The (sometimes) relative nature of gender identity

0706_its-all-relativeI wrote a while back about how gender presentation can often be perceived as relative to a person’s (also perceived) sex and/or gender. The same outfit may be seen as kinda girly on someone perceive as a man, but kinda butch on someone perceived as a woman.

The thing is that, for me at least, and I’m sure for some other people (though definitely not all) it is pretty clear that my own gender *identity* is itself relative. Or rather, my gender is as much a product of my cultural context as it is an inherent part of who I am.

What I mean when I say this is that I really don’t believe that a genderqueer identity would necessarily be best for me in all possible contexts. In part, this is simply because in many historical contexts, it simply would not have been an option or something that had even occurred to me, but I don’t think it is impossible to be genderqueer in a sense even without using the concept of genderqueerness to describe it. It’s just that I wouldn’t necessarily always *be* that.

I think that there are narratives and contexts in which I would comfortably be a trans man. And I think that there are narratives and contexts in which I would comfortably identify as a woman. I’m not really sure how to explain that in a way that would make sense to someone who doesn’t feel this way, but there are a few things that I think contribute to it.

For one thing, my gender identity as a non-binary person, the person I am here and now, has very little to do with my body. I do not have major body dysphoria, and that which I do have comes from the ways in which others’ perceptions of my body causes other respond to and to treat me. When I am by myself, or with those I trust, my body just is, and is unproblematic at worst.

Which is to say that my gender identity is not rooted in my body (though I know that for many people, both cisgender and trans*, it is). Nor is it, I believe, an inherent to my mind. I also believe that to some people, their identity does seem directly rooted in their self, but for me, it is definitely something that has arisen from the ways in which I interact with the world around me, and the feedback I get from the world around me about who I am, and where I fit in this particular context.

The thing is that the categories of “man”, and “woman”, and those of any other gender category that exists, simply aren’t static. And it is possible for the definitions of those categories to include me. it’s just that in the context that I am living, they don’t. And so I reject them for myself. I find it easier to simply be myself when I let go of trying to be in the categories my culture has given me. I find it easier to ignore the messages about who I “should” be based on superficial factors.

For me, it is the utility and comfort I get from identifying outside the gender binary that makes my identity “real”, and also vitally important. And the fact that in a different context the shape of that identity and the I fit into society might look different doesn’t change the reality that I am living today.

5 comments

  1. “Which is to say that my gender identity is not rooted in my body (though I know that for many people, both cisgender and trans*, it is). Nor is it, I believe, an inherent to my mind. I also believe that to some people, their identity does seem directly rooted in their self, but for me, it is definitely something that has arisen from the ways in which I interact with the world around me, and the feedback I get from the world around me about who I am, and where I fit in this particular context.”

    I feel similar to you, in that I don’t think my body/mind are in the wrong gender in any way, only that once I truly saw gender for what it was through mindfulness, I thought, “fuck it”. And now I can’t remain squarely within the binary and feel alright with myself.

    I think this speaks to the way that some people develop a very concrete gender identity because of their physical body, whereas to others it feels very arbitrary. There are cis people who are uncomfortable with aspects of gendered culture, so there is a sense in which it’s arbitrary for many people, but when I think about that I wonder why EVERYONE isn’t identifying as genderqueer. The reality is that there are people who are uncomfortable with the institution of gender but continue to exist and live within it without great consequence to their mental and emotional health. But for others, continuing to exist within it is inherently uncomfortable. Maybe it’s inherent to the mind and maybe it’s not; maybe it’s just a matter of perspective. In any case just because you’re not “inherently genderqueer” (whatever that means) and would be so in all societal concepts, doesn’t invalidate your genderqueer identity, because internal gender identity forms within the context of where you see yourself in society.

  2. I really hear this! I think for all people, gender is the intersection of our selves (to whatever extent they even exist…) and our society. The fact is that no one, cis or trans, binary or nonbinary, can actually know what their gender would be in a different social context. Probably we all have some possible worlds where our genders would be the same or similar, and some where they would be different.

    Just out of pure personal curiosity, what do you think would have to be different for you to feel comfortable as a trans man? I have often thought to myself that living as a trans man is the best option for me in this society, but I can imagine societies where I could have thrived as a nonbinary person. I find it really interesting that our experiences are both similar and different in this way.

    For me, it is the utility and comfort I get from identifying outside the gender binary that makes my identity “real”, and also vitally important. And the fact that in a different context the shape of that identity and the I fit into society might look different doesn’t change the reality that I am living today.

    Very well said.

  3. Thank you!
    I am not really sure I can articulate what would make me more likely to identify as a trans man – it’s more like I know it is within the realm of the possible because there are moments and contexts where I feel that way, but I’m not sure what makes that difference exactly.

    I’m quite certain thought that at least part of it would involve living in a less distinctly patriarchal society, or at least one with a less, well, terrifying definition of masculinity. As I stands I’m pretty comfortable with being called a boy in some circumstances, but the idea of manhood seems extremely uncomfortable for me.

    *shrugs* I dont really know though!

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