I don’t know why I identify as genderqueer. I just know that I do.

One of the interesting things I’ve found in writing about my experience of genderqueerness is the sheer number of cisgender (or currently-cisgender-identifying) people who relate strongly to a lot of what I have to say, despite not identifying as genderqueer themselves. If you’re one of these people, then this post is for you!

The idea that it is possible to have very similar feelings about gender in general, and also in relation to our selves, but to have different gender identities, is a really complicated one that raises many questions, and I’m going to be my best to address some of them.

The most common response I get includes something along the lines of “So maybe I’m a little genderqueer” or, in question form, “If I feel this way also, does that mean I’m genderqueer?”

The short answer is, of course: I don’t know. I have no magic powers to divine other people’s genders for them – hell, I can barely make heads or tails of my own sometimes! But there’s a lot of other things going on here as well, around what it means to be genderqueer in the first place, and also what it even means to be cisgender.

So, what does it mean to be genderqueer, then?

More than anything else, it means that you identify as genderqueer. Circular, but true.

Most genderqueer people you find talking about their gender will probably have similar things to say around themes of discomfort within the gender binary, revolving around some combination of things like social roles, body parts, and/or experiences of gender policing. But none of those things are definitive of the genderqueer experience. I know they’re not, because these feelings are shared by many cisgender people, and by many binary trans people.

And it even turns out that not all genderqueer people experience these sorts of discomfort or gender dysphoria. Beyond the fact that we must have spent some amount of time actively examining the gender binary and come to the conclusion that it is flowed, there really isn’t any clear unifying characteristic of genderqueer people other than that we all identify as genderqueer.

Which, to be honest, this just makes the the category “genderqueer” the same as the categories of “man” or “woman”: there aren’t any unifying factors that define womanhood or manhood other than that the members of those groups identify as such.

So, what is the difference between someone who identifies as a man, someone who identifies as a woman, and someone with a non-binary identity? The only thing we know for sure is that they have different gender identities.

This is the point at which gender starts to look pretty meaningless. But I don’t actually think that it is. It’s pretty clear that some proportion of the population (though definitely not everyone) experiences a very strong sense of themselves as one gender or another, so something called gender certainly exists.

The thing that makes it impossible to parse or explain a definitive difference between the genders is not actually that mysterious: it’s simply that our gender identities (or those of us that have them) arise from the combination and confluence of countless variables, including (but not limited to:

  • our internal sense of self, outside of any cultural influence
  • our relationships to our bodies
  • society’s relationships to our bodies, and our feelings about it
  • the cultural messaging we received about gender growing up
  • the cultural messaging about gender we’re receiving today
  • the interactions between the messages we received (and are receiving) about gender and our own internal sense of self
  • FEELINGS
  • …um, magic, probably?

All of these things contribute not only to our own understandings of ourselves and our genders, but also how we feel about ourselves within that gender (do we fit the archetypes of our gender? and how do we feel about the ways in which we do and do not meet the cultural expectations placed on us?) And no two people have exactly the same way of doing the (largely instinctive and unconscious) calculus that leaves us with a sense of what our gender is.

It’s clear that many of my feelings about gender, and about not fitting into the womanhood to which I was assigned at birth, are shared by people who nevertheless identify as (and therefore are) women. The fact that I took those feelings as a starting point and landed on a different gender than they did doesn’t invalidate any of our experiences. It just tells you that we’re different people, (and that there were other factors involved in our identity formation).

Which leaves me with just one final issue to address: very often, the people who read my own thoughts about my gender, and relate to it, and begin to wonder if maybe they’re genderqueer too, do share one trait. Every person who has ever talked to me about this has admitted that they don’t particularly strongly identify with the gender they were assigned at birth; it’s more that they just don’t not identify with it. Er, they don’t actively disidentify with it, anyway.

For many cisgender people (and probably also some trans people), their gender identity doesn’t feel wrong exactly, but there’s nothing about it that feels particularly right, either. It just… is. And it’s fine.

And I’m writing this to tell you that it’s ok to feel that way. It’s normal, even! If I’ve learned anything from talking to people since coming out as genderqueer, it’s that most people who have spent much time seriously thinking about gender have at least a little bit of reason to think they aren’t really, totally, exactly the gender they identify with.

And to be honest, that’s just because we’re all also individuals. And genders are just broad-strokes categories that will always miss the details that really make you the amazing and interesting person you are. In that sense, most of us are at least a little bit genderqueer. And that’s totally ok.

So, if you feel a desire to change the gender you identify with, by all means do it! And if you don’t really see a point, then don’t. And if you’re not sure, then it’s ok to play around and try things on in safe contexts and see how it makes you feel. You don’t need to have the answer right away, or ever. But I honestly believe that if you find a quiet space, and pay attention to your heart, and your gut, that your answer is right there, in you. I can’t give it to you.

5 comments

  1. This post has great timing for me. I’ve recently been thinking about my gender a lot and my thinking was not about whether I’m a (cis) woman or not, but rather what in the world actually makes me know that I am a cis woman, since I do feel pretty darn sure I am lol. And this post has a great summary of how much there is to think about. ;)

  2. Love it :) Thank you for sharing my last post about cis privilege, I have been very busy and haven’t been able to post lately, but I recently presented in my crossing boundaries class on gender variance and the tyranny of gender, based on an article published by Petra Doan, PhD. I added in a personal bit about me, and I consider myself, “A gender-variant queer person with cisgender passing privilege.” There is a trans girl who I love very much, who asked me my pronouns when she first met me, and I told her “they,” and she wanted to make sure I wasn’t saying that just to be trendy. I would never ask a cis or trans person if they identified that way to be trendy. It hurt, obviously, as I am still here typing about it almost 6 months later. I felt like maybe she had fought so hard to be accepted as “she,” that she was policing me to make sure I wasn’t just jumping on the gender queer boat. Do people do that? I don’t think being genderqueer is easily definable, nor is it a privilege, which is why I acknowledge that I mostly pass as cisgender and receive privileges for that. I found that my pansexual cis female friend was instantly accepting and encouraging when I told her I wanted to go by “they.” She never misgendered me once. Sometimes I don’t bother to assert “they” with certain people, because I’ve been made to feel like I don’t deserve it? But maybe my experience living as female most of my life has taught me to “stay in my place” and let others determine my identity for me…and quite frankly, i’m tired of it. My 75 year old father is willing to call me “they.”

  3. Gender is a social construct – and it really isn’t a bad thing. It just is. Money is a social construct, but that doesn’t take away from the seriousness of poverty or wage labor. There is no unifying truth to any gender beyond saying “I am this gender”. People who police, like the woman in the comment above, do so from a place of fear and little else. (Hate that shit, IMO, no matter who it comes from.)

  4. Thank you for this. I often refer friends to this post :). Rereading it after identifying as genderqueer for a while, I have this to add: sometimes gender is like a pair of shoes. Sometimes it’s obvious that those are not meant for you and will never fit. Other times your current pair aren’t Great, but seem… fine. You could keep them, which is okay, or you could try something else for a while if that’s what you want. Maybe you’ll realise that the old pair still fits better and go back to that, or maybe a few months later you won’t be able to imagine how you had ever put up with them. Trying to pin down and explain where exactly it is that this pair fits better than the last is futile and pointless, just as gender is a complex and nebulous combination of too many factors; it just FEELS correct, and trying it on and breaking it in for a while is the best and only way to know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s