Genderqueer and demisexual: two sides of the same coin for me

This is my submission to this month’s Carnival of Aces (which I am hosting!) I have been wanting to write this post for years now, so I’m glad I’ve given myself the kick in the pants I needed to actually do it!

For a long time now, it’s been intuitively clear to me that my experience of gender, and particularly my feelings about the gender binary, and my place in it (i.e. the fact that I don’t have one really), is deeply linked to my experience of sexual attraction, and the fact that I am demisexual. In particular, I guess it is linked to the fact that I am demisexual and queer – I suppose much of what I am going to say will not totally apply to exclusively homo- or hetero- oriented demisexuals.

So: the way I experience sexual attraction is not primarily based on any physical attributes of the people I am attracted to (although I have interesting thoughts about how, once I develop a sexual attraction to someone, it does psychologically attach itself to their physical beings – this goes on the unending list of things I will maybe write about one day). Attraction is, for me, based on emotional connectivity and intimacy (plus some amount of randomness/magic).

I’ve also written before about how it can be confusing, and even upsetting, to me to be on the receiving end of advances from other people based on their experience of primary sexual attraction for me. I don’t know what to do with it, it is extremely intimidating and just plain weird to me. I just don’t get it.

And I know that I started leaning into a more masculine-androgynous presentation, the freedom that I felt in that came in large part from the way it freed me from the traditional hetero-male gaze and the uncomfortable attentions that come with that. Because ultimately, masculine-androgynous isn’t truly (or at least for sure isn’t *always*) a good expression of my actual experience of my gender.

As I’ve more recently realized, I am genderfluid, and not just that, my fluidity and the gender I inhabit at any given time is highly context-dependent. Most of the time, and in many contexts, I am functionally asexual, because in many contexts, I am surrounded by people for whom I don’t and will never experience sexual attraction (i.e. contexts not conducive to the development of emotional intimacy, such as most working relationships, and all random day-to-day one-off interpersonal encounters). And most of the time, I am agender. I am not expressing gender, I am not experiencing myself as having a gender, binary or otherwise. I just am, and it’s fine.

In other contexts, I am more likely to feel actively genderqueer. There isn’t any really hard-and-fast rule for when I will feel one way or the other, but my gut nevertheless feels like this is connected to my experience of my sexuality. I wish I knew how to explain the difference between feeling agender and feeling genderqueer, but I don’t know if I can. I know that when I am genderqueer, I have a gender (though not one that fits into the binary), and when I am agender, I don’t. But I also know that the feeling of having a gender isn’t even universal to people who identify as having one, so that’s probably not helpful.

A lot of this may come down to my connection with my physical self, (a.k.a. my body). I have never been strongly connected to my actual body. I am one of those people who never knows where their limbs are, and I often forget to take care of my body because I am so caught up in my head. The less emotionally safe I feel, the less connected I tend to be to my body, in part because of past traumas, and the fact that dissociation is one of my major coping mechanisms/what happens when I get triggered around those traumas, but also I get the sense that my disconnection from my body pre-dates any such trauma, and is just this weirdly ingrained part of who I am.

…And this is where I always lose the plot. I have a very visceral sense that there is a direct connection between my confusions around sexual attraction growing up and my sense of alienation from/parallel confusion with gender norms – they feel like the same thing to me, to be honest. But getting to precisely *how* they are same is a loop I can’t quite close with words.

I just can’t play the sex game the way allosexual people do. And I can’t play the gender game the way cisgender people do, even the non-conforming ones, somehow. And that inability is an expression of the same part of my inner self, which I can feel and which makes total sense to me, but that I don’t know how to describe.

It’s in how I perceive the world. It’s in how different parts of the world perceive me. It’s in how I react to these perceptions. And it’s in every other interaction I have.

I am genderqueer. And I am demisexual. And both of those statements are just ways of saying “I am me”.

5 comments

  1. I have never actively identified as genderqueer, but by many people’s definitions of it I probably should… I was AFAB and am totally fine being seen as a woman. I just have a problem being seen as AS MUCH OF a woman as I tend to be seen as (my body is very curvy, and I generally read as feminine regardless of what I wear).

    Basically, I feel like the appropriate gender expression for me is somewhere in the range of tomboy femme / androgynous / stereotypical lesbian mom. I’m not butch or masculine at all, but I’m only a little bit femme, and even that is variable… sometimes I can enjoy dressing up “like a girl”, but sometimes I find that really, really distressing (which can be a problem, because leggings and a dress is practically my work uniform. because dressy pants are too hard to find with my stupid hips.).

    The thing that has always kept me from id-ing as genderqueer/genderfluid, though, is that these feelings are so deeply tied up for me in trauma and dissociation from my body: I developed very large breasts at a very young age, and very quickly, and the way the world suddenly reacted to me in a totally different and often distressing way was something I experienced as deeply traumatic. I had many experiences where I was essentially chastised for being deliberately slutty or attention-seeking when I definitely was not. I also had a lot of people tell me how I just HAD to understand how lucky I was to have my body (I cannot even express how much I hate the words “well endowed”) or that they were jealous of it, at a time when I was still really uncomfortable with my new body that had been suddenly forced on me.

    Being seen as very femme/a Woman is so strongly associated for me with my body being read/reacted to in ways that are upsetting to me. So it’s hard to know whether I really dislike being seen as feminine INATELY, or if I just have bad associations due to trauma.

    I suppose I’m imposing a weird standard on myself that I wouldn’t put on anyone else–I don’t think an identity having some of its roots in trauma makes it “not real”. But I don’t know. If I had a body that allowed me to present more androgynously without so much effort, and if I hadn’t experienced people being shitty to me about developing at puberty… would I really care so much>

    1. <3 I really don't think it matters whether your feelings are related to traumas or not – not all trans folx (binary or non-) feel like they were necessarily "born as" the gender they transitioned to. I don't really know what gender I was as a kid, tbh, and I don't think it's that important. You can call yourself genderqueer and still also I'd as a woman if you want.

      But in general the rule you want to use in figuring this out is whatever feels best for you – if you're ok with "woman" as shorthand for your gender, then it may be what you want to stick with just to save the hassle of working with a largely unknown gender identity. But no one can tell you what's best for you but you!

      1. Thanks. I guess IDing as a woman works well enough for me. I’m really only interested in discussing my weird gender feels with people very close to me, and they don’t need a name to give to those feelings to treat them as valid.

  2. tbh, I also have a sort of disconnect with my body sometimes, although I have become more self-conscious of it in more recent times. I often feel sensitive and private about my body and sexuality just because of past experience and the way I relate to the world through my body. I consider myself a woman, but I don’t relate to everything commonly related to that identity, especially on a physical level. I’ve also been told I should be proud of the shape of the body (read: voluptuous), but all I could think of in response to that comment was an insult, because I guess at the time I felt resentful towards my own gender and the expectations within it. I consider myself a tomboy/androgynous person in the way I express myself, and even besides these fairly tame experiences of how I am seen, among them those memories that instilled shame in me over sexual expression, I still saw around me people much more interested in sexual relationships etc (as well as women my mum’s age happily starting families) and couldn’t relate. In fact, I seemed to turn these scenarios into nightmares of what my life might be.

    I have, in my own private space,

    questioned my sexuality, and in that, there’s been shame too. A lot of it is gone, but I still carry traces of it, just enough that I continue keeping to myself about it much of the time. However, I am attracted to both male and female bodies, though not in the same way. Especially regarding the male body, there is a certain part I’m not attracted to (in contrast to female bodies), yet that aside, I’m usually more often romantically attracted to men than women.

    So when you say genderqueer and demisexual are two sides of the same coin, I assume you’re talking more broadly about the way we can become disattached to our bodies both in regards to gender and sexuality. Certainly I have felt both, so I must agree.

  3. I’m agender and I’m AMAB, for me, I express my gender through objects through things that are labeled for women so that I don’t have to change any of my physical features. This article reminds me of why I hate it when people tell me I don’t have to feel comfortable in a label.

    My gender and my sexuality really does define who I am.

    I really liked this article and I’m looking forward to reading more.

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