer.

But cut to the first time putting pronouns into my Zoom meeting display and having a spare thought of thinking “I’d be okay with using They/Them” before shaking the thought off wondering why that had happened. And then meeting a whole spectrum of people online. And then watching the epilogue to an episode of Young Justice: Phantoms as Violet Harper comes out as nonbinary, and then just fucking weeping on my tablet whispering, it’s really that simple huh.

And then talking with a variety of queer friends I’d made over the years. And then realizing that the vast majority of the people I were infatuated (fictional and real, which is honestly impressive) with were queer in some capacity. And then finding the words for it. And then parsing out that unlike racial identity, gender identity was a social construct that I could very easily opt out of. And then seeing how much I empathized with every single non-binary and non-binary coded character across the multitude of multimedia that it was actually ridiculous it took this long to recognize it wasn’t just a fondness, but a whole kinship. Although in fairness, it took a couple decades to really parse out the how biracial identity and the capacity to be two things, which did eventually expedite the whole I can be neither thing to a time frame of only two-ish years.

It’s been just about two years since I started using they/them pronouns among my friends circles. I haven’t quite transitioned to using it in all aspects of my life, although strangely enough I ended up updating my pronouns on LinkedIn long before I did it on Twitter, which I think is probably more an indictment of how little I think people pay attention to LinkedIn. It was weird at first, but soon the label felt like the perfectly oversized hoodie, a conforming embrace of ambiguity. Of not subscribing to convention, of being okay between inbetween. And unlike Violet Harper, I have ended up minding being called “he/him.” It doesn’t fit right, it’s not the image of the self I hold inside my mind’s eye anymore. 

So for all those out there who have had similar journeys or are going through one, I hope eventually you too are able to laugh at the obvious sign posts. I hope you continue to find people who help you become more yourself, would embrace you. I hope you find pieces of media that help you find the words. I hope you find that the solution to the problem was that it was never actually a problem.

Writer’s note: This essay is a longer iteration of a zine created as part of “zine-making party: Gender Self Determination” hosted by STL Mutual Aid, which has been featured intermittently throughout. Many thanks to the hosts and participants of the event.

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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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