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How Ruby Rose allowed me to break free from gender

May 20, 2018

How was I supposed to confront my identity if I was unaware that my identity could even exist?

The first time I saw my gender represented in the media was in Ruby Rose, the Australian model and actor who gained mainstream fame through her role as Stella in Orange Is the New Black. Though Stella never discussed her gender identity on the show, Rose used her platform to advocate for gender nonconforming identities on a global scale, particularly with her critically-acclaimed short film Break Free. The film was about Rose transitioning through the gender binary of femininity and masculinity, and allowed me to abandon my previous delusions about gender binarism by rejecting social stigmas and perceptions. After I watched it, I no longer felt that I could only exist as one or the other.

I came out at age 14 and identified as a gay woman until age 19. These years were pivotal in my growth and development within a small town in Connecticut. While I was confident in my identity and began a lifelong advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community, I admittedly wasn’t aware of the complexities of the transgender experience. I only understood the transgender community as one specific and singular definition: Individuals who transitioned between two genders on a binary scale. Based on this misconception, I believed I was most certainly female.

My lived experiences affirmed my feminine identity. Physically, I enjoyed wearing makeup and long blonde hair extensions—something that our society categorizes as hyperfeminine. On a darker and emotional level, I was victimized by revenge porn and sexual violence, and my naked body was exposed and exploited online. I was then ridiculed and objectified by comments that secured my position as a woman. I did not think I could ever be anything else, even if I never felt fully and authentically female. I recalled moments in my youth when I experimented with masculinity through gender performance and altering my appearance. During these moments, I remember feeling the most comfortable and free.

Leah Juliett accepting their GLAAD Rising Stars Grant, April 2018. Getty Images for GLAAD.

After first seeing Ruby Rose on television, I began a long journey of learning about her identity and genderfluid identification. For over a year, I mirrored my identity around hers, and started saying I was genderfluid. After meeting my partner, Owen, who identifies as transmasculine nonbinary, I was taught the plethora of gender nonconforming identities and gender pronouns that existed. I realized that my gender did not fluctuate, as most genderfluid identities do, but maintained a constant gender neutrality while I rejected the gender binary.

I came out as nonbinary in late 2016 and began using they/them/theirs pronouns. This new gender identification shifted my sexual identity: I no longer identified as a woman who liked women. Instead, I came out as queer and began opening myself up to the complexities and nuances of gender and sexual orientation. I’d broken free from the binaries and barriers I once used to confine myself.

Now comfortable and confident in my gender and sexual identities, I credit Ruby Rose for providing the visibility that allowed me to explore my authentic self. But I also credit myself for doing the work to determine which identification best reflected who I was.

I hope that Ruby Rose and other gender-nonconforming actors like Asia Kate Dillon continue to courageously pressure media to create visible identities of people like me. And I hope, even more, that marginalized gender identities will continue to bravely create legibility for themselves.

#WeStan is an amp original series honoring LGBTQ legends in media because we know that representation matters. Follow along on GLAAD social mediaFacebook, Instagram, Twitterto see who our fans stan!

Leah Juliett is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and junior at Western Connecticut State University studying political science. They are the Founder and Executive Director of the #MarchAgainstRevengePorn. Leah is a 2018 GLAAD Rising Stars Grant recipient.

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