Re-Entry to MY Gender Identity

Shelby Elzinga
4 min readAug 25, 2021


Alternative title: The queer pick-me girl that eventually picked herself

Photo by Camille Brodard on Unsplash

I might date myself here, but I didn’t find out I was pan until I was 14, and ace until I was 23. Back then, that was normal. I am not sure whether the realization of queerness came first, or the gender confusion. All I remember is that there was a girl I liked, but I didn’t really know what to do with the crush. There was no narrative for it. It was not like it is now where there are many shows, even for kids, where female-female relationships are normalized. I was part of that generation that enjoyed Disney renaissance movies. There was always the prince, and the princess. The prince didn’t have to actually be a prince. He could be dashing or dorky, but there was always an unassuming masculinity and agency about him. He moved the story. There was the princess — again, didn’t have to be one, just look the part.

I definitely looked the part of a princess. I grew up with tea parties, fake lace gloves, blankets tied around me to emulate the train of a dress. I also liked playing outside and building things. I even had a way with computers, but those were details. People were proud of my beauty and femininity, but for the meantime I got to keep the “details”. Granted, I came from a rather conservative background — the type where in recent history you would have been required to vote for Trump. Thankfully I left long before that point. I am getting ahead of myself though.

I developed a crush on a girl, admiring her nurturing nature and cute laugh. But it confused me because I think I consciously was used to the feminine being the, well, female. Here I was, starting to get known but disliked for my confidence. I was articulate and a know-it-all much like my male peers. So I think I figured “Oh, I am the masculine side of relationship”. So I started dressing the part around that time. Jeans every day. Collared shirt also every day, save for the occasional t-shirt. The skirts and dresses went to the back of the closet.

This caused so much of an uproar amongst those responsible for me, to the point it is just comedic now. I remember getting pulled aside by a teacher for a very indirect “I won’t say it but you should hear it anyway” conversation about how “a little bit of complacency is OK”. Everyone should try to fit in to some extent, even if not much. This might have also been when I discovered the more mischievous side of me. I liked the rise I got out of people that thought they could just control other, submissive girls because I wasn’t like other girls.

Just to illustrate how surreal this environment could get, this same teacher nagged and nagged for all the girls to agree to wear skirts one day. She argued we should do it “to celebrate when we weren’t allowed to wear pants”. Aren’t we celebrating that anytime we go into our closet and pick out an outfit of clothing we chose from the store? I must have thought. I relented to shut her up, haplessly wearing one of my mom’s skirts that didn’t know what to do with weirdly large hips for puberty.

Looking back it was backwards, and not to mention creepy. If she was male or even at a non-private school, I can’t imagine she would have had her job much longer after that “commemoration of women empowerment”.

If you were wondering, it never went anywhere with the girl. The aforementioned hips though never stopped going, and soon I learned no one knew how to make pants for my body type. But for me it worked out, because I rediscovered my love of flowy skirts. I was still not sure what to do with the “masculine or feminine” question.

I got my answer soon enough though. I specifically remember a camping trip where my relatives were poking fun at the fact I was “very girly”. I remember thinking later, “Isn’t that what you all want though?”

I think ultimately it was the questions that didn’t get answered, not the ones that did, that helped me decide what to do with my gender identity. No one could give me a good answer on why having a more proactive and/or aggressive personality needed to be gendered. But in a way I think they thought it was absurd too. The women and girls around me I was taught were ideal had their beauty praised, but clearly were capable of more. But it came out in the form of gossip, passive-aggressiveness, tongue-in-cheek jokes, and fake humility. I realize now though it was the way they were able to exert agency within the framework they were given. But also that I didn’t need to stay in that framework.

I now gladly work in computers for a living, wear mascara sometimes, like to go outside, and am known for rarely wearing pants. I no longer do any “self-care” tasks that are entirely for other people, like shaving my legs (I am still a bit of troll and enjoy the reactions). Since leaving that environment I have easily found people that can talk shop with a man as easily as a woman. I am known for my strong-willed nature, but seek out nurturing friends to balance my personality. I re-entered the world as myself, and not as an idealized version or refutation of the narrative thrust upon me of my childhood.



Shelby Elzinga

THE scooter girl. Jill of all trades. Mostly best at failing at tech. Needs to get better at writing bios.