Working Toward Self-Acceptance, Love, and Sharing: AdriAnne Strickland talks #OwnYourOwn Voice

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People sometimes laugh when I tell them that I’m a—and here a deep breath is often required, both to steady myself and to get through the list—genderfluid biromantic asexual.

Their laughter seems to imply: What on earth is the point to all of that?

Which is often why I just say I’m queer, or if I’m feeling less safe, simply “bi.” Bi, for my own purpose, can stand in only the sly for other things: for example, biromantic, implying my asexuality, but people can just assume I’m saying “bisexual” and be none the wiser. They don’t often NEED to know more, especially if their knowing will only be harmful, or if I simply don’t feel like sharing.

But, at various points in my life, I’ve needed to know. I’ve needed to share. And for those times, labels have been useful.

My labels have, and maybe still will change, but it’s having them at my disposal that has helped me work through some really tough times in my life. I wish I’d had them earlier, as a teen or even a preteen. I wish I’d seen myself in the books and movies around me, but I never did, at least not that I could easily find, especially without knowing what to look for.

As a kid, I thought I was a tomboy, never playing with dolls and despising pink, but it went beyond that. I often forgot I wasn’t a boy. In most of my dreams I was, but on the flipside I tried to forget that fact, since I couldn’t make sense of it. As a preteen sitting in front of the “X-Files,” I most wanted to be Mulder, not Scully, and I didn’t understand why. When Rand Al’Thor had sex for the first time in The Wheel of Time, my favorite fantasy series at the time, I was horrified by what felt like a betrayal (even though it wasn’t explicit in the least), and then figured there must be something wrong with me for sure, since sex was what all of my friends were starting to talk about. When I found out that a common way to mispronounce my name, “Adrian,” was gender neutral/masculine-leaning, I had to pretend I didn’t like it so people wouldn’t think I was weird.

Don’t get me started on being a teen. Once puberty hit, I had no clue what the heck I was feeling—I still often forgot I was a girl, even though in the mirror I saw someone even more noticeably “a girl” (as I’d been taught to think of femaleness). And yet, despite the fact that my boobs were surprising, now sometimes I liked being a girl, even though wearing makeup and skirts always felt like playing dress-up, or even dressing in drag. Now, instead of just wanting to hang out with boys, I found myself noticing girls more than guys, but I hated when either of them paid me too much of a certain type of attention. And yet, if I only wanted to be friends, why was I still attracted to and flirtatious with people I found pretty? Why did I want to be with someone if I wasn’t drawn to sleeping with them?

Long story short, it was miserable, and ultimately made me very depressed.  Sometimes, I hated myself for being so incomprehensible and just plain weird. I thought I was broken, unlovable.

It was only in my twenties that I started searching for answers and discovered the tools to pick through all of this—the information, supportive people, and yes, labels—to understand what I was feeling, and come to terms with it. To embrace it.  I get that being put in a box, or feeling confined by a label, isn’t a good thing, but for me labels have often been freeing, changeable tools to help unpack what’s inside of me. Knowing myself has helped me love myself. To own my own voice, in keeping with the awesome theme of the day.

Because I am a giant goofball, and not so computer-graphically-inclined, I mapped out the process with my handy four-color editing pen on a piece of paper:

adrianne strickland ownyourown

It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve realized: Yes, it’s okay to not always feel like a girl in my head—whether that means I feel only vaguely like a girl, even occasionally like a guy, or like neither at all—and yet to not want to transition (for a number of complicated reasons, being married to a straight guy one of them), because there’s a difference between gender identity and gender expression. (This is not to say that there aren’t many people out there who NEED to transition—this is just me.)

It’s also okay for me to be romantically and aesthetically attracted to both girls and guys (and everyone in between and outside of that binary), and yet for that attraction to never extend to the sexual, because romantic attraction and sexual attraction are two different things.

It’s also okay to be asexual and to still engage with a caring, loving partner sexually, and to be bi(romantic) and married to a dude, because how I look or whom I’m with don’t determine me. I determine me.

But I didn’t find this out easily. I had to track down these pieces of knowledge like a scavenger hunt. If only I’d had exposure to these labels, and to genderfluid/bi/asexual visibility, I could have been that much happier, that much sooner. Because of a lack of visibility, how many people are in the position I was in, or, if they already know the truth about themselves, are afraid to put it out there?

shadow run adrianne strickland michael millerI still don’t often see myself reflected in the world around me, which is why I make an effort to be (within my comfort zone) visible, myself. And now, because I’ve come to terms with myself, I’m okay with putting characters like me into my writing, when I wasn’t before. Shadow Run, my coauthored YA sci-fi, has a prominent (albeit non-PoV) character who is genderfluid. The Black Door, my latest YA fantasy WIP, has a biromantic asexual main character. I’m more than okay, in fact, with sharing these characters in the hope that a new understanding might “click” for even one other person, or that they’ll finally see themselves in what they read—I’m excited. And, amazingly, my agent and editor have (so far, at least!) been excited, too.

TL;DR: I had to accept myself, own my own voice, before I could encourage others to do the same.  If ever you’re wondering who you are, don’t be afraid to explore and experiment, to search far and wide for a reflection of yourself, and, once you’re ready, to put yourself into your art. If you feel safe, sharing yourself like this is not only wonderfully freeing, it can also let others know, if they think they’re incomprehensible and weird, that they’re not. And that they’re not alone.

You’re loveable, relatable, and important, and your voice is worth being heard.

And I’m right here with you.

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Adrianne Strickland

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