“What is it like?” She was asking about my experience of being a masculine-of-center woman who lives in Ethiopia.
It took me a moment to answer.
“Hard,” I finally said.
The stares are constant. People want me to fit into their comfort zone and my gender expression is an affront to their need to categorize gender into a neat binary of man and woman. As unsettling as they are, I can handle the stares. I am used to them.
Because when the stares don’t get a reaction from me some move to a more active articulation of their discomfort. They throw words at me. They call me “Kebe,” short for Kebede, a common Amhara name for men and often used to refer to masculine presenting women. That almost always gets a reaction from me. It is cutting and meant to put me in my place.
Because I was not raised to know my place. I have always bent, blended and blurred the lines of gender and have not been pressured by family to align my gender expression with what society deems “appropriate”.
Because I was raised to never compromise who I am to appease others.
Because the “natural” habitat of Ethiopian society is to fit in at any cost. And difference is frowned upon.
Because I cannot always predict how that frowning might be expressed. I never know if it will be words or fists that someone will throw my way.
Because it is exhausting to always fight to remain true to myself despite the constant fear and the toll that fear takes.
Because I have remained true to my authentic self – an unapologetic gender bending, blending, blurring queer woman.