Growing Up Gender Fluid in Small Town America

Girls, boys, bodies

Dana Leigh Lyons
6 min readOct 25, 2022


Image of me, age 47, by Brian Limoyo

Note: I’m reworking material on addiction…merging into a chapter on gender and sexuality. Find Part 1 here.

Life never stays still. When it does, fully and finally — when we reach our ultimate conclusion — we call this death.

Meanwhile, we move. Meanwhile, we weave self and story. But neither self nor story is static. Neither self nor story comes as a matter of course — complete, determined, ended.

Instead, we choose certain threads and some are handed to us and some are tied too tight around our throats and we spin internal cohesion. Here, me and mine make sense. Here, I can delineate and advocate. Here, we find a closet of boxes and dutifully maintained coherence.

Gender and sexuality included. Gender and sexuality at our core.

I say this as a person who identifies as queer. I say this as a person who’s been “out” for two decades.

Still, I’ve yet to try a gender or sexual identity that fits perfectly. Perfect-for-now has seen various iterations: bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, soft butch, baby dyke, gay, androgynous, queer.

Take your pick. None encapsulates my essence or experience.

I’ve been attracted romantically and sexually to people who span the sexual and gender spectrum for as long as I remember being aware of attraction. This does not mean I’m attracted to legions of people. I am not. I am sexually attracted to very few. I’m romantically attracted to more, even as the thought of sex with most is distasteful.

This is true at present, when I’m in a monogamous marriage. It was true before, when I was hellbent on collecting as many sexual partners as possible. We’ll get to that.

For now, know that I grew up in a place where “there were no gay people.” A place where, when a middle school teacher was outed as having a consensual, adult relationship with another man, he was transferred to another county. This was not long ago. Hopefully, much has changed.

Growing up in “we’re all straight here” small town America — receiving that as part of my inheritance — I was certain of very little. One thing I knew for sure: I was biologically…



Dana Leigh Lyons

Doctor of Chinese Medicine, Writer, Medium Top Writer in Poetry, Health, Travel, LGBTQ.