gender binary

Gender Perspectives Vol. 18

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

 

 

A Gender Mind-Fuck, A.K.A. My Life Now | Diagnosemylife

I look back on my past and wonder why I was so comfortable being feminine all the time then, but not now. What changed? First of all, back in high school I had no idea that there were genders besides man and woman. So that solves that issue—but what about college, after I was educated about gender fluidity? Why didn’t it click that I was genderqueer the moment it was explained to me?… Read more

Being Binary | Androgendernaut

When I came out a little more than a year ago, people were surprised, but very supportive… I passed, but I still looked a little bit like a hybrid. A quite feminine, shy boy with a cute face.

When I started T, I feel like this has faded away quite quickly. I look the way I feel – a random white guy. A little bit boring maybe, even. Very normal in comparison to the extravagant clothing I used to wear, from my tye-dye seventies pants to the row of steel earrings and piercings in my ears. People read me like Average Guy, and I like it… Read more

In Between Being and Becoming | Gender: Awesome

When I think about being nonbinary and transgender, when I think about transition, I think of myself constantly in the narrow space between being and becoming; all the ways in which I am forever in movement, forever on the edge of something; all the moments in which I am perceived or not perceived as who I am by other people and even myself. Sometimes I am both seen and not seen at the same time: seen as queer but not as trans, seen as trans but not as human, seen as human but not as queer or trans… Read more

How do I know I am trans? | transphilosopher

To this day my own gender is not obvious to me. I have proclaimed before that I am gender agnostic: I claim no certain knowledge about my own gender. Am I a special type of man or a special type of woman? I do not know. It does not seem important to me. What matters more is self-knowledge concerning my desires to continue transition. I desire to keep using female pronouns, shopping in the women’s section, taking HRT, using the name “Rachel”, etc… Read more

How do you deal with gendered things? Clothes shopping, bathrooms, forms, etc.: 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 15

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Also, this is week 15, y’all, which means I’m halfway there! This has been a productive journey for me so far, and I hope it is being interesting for you as well!

Today’s prompt: How do you deal with gendered things? Clothes shopping, bathrooms, forms, etc.

As with a few of the previous weeks, this is something I have written about some aspects of before:

  • A few years back, I wrote about navigating binary-gendered spaces as a non-binary person. I will add here that I am less willing to consider myself welcome in any women-only spaces than I used to, for a variety of reasons including the transmisogyny that is often present in spaces that would include me as an afab person.
  • More recently, I wrote about the evolution of my gender presentation as a non-binary person.
  • These days my wardrobe is an eclectic mix of “men’s” and “women’s” clothes (of course, being mine, they are really all non-binary clothes), and my presentation changes more based on the weather than anything else – I like dresses and skirts for hot weather, and love bulky sweaters layered with flannels and button-downs when it’s colder. I am more likely to bind my chest (which usually involves a simple sports bra these days) when presenting more femme, though that it is really something that is only for my own internal comfort rather than because it has any impact on the fact that everyone reads me a woman on those days.

    When I am clothes shopping, I really just look at everything and pick the things I like, without concern for their genderedness.

    I use all-gender or gender-neutral washrooms wherever possible, and pretty much exclusively use the women’s when I have to choose.

    For official forms, I am way more comfortable choosing a binary option when the form explicitly asks for my sex rather than my gender. Since I don’t have dysphoria around my genitals, it is unproblematic for me to identify which of the binary forms I have (though I would prefer for there to be more options). When the form is asking for “gender”, but pretty much actually means sex (because it is a medical form and I know they actually mean to ask a biological question but don’t know how to word it or whatever), I suck it up and pick the most useful answer to the people who need the form filled out.

    When an online form requires me to indicate a binary gender in order to sign up for an account, I almost always decide I don’t want an account on that site any more. Sometimes I send an email to them about it, letting them know they’ve made it impossible for me to sign up, but usually I don’t bother.

    I mostly make all of these sorts of calls without thinking super hard about them anymore. Navigating these things has become habitual for me, so I’m sure I’m forgetting about other places where I make judgment calls around binary gendered things that I have to participate in in various ways, but I can’t think of them right now.

    If there’s something obvious I’ve missed that you’re curious about, feel free to ask in the comments! Or, y’know, let me know how you navigate these things. Maybe you have better methods than me!


    Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Babies and gender again: “Do you want a boy or a girl?”

So, in thinking about the question of babies, gender, and pronouns in writing my previous post, I also thought about the ways in which I’m going to have to start dealing with binary-gendered questions long before I even have a baby to gender (or not).

Because of course pregnant people get asked a lot about whether they hope the baby is a boy or a girl.

The obvious answer to this question is “I don’t care.” And I might use that. But I have also realized that I might (at least sometimes, when I have the energy) rather answer that I hope the baby is intersex.

For one thing, it’s more likely to shut people up than saying “I don’t care,” since they might continue pestering me for an answer in that case. But more importantly, it’s also kind of true.

I know that an intersex baby would be much better off with me for a parent than most other people. So if one of the intersex babies being born anyway is mine, that would be great.

But also, as I tangentially mentioned in my last post about this, I would probably be able to use neutral pronouns for an intersex baby with far less pushback from people than I would have with a non-intersex baby. Like, no, everyone, I really don’t have anything to go on vis a vis this baby’s gender right now, not even the thing that you wrongly think defines their gender, mmkay?

I don’t know if that would work, really, but at least I’d feel more strongly about holding the line in that case than I might with a non-intersex baby, if that makes sense.

So yeah, if people ask, that may very well be what I tell them.

March 2016 Carnival of Aces Roundup

Here is the roundup of posts for this month’s Carnival of Aces, on the topic of gender norms and asexuality! I loved being the host this month, and I have enjoyed reading all of your submissions so much; there has been much squeeing with joy, so thank you all who contributed! Without further ado, here are this month’s submissions, in the order I received them:

Passive vs. Active Femininity: Does Asexuality Affect It? | the notes which do not fit
Sara examines the ways in which her femininity is often the result of passive conformity to female norms rather than an active gender expression, and considers whether her approach to femme-ness is related to her asexuality.

(a)Gender and (a)Sexuality: Chickens and Eggs | darkmetineknight
Maris considers the ways in which kyr dysphoria contributes to kyr sex-repulsion, and vice versa, and the way these things feed back into kyr agender and asexual identity, concluding that they are so deeply related they can’t possibly be pulled apart.

Female Stereotypes and Asexuality | aroacelennie
Lennie writes about how, despite their agender identity, other people often try to frame the aro and ace aspects of their identity through common female archetypes.

When Dudes Talk Gender & Asexuality | The Ace Theist
Coyote unpacks some of the oversimplifications and other problems with the ways some asexual guys talk about the tensions between their gender and their asexuality.

Gender and Asexuality | quizzicalsloth
Amber explores potential explanations for asexual people’s tendency to not feel a strong connection to binary genders, from a personal perspective, and considers how gender plays a role in their experiences of platonic and aesthetic attractions, and relationships.

Do gender roles serve any purpose for asexuals? | It’s An Ace Thing
Dee questions the purposes gender norms serve, and concludes that many gender norms simply don’t serve asexual people.

Genderqueer and demisexual: two sides of the same coin for me | Valprehension
I wrote about the ways in which my genderqueerness and my demisexuality are inextricably tangled up with each other, and fundamental to my overall identity and sense of self.

Sexism at work | A3
The author of A3 relates their experiences of sexism (and heterosexism) in the workplace, as an agender aro ace who is not out about those aspects of their identity, and who is perceived as a woman.

Gender, Or Why I’m Glad I’m Aro/Ace | Grey Is My Favourite Colour
Mara explains why they’re glad to be aro/ace, because of the potential complications of parsing gendered attractions (and sexual/romantic orientations) as a non-binary person.

The Healer Role | Prismatic Entanglements
Elizabeth considers her tendency to take on healer roles in video games, and considers how this role relates to her identity as a cisgender woman, and the ways in which this tendency is reflected (and not) in her asexual activism.

By nature of being asexual, I’m defying gender norms | From Fandom to Family
luvtheheaven unpacks some of the interactions between gender norms, (especially heteronormativity) and asexuality, and how those norms can make it difficult to come to an asexual identity, and even more difficult to get others to understand it.

Gender Norms and Asexuality | Aro Ace Gin
Gin considers the ways in which her asexuality has impacted her relationship to her gender as a cis woman.

Asexual E-Dating Diaries #1 | la pamplemouse
The author of la pamplemouse talks about her early attempts at online dating as an asexual cis woman.

Non-Binary Gender Norms and (A)Sexuality: Yeah, No | Queer As Cat
Vesper talks about why they just don’t see any connection between gender norms and sexuality for them, given that there are no gender norms that apply to their gender (maverique) in the first place, and much more!

On Gender and Asexuality | conasultingamadman
Bonnie explains how embracing her asexuality helped her understand her relationship to both femininity and androgyny, describes her journey toward a panromantic identity, and considers her feelings around others’ perceptions of her as a cis het white girl.

My Gender Aesthetics are All Kinds of Ace | The City of Cuova
S. Knaus unpacks the ways in which their asexuality has freed them up to explore their personal gender aesthetics without regard for whether they are attractive to others, and many other things.

Asexuality and Gender Presentation | [A] Life of Experiences
Jeremy writes about his experience in trying to subtly play with his gender presentation, how his asexual identity helped him find the confidence to do so, and both his struggles and enjoyment in pushing back against being seen as just another straight dude.

Obscure lines: agender and asexual comes together | golden weasel
golden weasel writes about the ways in which their agender-ness and asexuality are inter-related.

What Are You? A Question of Mixed Race, Gender, And Asexuality | Halfthoughts
The author of Halfthoughts explores the relationships and parallels among their Hapa/mixed race, asexual, and non-binary identities.

Gender in Space | Becoming a Person
elainexe explores her general lack of any strong gender identity, and her attempts to understand what gender is, linking some of her observations back to her asexuality.

No | Aros and Aces
Roses considers a wade range of influences – from Purity Culture to Megan Trainor – on their developing identity, and the ways in which coing to an aro ace agender identity has freed them from a lot of the baggage they were handed growing up.

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 11

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

Disrupting Gender: A Cisgender Experience | everyone is straight until they’re not. Finding authentic gender expression and sense of self as a cisgender person.

I was fortunate enough to witness several of my friends’ transitions from female to male, and the way they blossomed into happier, more confident, truer versions of themselves is truly inspirational. I feel almost blasphemous for saying this, but I am a little jealous. I remember walking home one night and looking at the stars (I do that a lot when I am contemplating something big), and I thought, What if I am trans? How do I know I am a woman and it’s not just something I do out of habit because that’s what I’ve always been told I am? It was just a passing thought which I immediately dismissed and didn’t speak of out loud until that conversation just before a drag party. But really, how can I achieve that transition into a happier, truer version of myself without the actual act of transitioning my gender?

Let me tell you how.

Gender Talk | Myscape. Being cisgender while also defying gender binarism.

For a long time now I have been struggling to articulate why I feel so certain of being “female” or a “she” despite my genderqueer habits/presentations and my desire to be androgynous and defy gender binarism.

I feel like I am female because 1) I have the expected body, 2) all the people I want to be are female (who I identify with), 3) I do present/perform in some “feminine” ways, and 4) even when I present/perform in “unfeminine” ways that is acceptable. So even though I wish I truly considered myself genderqueer/nonbinary (in the depths of my mind and heart), I feel comfortable being a “female.”

What I mean when I say I am genderqueer | Gender: Awesome.

For me, it began with questions, not answers:

Am I a woman? Do I feel like a woman? How does one ‘feel like’ a woman? Do I feel like a man? Have I ever felt like a man? Have I ever felt like a woman? Do I feel in-between? Do I feel like something else entirely? How do I feel when I am completely alone? Do I have a gender then? Do I have a gender at all? What is gender? Is it my body? Is it my social role? Is it my clothes, my hair, my voice? Does gender even exist? Do I want to have a gender? If I could be any gender, what gender would I be? How do I like to express my gender? Do I express it through appearance, through mannerisms, through roles, through my body?

I find my gender is more complex than I ever imagined. My gender is play, performance, lived experience, utter seriousness. My gender is straight-leg jeans and crew-neck t-shirts with a flannel thrown over the top. My gender is short hair and no makeup except when I feel like it. My gender is gentlemanly, shy, loving, opinionated; my gender is baking zucchini bread and chopping wood; my gender would rather wear a suit but is a sucker for a vintage dress; my gender wears nail polish for the hell of it, prefers dressing butch but mostly identifies as femme…

Bravery | It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way. When people call us “brave” simply for existing.

“You’re so brave!”

This is a refrain that many trans people hear with some frequency. I don’t know how to respond when people tell me this.

Thanks?

I am brave the way someone might run through a field of thorny rose bushes to escape a forest fire. I’m just trying to live my life.

Identical (A Slam Poem) | Genderweird. When you’re trans and your identical twin is not.

…the lines blur and we’re still identical, sitting in
identical classrooms until suddenly we’re not—our bodies
are separate but our minds cannot be untwined. We
swapped fifth grade struggles like our friends swapped
Pokémon cards. We thought we were ready for puberty,
that magical time in a girl’s life when I start to understand
maybe I’m not a girl—that maybe I’m in the “wrong room”

The morning of college graduation I changed
from Stephanie Michelle to Brannen Skyler and I watched
your vision blur when you asked me, “Why?” Identical to
how others ask “Why?” when I still sometimes talk about
myself in the first person plural…

Yet another perspective on (my) gender-related self-doubts

I’ve written a number of times about gender-related self-doubt, but I also want to to preface this by saying it’s not that I particularly do doubt my gender all that much, so much as that I am always searching for different models and approaches to it, and often I am pre-emptively trying to think of what I might say to someone if I were to be questioned on it.

Today, I want to look a little closer at some of the things I’ve talked about before, around how my rejection of of my old largely-by-default identity as a “woman” sometimes felt like an expression of internalized misogyny, as well as the fact that I don’t think my gender identity is particularly innate, but rather that it is intensely and deeply tied up in the ways gender is socially constructed and the ways I make my way through the world in which I happen to be living.

The thing is, though, that for every “Am I *sure* I’m not really just a woman who can’t deal with being objectified/hates being stereotyped as a woman/[insert problem faced by women here]?” question that might flit through my mind, I could just as easily ask the same questions about why I don’t just identify as a man. (Is it because I hate the ways in which men are unfairly advantage in culture, and the idea of actively pursuing that gives me the heebie-jeebies? (Would that qualify as internalized misandry, or something like it?) Or is it because I know I would “fail” at it?

The fact that I know I am more likely to be challenged on the fact that I don’t identify as a woman, than the fact that i don’t identify as a man is rooted in cisnormativity – I feel more pressure to justify my non-identification with my birth-assigned gender than anything else, because my non-identification with anything else is simply assumed by most people.

But as soon as I let go of that normativity, it becomes clear that my feelings about either position in the gender binary pretty well mirror each other, to the extent that anyone who felt inclined to act me (in an exasperated voice, I imagine) why I don’t just identify as a woman, they might just as well ask me the same thing about identifying as man, for all the value that idea has. Those identities just don’t work for me. And so I don’t make use of them. It really, really is just that simple.

“But what are you, really?”: or, what the actual fuck, OKCupid?

So, OKC’s expanded gender and orientation options seem to have been extended to all accounts now. I was super excited to get a message from my hubby letting me know the options had gone live (I was depending on him for the news, because I had to hibernate my account when the first-stage changes went through) and immediately reactivated my account and got to work updating it.

I deleted my overly-expository profile opening explaining that my basic profile stats were incorrect. And I hit “edit” on the basic stats.

I selected “Non-binary” and “Genderqueer” as my gender identifiers. It felt awesome to be able to do so.

I scrolled down.

The next question was: “Include me in” with a drop-down menu giving precisely two options: “searches for women” and “searches for men”. You must pick one, and you can only pick one, in order to update your stats.

For the record, you can absolutely pick both “woman” and “man” as identifiers. But even then you have to pick only one set of searches to appear in.

If you choose only to specifically identify as a “Trans Woman” or a “Trans Man”, you get asked to verify what you really mean by that. Because it’s not like they can possibly know what that means, right?

If you choose “Androgynous” and “Woman”, you get asked what binary category you really belong in.

If you choose “Man”, “Cis Man”, “Woman” or “Cis Woman”, the question does not exist. If you choose both “Man” and “Cis Man”, even, you do not get the question.

It’s only if your gender is weird and clearly totally incomprehensible (like, y’know, “Trans Woman”, srsly wtf I can’t even) that you get the question.

Fuck you, OKC. On so many levels, this is truly appalling.

What I really am, OKC, is genderqueer. What I really am is non-binary. What I really am interested in is dating people who want to/are explicitly happy to date non-binary people. Those are the searches I want to be included in.

And yes, I do realize that will significantly reduce the number of people who see my profile. I consider that to be a fucking advantage.

And, I want to be clear, I actually don’t object on a base level to non-binary and/or binary trans people deciding whether they want to appear in searches for whichever binary gender they might be happy being included in. What I don’t understand is why the options are binary, why you can only select one, or even why you must select any at all – it wouldn’t be awful if I never showed up in anyone’s searches, but was still able to message people and reach them that way, after all.

Fix your fucking shit, OKC.

I’m done.

It’s the small things, sometimes

So, OKCupid, the only dating site of which I have ever been a member, is working on expanding options for gender and sexuality identifiers. That’s pretty cool I guess, maybe? I mean, I don’t think the new options are perfect (I actually think there’s a lot of major potential problems with it), but I’m not really going to go into that just now (stay tuned next week, though!). Today, I have a different issue.

Because it turns out that in the meantime they’ve done a thing that has made me disable my account until such time as the full roll-out happens.

Y’see, I have a complicated relationship with social media and gender markers. These days, if a site both *requires* that every member identify their gender, and simultaneously limits the options for doing so to two, I just don’t join. Those sites are not for me, and I am not for them.

I did, however, stay with facebook after coming out and before they had expanded their gender options. In part this is because facebook is important to me for keeping my social life organized, but I was also one of the people who used a browser plugin to force facebook to “forget” my gender marker (which actually had the default condition of making the site refer to me as they, which is great for me.) I haven’t bothered to go in and explicitly identify my gender since the new options came out, because hey, fuck ’em.

I have also stayed on OKC since coming out. I do disable the account at least once a year, basically whenever I realize that the likelihood that getting messages from people will have a negative impact on my life outweighs the potential for meeting awesome new people (and I have met many awesome people on OKC, including my husband). Sometimes I just don’t have the energy, and so I make it all go away for a while. I like that I can do that.

Anyway, throughout my tenure on OKC, I have maintained an “F” marker. I am not super bothered by this; I am generally comfortable with being identified as female-bodied, or simply female. Though I prefer words that don’t fit into the general m/f dichotomy (I definitely don’t identify as feminine, for instance, and hate to think that same people automatically make the association from female to feminine), it is a thing I am ok with settling for.

But, when I logged in after reading about the new gender options (which aren’t available to me yet – it’s only been offered to a small test group, which makes sense, since there is a lot of potential for things to go off the rails when trying to match people up base don complicated and multi-variate self-identifications, so fine,) I noticed that OKC is no longer describing me as simply “F”. I’m a “woman” now, apparently.

In fact, the gender options currently available to me are “I’m a woman”, and “I’m a man”. Which, I understand why this is the case – the new gender system works based on an “I’m a…” declaration system, grammatically, and they’ve just pulled everyone in line with that for the time being.

Except that it’s not fine. At least not for me. And a change that I figure the developers see as totally neutral (“F” is the same thing as “woman”, right?) totally isn’t, since to some extent it conflates sex and gender. And my account is down now, and will continue to be until such time as I stop being forced to identify as things that make me distinctly uncomfortable.

Bah.

Genderqueer Perspectives, Vol. 2

gender_1_3
I am changing the title of this series, because I want to be able to include the perspectives of people who don’t necessarily identify as genderqueer. Lots of people struggle with and think deeply about gender, and I’m interested in highlighting the variety of experiences that people have with that in general, regardless of identity. Check out the rest of the series.

Today, I bring you:

A Boy and Her Dog writes about struggling to find a label that feels right, and that also communicates effectively to other people. (You might also just want to browse the archives of this one, for a lot more musings on gender).

I don’t want to be corralled into the polygon sliver within the overlapping circles of lesbian, butch, transgender, queer, neutrois, genderqueer, androgynous, agender, tomboy, and transmasculine. Nor do I want to define myself by the empty space left over after eliminating what I am not: cisgender, straight, polyamorous, bisexual, transsexual, trans man, or ftm. I would like to be able to explain myself in one sentence that anyone can understand and relate to.

When I tell someone I’m transgender, they may think that I just started to transition, or that I’m not very convincing. I don’t look “trans enough” to them.

When I tell someone I’m butch, they see a masculine woman who fits their stereotype of what a lesbian looks like. They see me as “butch enough.”

An amazing comic explaining agender identities – much of this is applicable to the broader non-binary umbrella. An excerpt summarizing the author’s personal gender journey:

Age 7 No idea what genders were
Age 10 Had a clue, Ghostbusters more important
Age 13 Tried the macho tihng, with a healthy dose of angst
Age 20 Tried to be more “girly,” Felt more uncomfortable than ever
Present Accepted that neither gender fit me

On the angst that come along with round-table pronoun announcements, a practice intended to make Trans* and gender-nonconforming folks more comfortable.

what seems to happen is that the [Preferred Gender Pronoun] Check will happen, and myself and the likely one or two other trans folks in the room will state what pronouns we prefer, and a few of the other people will state what pronouns they prefer. And then, without fail, about half of the cis people in the room say, “Oh, well, I prefer male/female pronouns, but really you can call me whatever you want.”

And so, time after time after time, what started as an attempt to make the space more trans friendly becomes another display of the cis privilege I will never have.

On being a woman with short hair.

I’ve experimented with growing the crop out twice, encouraged both times by men I was dating. It seemed like the thing to do to make myself more pleasing to potential boyfriends, potential bosses, and other people with potential power over my personal happiness. Both times, it looked awful. It took a lot of effort and a surprising amount of money to maintain, and it still looked awful, and I didn’t feel like myself.

And yet, the amount of male attention I got – from friendly flirting to unwanted hassle – increased enormously. Not because I looked better, but because I looked like I was trying to look more like a girl. Because I was performing femme. Every time I cut it off, I noticed immediately that the amount of street harassment I received, from cat-calls to whispered sexual slurs to gropes and grabs on public transport, dropped to a fraction of what it had been – apart from total strangers coming up to tell me how much prettier I’d be if I only grew it out.

Genderqueerness and the inadequacy of language

One of the major stumbling blocks for me in conceptualizing and discussing my gender identity is the way that terms like “women” and “men”, while they are assumed to represent very straightforward and solid groups, get used in a variety of different contexts with different boundaries – sometimes we intend to include (or should be intending to include, if we thought about it) different subsets of humanity with the same word.

I’ve touched on this concept a few times in the past, but I want to take a moment here to consider the different ways we use words like women/men, male/female, and feminine/masculine, and how it can really complicate the discourse. I’m going to approach this discussion through the lens of my own self-concept as a genderqueer person, but please don’t assume that you can generalize from any of the personal experiences I talk about here to any other genderqueer people, who may experience their gender identities very differently than I do.

Yes, these symbols are inherently connected to the biological definitions of men and women.

Biology: men are people with penises, and women are people with vaginas

Honestly, if it was as simple as this, I would be perfectly comfortable identifying as a woman. I have the good fortune of never having had any major body image issues, and I have no dysphoria around my body at all, so if this were a valid way of defining “woman”, I’d be on board with the category. But I hope it’s obvious that these definitions of “women” and “men” are cissexist and inherently disrespectful to the lived experiences of a great many trans and intersex people. And I’m not going to really bother refuting them; I think that most people these days understand that even if it makes them uncomfortable to think about, these definitions don’t hold true for all people. They are an approximation of the groups women and men, and as far as accuracy goes, they aren’t terrible (most men do have penises, and most people with vaginas are women, and all the vice versas there hold true as well) so I understand why most people sort of use this definition as their jumping off point. And I even understand how this results in people sometimes talking about women and men as if these definitions hold true.

Any time you hear a discussion about “men’s health” or “women’s health”, what’s really being talked about is the health of people with vaginas/penises. Issues affecting pregnant women are almost always relevant to pregnant people in general. And to make matters even more complicated, when we talk about things like breast cancer as a women’s issue, we are even erasing the experiences of some honest-to-goodness men-with-penises who have breast cancer. But we use the words anyway, even though they aren’t strictly correct, and even though they implicitly erase people who don’t fit into the strict biological definitions of the gender-sex binary.

I really think it would be useful to find a words to use for the categories of “people with penises” and “people with vaginas” instead of the approximately correct ones we are currently employing, but since even Ozy’s crowd-sourced request for this terminology (zir blog seems to be down, hopefully only temporarily, but I will add a link here when I can) turned up no viable alternatives, I’m not really sure what to suggest. For lack of a better alternative, for the remainder of this post, I will be using the terms “femaleness” and “maleness” in discussing the state of having a vagina and having a penis, respectively.

Which do you look more like?

Society: men are masculine and women are feminine

Ok, I actually don’t think anyone uses this definition explicitly, though gender policing against people whose level of masculinity or femininity doesn’t match their perceived gender is a very real thing. So, many people certainly believe that men *should* be masculine, and women *should* be feminine, even if they can’t actually ignore the reality that this isn’t so. I actually find the fact that we, as a society, are readily able to incorporate the idea that, for instance, butch women are still certainly women (even if some people will denigrate them for failing to be good at being women, it’s rare that it will be outright denied that that is what they are). I do think this points back to out general dependence on the biological imperative of sex being of the utmost importance, even to those of us who may strive to avoid biological determinism in our language.

The really interesting upswing of society’s acceptance that people needn’t necessarily have gender presentations that mesh with either their biological sex, (or the gender-sex they identify with, as the case may be) is that it can sometimes be a struggle for people with less recognized forms of gender non-conformism to get read the way they hope to be read. I get the impression that transmasculine people who opt against major medical interventions like hormones and surgery very often get read as butch women, often by extremely well-meaning people. On a recent episode of the Masocast, Brant MacDuff discusses exactly this phenomenon, where he gets misgendered by people who really think that they are doing the right thing and being affirming by recognizing that even though he’s wearing a three-piece suit, that doesn’t make him any less of a woman to them (ouch, right?).

It seems that the successful decoupling of femininity and masculinity from maleness and femaleness, though certainly as step in the right direction, has ultimately exacerbated the issues raised by the continued linking of womanhood to femaleness and manhood to maleness.

The real problem is that we use the words “men” and “women” to cover both of these (somewhat related, but very imperfectly correlated) binaries: that of biological femaleness/maleness, and that of femininity/masculinity, when we should be using them for neither. I mean, I’ve chosen the terms I’m using carefully here, and I hope it’s clear that what’s really happening here is that the two categories of “men” and “women” are being forced to fit into the spectra (or multi-dimensional spaces, depending on your perspective) of male-female and masculine-feminine in a mutually exclusive and exhaustive way. And they are utterly inadequate to the task.

Men and women are perfectly functional identity categories, but they are adequately defined neither by the characteristics of biology nor those of gender presentation. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that “men” and “women,” as categories, are not sufficient to express the diversity of people’s experiences of their gender. And honestly, I think a big part of this is that we’ve decoupled the binary of man-woman from the mappings of male-female and masculine-feminine about as much as we can without rendering “man” and “woman” devoid of meaning. Because really, what would it mean to identify as a man if it had nothing whatsoever to do with societal concepts of masculinity or maleness? At some point, the category becomes arbitrary and meaningless, if there are truly no characteristics that are associated with it.

I dunno, man. What are woman-ness and man-ness, if not socially defined categories that depend on those other factors?

And, I mean, I’m not sure if this would be a good thing, or a bad thing, or just a neutral thing. A lot of people depend on recognizing and valuing certain characteristics that are associated with maleness and/or femaleness (or with masculinity and/or femininity, or with whatever characteristics still cling to and define the categories of “men” and “women”). This is one of the tangles I was trying to unravel in my head when I asked for monosexual people (people attracted exclusively to men or to women) to try to figure out what the fundamental characteristics were that defined the boundaries of their attraction. But a lot of us are also just kind of sick of the whole system, and the ways that sex and identity and presentation get conflated in the everyday we talk about people, and for some of the people that feel that way, genderqueerness is a kind of refuge from the whole unravel-able mess.

Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote even go so far as to describe themselves as gender-retired. And I think the sentiment of gender retirement is one that I can get behind. Yesterday, I came across this remarkably concise definition of “genderqueer”. I think it might describe precisely (probably a little *too* precisely) the internal processes and unspoken desires that motivated the formation of my own genderqueer identity. I balk against it, too, because it feels a little too pat, and overly simplified. But the most concise way I’ve ever been able to come up with to explain why I reject the gender binary is simply that I am much more comfortable and happy with my own self-concept when I remove the framework of “female” from the picture. I feel more free to be just me, unencumbered, when I’m not somehow failing at the indistinct and moving target of womanhood.

So instead, I choose to make myself an indistinct and moving gender target, undefined and impossible to police. What I love about One Multiple Code’s definition is that it precisely defines genderqueerness (as I experience it) in terms of its inherent imprecision. What could be more fantastically linguistically ironic than that?