By Charlie Castle

As a queer agender child growing up in the incredibly binary Iranian culture, I had a very strange relationship with my gender. 

Nobody is born with any knowledge of gender because it is a social construct; so it is no surprise that as a toddler all the way until around 4th grade, I didn’t really even notice or care about my or other people’s gender.

However, as soon as I reached an age that adults saw “old enough” to force gender roles onto me — it being when AFAB individuals in Islam turn 9 and “mature up” — I was coerced into conforming to their immensely harsh set of rules. None of it felt right to me. Adults pointing out that I look more “developed”, having to wear a mandatory hijab, being expected to like and dislike certain things that others deemed “appropriate” for my gender, just to name two.

I subconsciously started to push back against the narrative, the box they had put me in was just too small, and I was suffocating. I wore hats instead of shawls and traditional hijabs, I cross-dressed quite frequently even though it is illegal to do so in Iran. Furthermore, I refused to shave despite grown adults shaming me, an 11-year-old, for having visible body hair. I tried my best to figure out who I was amongst the white noise that was trying to tell me who I “should” be.

When my binary society noticed my struggles, they decided, “Oh, maybe you are a boy and not a girl.” People constantly made comments like, “You should have been a boy,” or, “You are too manly even for a tomboy.” I distinctly recall a conversation I had with my in which where he asked me what my favorite car was and upon me answering that it’s a Jeep, he exclaimed, “You really should have been a boy, huh?” Because of course, only boys like Jeeps, right?

In his eyes, alongside with everyone else around me, there were only two choices, only two genders. You are either a girl or a boy; quite ironic when you note that the Persian language is in fact gender-neutral.

I knew I wasn’t a girl, and since the only other option I was presented with in my binary prison was a boy, I tried it out during a short family vacation. I bandaged my chest — something incredibly dangerous that you should never do — because I didn’t have access to a binder. I bought my clothes from the men’s section, and I even asked my dad to call me a masculine name for those 4 days. What I came to realize was that I liked having a flat chest, and I liked not being perceived as a girl, but I didn’t like being seen as a boy either.

I went back home from that trip, back to my “tomboy” self, even more confused than before about who I actually was; while the people around me waved the whole thing off as a phase.

I did a lot of research about gender-affirming operations, watching transgender YouTubers and reading about it online, and I learned that I wanted top surgery, but I didn’t want to take testosterone or get bottom surgery, yet in my head, it was almost as if all of them were a package deal. “You can’t just get top surgery, if you are going to do that, then you will have to fully commit to being a boy.” Throughout months and months of googling, it never occurred to me that I could just have the top surgery without any other ones; because It was always either a boy or a girl, my only two options.

Funnily enough, even as an eleven-year-old, I was aware of nonbinary people. One of my very first online friends identified as nonbinary and used they/them pronouns, actually. So it wasn’t really the lack of knowledge, but rather the fact that I didn’t feel like I was given that option because of the environment I was raised in.

Others could be nonbinary, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed. It was a bizarre way of thinking, something I was programmed into believing by the rigid culture I grew up in, and something that makes no sense now that I look back.

It took me a few more years of deconstructing all those prison bars people around me had put up, but with time, I became more and more myself. I realized that I was wearing hypermasculine clothing and acting stereotypically masculine, not because that’s who I was, but because I didn’t want to be misgendered. Ironically enough, as I became settled down into my skin and got comfortable with who I am, I embraced my femininity more than before.

Honestly, if I could talk to my younger self, I’d tell them, “Being trans and queer isn’t a concept that only applies to others; you can be trans, you can be queer, and you should do what makes you happy not what you are “supposed” to do. Gender is confusing. Gender is fluid. And most importantly, gender is what YOU decide it is. Do not let anyone tell you who you are, and if you feel lost, then welcome to the club because we are all figuring this out as we go.”

Charlies (they/them) is an Agender queer person from Iran who only recently left their country behind. They are pursuing a career in queer related NGOs since they want to help people just like them.