Emily & Holly

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The first time Holly Painter was physically assaulted, she was four. An older woman in the restroom hit her with her handbag and told her she was in the wrong bathroom. Holly’s hair was cut short and she despised wearing the dresses her mother made her wear to school three times a week. Though she dreaded puberty and tried to hide that she was a girl from her middle school baseball coach, the teenage years gave her an aHA! moment to define herself. 

At 15 she read the word “androgynous” and thought "that's me!" A year later she fell in love with a straight girl at summer camp named Emily, but Emily wanted only to be friends.  Although Emily would go on to marry a man at 24, it took only a few years for her to find out she hated heterosexual marriage. That’s when she contact Holly from halfway around the world and declared,  “I love you.” The couple married in 2014, found professorships at the same university,  and soon after chose to have a baby.

Now 32, Holly defines herself as genderqueer. She says she falls right in the middle of male and female and can switch between the two genders day to day.

“People say ‘Oh millennials are inventing these new gender categories,’ but I don't think we are. I think we're just finding language to describe what always was, what we didn't know how to say.”

She tries to dress her son in gender-neutral clothing but finds it difficult -- gendered clothing starts at age two. Although her Boomer parents have come to accept their daughter’s gender fluidity and sexuality, Holly jokes that they sometimes act like they prefer Emily – the classic, “straight”, Midwestern girl.