Deconstructing My Labels by Thorny Sterling

Two years ago, I discovered the label “genderfluid” and had an epiphany. It was the word for which I’d had a vague definition for a while, but now I had a real term I could point at and say, “That’s me.” It was a really powerful moment for me.

Last year, I wrote a blog post where I deconstructed a few labels that share similarities with genderfluid.  Those being cross-dressing, drag, kink, and transgenderism. I wasn’t just defining them for my audience, but for myself.

I’d like to revisit those definitions and expand on them after another year of growth and understanding. Please keep in mind, this is how I define these labels as they pertain to me.


This is how I first came to express my genderfluidity. Being DMAB (designated male at birth), dressing in clothing sold on the girls’ side of the store was always taboo and risky. But it often felt more normal and appropriate. I think I recognized this even as a little kid playing dress-up with my best girl friend because I’d hate to stop wearing one of her mom’s slips as a dress and put my boy clothes back on when it was time to go home. I see cross-dressing now as my gateway to understanding myself. It started here, with the clothing that makes me appear female, but it doesn’t end here.


With wearing clothes designated for females comes an inevitable question of how far I’m going to take it or how much I’m going to wear. I see drag as a much bigger step than I want to take. Right now, for me, I don’t feel the need to wear bras and fill the cups with silicone breast forms, nor do I feel I should tuck away anything between my legs to hide any evidence. I might “pass” for a woman, but it’s not necessarily my goal. And while not all people who dress in drag are trying to “pass,” they do seem to me to have one very big thing in common: performance. Big personalities and a spotlight so they can be seen. That’s not me. I’m trying to express myself, but I don’t want that much attention. While I don’t mind if someone sees my cross-dressing expression of genderfluidity and calls it drag, I don’t call it that.


Wearing lingerie feels sexy and I know I express that feeling when I’m wearing it. My husband likes to play a guessing game sometimes about what I underclothes I’m wearing at any given time, and he’s hardly ever wrong. (He sometimes guesses panties when it’s really a jock, which, for me, is equally sexy for the same reasons on different days.) But that’s the extent of the kinkiness associated with what I wear. What I know about the kink of men wearing lingerie seems to circle around humiliation. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m not, but I definitely don’t put these clothes on, apply makeup, or do my hair so I can feel worse about myself. Doing these things makes me feel better. If there’s a kink at all, it’s in being desired for how I look.


Last year, I gave serious thought to whether I suffered any gender dysphoria as a way to determine if I was interested in transitioning. I figured that, if I felt wrong in my body, then that would be the big tip-off. But there’s nothing that exercise or a good pair of heels won’t let me fix about my body. I don’t feel I would be better, more comfortable in my skin, if I didn’t have a penis or did have breasts. This body is the one I want to have. I understand and accept that some people, especially trans identifying people, will want to know if I’m sure. They’ve said themselves that they’d be happy to help me figure myself out. I think that’s awesome, but transitioning is not for me. I can say that, after a couple years of getting more and more comfortable expressing myself through outward appearance, that I find more comfort and solidarity with trans people than any other group. All kinds of men have issues with me, and I even know some effeminate gay men who say “I take things too far” and make us all look bad. How I present myself isn’t a statement about my sexuality; it’s one about my gender.


The label genderfluid covers those who feel like both or neither binary gender (male or female). As an umbrella term, it seems really open to interpretation by anyone who wants to define it. Like sexuality, think of gender as being on a sliding scale. Some people stay in the center and some flow from one side to the other. It could be because of more conscious choices like when doing an activity or far more unconscious and for no discernable reason. For me, and in the last few months, I’ve found myself living more androgynously. There have been very few times when I’ve felt myself near the ends of the scale. My clothing might be jeans and a t-shirt, but I wear some makeup and heels. Or a dress and no makeup. I’m sure it’s confusing for people who don’t know me, but I’m getting more comfortable with just being me and not worrying about the opinions of strangers. I will say that I’m no clearer on how to label my gender and my sexuality together. Wading into that always leaves me scratching my head and giving up. Right now, genderfluid for me seems to hover near gender-neutral or maybe a third gender of both male and female. And I’m married to a man who’s bisexual. So are we a straight couple when I’m wearing a dress, but a gay one when I’m in jeans? Or are we gay only if you notice my adam’s apple? The last time someone asked me if I was gay after I helped them learn about genderfluidity, I shrugged, pointed at my husband, and said, “I’m with him.” It’s just simpler that way. But I still don’t feel any need to pile on labels until it makes sense to everyone. I’m grateful for the ones I can claim, so thrilled people are making an effort to learn about them at all, and I’m perfectly willing to let myself and the words evolve as new ideas form in the years to come.


 About Thorny Sterling

sunshine_logo3_smallblueIt all started with a blog, a lunch receipt, and the hope of true love.

In 2010, with the encouragement of his blog followers, Thorny Sterling wrote his email address on the back of a receipt and gave it to a returning customer who’d caught his eye. One email and a four-hour phone call later, their fates were sealed. Thorny and his husband Jazz have been together ever since. On his blog, Thorny writes about daily life as a twenty-something gay genderfluid who attends college in Ohio. In his free time, Thorny paints both digitally and in acrylics and writes gay (M/M) romantic fiction. In the summer of 2014, Thorny published his first novel while also taking steps to sell his artwork online. He often donates a portion of his profits from art sales to various LGBT equality and military support charities. Someday soon, Thorny hopes to become a teacher and legally marry his husband.

Visit Thorny Online


About Splinters

Waking up in SPLINTERS_TSterling_cover2x3a strange place isn’t a first for model and actor Allan Seville, but discovering himself alone and bound to a rough plank in the middle of an open Texas range certainly is. With no memory of who did this to him or why, panic sets in, until rescue comes riding up on a big, brown horse. There’s more to Duke Walters than a handsome face and sexy drawl. In the arms of this rugged cowboy, Al discovers a peace and safety he never knew he needed, and now doesn’t want to be without. But someone wants Al out of the way and drugging him during a movie junket in Houston is only the beginning. A world of differences may separate this cowboy and diva, but when danger strikes again, Duke might be the only one who can get them out alive.

Grab a copy on Amazon US
Or on Amazon UK

25 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thorny…I really enjoyed this piece. I love that it was about you and how you identify…and what makes sense for you personally. And that, in turn, was so enlightening on a grander scale.

    The last few lines especially made me want to just say “YES!”: “The last time someone asked me if I was gay after I helped them learn about genderfluidity, I shrugged, pointed at my husband, and said, “I’m with him.” It’s just simpler that way. But I still don’t feel any need to pile on labels until it makes sense to everyone. I’m grateful for the ones I can claim, so thrilled people are making an effort to learn about them at all, and I’m perfectly willing to let myself and the words evolve as new ideas form in the years to come.”

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Thorny,

    Kept coming back here all day waiting to see your post. It was definitely worth the wait. You have an amazing ability to clearly explain difficult concepts. I loved everything you said. There is so much misunderstanding, so many labels to get bogged down with. Your thoughts were a breath of fresh air. Thank you for sharing all that you have learned about yourself so far. Simply brilliant. :)

  • Fantastic post, Thorny. Labels can be great, when self applied in a positive way, to help you find out about different elements of yourself and each other, but sometimes it’s also enough to just say “I am me” and that’s all the label needed. I think a lot of these terms are new enough that they’re meaning is also a little fluid and no label is completely set in stone. It’s kind of like symbolism in dreams. There’s the basic framework, but it’s also open to a certain amount of interpretation to fit the individual person claiming it.

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey into self discovery and labels, Thorny. Once again, your willingness to be so open is both enlightening and inspiring.

  • Thorny, thank you for sharing your journey of self discovery and acceptance. I continually learn from you and you probably help so many others understand themselves. I think it’s important to remember that people can label themselves, but it’s not for us to label others or make judgements. As long as you know yourself and you’re happy, that’s what counts. :)

  • Thorny, thank you for a wonderful post. It’s quite a journey you’re on, but then again, I think all of us spend a lot of our lives trying to figure are exactly who we are. I’m not convinced anybody is 100% of anything, even if a lot of people might like to claim that they are. And that’s the reason I don’t like labels; they hardly ever fit. I try not to use labels when meeting people. Labels seem to emphasize differences when, in the end, all of us are exactly the same; human beings trying to live our best lives. And people like you, people who are comfortable being who they are on any given day without worrying about how others might perceive that or the label that might fit, bring us one step closer to a society in which it won’t matter anymore.

    • Helena, I’m looking forward to the day when labels aren’t necessary for ourselves or to explain ourselves to each other. For now, I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations when people do bother to try and understand what’s going on with me. Seeing the lightbulb moments is an awesome feeling :)

  • I admit to having a sneaky peak at this when I was uploading some posts, as yours was one of those I was really interested in reading. For me the posts that come from personal experience have touched me the most, this being one of them. I think that explaining the processes you’ve been through to get where you are was illuminating, and self aware.

    Interesting point about claiming the labels to help people understand, as opposed to pigeon holing people as well.
    Thank you

    • Thanks, Karen :) Each time I consider a label and embrace or discard it feels like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. I’m all for being totally unique, but claiming the labels I do helps me feel like a part of something bigger too. I’m thrilled to share that process with others.

  • Thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences to help clarify these terms. I certainly think everyone is entitled to whatever level of privacy they want to maintain, but it’s great when people can be so open and honest about gender & sexuality issues. It makes things less scary/strange and helps us to see all the ways we are alike and how little the ways we are different matter.

    I went to add your book to my wishlist and found I had already added it because of some great reviews.

  • Hi Thorny 😉 I’m so late to the party here. This was really a great post, & I join everyone else in thanking you for taking time to share your journey & some enlightenment about these labels & how they pertain to you. I also peeked at this when helping to post for QRM & then read in its entirety when it first posted. I keep coming back to it & thinking more thoughts. I would have commented sooner but ended up deleting in a panic thinking I’d badly expressed myself in another comment & been misunderstood & briefly banning myself from all commenting 😛 Aaand turned out I was mistaken 😉 Anyway, I’m back & have attempted to recreate my comment here, hopefully new & improved 😉

    So, hopefully you won’t mind if I share a thought or 2? One thing that struck me, near the end of your post, was your uncertainty about defining yourself & Jazz as a couple. Obviously, that’s complicated because, as individuals you identify differently with regard to sexual orientation, not even taking genderfluidity into account.

    Certainly not my place to say, but just throwing my 2 cents out there for what, if anything, it might be worth, my sense is that the two of you are never a gay couple or a straight couple, as (I think?) those labels refer to 2 people who both identify as gay or straight-? Another thing that strikes me, & this relates to some of the conversations here & other places recently, about bi-erasure, is that while your genderfluidity creates a variable for *you*, Jazz’s status remains “bisexual” & does not change based on that. Just as he does not become gay if he is in a relationship with a man & change to straight if he is in a relationship with a woman, he remains bisexual with you regardless of the area of the genderfluidity spectrum you happen to occupy at a given time. Does this make sense?

    Guess you could identify as a Queer or LGBTQ couple if you wanted to, but of course there’s no reason to label yourselves at all unless that’s something you feel is important. In the end, I loved your simple, perfect solution: “I’m with him” – kind of says it all 😉

    • You make a good point, Pam. I don’t want to diminish my own or Jazz’s labels, but discussing them with people and trying to help them understand us often leads to breaking it all down to the simplest terms. At least it usually gives us all something to think about. But, yeah, Jazz will always be bi and I will always be queer, though I have no problem using gay. Thank you!

  • Thank you Thorny for sharing so much of your journey and personal understanding certain ‘labels’ as they pertain to you. Although, you will never really know why your post has, I feel, been my personal epiphany. Thank you…going to download your book now 😀

  • Thank you for that post. It resonated very closely with me for a number of reasons. I don’t want to explode all over the comment section, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Thank you.

  • Great insights, thank you! I myself am struggling with the label thing. I want to understand it myself. It is feeling like genderfluid bisexual but I’m not certain. Not at all certain. It does feel closer to the truth than anything else right now though. I really enjoyed the peek into your life and how you identify. Thanks so much for sharing! <3

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