Gender. We’re all supposed to possess it.
We’re supposed to be able to instantly identify “what someone is.”
And when we can’t…people get confused. Even angry.
I often joke that my gender expression changes by the season.
In cold weather, you’ll find me almost exclusively in my big clompy boots or my Converse high-tops with a zip-up hoodie and an Old Navy Men’s V-Neck tee. To many, I might as well be a teenage boy. I feel more masculine, more grounded into myself. I dress in greyscale, and feel like I’m in drag when I wear more feminine tops or makeup.
But when warm weather comes, I always throw everyone for a loop. I’m all about the sundresses, the cleavage, the legs. With my freshly shaved head, I feel my hips sway and feel my neck poised and arched, the epitome of femininity. But it’s always a rude awakening, when I am suddenly a highly visible piece of meat, when I was able to be cocooned in androgyny over the winter. More threatening, much less safe.
In my marriage, my wife may have been “the butch”, but I was “the dude.” I was “the dumb boy” who could never quite understand why she was upset with me. I could go to bed after a fight and wake up like everything was fine, and had no idea why she was still angry.
I was by far the most unfeminine person she had ever dated, and I always felt like I wasn’t quite “enough of a woman” for her. Like she was disappointed that I was sometimes more of a butch than she was, even though I didn’t consider myself to be one. Like she was disappointed when I didn’t need her help opening jars, or, even worse, when she needed my help when doing physical tasks.
I assembled all of the Ikea furniture with great excitement. She color-coordinated her outfits.
We joked that we were really more of a gay male couple than a lesbian couple.
I sew for a living, but for a long time I refused to learn how to cook because I felt that I couldn’t be TOO domestic. For some reason, that made me feel a bit weird. I didn’t want to be too much of a homemaker. It was too close to “traditional gender roles” and I didn’t want to fall into those.
Dysphoria. That’s a word used in the genderqueer/trans community to describe the uncomfortable feeling of being dissatisfied with one’s body or expected gender role/expression. I don’t have dysphoria about my body. I think it’s pretty cool, and I’m glad I have boobs and stuff. But I do experience some dysphoria at times. I suppose I could describe the feeling of “being too domestic” as a sort of dysphoria. I experience dysphoria when I have to choose between the “male” and “female” box on every damn survey I ever take.
That female box may be what is most appropriate for me to check, but it really doesn’t cover it.
It’s definitely not all of me, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable to check that box. It limits me, confines me, suffocates me. When I was trying to earn money on a survey-taking site, I actually had a bit of a breakdown at one point because I was so infuriated by the fact that I HAD TO CHECK THAT DAMN BOX. It wouldn’t let me not. What does it matter? “Data samples” I suppose. There are a few websites that actually give an “other” option, and my heart sings for joy when I get to check that happy little square. (Thanks, Gmail!)
I feel some dysphoria when friends exclaim “Hey, lady!”
I sometimes feel weird when I refer to myself as a girl. But sometimes it’s fine.
I feel some dysphoria when I hear the term “bisexual” because it erases huge swaths of people, myself included. Two genders. That’s not a broad enough term. Being called bisexual makes me feel physically ill.
And so I identify as “Vaguely Genderqueer But Mostly Female.”
Sometimes I feel kind of guilty claiming the term “genderqueer” or “gender fluid”. Gender fluid is actually probably a better description, because my gender expression ebbs and flows like the tide. But I’m not completely genderless like many are, and I have the luxury of living in this world relatively free of feeling like I can’t belong in some basic way. I can live happily in the body I was born with. But I’m on the “spectrum,” not the binary.
When I was dating The Guy I Thought I Was Going To Marry, we went as far as to make plans for him to take my last name. That was cool.
When I married my ex-wife, my last name was first in our hyphenated surname. (Quite honestly, it flowed better that way, but I also viewed it as a small victory, and she viewed it as a small defeat.)
And yet, when I’m in full Winter Teenage Boy mode, I still get side-eyed in the womens’ restrooms. I still get uncomfortable looks, children hugged closer to their mothers. Like I will rub off on them. I’ve never been straight-up told to get out of the bathroom, that I was in the wrong one, but I’ve definitely come close to it.
My ex wife was often told to get out of the womens’ restrooms. She usually wore suits and ties and button-down shirts and mens’ shoes. She had a dapper pompadour haircut. But she still obviously had breasts and a womanly figure and an extremely feminine voice. And yet people would argue with her about her gender.
I have been told that, because I am a woman, I must pay for a woman’s haircut (often twice the price) even though I was getting a fauxhawk…very much a man’s cut, man’s length, etc. Simply because I posses breasts and a vagina, my haircut was inherently worth much more.
This world still can’t wrap its head around the gender spectrum.
From the moment we are born, it’s pink or blue. It’s headbands or dinosaurs. It’s offensive if we misgender the baby, so we must do everything within our power to make it so explicitly clear What The Baby Is. When going to baby showers, even if the sex of the baby is known, I don’t let that color my decisions. Sure, your baby is a girl, but I think this monster onesie is awesome. I bought a red onesie with a Scottie dog on it for my friend’s daughter, and my mom asked me “Oh, so she’s having a boy?”
How is a red onesie with a Scottie dog “Boy?”
Are dogs somehow more masculine than feminine? Is red a boy’s color? But pink is a girl’s? But blue is a boy’s. But purple is a girl’s. What about yellow and green? Those are the colors for when you don’t know. Yellow and green are genderfluid? Is orange vaguely masculine because it’s a combination of the genderfluid yellow and the masculine red? WHY ARE WE GENDERING COLORS?!
I believe that peoples’ genders are like colors, in that colors are a spectrum. They are not simply black or white. They are all sorts of shades, all sorts of tints, all sorts of intensities and vibrancies.
I know people who have tried to live their life as genderqueer, using “they” and “them” pronouns, but have ultimately decided that it was easier to just choose the gender with which they more fully aligned. The world isn’t built to “handle” people like them.
It is so important for people to know what they’re looking at. If they can’t discern a gender, it’s a huge deal for them. Like the gender of a person is the ultimate, defining factor, and without one, one ceases to exist.
I hear children whisper to their parents “Is that a boy or a girl?” about me pretty much weekly. And sometimes the parents are super embarrassed. And sometimes they whisper “I don’t know.”
And I just want to ask them “Does it really matter?”
I was talking with someone recently who was explaining their gender identity.
“You know that meme “None Pizza with Left Beef?”
I had no idea what they were talking about. They showed me this:
“This is me. Except I’m “None Gender, Left Girl.””
This was the most perfect visual representation of the gender spectrum I had ever seen. They were genderless, just a blank pizza of a person, with a random sprinkle of “girl.”
So would that mean “boy” is sausage?
That was stupid. Pardon me.
My pizza changes from time to time. Sometimes I’m 55% “beef” and sometimes I’m 90%. That is to say, my gender is extremely fluid. I’d say that I usually oscillate between 55% to 90% female. I’ve rarely felt myself tip over into masculine-of-center territory. But, like I said, it ebbs and flows.
Right now I’m in a very feminine phase. I’m wearing makeup and wearing more “feminine” clothes, and I’m feeling that lady-swagger. And I’m really interested in dating guys again, not that that has anything to do with my gender expression. It is so important to remember that gender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation.
I don’t know if my gender really is seasonal…that seems too straightforward. Sure, my choice of clothes I find most comfortable dictate my gender expression a bit, but I can feel feminine in a hoodie or masculine in a dress.
You know what? I don’t have to figure it out. Gender doesn’t need to be figured out. It can just be.
But this world isn’t built for people like us yet. We’re just waiting for it to catch up.