Figuring out my gender, and trying to figure out gender in general

While writing the last post, I jotted down some other thoughts on gender in general and my gender specifically. One sentence I wrote was, “I don’t know if that makes me agender or gender-neutral or neutrois, but right now I’m not worried about figuring out which label makes the most sense for me.” But, perhaps inevitably, I then got curious about which one would be the most accurate, and after rereading this post and this post (I’ve somehow ended up considering these two to be THE posts on alternative genders, but I’d love to read others if anyone has recommendations!), both of which I’d related to somewhat when I first read them, I concluded that “genderless” is probably the best term for me.

That’s not because I feel the same way Jillian (who also IDs as genderless) does, though; I actually don’t particularly relate to their experience (the ways I differ will become clearer below). What helped me find my term was more that I definitely don’t feel the same way about my gender that Micah (who IDs as neutrois) does. I don’t see myself as a third, non-feminine, non-masculine, neutral gender; to me, not feeling feminine or masculine means not having a gender at all. Thus, genderless.

But I also think I might be seeing gender differently than either Jillian or Micah does. Concluding that I’m genderless hasn’t led me to want to switch from using she/her pronouns, and for the time being I don’t intend to try to hide the fact that I’m female-bodied when I go out–even though I don’t have a feminine gender. Jillian and Micah both seem to strongly connect their bodies to their gender (or lack thereof), but while I don’t want to appear particularly feminine, and wouldn’t mind if random strangers mistook me for a man or were confused about my sex, I don’t have a desire to change the fact that everyone who knows me thinks of and refers to me as a woman.

One explanation for this is that, as I concluded back in February when I first started thinking about my gender, my gender just isn’t a very strong part of my identity. (After all, I started thinking about this in February but didn’t bother assigning a label to myself until now.) While I see my asexuality as a deeply rooted part of who I am, rather than just a lack of something most people feel, my gender(lessness) does feel more like I just don’t have something. While I’m not “just like everyone else, minus sexual attraction”, I feel like maybe I am “just like everyone else, minus the feeling of masculinity/femininity/a non-binary gender”. And another contrast is, while I always knew I was different from other people sexuality-wise, I never really felt different gender-wise, because in mainstream culture gender isn’t discussed to the same extent that sexuality is, and a lot of people probably aren’t aware that gender is anything more than a synonym for sex—I wasn’t until I took a sociology class in college. So with my sexuality, I was constantly made aware of something that other people were interested in and felt that I didn’t, but the same thing didn’t happen with gender (Ace Eccentric writes about having a similar experience in this post).

Now that I am more aware of gender and have thought about it more, I’ve realized that to me, gender feels like an added layer over the base layer of “human” that we all are. So a lot of people have this gender thing that sits on top of their humanity, but even though I don’t have it, that doesn’t really make me that different from them because underneath, they’re the same as me. But I think that’s not how everyone conceives of their gender; to some people I think it is a definite part of them, not something they can put on or remove or separate from themselves, but rather something that’s fully integrated with who they are and an important part of their identity. But to me, gender feels like something I could pick up and put on if I wanted to (like when I used to appear more feminine), but the “real me” doesn’t have it. And I’d prefer to just be that “real me” all the time, without gender covering it up.

But again, I’m still kind of stuck in seeing gender as a binary—either masculine or feminine, or else not there at all. I don’t feel that I have a feminine gender because I don’t connect with typical femininity, which to me means makeup and dresses and babies and the color pink and talking about fashion. Masculinity means sports and video games and weight-lifting and hunting and drinking beer and trying to be tough, and that’s not me at all either. (While I wrote in the last post that it seems like behaviors aren’t really gendered anymore, I think to some extent they actually still are—or at least I still view them that way, more than I thought I did, as evidenced by that last sentence.) Of course men don’t all fit that masculine mold and women don’t all fit the feminine mold, but I figure some people must relate to these molds and feel comfortable in them. That’s how Micah seems to conceive of gender as well, and why they identify as neutrois—not typically male, not typically female, and thus a third, neutral gender.

But while Micah and Jillian have both changed their bodies and presentation to correspond with their gender, or lack thereof, being a woman (just not a feminine one) is a significant part of my identity, and I don’t want to change that. I don’t know if “genderless woman” actually makes sense or not, but that’s what I’m thinking is the best descriptor for me right now. My femaleness is important to me; it’s influenced my life and who I am, and I don’t want to erase that. One of the strongest connections that being female has for me is the feeling of solidarity with other woman, which is important to me as a feminist. When I hear about other women experiencing oppression, I can sympathize and empathize wholeheartedly, because I’m one of them; I’ve felt the oppression of the patriarchy too. (Jillian has some good posts that touch on keeping the “she” pronoun as a way to rebel against the patriarchy—this one and this one.)

This article exemplifies another reason why I want to (or at least don’t mind, depending on the situation) still be seen as female. Female doesn’t have to mean feminine, and I can help show society that by being a genderless woman. But conversely, returning to the question of exactly what gender is, a woman with a feminine gender identity could still like some typically masculine things. Just because she likes video games doesn’t mean she has a masculine gender identity, just as a man who likes makeup doesn’t have to conclude that his gender is feminine.

And that gets me wondering if maybe gender is just a social construct rather than something that people actually feel—I know that the experiences of many people directly contradict this, but it’s hard for me to fully understand. It just seems artificial, the idea of, “These arbitrary behaviors and looks go together and mean you’re masculine, and this other set means you’re feminine, and people have to be one or the other and there’s no overlap!” That’s not how people actually are, so then why is gender a thing at all? Why can’t it just be, “You look and act these ways, and I look and act in some ways that are the same, some that are different, but neither of our looks and actions fit into a single, simple mold, because we’re all unique individuals.” Why can’t we all just be human? Jillian has a post called “Theories of gender from an outsider’s perspective”, and I guess my idea would fit into #3: “Gender is a false cultural system based on a flawed system of sex”. While I know #4–“Gender is a cultural system that doesn’t have to harm anyone”–would be better, I guess I still just don’t understand gender enough to have gotten there.

But maybe my view of gender is just too limited. Maybe someone could hate all the feminine things I listed above, but still feel they have a feminine gender, and still feel that it’s an important part of their identity. So are my conceptions of the two binary genders just based in stereotypes? Rereading the last paragraph, it’s actually more the gender binary that I’m arguing against, rather than gender itself. I wrote the following in a comment on my last post (with a few additions made): “Certain looks [and behaviors] are perceived as feminine, others as masculine, but maybe that’s actually pretty arbitrary and just societally dictated (especially since what’s seen as feminine and masculine varies between cultures), rather than there actually be anything intrinsically masculine/feminine about those looks [and behaviors]. So maybe some people do strongly connect gender to appearance [and behavior], but it doesn’t have to be like that and there’s not such a strong connection for everybody?”

So I think what it comes down to is, gender is different for everyone—how you perceive it, how you express it, how much it matters to you, what it means to you. Being feminine doesn’t have to equal wearing dresses. Being masculine doesn’t have to equal liking guns. Being neutrois could mean liking dresses and guns, or hating both. It’s up to everyone to discern their own gender, and put whatever label on it that they feel fits. If that’s masculine or feminine, great; but if it’s neither, that’s fine too. It doesn’t do any harm for people to label the ways they feel, as long as we have enough labels to capture everyone’s experiences instead of trying to force them all into one of two boxes. So maybe, through writing this post, I’ve transitioned to Jillian’s theory #4 after all.

I’d love to hear more about how other people experience and conceive of gender, both in general and when it comes to yourself, whether you’re masculine, feminine, neutrois, agender, or something else. Comments and links to other blog posts/articles are welcome! (And, if you think I’m off in my assessment of gender, or if I’ve said anything offensive, definitely feel free to let me know.)

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