gender presentation

Brief Thought: Chestfeels

It recently occurred to me that over the past 3 years or so, I have from from:

A person who didn’t feel comfortable when not wearing a bra; to

A person who, upon putting on a bra on a random whim, immediately took it off and couldn’t believe they used to wear to that uncomfortable (and to be honest, probably poorly fitted) shit every day, and usually just wore a tank top under everything; to

A person who doesn’t really feel comfortable going anywhere public without some kind of chest compression going on.

Which, I don’t have anything intelligent to say about that. Just, that’s been happening apparently.

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 8

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I hope to curate writing by people with a wide variety of gender identities and experiences, talking about their gender, what it means to them personally, and what it means for the ways in which they move through and interact with the world. Basically, this is where I point out that I’m not the only person in the world who has complex thoughts about gender, and that there as many ways to be Trans* and/or genderqueer as there are to be cisgender (and yes, there are many different ways to be cisgender). Check out the rest of the series.]

  • Sage Pantony discusses their experiences of changing privilege when going from a femme presentation to a masculine one, within their identity as a simultaneously gender-fluid/genderqueer and cisgender person.

    The catcalling I used to receive from men in the streets has almost completely stopped. I didn’t expect this. In fact, I thought I would experience more sexualizing taunts and threats once I went against the norm. I’m experiencing a form of masculine privilege in that I actually feel safer when I move in public spaces now. This is interesting, as I’m pretty sure people still read me as female. Store clerks still call me “Miss” or refer to me as one of the “girls” when I’m with a group of feminine folks.

    Masculinity affords certain privileges in a patriarchal culture. I believe that I’m benefiting from some of these privileges now.

  • The author of “An Exacting Life”, a cisgender parent with a trans* child, contemplates her personal relationship with and experiences of gender.

    I am a woman who was raised as a girl. What could be more natural?

    Until I think about what a strange construct that is. I was born with certain visible body parts, and that determined how I was raised and what my future role in life would be. My culture not only supports this, but pretty much requires it. My parents carried this out unquestioningly…

  • Belinda Cooper talks about being “she-zi-thee-he” genderqueer, zir intimate relationships, and dealing with the broader world.

    At time you can feel like an alien not fitting into the terms and conditions of society and the humans don’t understand your language and properly never will. So you squeeze your alien self into their terms and you get used to it as it is easier, easier for your mother, father, brothers and as well as the stranger talking to you on the bus.

    When they present you with a forms requesting your gender, they seem to ask a question that actually want to know. Sometimes you get lucky and there are more than two possible answers and you smile and say well done people. Other times you just feel bitter anger and frustration.

    This is how ‘I’ experience life and gender.

  • Sam Dylan Finch writes incredibly beautifully about dealing with his own internalized anti-trans thoughts feelings

    What they don’t tell you about being transgender is that sometimes, the transphobe is you.

    Those days, the only words I knew how to say were, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

    They never tell you that being transgender can sometimes feel like a run-on string of apologies – I’m sorry for being here, I’m sorry for being this way, I’m sorry for disappointing you, I’m sorry for your expectations, and I’m sorry for mine.

  • Olly from “Apparently I Don’t Exist” responds to the search term “gender fluid is utter nonsense”, which brought someone to their blog.

    I don’t think they found what they were looking for.

    Although privately I do agree with them; it is complete nonsense. I’m a logical creature who likes their patterns and progressions so not being able to predict where my gender identity is going to be on any given day of the week is what some people might call a nightmare. But it’s my reality.

    Gender is a social construct and yet in my head I know the difference between femme days and masc days and agender days and any other kind of days. Logic tells me that the clothes I wear on my body are *my* clothes, but there are days where the thought if wearing skimpy panties rather than my pirate boxer shorts makes me want to cry.

    So yeah, it is utter and complete total nonsense. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 7

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I hope to curate writing by people with a wide variety of gender identities and experiences, talking about their gender, what it means to them personally, and what it means for the ways in which they move through and interact with the world. Basically, this is where I point out that I’m not the only person in the world who has complex thoughts about gender, and that there as many ways to be Trans* and/or genderqueer as there are to be cisgender (and yes, there are many different ways to be cisgender). Check out the rest of the series.]

  • The author of It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way talks about how he doesn’t really know what it means to be a man, or what it means to say that he is one

    Until I was 26, I had picked up on very few clues that my gender was anything other than that of a cis woman

    So, even though it turns out that I am a man, is it fair to say that I know what it’s like to be a woman? What does such a statement even mean? What, then, of the fact that I feel like I’m only just beginning to learn about what it’s like to be a man? What does that even mean?

    Welcome to my brain.

  • Mia at Gender Drift contemplates whether her experience of gender would be different had she been assigned a different gender at birth

    So let’s imagine now that this other universe exists and there’s a me that was born female. We’ll call her Alter-Mia because that’s wonderfully comic-booky. Would she be blissfully unaware of all gender dysphoria? I don’t know.

    Y’see, although I identify as a transgender woman, truthfully it’s a bit more complicated than that. I see myself as genderqueer, on the female side of my plucky and faithful ruler of gender, but nudged towards the middle somewhat. So would Alter-Mia be genderqueer too? Would she perceive her personality and interests and come to the conclusion that she has some sort of masculine edge to them? Or would such interests be dismissed as playfully tomboy-ish and never cause any deeper thought? Would she feel gender dysphoria?

  • PlainT from Queering the Nerd discusses their experiences of gender fluidity

    There are things I am consistent about; e.g. my love for nature… No matter the rest, I will always seek out nature, and it’s always the theme I go back to.

    And then there are things that waver. My external representation of self is still adrift and has not anchored, briefly docking in one place or another but never calling it home. My external representation might never stay put.

    I love masculinity in all its forms, and I love femininity in all its forms. The duality of human experience (and the spectrum between the extremes, as well as outside of them) enriches society. Sometimes, though, the question isn’t “what do I WANT to embody?”; it’s “what CAN I embody?” or, “what DO I embody?”

  • Clementine Morrigan talks about their love/hate relationship with gender, and their own queer gender identity

    My pronouns are she/her or they/them and on rare occasions when I’m in femme boy mode, it’s he/him. Coming out as genderqueer feels like a sigh of relief because it means I no longer have to section off aspects of who I am. I can be all of it.

Pronouns, Gender Presentation, and Me: Updates

A whole bunch of things I’ve been noticing lately:

I am not as invested in the pronouns that are used for me a regular basis anymore. Before I go an further here: if you know me and you know I use they/them, you should continue using those for me. This statement is not intended as permission for people to stop doing that.

What I mean is that I think *because* the people who know me well and I am close to have, pretty much across the board, been totally willing to switch, and even when they’re not perfect with it, don’t ever make that *my* problem, but generally just apologize and/or correct themselves and move on, I have made a heck of a lot of progress in feeling more comfortable and secure in myself, to the extent that the pronouns that get used for me at work (almost universally she/her, though I get the occasional “young man” from a patron) sort of just slide off my back. I may come out at work eventually. I probably will. But it doesn’t feel like a major priority any more, which I actually take as a positive development.

Also, in whatever job I have next, I will be using my real name (I am using it to apply for jobs now), which will be great!

I’ve also become super bored with the vaguely masculine presentation I’ve been using at work. I’d really like to find ways to lean more into femme things at least sometimes, but I am actually struggling with feeling comfortable with that. I’m pretty sure that what I really want is to have a body/face that gets read more masculinely, and that I would feel better about wearing whatever if that were the case. I kind of think I want to pass as an AMAB genderqueer person, if that makes any sense :P

Really, in order to get what I think I want, I would need to move into medical interventions (testosterone for sure, probably chest surgery too?) but I don’t know for sure if I want to do that. And also it is vaguely TERRIFYING to contemplate. Also also, I am quite certain that “I want to be more masculine so that I can wear more dresses” isn’t going to get me very far, and the process will just be uncomfortable and involve lying and I don’t wanna.

For now, I am doing some really minor strength training, and maybe I will just jump that up and see where I can get that way? I don’t know. I am also pretty sure that none of this is stable, which is the extra frustrating part.

Bah.

A little bit of femme-love

It definitely doesn’t get acknowledged enough: consciously femme folks are fucking badass, amazing, courageous people fighting an important fight for gender equality. Being femme can be a radical act (whether it is intended as such or not), and I think that often gets forgotten.

Y’see, as a non-binary person, I know that people see me as being somehow radical, or on the edge of some sort of movement to change the way gender works in society. And in some ways I embrace this. I am happy to be in a position to call into question a lot of assumptions about what gender is or what it means. But at the same time, I am very much one of *those* non-binary people: I am white, middle-class, skinny, AFAB, and vaguely transmasculine – if there is a normative version of genderqueerness (and there is), I am it. To some extent, I’ve very deliberately crafted of sort of sexual invisibility for my (public) self – I *hate* being sexualized by strangers, y’all. I really do. And my presentation is, ultimately, extremely safe.

Femmes, though; y’all I don’t know how you do it. I know that the world we share is one where feminine people are very often seen as consumables, as commodities, as existing for other people’s viewing (and consuming) pleasure. I know that for me the difference between wearing pants and a skirt represents (easily) a ten-fold increase in the likelihood of facing harassment. I don’t doubt it is the same for all of you.

I know that by being unabashedly femme, you increase the likelihood that you will be seen as unworthy of leadership positions, that you will be talked down to, that your path will be harder in all kinds of tiny little ways that are maybe hard to see individually but that add up to being treated as less-than in all kinds of ways.

And I know that by also being your awesome self at the same time, by being worthy, by insisting upon your worthiness, by simply *being* you are revealing the lie of the inferiority of femininity. You are at the lead in making the world a place where people can be feminine without being looked down upon, without being seen as submissive or powerless. You are bringing power to the feminine, and that is so fucking important.

Because yeah, a lot of women are making it in the world by sort of playing along with masculine power displays and being one of the guys, and that’s great too, in it’s own ways. Not only men can rock suits and wield that sort of power. But I’d hate for equality of the sexes to be one at the cost of everyone having to give up on glitter and frills and awesome nail art and all things girly. Because girly things are freaking amazing, and everyone should feel like they can be girly without somehow hurting their chances at a promotion, or without being accused of asking to be harassed, or having to deal with any of the millions of microaggressions associated with the entire idea of girliness all of the time (all of which happens to femme folk of all genders).

Even if this isn’t your goal exactly. It doesn’t matter. Either you’ve seen through the lie that feminine things are bad, and are just doing the things you love regardless what anyone thinks, or you are actively fighting against the idea that a person can’t love frilly clothes and wear flashy glittery make-up, and own all the pink things, and be powerful at the same time. You are so awesome, no matter what!

So yeah, I love y’all. And I’m going to leave you also with a love letter from Ivan Coyote, because Ivan Coyote:

And also this amazingness:

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 6

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I hope to curate writing by people with a wide variety of gender identities and experiences, talking about their gender, what it means to them personally, and what it means for the ways in which they move through and interact with the world. Basically, this is where I point out that I’m not the only person in the world who has complex thoughts about gender, and that there as many ways to be Trans* and/or genderqueer as there are to be cisgender (and yes, there are many different ways to be cisgender). Check out the rest of the series.]

Today, I bring you a mixed bag:

  • Thoughts on what it means to “transition” as a non-binary person

    It used to stress me out, thinking about having to prove to people that I am transgender and that I am transitioning. But I’m starting to realize and truly internalize that I don’t need to do anything to prove that I am trans, especially if it’s for the benefit of other people and not myself

    I feel like transitioning isn’t quite the right word for what I do. I reify my gender through these actions and in my actions every day. It isn’t showy, its components change daily, and it will never be finished.

  • Angi Becker Stevens examines her life growing up as a tomboy, and the internalized misogyny that was a part of her experiences.

    …to view all girlhood acts of gender non-conformity as necessarily positive strikes me, now, as an oversimplification.

    All these years later, when I look back on my adolescence, it seems that rather than being progressive, it was actually quite anti-feminist.

    After all, it wasn’t as if I had liberated myself from caring what the boys thought of me.

    On the contrary, my entire life centered on proving myself and gaining their approval.

  • Rimonim discusses the “Man Enough Trap” from his perspective as a transgender man.

    Sometimes I get sick with the fear and shame of not being man enough. Is my dick too small? Is my body too weird? Are my gestures effeminate? My line of work unmanly? What really sticks in my craw is the sneaking sense that as a transsexual, I am somehow permanently inadequate, a poor imitation.

    Yet this sinking feeling and shame and fear lie at the very heart of what it is to be a man in my society.

  • Jens talks about beginning to pass as male, and the complicated experience of being complimented on seeming like “real” boy.

    Of course, I AM a boy, and yes sometimes I’m more intentional about my behavior and appearance to appear more masculine, but I also am a boy even if I put on a dress. Just because I’m medically transitioning into manhood does NOT mean that I wasn’t a boy before, or that pre-t photos of me are not photos of a young man.

    To “suspect” I might not be a cisgender boy is to question my identity and expression. It lowers the validity someone is giving me. To think to yourself “Oh, [he’s not a boy] he’s trans!” is sad for me. Yes, I’m trans. But I’m also a boy. I can be both, and I am both very earnestly.

About my chest

I think it’s accurate to say at this point that I am generally uncomfortable with having visibly noticeable breast-shapes under my clothes when I am out and about. Sometimes I just suck it up, but most of the time I either just wear slightly baggier clothes than I am otherwise wont to (I am fortunate enough to have a small enough chest for this to be an effective strategy), or I bind if I want to wear clothes that don’t themselves obscure my chest.

A lot of people really hate binders, but I super don’t. My one just kind of feels like an all-day hug, or something, though I suspect that, again, my level of comfort while binding is very much related to the smallish-ness of my breasts in the first place.

Here’s the thing, though: my desire to bind/obscure my cheat in public isn’t actually related to me disliking or generally having any kind of dysphoria around my body. When it’s just me, or just me and people I love and trust, it’s not all that important. The reason I don’t want the natural shape of my chest to be available for public consumption is based not on the chest itself, but on the ways in which I know other people perceive, and ultimately respond to, that shape. It impacts my everyday interactions, (or at least it feels to me like it does, although it is not at all clear to me that the actual change in my body shape is even significant enough for most people to notice) in ways that I can’t actually articulate, since a lot of the time I bind but wear feminine enough clothes that I am still generally perceived as a woman, albeit one with a flat chest. I dunno, maybe that’s enough to actually impact the way people see and engage with me.

Anyway, I have been idly speculating about whether I might ever want chest surgery. And I honestly can’t say either way. As it stands, it’s certainly not a thing that I am enthusiastic about. It would make choosing clothes in the morning way easier – I wouldn’t have to determine what subset of clothes I could choose from based on whether I had a clean binder available or not. But other than that, I’m not sure it would be a great advantage to me?

I mean, there are times when I would prefer to have my chest be flat even unclothed, in ways and for reason that I haven’t really figured out. But there are also times when I just kinda idly cup or jiggle or generally enjoy what I’ve got. So, it’s hard. I can’t have both, so probably I will always tend to err on the side of avoiding all of the administrative and medical hassle and red tape (and GID diagnosis, and …) that would be involved in getting surgery.

Basically, I don’t feel at all confident in saying it is never a thing I will want that badly, but it’s definitely not where I’m at just now. It’s a complicated thing to navigate, though, even now.

Other People’s Perceptions

It is always really interesting for me to navigate interactions with new people, especially now that I am at a point where my gender presentation is effectively ambiguous a lot of the time.

Of course, unless I am in a particularly queer/trans-friendly space (and even then, really), unless I feel like having a conversation about my gender (I don’t always; shocking, I know), I know that at some point, probably very early on, any person I am interacting with is going to decide I fit in one binary category or the other. And I’m cool with that; I’m much cooler with it since I stopped being put exclusively in the “F” box, I must say. And this isn’t because I think there’s something wrong with being female, or being feminine, or being perceived as either of those things, it’s just that I enjoy the novelty of the “M” box, and also simply that getting a mixture of conclusions from people on my gender tells me that I am sending complex signals that don’t really fit either, and that in all cases people are rounding me into (not really up or down) whatever category they put me in mentally.

ink3A lot of the time I don’t even know what I’m seen as; most day-to-day interactions with strangers don’t extend that far, unless the person in question wants to use a formal form of address (ma’am/miss/lady/sir – why are there so man more words for women, seriously?) Sometimes someone will peg me as male base don appearance and then decide that I am “actually” female when I speak to them. Sometimes they apologize. At this point I just brush aside or generally ignore all gendered forms of address, and also the subsequent apologies therefor and push forward with the actual interaction and the business at hand. It seems to work.

Then there are the weirder experiences, where I am having more of an honest-to-goodness conversation with someone, and their perception of my gender becomes relevant to the conversation because they want to commiserate with me on some sort of gender essentialism (i.e. some sort of “I mean, as a girl, you totally understand…” or whatever). And sometimes I do understand whatever thing, and I’m happy to commiserate, but a lot of the time I’m just left with a very weird feeling. Like, I simply don’t know what some people see when they look at me. I know, because of the contradictions in the ways I am read, that they can’t possible just be seeing simply another girl, (let a alone a straight one, although most people insist on assuming straightness against all possible signals to the contrary; le sigh). It seems to me that some people (and it definitely isn’t everyone), upon deciding which box I fit in, selectively ignore all signals to the contrary, and don’t even really see me anymore. They just see a generic dude or woman, as the case may be.

And it’s very, very strange. And I mean, I rarely talk to people about what they see when they look at me, so I don’t really know. I am not super concerned about it with my friends, or people close to me, because I know that what they see is, at the end of the day, a multi-faceted and complex person. I know their perspectives on me will be different than my own; we are all working with different subsets of information. But I know that they see me as way more than just my gender, and that’s why coming out to them about it didn’t really matter or make a difference in my relationships with them.

But.

There is still something so very powerful to me when someone reflects my internal sense of myself, including my gender, back to me. My husband is really, really, wonderfully good at this, at hearing the things I say about how I feel about myself, and the words I use to talk about and describe my experience of myself, and really taking them on. He accepts these things without question in a way that I think many other people aren’t really able to (and I don’t even remotely blame other people for this – binary thinking is deeply entrenched) and reflects them back to me in ways that make me feel truly seen.

The funny thing is, I don’t even know what he sees when he looks at me, either. I doubt that he is any better at escaping binary thinking and perceptions than I am, really. But it doesn’t even matter. Having someone else in my life who consciously and conscientiously takes on my inner sense of my self in the way he does does wonders to reduce my sense of burden of carrying it around by myself.

Basically, all I really want to say is that this is one of many things he does (and it’s really a simple matter of well-chosen words) that make me feel utterly awed and… just so fucking lucky, at how loved I am.

(Thank you, my love, for giving me a safe space to figure out who I was, even when you didn’t know that was what you were doing, and for sticking with me through it all. I don’t think you really know how much all of the little things you do impact me, but I don’t know if I would have had the strength for all of this without you <3)

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?