I posted the following letter to my Facebook page…
Today marks not only the anniversary of my birth but also one year since I told Anji and Chad that I didn’t feel like I was really a man and that I was trying to figure out what/who I was, as a gender between, or beyond, male and female. I know I sounded unsure and insecure but it was my first step in acknowledging a truth I’d left undiscovered for decades.
In this last year I spent hours and hours reading about the brave new world of non-binary gender identities. Finally I found myself mirrored back to me in the identity known as agender, neither male or female. I had always felt unique and living a bit of a charade as I tried to be the masculine person people assumed I was.
The attention I got as a bear was both welcome and unwelcome. I liked being admired, who doesn’t like it when people find you attractive, but it felt wrong somehow. I realized that it was the masculine expectation that went hand in hand with being a bear that I felt wasn’t me. I began to change my appearance to add some feminine essence to the way I interacted with the world. I grew my hair out, I called myself a fairy bear and welcomed the added label as a care bear. Soon coworkers and friends gave me care bear plushies (stuffed animals). I liked this new identity; as a fairy/care bear I was less papa bear and more kind, gentle and nurturing mama bear. I looked into other identities like the Radical Faeries founded by gay pioneer Harry Hay. Some of that philosophy resonated with me.
Sadly the mainstream gay community was distancing from the beliefs of the Radical Faeries who believed that gay men were called to be a special people standing between male and female. This philosophy clashed with the message being put forth by gay activists fighting for marriage equality. These men stressed the ways they were just like heterosexuals. This message worked well in crafting a message pallitable to middle America but left behind those gay men who happened to reflect a stereotype mainstream gays were distancing themselves from. Effeminate gay men who talked, walked and dressed in the unique way associated with many gay men since the days when homosexuality was the live that dare not speak its name, we’re ostracised and made to feel unwelcome.
The turning point for me was a news story about a tragic event on a bus traveling between Berkeley and Oakland California. An agender person that another teen traveling on the bus perceived to be a boy wearing a skirt. This flew in the face of an unwritren bro-code that defined how boys should dress. The response was to set the skirt on fire. That is how Sasha Fleishman became a household name in the San Francisco Bay Area and their courageous recovery, the community and schools amazing response and a new gender entered into discussions about this tragedy. As Sasha and their parents explained Sasha’s identity, the use of their/those/them as pronouns Sasha used and their personal style mixing different clothes traditionally associated with female and male gender to create their own unique style.
I knew this identity was me! The more I read about being agender the more it made sense to me. I worked out this process in the pages of my blog (https://jerbearinsantafe.wordpress.com) and used that forum to announce to the world that I no longer identified as male. That I was agender, one of several non-binary gender identities also called genderqueer. I took the next step and reached out to the local Transgender community unsure of how I would be accepted. I needn’t have worried I was welcomed with open arms. I found a new family that accepted me for who I was and for the first time my life I felt completely understood and embraced unconditionally. I owe the people of The Santa Fe Transgender Support Group an enormous debt of gratitude.
I also found my close friends rally behind me and give me that extra boost to be my authentic self. For the first time since a secret use of clothes left behind by the daughter of the family I was staying with during my Junior year in high school I again tried on clothes traditionally identified as female. I now am the proud owner of a half a dozen skirts, 2 dresses, 3 kilts and a variety of knee high socks and a pair of tights. Thanks to the support of friends I have been able to go out in public dressed as I really want to. Yes, I still have fears, particularly when venturing out on my own but I am slowly developing the courage to be myself always.
A dream deffered for more than 5 decades is slowly coming true at last. I now want to be known as Jerry or Jeri Rae Cheney, I am a proud agender member of the Trans Community, my pronouns are they/their/them, I love giving and reciving hugs, I am a care bear and if you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with I’m here for you, I am here to support all members of my community and am working for the day when there will be no more violence directed at members of my community, particularly trans women and trans femme people of color, finally I am on a gender journey and welcome all who want to be there by my side. #TransIsBeautiful