When we think of gender identity, of having an internal sense of gender, we conventionally think of named, standardized, boxed up labels. Man. Woman. Nonbinary. Trans. Genderqueer.

But that’s not the only way to be oneself, to know oneself, to feel oneself. To have an internal sense of gender. For many people, the standardized labels are confining and binding and painful. For many people, the standardized labels are terrifying, opening oneself to scrutiny and invalidation.

But they’re not the only way to experience identity.

Looking in the mirror and saying “that’s me!”, that’s identity too. Demanding from the world: “Look at me! This is me!”, that’s identity too. The euphoria of choosing your true name. The joy of being accepted and loved for who you are.

Gender identity, at the end of the day, is gender experienced from the inside. Nothing more, nothing less. You don’t need to “identify as” to have an identity. You can just be.

The examples I’ve given above are positive identity experiences, of gender congruence. But gender incongruence is also gender experienced from the inside. It is also gender identity.

Looking in the mirror and saying “that’s not me”, that’s identity. The pain of being confined into a set of expectations, that’s identity. A body that you know is wrong, even if you can’t say why, that’s identity.

If no labels ever had existed, if no boxes had ever been standardized, we would still exist. We would still be ourselves. We could still know ourselves. Labels are ancillary to gender.


What is my gender? Who am I? I call myself trans and nonbinary. Those terms aren’t wrong, but they’re broad flickering shadows. You can stare at those words all day long and you’ll never see me.

Instead, to see me, to see who I am, we must look closer. We must look at me.

I cry, for every reason. For happiness and catharsis and revelation.

I smile so wide I get vertical dimples at the sides of my cheeks.

I wear little shorts with pockets under my skirts, so I can carry around everything and look cute doing it.

I walk next to the railroad tracks under the bright sun, wearing a skirt and thigh-highs and a silky tank-top.

I collect little bits of metal strewn on the street.

I draw pink hearts on my cheeks, to express, not hide.

I speak in my new way, and my voice is so smooth and clean and natural that I can’t remember that it was ever different.

I drop two octaves to a otherworldly undertone, then pop right back up.

My skin is soft and smooth under my fingertips, up on my forehead, around my upper cheeks and under my eyes.

I wear forms for the day and take them off when I get home.

My soft chest hair lays smooth on my cute soft chest.

This is me. This is who I am. I see me. I know me.

Who are you?

A label maker

I saying I’ve heard, but can’t find a source for: “There are two kinds of nonbinary people: the kind that rejects labels, and the kind that owns a label maker.”

I think I’m both. I don’t want to shackle myself to an existing label. But I think I like making my own.

When we take on the mantle of a label, we are burdened with the weight of expectations placed upon that label. We can embrace those expectations or reject them, but we exist in proximity to them.

But what if a label had no expectations on it at all? A term that’s just mine, that exists solely as I manifest it. There’s a power to a label, of dragging something into existence and declaring “this is mine”. That feels right to me.

Here’s my try at conjuring something new.

I am an ulzilna: ul-zil-na /ʊlzɪlnɑ/

  • ul: joy, pleasure, satisfaction; star; flower; bud; to glitter, to shine.
  • zil: To make beautiful; to be loving, gentle, affectionate; to caress
  • na: they (third-person singular pronoun)

In ancient Sumerian, the language of Inanna and the Gala, the most trans-affirming language I know.

I am an ulzilna. I am the ulzilna. I am the only one there is or ever has been. That’s my gender, at least a facet of it.

For short, I’m a zilna. /zɪlnə/.

I’m a good zilna. Not a good enby, not a good boy or girl or man or woman. A good zilna.

I feel that joy when I write those words. The relief of seeing and being seen. The euphoria of identity.

You? You can adopt existing labels, popular or niche. You can invent your own. You can live your life without any of that. Explore. Enjoy.


You can experience gender, without climbing into a box.

You can be free: free of all constraints and expectations and pressure. Free to be anyone. Free to be you.

I’ll leave you with some songs that I treasure, which touch on this theme:

IDK If I’m a Boy, by Blue Foster.

Gender is Boring and Nvr Pass, by She/Her/Hers.

Tell Me a Story, by Skylar Kergil.