It finally dawned on me what gender identity means. I’m not kidding, I literally have been confused about what the term means all of my adult life. I know what biological sex is. I know what gender expression is. I know what sexist stereotypes and gender roles are. But gender identity? What is that?
People say it is what gender you feel you are, or some mysterious kind of “knowing” what your gender is. Or people say it is an “internal” gender, or your mental gender. Or sometimes just what you happen to call yourself.
The problem is that “feeling”, “knowing” and “identity” all suggest that it might be some kind of decision, something you conclude about yourself.
Then the other day the penny finally dropped in my head. Gender identity is self-image. It is how you see yourself in terms of gender. Sounds obvious, right? But I’ve been getting so confused with all sorts of other questions, and thinking that they were questions about gender identity.
Gender identity is not how you would rather express your gender. It is not how you would rather other people see you (because that could be for reasons of convenience or social benefit rather than because it’s how you see yourself). It is not what role you would rather play in sexual and/or romantic situations.
It is simply, truly and only how you see yourself in terms of gender. It is the truth about yourself that is so obvious that you honestly could not think any other way about yourself.
And that is why it is so hard for people to understand other people’s different experience of gender identity. Cisgender people see themselves as “obviously” men or women accordingly, and because it matches with what their biological sex is then it is hard for them to be understanding and tolerant towards transgender and genderqueer people. To them it is “obvious” that their gender matches their physical sex and so they find it hard to disentangle the two. Trans women and trans men however view themselves as “obviously” the opposite gender to their biological sex.
And I, like so many other genderqueer people view myself as “obviously” not especially male or female. I do not struggle to disentangle gender identity from biological sex, because I myself know that biological sex does not define a person. It does not define me. But because I experience gender as external only, my obvious fact about my own gender identity causes me to become confused about what gender identity is. Is it gender expression? Is it gender role? Is it desired gender role? Is it desired gender role in sexual and/or romantic situations? And the answer to all those questions is no.
My gender is not especially male or female. It is kind of neutral, non-gendered. I feel exactly as if I was a non-gendered alien who was dropped into a human body and finds it baffling that all this gender stuff should even matter to anybody.
I do have character traits that might be considered feminine. They feel like an innate and natural part of me. And for this reason it feels good to express myself femininely. The connection between expressing yourself with clothing and qualities of your personality is obvious. We often view clothing and appearance this way – as self expression. But those innate personality traits are not necessarily gendered. That is the mistake society makes. Those are stereotypes. None of that is gender identity. It is personality – and the expression through appearance and clothing that follows from it. It is gender expression.
And I do have a strong desire to do something that might be called “role reversal” if I was to refer to myself as a male. I desire women – but when it comes to sex or romance then I desire them to take the traditionally male role while I take the traditionally female role. This is a deep NEED that I have – and it has caused me a lot of anxiety, depression and pain. I also love women socially, and like to spend time with them, much more so than men, whom I honestly often feel I have little in common with (unless we happen to share an interest, such as rock music or science fiction). For all those reasons it would probably benefit me immensely to transition socially to being female.
But that is not gender identity either. Not really. It is preferences and feelings about gender roles and the social realities that follow from them. It might socially benefit me to be a woman in some ways but that does not make me a woman – just someone who would rather be treated like a woman in some contexts.
My gender identity – the way I honestly and obviously see myself – is non-gendered, gender neutral, genderqueer. I just desire to express femininely.
So I’ve figured it out without any more doubts or confusions. And I look back at all the conversations I’ve had with people about me being genderqueer. And I can see where all the confusion has come from. Because every time I have stated that I am genderqueer, non-gendered on the inside, androgynous on the inside or whatever other way I have put it – I have been met with disbelief and doubt.
Some people say it is “normal” to be androgynous or non-gendered on the inside. “Doesn’t everyone have a bit of male and a bit of female on the inside?” I hear people say. Or “aren’t we all?” as someone said to me when I said I was androgynous on the inside.
The thing is I don’t care if everyone is genderqueer. I don’t mind if all the cisgender people take a look at themselves and conclude that they are genderqueer really. It doesn’t change anything for me. It changes everything for them.
I suspect that the point of such a comment is “it’s normal to feel that way, so just go back to being a guy and shut up about it”. Well, no. I won’t. Because if it is normal to feel the way I do then the whole world is trapped inside pointless gender norms and you have just given me a mission to try and wake everybody up. So, no it won’t make me shut up and return to the closet.
But I also suspect the truth is that it is not normal to feel the way I do, and most people are comfortable with their gender assigned at birth. Well, I’m not – and I do feel non-gendered/androgynous inside.
Other people claim that I am “confused” – that I’m taking feminine characteristics I have and am making sexist conclusions that men cannot be that way – and that is what has led me to the conclusion that I am genderqueer. Well, no. Those characteristics may have made me confused and caused me to think I was a trans woman. But I do know the difference between gender expression and gender identity. I do know that men don’t have to be stereotypical men in order to be men. You know for many years I was living as an androgynous man and have never felt any desire to be a more “macho” man. So don’t be so patronising! I’m not confused – I know men can be feminine, I know that my own desire to be feminine is gender expression and not gender identity – and I also know that my biological sex does not define me and that my mind is actually genderless!
And perhaps worse of all – potential allies often don’t seem to get that genderqueer is a real option and they see my feminine gender expression, hear my words about being genderqueer and conclude that I am a trans woman really. No wonder I almost thought that myself! No, expressing femininely and wishing that I could be a woman does not make me a woman. I do not see myself as a woman. I do not see myself as a man. I see myself as a feminine person who ultimately has no gender.
I don’t mind explaining to people who don’t know or understand it. We all had to have stuff explained to us the first time. But I don’t like having to JUSTIFY it, I don’t like being disbelieved, I don’t like being told I’m confused, I don’t like being pressured to fit into one box or the other and I don’t like it when all the above causes me to become confused myself. Please stop it. I’m genderqueer, androgynous, genderless. That’s my truth, my self image, my gender identity. Kindly stop trying to bully and confuse me into believing something else.