If you happened to pass by me this morning while I was out for a run you’d have seen me in my usual state during exercise; huffing and puffing, streaming with sweat and growing increasingly red in the face. Look a bit more closely and you’d also have noticed the tears rolling down my cheeks.

The tears took me by surprise and were brought on by my choice of listening — an episode of the podcast Changes where Annie Macmanus interviews Kae Tempest. It brought up such a range of emotions for me that are bubbling to the surface again while I write this. The tears came from recognition, frustration, overwhelm and ultimately hope.

The interview starts with a conversation about words and writing, and it feels appropriate therefore that the reason I connected with this episode so much was because Kae was able to put into words their experience of childhood, a childhood that has echoes of my own, in a much more articulate way than I’ve ever been able to talk about mine.

They talk about effectively living as a boy until puberty at which point the world kind of forgets that we’re all just kids and starts to streamline the sexes — girls to the left, boys to the right. Of the challenge of getting your hair cut or buying clothes. Of constantly being asked ‘what are you?’

“But the people that knew me, knew me, and they accepted me for who I was. But it was hard to meet new people because you always have to start from zero. Like you know, what are you?”

I’m grateful that my family knew me too and let me be who I wanted to be and do what I wanted to do. But when you’re out of that bubble it’s tiring, and lonely, not feeling like you fit in and constantly having to explain yourself. I used to think it would be so much easier if I’d been a boy.

Now, with a whole heap of hindsight I’m grateful for my experience. Of being neither one nor the other. Of having such a strong sense of myself, and a big dose of stubbornness, that I didn’t feel I had to change to fit in to a world that wants you to pick a side. It makes me unique.

“I’m very glad of being this person now because I have the perspective of both. I have the perspective… which makes me sensitive to things about gender that cis people or people that have always been confident and comfortable in their gender, it would be much harder for them to have contact with. And this is real. This is what we have. This is the blessing of it. This is why it’s beautiful to have people like us in the world, because there’s things that we know that other people just don’t know.”

There’s so much more covered in this interview about discovering yourself, the creative process and how we cope amidst everything that’s going on in the world, that it’s well worth an hour of your time to listen to it all.

To finish though, I want to return to that question, ‘what are you?’ There are many answers. Each one is the right answer for a different audience. But ultimately the answer I want to give and that should be enough is — I’m me! Emma, Em, or Craggy (whatever name you know me by). That’s it. No other labels or qualifiers needed. Just me.

Tags: #reflection #listenting #exercise #gender