Sweater Gender

“Do you want to be androgynous?”

When my friend asked me this, I paused. I had never considered it before.

I’ve never been particularly feminine, nor particularly masculine. I grew up climbing trees, playing in dirt, playing pretend (never house), catching bugs, exploring, and drawing and writing things. My favorite color for a long time was pink. I’m not super good at putting on nail polish, but I’ll do it anyway if it’s black. I’ve preferred my hair short since I was nine years old. I only recently started wearing makeup—mostly just black eyeliner. Honestly, I wish I could draw other things on my face and not have people question my life choices. I don’t shave my legs very often, mostly because it doesn’t serve a functional enough purpose for me to regularly invest that time. Though I will complain about the cultural paradigm that makes this decision something for women to be self-conscious about. (Because it’s dumb. People shouldn’t care.)

I’ve always identified as female, but with regards to gender expression, I find I’m rather neutral. So when my friend posed the question, I really began to wonder—am I agender? Would I rather be androgynous?

I feel I’m in the right body anatomically. Since I was a kid, I’ve periodically asked myself whether I’d choose to be male or female if I had the choice. And the answer has always been female. These days the answer to that question remains the same.

Overall, I’m satisfied with my genetic allotment. But its role in procreation is not nearly as important to me as being human. With a mind and a personality. And I can’t stand when I’m categorized, objectified, or stereotyped because of the anatomical and physiological result of two X chromosomes instead of one.

My physical container keeps me tethered to this earth and it serves me well, but I don’t want to be labeled and pushed into a mold because of it. Some people are good at fitting into the traditional gender binary. Some people are comfortable in it, and love identifying as either a man or a woman with the traits typically assigned to males and females. There’s nothing wrong with this.

But I do sometimes wonder what it feels like to fit.

I’ve always just wanted the features of my biological sex to stay out of my way. I’ll deal with menstruation for good measure, because I really don’t know what the future holds. At any rate, I just want to be able to navigate through life as who I am, doing what I do and not because I’m male or female. But because I’m a human being. Female, sure, but human.

For now, my gender expression is big sweaters, deep thought, converse, and fiction. Whether that’s female or not, I don’t know. Gender identity means different things for different people. In my case, gender and biological identity line up in my mind, so I comfortably identify as female. But I’m aware that our culture has compartmentalized and constructed restrictive tropes of what male and female gender expression is supposed to look like.

Gender is a fluid spectrum, the lines of which depend on sociological constructs. Same as the question of what is “normal.”

But we’re all human. That should be a key point of reference—but, sadly, it is something we assign and segregate away in many more issues than just gender identity.

The way things are going, I hope we’re coming to a place where we can stop categorizing each other and differentiate between preference and necessity, and that we can identify and learn to embrace who we are, whatever that looks like.

Because given our wild, creative, boundary-defying Creator, I’m pretty sure that would be more amazing than we could ever understand.

The Question

“What’s your book about?”

I appreciate this question. It shows me an individual is interested in my work, and I have the chance to share a bit of my heart with them.

Except, most times, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I come up with an excuse, or, after a long, uncomfortable hesitation, I say, “Well…essentially, it’s about mad science and stuff.”

And I’m hyper aware that that says absolutely nothing.

If I’m pressed for details, I’ll eventually open up. A few have drawn the full description out of me, but the majority have been polite enough not to pry further. They’ll find out when I publish it, I suppose.

I still haven’t quite figured out how to verbally give a synopsis of the book in everyday conversation. And it tends to come up a lot—as people ask me what I’ve been up to and I often answer truthfully: “Editing.” But when they ask for details, I shy away from taking up their time talking purely about my work and the world and characters I quite frankly think about all the time.

And for some reason, I don’t feel like I’m important enough to be claiming that time? When they themselves asked the question. It’s weird and backwards and insecure, but perhaps that’s why I’m writing about it.

Maybe I hesitate because it’s so incredibly personal. Yes, I’m going to be publishing the book and I want people to read it. My name’s going to be on it. Currently, if people ask to read it, I will gladly send a tidbit or the entirety of the latest draft, depending on how close I am to the individual.

But being asked to describe my book is like being asked to explain in depth what I think are my greatest qualities. Not that I think my book is my greatest quality, but like anything about me, I’d rather they experience it and see for themselves—pick out the meaning and let it resonate with them as it will. I’m terrified that whatever paltry synopsis I offer will turn them away from it, or make it sound odd and indulgent. Because anyone can write a book. And perhaps too many people are very self important about the pursuit.

For me, strangely enough, writing a book doesn’t feel like too onerous a task. Sure, it takes a great deal of effort and time, but I’ve been obsessed with the activity since I was a kid. No matter how busy I am, I’m always writing, always creating. If I don’t, my heart begins to suffocate. To stay healthy and sane, I must create characters and tell their stories.

So I’m at a point in my life where I’ve finished a book and I’m working on getting it perfected for publication. It’s a source of frustration at times, but it’s what I do to unwind and recover from everything else. It feels very much normal for me. Writing lengthy fiction is what I’ve always done. And sometimes I realize it isn’t a common reality for most people. So then I feel like I’m bragging, and I shy away from being in the spotlight.

Normally, I’ll enjoy occasional moments of attention, taking part in a conversation, letting my presence have bearing. But finding someone suddenly preparing to give me their full attention as I explain the workings of my heart and mind…It’s terrifying.

I freeze up.

I deliberate.

I war between wanting to be honest and brave, but being so excruciatingly uncertain of how my exposition will be received.

So I end up lamely brushing off their request. And that bothers me a bit. I feel like I’ve denied them the answer to a very innocent, well-meaning question—like I don’t trust them enough to be even slightly open with them.

But it’s my heart. Even if I know they’ll be gentle with it, I am afraid to show it. I’m afraid to be completely forthright about what it entails. What it has created, what connections it has sought to foster, what efforts it has made to benefit the world.

I easily open up with people about pretty much everything else—my struggles, desires, fears and insecurities. I’ll often end up steering one-on-one conversations toward deeper matters if given enough time and attention, because I feel like knowing what other people struggle with helps us find support in each other. It helps us humanize each other.

So ask me about what I’m insecure about, and I’ll tell you with little reservation.

But ask me what my book is about—and you may be handed something disappointingly vague.


I like to pretend I no longer have to actively manage my time.

Struggling with non-motivation and fatigue must be a thing of the past. There has to be a way to avoid working on something I really don’t want to work on when I’m so tired I want nothing else than to sleep for a hundred years—or draw something instead.

And I keep telling myself I need to be better at time management, but I’ve yet to actually do so.

This week, I’m not even sure how I finished any homework. I have spent the majority of my industrious hours engaged in editing/retyping my book, having burned through 66 pages this week. Some nondescript chunk of time was spent on homework, and the rest was spent in miscellany—most of which I imagine was lost to procrastination.

It’s so hard to really concentrate on anything other than relationships and my creative pursuits. Especially as I’m so close to finishing this book, it’s mostly all I want to work on. I’m making good headway on the sixth draft, and afterward, I’ll be sending it out for another round of peer review, and after a couple more revisions following that, I’ll be sharpening up my pitch. Soon I’ll actually be working on publication. It’s really hard to believe.

And childhood dreams are more important than presentations about sponges, right?

I don’t know. It’s at least a lot more important to me.

But completing my degree is still a high priority. I can’t lose sight of it. I’m not even all that busy with classes, comparatively. I deliberately crafted my schedule to make room for editing/publishing my book and preparation for art school in a year.

And all of this planning and hoping and inward screaming is so real, so vivid. I make all these plans, but I can’t predict anything. Life is so fragile. It actually freaks me out quite a bit. Then I go procrastinating and spending much of my time avoiding things that really don’t take me all that much time to complete.

Each moment I waste is a moment I can’t get back. And I don’t like to think of that.

But there is a line, a balance. Between using every moment to the best of my ability, but also recognizing that I’m human. I have a finite amount of time on this earth, and whether I like it or not, a great deal of it will be spent in maintenance—resting, cleaning, staring off into space…

And while I still cringe at how much time I won’t spend working on my creative pursuits, I must trust God enough to be ok with that.

But I can at least try to cut down on the number of times I check tumblr per day.

At the End of it All

I began Thursday sprinting across campus in the dark.

Backpack clenched in one hand, spare sweatshirt in the other, I had four minutes to cross what normally takes about ten.

I would have gotten less than five hours of sleep had I slept well. But I was repeatedly startled awake by the loud, demonic vibrations of the wind through the quirky blinds of my room, and my sleep was already light from the restless fear that I would sleep through my alarm. I had even had a bad dream about being unprepared for this fieldtrip.

And after an awful, short, and fitful night, I still overslept.

It’s one thing to worry about it, but it’s quite another day-maker to have it actually happen.

I had to be clear on the other side of campus by 5:30am. I made it by 5:31. Pride hurt, lungs burning, and limbs very rudely awakened, I climbed numbly into the van with my classmates. I was the last one to arrive. And I felt completely awful physically for a good half an hour.

This week has been full of new experiences and the discomfort and stress that accompanies that, along with unwanted happenstances tagging along for the ride: stupid blunders, forgetting important matters, botching first impressions, avoiding homework because I’m still somehow refusing to manage my time more wisely, the inability to use my car because the battery’s dead, feeling like a heretic faced with spilling my guts to one of my dearest friends about a topic we don’t agree on, making an important phone call only to be too shy to leave a message and wondering when I should try again. And because I’ve been avoiding homework all week, Thursday night promised to be rather long.

But Thursday night brought an utter meltdown. An angry, desperate onslaught of tears as I sat on the edge of my bed, elbows resting on my knees and my hands clasped behind my ducked head. Because I was just so incredibly done. With explaining myself, with doctrine, with religion, with gender roles, with injustice, with social norms, with everything. I had had it.

But I still had one more day of classes left for the week. And the last day was a new one. I would feel better once I had slept.

But Friday morning, I slept two hours later than I had wanted, and I had distressing dreams within that time, most of which was dominated by the suffocative feeling that my throat was nearly swelled closed–which I imagine was because I had unknowingly draped my arm over my breathing holes and didn’t wake up from it. Then I tweaked my neck in tennis class and it still hurts. Tonight, the internet malfunctioned all over campus, so I missed a Skype date without being able to explain before they had already left (because even my phone wouldn’t work properly). And I had homework due tonight that I needed internet to turn in.

Luckily, I found working wifi at a nearby coffee shop.

If that, too, had been malfunctioning, I might have literally flipped a table.

This has just been one of those weeks—such a short span that leaves me in the corner hissing at life by the end. I don’t know why this one particularly was so stacked against me, rendering me emotionally compromised and then continuing its abrasion. I began to wonder about spiritual warfare—as I’m getting involved in controversial matters I normally wasn’t inclined to even think about much, and that I believe the results of which will do some good in this world. And about these matters, I’m thinking critically and ardently, being more willing than ever to question the way things are done.

And the advent of progress heralds resistance, both physically and spiritually. Which is kind of terrifying.

But at the end of this crappy week, I am left grateful for a few things, things which have seemed to rise to the surface of the sludge and exist outside the timeframe of one lame occurrence after another:


For dear friends, who encourage discussion, who listen with open minds, who have the patience to let me rant about the awfulness I have been wading through, and who know best how to support me when I just hate everything.

For art buddies, who get excited about my work, lovingly give me feedback and offer much appreciated art major knowledge, and propose regular meetings to draw together for fun.

And for simple things, like naps, lovely morning weather, and vent art.


So this week was butts.

But still, at the end of it all, I know I’ll be ok.

In which Andromeda failed me

Sunday night, I had procrastinated long enough.

I had spent the day being industrious, immersed in story-planning and also weighing my options for housing in San Francisco in a year, which were painfully restricted for the sheer lack of monetary resources I have at my disposal. But it’s fine—stuff works out. And now I have a more concrete foundation with which to start planning, so things are generally looking up.

I thought it was high time I bought some mochi (doughy rice cake with red bean/taro paste in its center), and I figured I might as well refurnish the fridge with milk while I was at it. And I had a car, so I could just go and retrieve said comfort food to help me push through the remainder of my homework for the evening.

So I found my roommate and we mounted Andromeda, my little white 1999 Saturn, which I had completely paid for up front just three weeks ago. I don’t mind its quirks so much because it runs well enough. After overcoming its wayward glove compartment, which was refusing to close after I had opened it to retrieve something, I finally settled into the driver’s seat. I stuck the key in the ignition and turned it.


Confused, I paused, turned it back, then tried again.

Nothing responded. No clicking, no revving. Absolutely no response whatsoever.

“Are you serious?” I laughed sharply, trying it again with a greater amount of desperation.

Surprise gave way to anger. Seriously. I’ve only had this car for three weeks. I bought the thing with my own money. I had so much faith in that car. And I’m sorely awaiting my next paycheck. I’m saving up to travel—a trip I have been looking forward to for a good year and a half. How much money would I have to spend on this car? Would it jeopardize my finances for my trip to Costa Rica?

I called my friend with a car to see if she was available to jump it—which was a dumb idea, I realized, because I wouldn’t have wanted to drive it anywhere anyway—because it would likely leave me stranded wherever I took it.

As I tried to remember how to jump a car without getting electrocuted, I received a text from my dad to call home when I had time. I had texted him about the car.

I called and, as I explained the situation, assuring him I wasn’t stranded, I fought to keep my voice steady. I was so freaking angry. I wanted to demand an explanation from my silent little car. It just sat there, quiet, unresponsive, unapologetic. It should have looked downright penitent, but of course, it’s a car, so that wasn’t happening.

And it wasn’t really the car’s fault, I guess. I had just desperately hoped something like this wouldn’t take place. Because it was the last thing I could afford. An acutely disconcerting event I pray is not an indicator of its performance in the future when I can afford it even less.

My dad thought it was the battery, which I had been a little too flustered to even think about. I had just assumed my car had called it quits. He offered to bring me a new one next weekend, meaning I don’t have to pay for it, and I’ll learn a bit about cars for future reference—which kind of puts my mind at ease.

But still.

My friend offered to drive us to where we needed to go, but while we were at a gas station headed through town, her water pump started leaking a rather alarming amount, so we had to turn back (she has an old car too). So I gave up on excursions for the time being and made myself coffee, having received a whiplash reminder that unexpected things happen. Stupid, inconvenient, last-thing-you-can-tolerate-right-now things.

But alas. Life goes on. And it generally turns out all right in the end, wherever that may be.

I shouldn’t freak out so much.

Milk Tea

milkteaI had ridden the bus from Monte de la Cruz back to San Rafael perhaps once or twice in my life, and I was still feeling nervous as I arrived back at my host family’s house. The rest of the evening stretched before me, of sitting and socializing as best as I could with my unconfident, apologetic Spanish before I settled down to work on my mountain of daily homework. Being an introvert using broken Spanish in an unfamiliar environment, I wondered where my limit was with this routine.

“Do you want coffee or tea?” Rosi asked as I sat down at the glass dining room table and my host mom continued through the white-curtained doorway to the kitchen.

“Tea’s fine,” I responded, glancing at the clock. “Thank you.”

“With or without milk?”

“With milk.”

Rosi and I would sit at the table enjoying afternoon coffee or tea quite later than normal for many Costa Ricans, since I came back from classes around 6pm. Usually, she would do most of the talking in our conversations, and I would nod and do my best to comprehend and answer questions. I usually understood most of what she said. The structure of our conversations suited me well back then, in that it wasn’t demanding or too terribly stressful, and I learned quite a bit about faith, family, and life in general.

And Rosi, a petite woman with short, curly black hair and an eager smile, has had some amazing experiences. In a constant battle with herniated discs in her back, she has faced death twice, but pulled through. She and Gilberth, her husband, believe God provides and that each day, healthy or otherwise, is a gift. And while I agree with them, I know I don’t understand it anywhere near as well as they do.

Rosi and Gilberth do their best to remember to speak clearly and enunciate when they talk to me, but sometimes Rosi especially gets excited and goes off a little too quickly for me to follow. I’m getting better at it, though.

Many afternoons, I would have té con leche with Rosi and Gilberth, and it was the best tea I had ever had. Up until that point I had experimented with adding milk to tea, but it had never been as perfect as the tea Rosi makes.

God willing, this summer I will be able to go back to Costa Rica and spend time with my host family, to have tea and share more stories and make more memories, now that my Spanish has improved and they’re extended family, not friendly strangers.



The Seoul subway system is glorious. With a good map, a naïve traveler like myself can easily traverse around the staggering size of South Korea’s capitol. On my juniors abroad trip this last May, we learned to navigate said system, and we had ample free time to explore and have adventures, some of which took us to Kyobo Bookstore, the Eat Your Kimchi Studio, and Namdaemun Market.

One of the many things I love about Asia is that milk tea is super available there, in convenience stores, grocery stores, coffee shops, and even in the subway. On one occasion, a few friends and I were on our way back through the latter, and we found a small bubble tea shop. (Bubble tea is milk tea with tapioca pearls or the like in it).

Spur of the moment, we entered, because I’m obsessed with milk tea, and why not? We had time. And they had taro bubble tea, which I couldn’t pass up.

I tried to use as little English as I could with the cashier. In South Korea, some of the people we encountered at the register were eager to talk with us and ask where we were from. Others would get this nervous look in their eyes, as if silently willing me not to start spouting a significant amount of English. I understand the latter feeling all too well, and I tried to have mercy on them. I only wish I spoke more Korean.

We stayed in the bubble tea shop until we had just about finished our tea, because even though the space was tiny, it was also bright and friendly, and there were a few tables, despite the scarcity of elbow-room. Part of me wanted to leave because we were so close to the cash register, but I found ways to keep my awkwardness at bay—mostly by watching my friends talk to the women working the counter.

We didn’t stay there significantly long, but I still clearly picture that teashop between two subway lines under Seoul. When I have similar drinks here in the United States, I still think of the that place, of trying to take up as little space as I could because 5’5 ½” is still kind of tall for a person in Korea. I think of the new friends I made and everything I saw and learned in my short time there.


So I have a preoccupation with milk tea. In and of itself, the drink is beautiful, hot or cold. But for me it is also a reminder of my travels, of the relationships and experiences I have found through them, and how they continue to change me. And it serves as a teaser, a deep-seated conviction that many more experiences are yet to come.

While my studies are keeping me more-or-less tethered to one region for the next eight months, I keep Tutti Frutti tea from Costa Rica, black tea, and sugar in my cupboard, and milk in the fridge.

For now, I’ll work and study and dream, and when the time comes, I’ll break out my passport again.