by Christion Battey for AIDS Project RI.

For people who “transgress the binary [we] do not see [ourselves] as a man or woman.”

genderqueerAt a recent HIV testing event at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Knight Campus in Warwick, I came across twenty-year-old Brandy, a student who identifies as genderqueer. Being from a different generation, I asked myself, what is genderqueer? I had an idea, but wanted to hear Brandy’s point of view. Brandy said, “For people who transgress the binary— [we] do not see [ourselves] as a man or woman.” So, genderqueer is non-binary, is not about physical characteristics, and is not transgender or bisexuality. From Brandy’s perspective, it is not what society thinks, it is about how you feel.

I asked Brandy to tell me about the experiences faced by someone who identifies as genderqueer. Growing up in rural Washington County, it became quite clear that this was something Brandy would face alone during the high school years of self-discovery.

“Nobody ever told me there are other genders out there. There was never a sex/health education class that had that,” explained Brandy. “I felt as if I did not belong and did not know where I fit in.” Brandy went on a three-year journey of “self-discovery” and moved from Rhode Island to Florida to be closer to extended family, thinking it would get better and become more manageable, all the while hoping she’d somehow be understood. It was the complete opposite. Eventually, after “sitting in a gay bar for six to seven hours,” Brandy said, “I came to the self-realization that this is not who I am. I moved back to Rhode Island, enrolled in college full- time, and have been at CCRI ever since, finishing up my associates degree.”

Brandy has reached out to others who identify as genderqueer and has built up a network of support in the area. Brandy states that Youth Pride has been a great resource and “friends make it a lot better.” Brandy hasn’t experienced much community at the Community College of Rhode Island, believing it to be a bit conservative at times and feeling misunderstood by professors, administration, and students. “I would like to see this change. I am trying to start the first genderqueer social group club.”

Brandy feels it’s important to find the courage to be who you are, strive to become who you want to be, advocate for yourself, and educate those who may not understand what it means to be genderqueer.

As I was wrapping up, I thanked Brandy for taking the time to open up to me and she shared one final thought: “We are all still fighting, and [we’re] not where we need to be. Progress still needs to be made.”

AIDS Project RI is a division of Family Service of RI, providing case management, various health-related services, advocacy, prevention education, and HIV and Hep-C testing. APRI’s location is 9 Pleasant Street, Providence. For more info, call (401) 831-5522 or visit