Angst of a Genderqueer Journalist

By Meg Zulch

Over the summer, I came out to many people in my life as genderqueer. As a writer and a journalist, it has been my mission to bring visibility to topics and identities that are marginalized and/or something I could identify with through my work. I’ve argued with professors and editors about acknowledging people’s preferred pronouns, and experienced the disappointment and shame whenever subjects I’d cover would have stories about them published including the wrong pronouns. I’ve written articles that many have been shocked by and considered radical, as one by one they tore me down in the comments section.

I’ve built my career so far around topics such as body positivity, queer visibility, anxiety and sexual assault. I am intentionally brutally honest about my identity and the tough experiences I’ve dealt with in my life in the hopes that sharing these stories will help others like me, as well as speed up my own healing processes.

So when I came out to many people in my life as genderqueer this past summer, I knew I wanted to be able to give visibility to genderqueer identities in the same way that I had done with other important topics. So I decided to be true to my brand (and most importantly, myself) by coming out to my editors, colleagues, and collaborators, requesting my they/them pronouns not without a bit of fear and hesitation.

As a result, the publications I am apart of, as well as those I’ve recently applied to, have become more interested in my voice. My genderqueer perspective is unique to many mainstream feminist-minded publications like Bustle and HelloGiggles, and therefore seems to hold extra value. Not only do I write about these topics, but I've put myself out there and allowed cisgender people to make me the "gender expert" or the "genderqueer token" in multiple creative projects, public speaking panels, and other situations such as the Planned Parenthood activist group on campus that I'm secretary of.

All of the work that I do to bring visibility to genderqueer identities is incredibly rewarding, for myself and because I think it's a worthwhile cause to be apart of. I feel incredibly lucky to be making a living by discussing topics that are so near and dear to my heart. But at the same time, this work can be incredibly frustrating, and make certain interactions (which are already tricky in everyday life for genderqueer people) feel especially obnoxious based on mood or mental state. Lately, I've been in one of those moods, and so I've been pretty angsty about being a genderqueer person in web media.

A lot of what I do is in part to help me feel more visible in my own community as a non binary person. But sometimes, in doing that very work, I can be made to feel uncomfortable about my identity or even erased entirely. I’ve dealt with a lot of people’s confusion about my identity, confusion that could be easily mended by a simple Google search. I’ve dealt with hurtful comments (that were made with good intentions) and ignorant questions that leave my body feeling at edge and my mind far from being at ease. I am told I will be respected, but instead I am put on a pedestal in an empty room. They appreciate and value me, but they don’t actually see me. I’m their token, their “diversity,” I give them edge. And I play that role well.

I've experienced this a lot in spaces that call themselves feminist, which has led me to become skeptical of and move away from that term altogether (which is why I write about everything from a queer perspective now instead of a feminist perspective). Spaces that invited me to share my unique perspective would be too confused about or couldn’t be bothered with understanding my identity.

And so I’m often made to feel like some sort of unicorn. A thing people marvel at and can only imagine in their wildest dreams, but have no idea how to define or interact with. I feel a certain gratefulness and humbleness when publications and humans of certain creative endeavors value me so highly. But at the end of the day, we are not the same people. And many clearly do not want to put the time in that it takes to make a space truly inclusive to all gender identities and voices.

Being a genderqueer person, even in certain feminist spaces, is hard. Constantly negotiating what my own identity means to me, while continuously asserting my pronouns and identity when cis people step on my toes, is hard work. It’s hard work for anyone, but an especially unique experience for someone in the public eye. Someone who gets paid to treat their stories like diary entries, except they’re to be shared with thousands of readers who mostly don’t understand where they're coming from.

And honestly, this is exactly what I love doing. I love sharing myself with others, I love writing stories and personal pieces, and I love the reward of being published and praised by editors. This is the beginning of my career, covering topics personal topics that I would love to spend my life turning into real and reported works of journalism (until I get my book deal). But some days, days where your self esteem takes a hit, days that you feel invisible yourself, the struggles of being non binary and an online freelancer can feel especially difficult.

I'm tired of coming out again at least once a week. I'm tired of explaining to people what my gender identity means, and being expected to educate and comfort others about their cis privilege. I'm tired of arguing constantly with people and places over using gender-exclusive language. I'm tired of being misgendered everyday. I'm tired of explaining to people why I can be non binary and still love skirts and makeup. I'm tired of people buzzing with discomfort and confusion when I ask others for their pronouns.

I'm tired of everyone turning to me for the answer when a question about gender arises, as if I'm an expert on the subject. I’m tired of pretending not to notice when employers misgender me, even they know I know “they mean well.” I'm tired of publications sometimes making me feel like my identity is an inconvenience or an anomaly. I'm tired of being recruited as the end-all voice to the genderqueer experience.

Feeling comfortable in my skin all the time is virtually impossible. I understand that I will have bad days, days where I feel like giving up, days where I wish I could just be a cisgender woman and call it a day. But I hold higher standards for places I work at and write for because, among other reasons, I feel alienated at school. I’m in my senior year of college, and with years of memories (and bad relationships that still exist) surrounding me on a daily basis, I find great comfort in the hours I spend writing for publications. That way I can actually do the thing I love, feel appreciated and important (since I’m incredibly misunderstood and undervalued by my peers and professors), and have hope in what my future will hold as soon as I can get out of here.

It’s also very exciting as a feminist and a queer person to be apart of feminist publications which are seeking to change media conversations that have been contaminated by misogyny, racism and the like. That is exactly my goal as a working journalist and a human! But it’s especially disappointing when the very spaces who preach inclusion are unsure of how to actually practice it themselves.

To be honest, I’m fed up with “feminist publications,” and think they can all do a bit better. With the exception of my fashion editor at Bustle, who is one of my favorite people in the entire world, every human I know in this industry can really use a crash course in intersectional feminism, a lesson I’m not always willing to demonstrate through lengthy emails or my very existence. But until I have the time and resources to build my own feminist publication, or until I have the credentials to run away to spend my days editing at Rookie Mag, I resolve to keep plugging away and writing for the magazines that, at the end of the day, truly have good intentions.