On Identity (specifically, mine)

[Hi there! I still love this post, because it captures a very specific snapshot of how much of myself I was willing to share with the world when I wrote it. However, it remains here for archival use only! Parts of this aren’t complete or accurate anymore—or they never quite were, but they were the closest I could comfortably get to actually telling the truth at the time. “Woman” isn’t part of how I talk about my gender at all anymore, and I’ve added some words like agenderflux and gendervague to my list of applicable identity terms. For a full, always-current list of terms and pronouns to use for me, please always refer to my FAQ page. Thanks!]

[Oh, and if you’re here because a troll sent you, thanks for the hate clicks. Fuck you.]

I have tried to write this post three times already.

On the one hand, it could have taken a lot longer to figure these words out—identity is a tricky thing—but on the other hand, most of my blogs have a single iteration. Drafts, sure, but throwing out a whole post and doing it again? Almost never.

I have tried to write this post three times. Enough to know that no amount of smooth introduction is going to do anything useful for me.

So, hi.

My name is [Eris] DeJarnett. Some of you already know me and love (/fear?) me. I’m a lot of things, and I could list them here, but today I’m just going to mention the ones that aren’t dependent on my art or my career: I’m a demigray genderfluid [nonbinary person] woman, but usually I just say I’m queer.

[I’m also pan, because of how my demisexuality informs the rest of my attraction; I hadn’t named that when I came out, so I’ve updated this to reflect this current reality. Like the rest of this, that isn’t particularly new, just a continuing discovery of more accurate terminology.]

Remember the end of Untouchable? When I said things were more complicated now? This is why. Because now, we’re not talking about sexism aimed at straight, cisgender women. (We haven’t really been for awhile, if you look closely—I’ve been sprinkling in more things over time—but I’m not going to keep pretending being assigned female at birth is the only part of the equation that applies to me.) Actually, the original version of Untouchable (which I lovingly called 5700) was going to dive into some of this. The post was going to end with me coming out. It was going to be an even bigger piece than it already was. Thankfully, one of my confidants on my review team pointed out that I owed my identity more than that. (thanks, Leila!)

Really, it’s a good point. My value extends beyond the mic drop at the end of a long analysis piece, even if I don’t always remember that myself. So, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to walk you through what my identity means to me and how I define it. After that, we’ll have a little sit-down and talk about why it took me this long after the move to come out—because if I had stayed in LA, it would almost certainly be common knowledge already.

Genderfluid is kind of a big word, especially if you’re not already acquainted with it. As with all gender identity things, you should defer to each individual person’s definition of their own descriptors, but here’s what it means to me: some days I’m very solidly a woman [lol no Eris you’re really not], some days I’m agender (aka not participating in gender at this time), and some days I’m somewhere in the middle. For me, things tend to shift on a scale of days, but other folks can vary. My pronouns are still she/her/hers, and if that changes at any point, I’ll update y’all. [pronouns have been updated: see bio or FAQ.] I currently have no plans to abandon she/her, but I may add another one if I settle on something that also feels good. Because I spend a lot of days feeling female or female-ish, genderfluid woman is the entirety of the term I use to describe myself. I’m not throwing out the “woman” part of the equation, because it’s still a major component of who I am. It’s just not the whole thing. If you’re referring to me in this way (which, for the record, shouldn’t be necessary the vast majority of the time), please don’t drop either word; they’re equally important. [this no longer applies!]

Demigray is a mishmash of two terms within the asexuality spectrum: demisexual and gray ace. Ultimately, they tell you a couple things about me. Demisexual tells you I don’t experience sexual attraction (yes, that’s a blanket statement) unless and until a strong emotional connection exists. Gray ace tells you that even after the demi constraints have been met, sometimes I just don’t experience attraction to anyone. (For everyone going, “that sounds like a normal sex drive!”, it’s on a scale of months, not days.) These things don’t particularly affect my day-to-day interactions like my genderfluidity does, and the specifics beyond what I’ve mentioned here are none of your business unless I’m sleeping with you, but they are just as worth mentioning, because they’re equally important parts of how I define myself.

I’m coming out in part because much of my appearance, choice in partners, and gender presentation almost always allow people to easily believe I am both straight and cisgender. And while my gender expression is tied up partly in appearance and partly in movement language and a couple other things, I don’t owe my cishet friends any degree of queer performativity. Might my aesthetic choices change over time to differently reflect my gender and sexuality? Yes! Absolutely! But if those changes happen, they’re going to be my decision, not something done at the behest of those around me. Additionally, please remember if I’m wearing a dress, that doesn’t inherently mean I’m [a girl] having a female day. You won’t really need to know [how specifically I’m categorizing my exact momentary gender identity] in most cases.

Think back again to Untouchable and all the compulsive hyperfemininity and hypersexualization I described. Now put all that into the brain of someone whose gender identity can be very at odds with that gender expression. Anyone who’s seen me over the course of my masters can attest—I mostly perform in pants and less aggressively feminine things. (Dresses, like I’ve said above, are still in the picture; I’m just opting to wear them when I really want to, which isn’t that often when I’m on stage. Unless they have pockets, that is.) Comfort is key not only because of its bearing on my ability to move freely but because it allows me to feel grounded in the version of myself some of y’all haven’t seen much of. My life has long revolved around literally trying [read: being forced] to be someone I’m not, and the compulsory cis- and heteronormativity I’ve encountered—in the world at large, across states and workplaces, during my time at ASU—gave me a lot of ugly, difficult things to work out for myself.

Really, take that something’s wrong with me feeling and multiply it by ten or so. Not only did that culture keep me in the closet when I was pretty sure I identified differently than most people assumed I did, it made coming out in Phoenix post-move much more of a struggle than it probably needs to be.

Thank god for CalArts.

And, if I’m being completely honest, the biggest reason I haven’t come out previously is because I’ve been terrified of the response from several high-ranking members of our Phoenix musical community. (For the record, many of my closest friends have known for a long time.) In coming out, I’m likely throwing away more opportunities I might have been able to capitalize on if I’d been content to remain quietly queer. I’m definitely risking being further tokenized in ways I absolutely will not stand for.

For the record, I’ve already started curating what ensembles I participate in and which bandleaders I play under based on the treatment I’ve received since returning to the desert. I left an ensemble early in the new year due in part to pervasive discomfort at a venue, in part to my continuing unwillingness to be the only gender-marginalized person (queer or otherwise) on a bandstand, and in part to sexist and queerphobic words freely uttered. Unfortunately, at the time I left, I did not feel safe enough to fully articulate these things (especially the last point). And while many of these choices to step away have technically been my own decisions, in most cases they’ve been guided by the behavior and inclusion (or lack thereof) at those halls and within those organizations. This is the insidious underbelly of bigotry in our spaces—marginalized people may not be overtly kicked out of venues and ensembles, but if the prevalent culture in those environments makes us feel unsafe and unwelcome, we will remove ourselves from the equation for our own protection. The people who are the best at sexism and queerphobia are the ones who make it look like we’ve shot ourselves in the foot with no outside influence. Those situations are incredibly hard to come back from, both for the person or institution who’s inflicted the harm and the marginalized folks significantly impacted by it.

And so, as I begin openly carrying more marginalizations on my back, I make the target bigger. I run the risk not only of dealing with queerphobic hate but also of people who have long looked to me as an advocate and authority on women in music deciding that maybe I don’t count anymore because I’m not a woman all the time. But the thing is, while my experiences as a queer person do play off of and interact with my experiences being perceived as a woman, neither cancels the other out. They both matter.

This is who I am. This is who I’ve been as long as most of you have known me. Nothing changes; you’re just in the loop now. I should’ve come out in October, when I wanted to. I should’ve come out again in February, when I wished I could. But here I am, public and loud and grounded in myself—just in time for Pride.

So in the end, I’m happy. With the timing, and with who I am.

Many thanks to Echo Rose, Rebecca Drapkin, Kaili Otsuka, Leila Jay, Nick St. Croix, and John Pisaro for beta reading this post.

Thanks for reading! If you learned something from this post and would like to tip me, head on over to my Ko-fi page. For more analysis and commentary like this in your life, check back again soon, and consider subscribing to my mailing list (at the bottom of the page or in the sidebar) for quarterly update emails on my biggest projects. To support the long-term work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @honestlyeris on Instagram.