No I really am genderqueer

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.

Feminine and genderqueer

“Just be yourself”.  This is a common piece of folk wisdom that is frequently repeated.  On the surface it might seem almost inane.

But when I struggle to articulate how I feel about gender to people, when I find myself bombarded with various opinions – whether anti-trans bigotry, bewilderment and confusion, or constant, constant questions, when I find myself constantly buffeted by society’s rules and gender roles, the marketing, the stereotypes and the various different winds of social change – I cannot help but wonder: “just who is this myself that I should aim to be like?”

But who is myself?  It’s an interesting question.  The philosopher in me wants  to  explore every angle to that question, delving into all manner of spiritual, cultural, moral, economic and political dimensions.  But I will stick strictly to the matter of gender for the moment.  Maybe with a tiny bit of sexuality thrown in.

I know this about myself:  I feel more comfortable expressing femininely or androgynously than as masculine.  Although I can feel reasonably comfortable in jeans and t-shirt male mode, I certainly feel a lot more comfortable wearing female footwear, female tops, knickers, make-up, bangles, necklaces etc.  Ok, I don’t usually wear dresses, skirts, tights or high heels.  Part of me even believes that would be “over the top”.  But in all honesty I’ve never tried it and don’t know how I’d feel.  But I’ve seen for myself how much happier I am when I feminize my appearance, even if I do remain a “jeans and t-shirt kind of girl”.  And most people don’t see me as female when I dress that way.  They just see me as an androgynous guy or maybe as a crossdresser or “girly guy”.  That’s fine.  At least no one mistakes me for a male who is happy with his male identity.

But when I dress fully male I know that no one even sees the real me.  And that depresses me.  As does my own reflection.  I don’t want to look male.  I want to look beautifully androgynous or feminine.

So my preferred gender expression is feminine or androgynous.  Can expression also extend to the way I wish to  move through the world – or the kinds of relationships I want from people?  Maybe that is gender role or something.  But in any case, here my preferred gender role/expression is also feminine or androgynous.  Although I am attracted to women for the most part and not at all sexually interested in men unless they are crossdressed or androgynous, I do prefer to play the feminine role in relationships, including sexually.  This has caused me to toy with the idea of viewing myself as a lesbian.  Although whether I could really apply that term to myself depends on whether I view  myself as a woman.  That is an identity question – and I’ll come to that in a moment.

But yes, I despise the roles expected of me in sexual relationships because I am male.  I want to be treated like a lady by a strong, capable woman.  I want to be protected.  I would like to be asked out.  And I would like to be ravaged by an aggressively passionate mate.  Unfortunately those I desire enough to want this attention from happen mostly to be female and so are usually uncomfortable adopting a more conventionally male role.  This is a pathos I’ve had to live with most of my adult life.

But what of my gender identity?  How do I view myself in my own mind?  Do I have a male mind?  Do I have a female mind?  Or is my mind non-gendered, both gendered, inbetween gendered etc?

My understanding is that this issue of gender identity often affects how you feel about pronouns and how you feel about your own physical body.

Pronouns do not bother me too much.  For some reason I prefer “she” or “they” to “he”.  But that might just be a desire for novelty.  After all I’ve been called “he” all my life, and given my other feelings about gender the male pronoun is inevitably connected in my mind to feeling trapped and unhappy.  But I don’t honestly care.  “She” makes me smile, I’m used to “he” and “they” seems respectful to the complexity of the matter.  So I don’t really mind.

So what about my body?  How do I feel about my genitals and chest?  Although I am bothered by my body hair and the masculine appearance of my face (it mostly bothers me when it’s stubbly and anything else can easily be fixed with make-up), those are really cosmetic matters – to do with my preferred gender expression, of wanting to look feminine.  I am actually very comfortable with and “in tune” with my own body.  I don’t mind my flat chest or male genitals.  And from a young age I’ve made sure I look after my body and its needs, including the need to self pleasure.  I enjoy masturbating and have never felt any disconnect from my genitalia.  Well, apart from when someone expects me to penetrate them.  For some reason I just can’t get my head around that.  Some intersect between feeling feminine and being sexually submissive makes it hard for my subconscious to make sense of me performing such a seemingly masculine and dominant act.

But if I woke up tomorrow and magically had a female body, I think I’d really rather like it.  It would take some getting used to.  But I would definitely want to keep it for at least a few weeks.  If I then returned to being male I might feel some disappointment, mostly because I would have to return to a situation where my feminine gender expression would bother other people and so would be hard for me.  But as far as the body itself goes, aside from that annoying body hair I believe I would fit back into it as comfortably as I did before.  I honestly believe that it doesn’t really bother me one way or another whether I am physically male or physically female.  I could be either way, and reasonably content with it.

And all this fits with how I honestly see myself and how I have always seen myself since I was a child.  I do not feel that my mind is especially male or especially female.  I don’t really think like other men and often feel very disconnected from men in society, and feel like I have more in common with women.  But ultimately I do not think that I AM a woman either.  I just like to express femininely.  My “soul”, if you like, seems genderless.

So that’s it.  I’m genderqueer and prefer to express femininely or androgynously.  I just happen to have been born physically male.

My only problem is that it’s hard to explain that to people – and everyone seems to want to believe that I’m either a man or a trans woman – even trying to convince me to “pick a side”.

But I am what I am and from what I can gather, I’ve always felt that way.

Something feminists never address

I’m socially awkward.  I probably suffer from social anxiety.  And I have a hard time approaching women.  Always have.

I also support many feminist causes and concepts.  Although women have many freedoms today, and are accorded with something approaching genuine equality in many fields of life.  There are still horribly sexist attitudes that many men hold towards women.  There are still shocking  statistics when it comes to domestic violence and sexual violence against women.  And there is still a lot of day to day harassment of women by men.

I do not want to detract from any of that.  I am not some whiny misogynistic MRA.

But there is something I’ve noticed about the reality of the situation when different kinds of men approach women.

Those who are awkward and shy often approach women in a clunky, clumsy way that then comes across as unintentionally creepy.

Meanwhile the men who hold quite sexist, disrespectful views about women when they are talking about them to other men – have no difficulties in approaching women for either casual sex or relationships, as they are confident about approaching women in a way that does not seem creepy.  Many of those same men will go on to mistreat the women in their lives.

I’m not saying that it’s never the case that the man who seems creepy actually is creepy.  Neither am I saying that the suave, gentlemanly man who remains a perfect gentleman when he’s in a relationship with a woman doesn’t exist.  Both of those types of men exist too.

But the vetting process of “let the man approach me, and we’ll see what kind of man he is” is unreliable and can often be unfair on shy guys.

I’m not sure  the alternative (let women approach  men every once in a while) would necessarily work out any better, for women at least.  But it certainly is the case, I think, that many of the awkward, uncomfortable approaches of men on women could be eliminated if the more socially confident person would make the advances, no matter what gender they happen to be.

Ok, I’m trans.  So my feelings are partly because I would like to be treated like a lady by the women I’m attracted to – and because I hate feeling forced into a male gender role.

But I honestly respect women.  In fact I often admire and envy them.  But like almost every other human on the planet, I have sexual feelings.  And I find them hard to express in a way that is comfortable, for myself or for the other person. I’m socially anxious, so already uncomfortable, and I’m socially clumsy too.  And sometimes it’s fine and they let me down gently.  Sometimes it’s a bit awkward at first and then blows over.  Or sometimes I accidentally give them the creeps.  And something inside me dies. Because I never wanted to play that role in the first place, but the tension got too much for me and waiting in vain never gets me anywhere.

And meanwhile I observe men succesfully navigate these situations all the time – and many of them make horrendously sexist jokes and comments about women.  And I can’t help but wonder: feminism wtf?! Why aren’t you addressing the double standards of courtship rituals?  Why are so many of the statements you make in direct contradiction to the reality I observe?  Why aren’t you giving women the mental tools to make a more accurate assessment of the character of men who approach them.  Because there are far more well-meaning men who come across clunky and awkward, and far more sexist men who are suave and confident – than there are creepy guys who seem creepy or suave gentlemen who really are gentlemen.

Maybe there are no right ways to navigate the difficulties of our social courtship rituals.  Maybe there is no way to ensure that women choose the good men over the bad.  Maybe there is no way to ensure that men who mean well give a good impression when they do the approaching.

But at the very least we should strive to create a situation where there is true equality between the sexes – a situation that is a lot more fair for everyone.  Let whoever is the more socially confident one make the sexual/romantic advances, no matter what gender they are.

Simple really.  No more “lesbian sheep syndrome”. No more shy men accidentally making themselves out to be jerks because of social anxiety or else remaining isolated and alone for the rest of their lives.  No more confident women wondering when that nice, shy man they admire will make a move on them.  No more arrogant, sexist men getting an unfair advantage over the more careful, anxious man.

Why do feminists never address this?