Back in 2012, when Sasha was in the tenth grade at Maybeck and Andrew was a freshman at a local public school, Sasha looked to Andrew and asked how he knew he was a guy. “I just knew I wasn’t a girl,” Andrew said. “I just knew that was not who I was at all.” Still, being a guy wasn’t easy for Andrew. His “trans status was a topic of constant rumor and gossip,” and he had recently been having suicidal thoughts. His mother had a “psychotic episode” of her own, and then his grandfather died, which made Andrew’s life even more miserable. To hear Sasha questioning their own gender was a “relief.”
Andrew’s depression and suicidal thoughts are common among transgender teens. Studies conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics reflect that more than half of all teenage transgender boys attempt suicide at some point in their young lives. Rejection and harassment of transgender and agender youth is a nationwide problem, resulting in countless cases of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Sasha’s father, Karl, had already told Sasha that he “just knew” that he was a man. Outside of the biological appearance of his body, Slater says, Karl has a “core understanding” of what his gender identity is. Sasha doesn’t feel this way. They “ransacked their own brain looking for the file [marked Gender], but it didn’t seem to be there.”
To Sasha, gender is how one feels internally, and this feeling does not necessarily align with one’s biological sex. Sasha does not feel overwhelmingly male or female, and they do not have a “core understanding” of their gender like Karl.
So, Sasha searched the web and found a community of people on Facebook who identified as genderqueer, which included an “aspect of questioning” their gender. This community of people used gender neutral pronouns, and Sasha just knew that they belonged. “Are you genderqueer?” asked Debbie, Sasha’s mother. “Yeah,” they said. Later, Debbie and Karl read Sasha’s social media post about coming out as genderqueer and the positive comments and congratulations that followed it. “What does genderqueer even mean?” Sasha’s parents asked.
Sasha knows that they belong to the genderqueer community because this community has inclusive language that better reflects Sasha’s nonbinary identity, which speaks to the importance of inclusion and representation within language. Like Debbie and Karl, however, Sasha too feels confused about their gender, but this new community is tolerant of this confusion and offers the language needed to better understand it.