In discussing gender with a friend a while back I came to the question: where is my default? They had recently shifted into a gender expression that is closer to their identity and mentioned that they were beginning to feel like they are not in drag every day. They have found their default. I chewed over this concept in my head before saying “I’m not sure I can wear anything that isn’t drag.” I don’t just mean this in the way that all gender is drag1, but in the way that I wasn’t sure if anything was more inherently true for me and less drag less copy than anything else. I’ve been constantly wondering: is there a way that I can express my gender adequately?
There are many aspects of presentation often/generally associated with femme or femininity–skirts/dresses, makeup, hair flowers, etc.–that I really really enjoy. I generally think that I’m pretty sexy in femme-type clothing. That is, when I’m not succumbing to internalized fatphobia and feeling down about myself. I really enjoy taking the time to do some elaborate makeup on myself, something artistic, something lovely. But none of these things has to do with my gender identity for me. All of these things are presentation. I definitely favor a femme presentation, and am rooted in that, but I still experience dysphoria and dissatisfaction with being seen as a woman or female.
I have solidly identified as genderqueer for over eight years now and was presenting genderqueerly as far back as high school, though I didn’t know the name for it then. During my first few years of acting I nearly refused to play female parts. And yet I still question it sometimes. I still wonder if I’m just “transtrending” or trying to seem different or unusual or to be a “special snowflake” or some other bullshit. And let me just take a minute to say how offensive it is for someone to use the term “special snowflake” to describe someone else’s gender. There’s something self-deprecating when people use it for themselves, but to use it toward another person is just rude and shows that you don’t actually appreciate their unique identity. More often than not I see it used by people whose gender falls into the binary or someone who would never use it for themselves, and it just reeks of disrespect. End rant.
All that said, despite the many times I request gender neutral pronouns from people in my life I almost never get them. I know that it’s “confusing” because I was DFAB and there are many aspects of my presentation that are femme, and that gender neutral pronouns are difficult to use and remember, and all of those things. I know that I fuck up with other people’s pronouns sometimes, especially when they are gender neutral, though I try to correct myself. The correction is what matters most, I’ve noticed, and not going overboard with the apologies when correcting.
Speaking of pronouns, I had an experience recently where, after mentioning that I really enjoy the ne/nem/nir pronoun set and making a self-deprecating comment about being a “gender hipster” because of it (that seemed to be taken at face value rather than as a joke. Oops), I actually had someone attempt to use that pronoun set when referring to me. They asked if they had used it correctly, and I, somewhat abashedly, sort of dismissed it in a “oh, sure, whatever, it’s all good” sort of way. It actually meant a lot to me that they attempted, but I was also already in an uncomfortable social situation around a lot of people I didn’t know and totally downplayed it. They responded with something that stung about me not actually caring about caring about the pronouns because I was so flippant about it.
Why did I do this? I have thought about the situation a lot, and what I can figure is because I am so just not used to getting the pronouns that I ask for. Almost ever. I’ve identified this way for so long and I’ve been requesting these pronouns for so long that it’s just exhausting to even attempt to police people into using them anymore, so I just sink deeper and deeper into not being seen. When I do get the pronouns that fit me used for me I am overjoyed because of those years of not being seen, but also because of all the times I’ve gotten them from someone, and then they forget the next time, and even if I say something or remind them it then starts slipping away each time I see them… well, let’s just say I don’t get my hopes up anymore.
It’s really difficult to get excited about something that I am just sure won’t stick around. This is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, though, too, since I’m not actually advocating for myself in this situation. Sigh.
I’m sure if I presented in a way that was read as more masculine it would at least be easier for people to remember not to “she” me. If forced to choose between masculinity and femininity, however, I choose femininity. I just am not a woman, and I don’t feel like I am cis female either. I have pretty solidly identified as a fem/me trans guy for the last few years. I’ve been seeing a therapist for a while and I’ve talked to a doctor about starting T, which is a possibility for me as all my tests came back in a way that means I’m in the clear (though there is a bit of family disease history that puts me in a little risk) and could start taking it if/when I want to. My doctor, therapist, Onyx and I have discussed it a bunch and have determined it would be best if I finished grad school and lost some weight before starting it.
Problem is, I am not convinced this will help my dysphoria or “fix” my gender problems, though it seems like a good potential start/attempt. There is something to be said about being able to be seen, however. Many of my identities put me in this liminal space between culturally acceptable binaries: bi/pansexual-queer, genderqueer, switch. I am femme-presenting easily-read-as-cis and partnered with a cis guy, and most of my identities are invisible. I don’t know if this will help me be seen, but I know I need to try.
- “[T]he more we go looking for that real gender, the more it recedes and in its place we find only other [people], who also stylize their bodies in very specific, learned ways we recognize. Woman is to drag—not as Real is to Copy—but as Copy is to Copy. Gender turns out to be a copy for which there is no original. All gender is drag. All gender is queer.” – Riki Wilchins in Queer Theory/Gender Theory, p. 134 [↩]