Throughout the teenage and young adult years, most of us go through a process of self-discovery. We try to figure out who we are and how we identify ourselves. Throughout that journey, many of us realize, in one way or another, we are different from many of our peers.
For one member of the men’s diving team at John Carroll University, Gabrielle-Douglas Hinchen, that difference intrigued me. So I decided to tell Gabrielle-Douglas' story.
Born a male with the name Douglas Hinchen, Gabrielle-Douglas (GD) added a second first name because GD identifies as gender-fluid. Gender fluid is where one’s gender identity shifts between male and female depending on one’s current mood, challenging the widely accepted norm in our society, where male and female are distinctly separated. Without their own pronoun, “they” is used to reference someone who is gender fluid.
During my interview, GD answered my questions with ease, as GD is incredibly honest about the lifestyle of someone who is gender fluid. But GD wasn’t always so transparent.
“When I was in high school I did everything I could to be a man because I was so afraid of people thinking I was a woman or people thinking I was feminine. I would pretend to like sports," GD said. "I would pretend to enjoy things like football. I would get in fights, just to push myself away from that feminine identity because I was so afraid of it.”
Those fears were warranted. It’s not easy to fall outside of social expectations. According to the Human Right Campaign, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved.
However, GD, who is a senior, did not feel fear when among the dive team at John Carroll University.
“People don’t like us (transgender/gender fluid people). I don’t understand why. It's a constant life struggle I will have to deal with but here on this team, it was like an escape, a safe getaway because the support was here to do that,” the Solon native said.
Members of the dive team use both first names when referencing or talking to GD.
“It’s the one affirmation that I am not crazy. It is the small things, because everything else in my life constantly reminds me that I am gender fluid,” GD said. “I will be walking down the street and I get strange looks because my nails are painted. These are all the small things that happen in my life every day that are reminders that I am different and that people don’t like that. But when someone goes out of their way to say my name the way I want it to be said, it is a relief.”
Simply saying “Gabrielle-Douglas” as opposed to "Douglas" is a relief because it reflects respect, acceptance and even love. The aforementioned forms of affection and attitude are what most people crave and desire when exposing themselves in their truest form.
Thus, while many may see GD as very different, at the core, GD reveals most of us are very much the same.