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Posts Tagged ‘identity’

None of the Above

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been having difficulty with labels recently (well, always but specifically over the past month). I have had a lot of trouble with labels over the years, and thought that I had finally found something that worked for me, but now I am no longer sure…

I’m good with pronouns, I love the pronouns I have chosen for myself and they really work when people bother to actually use them. There is a blip when it comes to the general usage of them, as a generic “any person” pronoun rather than “specific person who is non-binary”, but I’ve written about this before so I’ll let it lie for now.

No, the issue is the overall gender label. There are many ways to announce non-binary-ness: androgyne, neutrois, gender fluid, bigender, and the one I’ve taken to using, genderqueer (among many, many others). It works best for me out of the available vocabulary for a number of reasons, but I don’t think any gender-word neologism will be truly adequate to express my identity.

The whole thing with gendered labels is, I’m not really sure what they’re for. We call someone a man or a woman and that’s supposed to be representative of their identity somehow but I don’t really know what that label is supposed to be actually communicating. But the point is that it is communicating something, people are getting information from this and presumably those who identify as male or female find this communication adequate. I suppose it denotes a general group that an individual feels they belong to, like any label, and defines spaces that they can move through (bathrooms, etc.).

So, with that, what does a word like “genderqueer” communicate? I don’t mean within the trans-whatever community and in lgbTQ spaces, I mean to people that I interact with on a regular basis that might not have encountered the word before. What do I do if I have to define it? I say, “it means I don’t identify as male or female”. Great, that’s accurate, but how useful is it to me or the other person? First of all, if someone is unfamiliar with the concept, this doesn’t mark me as part of any community or define my spaces, it marks me immediately as an outsider with no community or spaces at all. I’ve even encountered extreme absurdities like “well then how do you pee” (because gender = your junk and if you’re not a man or a woman you have nowhere to put your urethra apparently).

What does it say about my ability to operate within society if the only way I can talk about myself is “I’m not that, or the other thing, but something else that I can’t specify”? The answer can’t be “make a social space for people of your gender” because I can’t communicate what my gender IS, I can only say what it is not. And it’s like that for all the non-binary terminology I’ve encountered. I’m very dissatisfied with the whole thing. “Man” and “woman” might be vague approximations but at least they’re accurate, the terms I use don’t even point people in the right direction. I’m not even sure where the right direction is, because I can’t talk about this with MYSELF, I only have vague pre-verbal sensations that I can’t articulate.

What I’m saying is I need a new word, something that joins me to a community but doesn’t just mean “that grab-bag of other things”. I don’t think one exists yet.

This confusing mish-mash brought to you by the confusion pudding in my brainpan.

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My thougts on gender

September 14, 2011 2 comments

The more I operate within the trans/queer/activist/stuff region of the interblags, the less I like the word “gender”. It really seems to mean everything and nothing at the same time. What definition you use is based on your political/theoretical leanings, and not so much on communicating a particular idea. I’ve seen, and participated in, conversations in which everyone had different (and occasionally mutually exclusive) definitions of gender and assuming everyone else was using the same definition as them. This is when yelling begins, generally.

The problem for me is that I have certain experiences that cannot be described unless I identify them as “gendered” experiences. I have a part of my mind, nestled somewhere behind where my identity is kept*, that reacts to certain stimuli, almost like a basic instinct. The stimuli it deals with specifically are things like pronouns, socially gender-specific words, etc. and it really doesn’t seem to have many or any other functions. It is the part that gets happy when someone uses my preferred pronoun and the part that gets angry when someone calls me “he” or “sir”. It’s only job, apparently, is to help me parse these simple and omnipresent social cues, specific to me. I have no name for this impulse, even though it seems pretty important and is difficult to ignore, so I have been calling it my “gender”. This meshes a little with what I’ve heard other people say about their genders, though this is usually vague stuff like “an internal feeling about one’s identity as male or female (or neither/both/kitty)”.

*I’m sorry if my internal mind references get/are confusing, I’m neither a psychologist nor a neurologist so I have no vocabulary for this stuff. It will all be extra subjective and metaphorical.

The main important factor of the “gender” feeling is that things that are socially coded male or female are rejected: male :( >, female :( >, ??? :D > But this doesn’t hold true for all things our society assigns to masculinity and femininity, just the formalized interactions based around that dichotomy. I wonder what this means.

Unfortunately, to make things extra-special complicated, I have another experience that matches up with other people’s definitions of “gender”. I sometimes describe myself as “gender fluid”, but the internal impulse that I described above is most definitely not fluid. What I’m talking about is more a sensation that is halfway between internal identity and external gender expression. It sometimes has the standard binary markers of “male” or “female”, but there are other less obviously “gender” modes such as “punk”, “goth”, and “drag queen” that alternate in this region of my mind-face*. This sensation seems less based on internal sources of identity and more on temporary or situational identification with some external gender exemplar or prototype. Sometimes the source of these prototypes is pretty clear (read: “punk” and “goth”) and others do not seem to align with societal definitions of the terms I feel like using at all (I am at my most “female” when lounging shirtless in torn up jeans). This is less a “parse the world around me” thing and more a “how I want to present myself to the world” thing.

*I’m sorry again. This term totally makes sense in my head but I’m not sure I explain it. It’s like, where the “gender” feeling from up top is, but way forward, in my face.

The fun part? I’m not totally sure these two things are wholly separate, even though they operate completely differently. For example, when I am feeling “female” (the domain of the expressive feeling) I am more open than normal to female-coded social interactions (the domain of the internal impulse), though still not as comfortable as I am with non-gendered codes. Maybe they interact, maybe they’re two sides of one particularly confusing coin, I don’t know. I wonder how much my upbringing and general experiences influences the content/form of these two feelings, and even if it influences their apparent separation.

I feel like these things need different names, other than just “gender”, but there’s not any really satisfying vocabulary out there that I’ve seen. The first impulse might be “brain sex” or something, but that makes a neurological statement that I as a layperson am not comfortable making, and the second might be “gender expression” but that really doesn’t fit particularly well. Either or both could be “gender identity”, but that phrase is so vague and has so many active definitions as to be essentially meaningless. I’m just pretty stuck between two seemingly contradictory sensations of being N-gendered (N standing for some gender that isn’t coded by society, but is coded by my mind for me personally) and of being fluid gendered where I bounce between obvious social constructions.

So, one or both of these definitions/sensations will clash with other definitions of gender out there. I’m honestly OK with that, because I have no evidence whatsoever that my experiences are remotely common, and my “gendered” feelings might just be mine and other people have different processes. Hopefully some of my hypothetical readers understood some of this free-associating stuff. If you did, leave me a comment because I’m totally confused.

New People and Invisibility

August 13, 2011 3 comments

When was the last time I posted here? Well…I’m back from my unintentional hiatus and I have things to say (hopefully interesting things).

So, I’ve basically been a hermit lately, but the other day I attempted to socialize and had an experience that reminded me why I find meeting new people so uncomfortable. There was this social gathering thing at my mother’s apartment building that I went to (free food was involved) and I got to talking to some of the other tenants. None of these were people I expected to see again frequently or soon, since I’m going back to school in a couple weeks, so the whole thing was pretty low pressure.

The problem event was brief, so much so that by the time I realized I was uncomfortable the speaker was already several sentences ahead and it was too late to say anything. The people in the group I was with were discussing some movie* specifically the actors involved*. Several women in the group mentioned the attractiveness of one of the male characters; then one of them motioned to me and one other member of the group who was apparently male and stated that we might have found the female lead more interesting.

*Cowboys and Aliens, not important which is why I’ve clarified down here. Also, I’m crap with names so I don’t remember who was discussed.

This is a pretty small thing, but it was kind of alienating at the same time. This is the sort of action that is insignificant to most people, but stands out wildly to me. I feel like there’s very little I can do in these sorts of situations. I think I’ve mentioned it before, it’s very hard to correct someone without interrupting or derailing the thread of the conversation (and it never got back around to a subject where I could correct her assumption easily). This is not helped by the fact that I am pretty socially awkward, and that these situations always throw me for a loop even though they’re not really surprising. These were nice, mostly liberally minded people, they were not cracking gay jokes or being homo- or transphobic, but they still managed to make me feel like I was excluded from the conversation, albeit in a small way.

Theoretically I’m “out”, at least about my sexuality. But this really drives home how much of an active process that is. What was a casual conversation suddenly, and for a brief moment, became very high stakes for me. Even if I had been prepared to say something, I had an infinitesimal amount of time to decide how these people, whom I had just met, would react to my being queer and how to present that information. And there’s really no cure for this as far as I can see, all of the steps involved in heterosexual assumption are involuntary and people don’t like to analyze these sorts of processes. I don’t even really feel justified making a big deal about it, all of the arguments people make about assumptions being “normal” start bouncing around my head.

But the truth is it is a big deal, even tiny moments like this one. One instant of assumption moved me from cheerfully (if awkwardly) interacting with a group of people to being uncomfortable with the whole group. Do people get used to this? Because I can’t, it feels too much like being back in the closet.

I am not diseased

There are many comparisons that get made in explaining trans people and transition to the questioning masses. The concept of having it be a disorder almost makes sense, if one is going for the “not under our control” thing, and with the justification for medical intervention. That particular one gets a lot more use by people who hate trans people, but hey. Either way, I’m not to pleased with it.

The use of trans as mental disorder is one that gets used as anti-trans rhetoric all the time, probably due to both the listing of transsexualism in the DSM and the lovely ableism that allows us to dismiss anything we don’t like as “crazy”. I’ve seen transgendered identities compared to everything from body dysmorphia to schizophrenia to anorexia (no, seriously).

When trans people (and pro-trans arguments) make the “disorder” argument it’s usually physical, because that’s what people are trying to change about themselves. There’s a movement for reclassifying transsexualism as, essentially, a birth defect, where the outward sex and brain sex are mismatched. There’s some science behind this, I’d like a nice longitudinal study myself but this direction of inquiry is relatively new. A lot of it also looks at explaining transgenderism itself, rather than looking at the development of gender identity in humans in general, which reeks of pathologization. But you can’t just straight up compare it to diseases like cancer and heart disease. Whatever the cause, transgenderism and transsexualism are usually if not always self-diagnosed conditions. We have to convince other people that our self-conceptions are legitimate, even the doctors, it’s not a diagnosis where some medical professional doles it out and you get recommended or assigned treatment. (The article I link even suggests that trans people aren’t in control of their own transition, that it’s all the doctors, and it’s written by a trans woman. I have no idea.)

As I see it, etiology is a question for the scientists, for activism and social interaction it does not matter. My body is healthy, my gender is not disordered. There’s a mismatch to be sure, but how I manage that mismatch is entirely in my control. I am not diseased, and I don’t need ham-handed justifications for my existence.

Don’t “sir” me.

December 18, 2010 1 comment

I hate it when people are polite. “Here you go sir, thank you sir, excuse me sir”. You’re just handing me the tea I ordered, that doesn’t mean you get to assume stuff about me based on my appearance. But it’s expected. We’re supposed to be polite to strangers, and there’s just no way, apparently, to be polite in a gender-neutral way.

Except that there is. I manage it. Other people’s gender makes little enough sense to me that I just don’t affix “sir” or “ma’am” to the ends of my polite sentences. It’s not that hard.

It bothers me because it reminds me of how much people project onto me that’s not mine. I can’t leave my house without assumptions being made. I am invisible, you can’t see me under all the assumptions you’re making. I’m not saying that every stranger I pass in the hallway and barista who hands me a tea is going to ask me questions about who I am, that would be it’s own kind of hell. But none of these people are in the least bit shy about the answers they think they already have. It’s built into their way of interacting socially. And it’s smothering me.

I want to be incensed over suicide rates, blatant harassment and prejudice, and the apathy of self-proclaimed “allies”. But what really gets me down, what wears at me and slowly makes life unbearable, is the little things. It can’t be stopped. The best I can hope for is generating confusion rather that certainty. I know some people delight in getting opposite responses from people, different individuals making different assumptions based on the same stimuli. There’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve done it. But it takes so much work. I shouldn’t have to try so hard. I shouldn’t have to try at all just to feel comfortable walking down the street. And then there’s the worry that if I’m too ambiguous, too confusing, people will react. I’ve attracted stares, those aren’t fun, and I have no wish to endure the intimate questions and harassment from a stranger that others have described and I have thankfully so far avoided. And I shouldn’t have to be afraid of that either. I should be able to just go to the store and not have to think about how the other store patrons might view me, and whether I’m OK to interact with a clerk who may be polite to me and how to handle that.

I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next couple weeks. ‘Tis the season after all. Train stations, airports, strange cities and partially-estranged family. I’m not looking forward to it. Travel can be stressful at the best of times, and it is never the best of times for me when I travel. I fully expect to get “sir”ed by every single ticket agent, ticket taker, TSA agent, flight attended, whatever-you-name-it. And I will not enjoy it. And I will have to take it, because asking every single person I come across in this situation not to do so would be exhausting beyond my ability to take it: people whom I will likely never see again, who’s day and practices will not be affected in the slightest by my passing, and who may challenge my request no matter how polite I am.

I’m not sure how coherent this post is. I’m tired.