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By Leo Aquino
When the coronavirus pandemic first started in March, I surrendered to the moment. Like everyone else, I cherished my humble toilet paper reserves. I lined up to buy plants at Home Depot like a good millennial.
I took my financial losses as opportunities to show gratitude for what I have. Instead of worrying about my empty work calendar, I dusted off some craft supplies and watercolors. I gave my brain the permission to do things badly, slowly, and sloppily.
As global panic and fear swirled around me, I stayed calm. I found comfort in solitude. This extended time alone was an opportunity to meet myself once again.
For the first time in my life, I gave my gender room to breathe; to blossom; to define itself on its own terms, instead of forcing myself into a binary that I didn’t believe in.
Managing gender dysphoria before the pandemic
My human contact was limited to my two queer roommates and the few queer friends I have in the city.
As never-ending Zoom calls became our collective norm, I traveled back in time to 2004. Interacting with friends through a webcam, or through chat, brought back Little 13-year-old Leo.
Back then, my Michelle Branch album played softly in the background as I rearranged my Top 8 on Myspace. My friends and I would exchange our deepest, darkest secrets on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, for those of you that don’t know) for hours on end, much like I do on Zoom now.
In the late hours of the night, unfazed by 6 hours of online gossiping on AIM, I’d creep back into the shared family computer to use my private library of lesbian porn.
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At that age, I already knew that I was queer. I didn’t know any queer or trans people growing up, and I didn’t know anything about being gay. But I knew that this was the kind of thing I was supposed to keep a secret.
I also didn’t have a name for the gender dysphoria I experienced. I knew I didn’t want to be a girl, but I didn’t know how else to be. I felt trapped inside my body. Little Leo always wondered when they would get to be honest with themselves and everyone around them.
8-year-old Leo joined the party, too. I traveled back to the first time I ever watched Mulan. I cried when she asked, “When will my reflection show who I am inside?” Low key, one of history’s greatest trans anthems.
Like Mulan, I feared that being 100% honest about who I was would bring shame to my family. I folded the messy corners of my truth to fit into a straight, white-washed box. Instead of embracing my identity, I hid. I dutifully blended into the background, pretending to be a cis straight woman for far too long.
Coming out as gender-fluid
Decades later, in 2020, I finally had a chance to get to know all the Little Leos from my past that wanted to come out and play.
This pandemic has brought relief for queer people like me, who have always wanted a safe space to hide from the world’s hetero scaries. The time spent in lockdown gave me space to breathe, to reintroduce myself.
In the process of coming out to the world, I wrote 30 poems in 30 days. One after the other, the poems got more queer and more trans, reaching levels of queer holiness that I didn’t even know I had in me.
I wrote poems about cages shaped like bodies that housed little genderfluid boys who just wanted to come out in the sunshine and play. I wrote the Mulan fan-fiction that I’ve always craved: What if Mulan blended in as a boy and stayed that way?
I welcomed my younger self back into the sunshine, giving them all the celebration and support I’ve been craving since childhood.
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Exploring genderfluidity with intention
Spending the majority of my time alone for the past few months, I finally shook the weight of the world’s gender expectations. Finally, I didn’t have to deal with cis-heterosexual people, affectionally nicknamed cis-hets, who just threw gender pronouns in the air like they just didn’t care.
I didn’t have to worry about onlookers gawking at me and making assumptions about who I was based on how I dressed. I finally got the chance to just be.
Over the last six months, I’ve read books that have brought me closer to understanding my genderfluidity. I went to therapy and released difficult memories that were trapped inside of my muscles.
I tracked my hormones and gave my gender dysphoria — the feeling that your body doesn’t match the gender identity that you feel on the inside — room to breathe.
I masturbated after declaring my love for myself using positive affirmations.
I questioned my gender identity for a lifetime, but I didn’t have the language or community support to communicate what I was feeling — until now. Each small step that I took to love and care for myself brought me closer to my true self: