This post is for the January 2015 Carnival of Aces, which is on Nonbinary People and Asexuality. Yesterday I wrote a sort of disclaimer about whether or not I actually “count” as non-binary, which can be read here if you’re interested. It explains why I call myself a genderless woman, a term I use below.
If I wasn’t asexual, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t currently be identifying as genderless. For one thing, I would never have come across the word if it wasn’t for my involvement in online ace communities. After growing up in a conservative Christian environment, reading ace blogs has exposed me to so many new concepts and ways of looking at the world and made me realize just how limiting and inaccurate the pre-fabricated boxes that society attempts to place everyone into are. While I realized on my own that I didn’t strongly connect to the feminine gender, I had never heard of people being neutrois/genderless/genderqueer until I started hanging around ace communities. So I would never have found a word to describe the way I feel about my gender—maybe even never have thought about it much more—if it hadn’t been for reading about the experiences of other, ace community-connected people.
But I also wonder if I would still feel like I was genderless if I experienced sexual attraction. Of course it’s pointless to speculate about what might have been, but I do think it’s interesting and useful to investigate the connection between my asexuality and my non-binary gender, or lack of gender (if you’re interested, here’s a post that discusses more generally the possible relation between being ace and being transgender).
I’ve written before about not wanting to be viewed as feminine, because being feminine can mean being seen as an object of sexual attraction/desire. Allosexual* women (and men) often do want to be seen that way, as least by certain people and under certain circumstances. But, being a sex-repulsed ace, I never do. Were I a feminine-identifying (sex-repulsed) ace, I would struggle with how to express my femininity without feeling like I was being sexualized by other people and society.
Being genderless, then, is a way for me to opt out of sexuality, and the expectations that come with it. Feminine women are often assumed to be heterosexual, and masculine women are often assumed to be lesbians (assumptions that erase femme lesbians and bi/pan women as well as aces). But as a genderless woman, I’m free, at least to some extent, of those assumptions. I express my genderlessness by dressing in as gender-neutral a way as possible. While people will look at me and most likely still see a woman, it’ll be a woman who doesn’t quite fit into society’s molds for female people. A woman who, hopefully, is human first, female second, and whose sexual orientation can’t be inferred from her appearance (although, if anyone did look at me and assume I was ace, I definitely wouldn’t mind as long as the person was ace-friendly).
So for me, being ace and genderless go hand in hand; I can’t really separate the two. I can’t imagine myself as a feminine or masculine ace, because in our sex-normative culture both of the binary genders have become so entwined with sexuality—society tells us that to be a woman is to be sexy, and that to be a man is to have a voracious sexual appetite. As an ace, I don’t fit into either of those paradigms.** On the other hand, I think that if I did experience sexual attraction I would be fine with other people seeing me as either masculine or feminine, because I would want other people thinking I was sexually attractive—and, at least in mainstream culture, sexual attraction is often connected to (stereo)typical aspects of the two binary genders (e.g. muscles on men, smooth legs on women).
Basically, I look at the gender binary and all the cultural assumptions and associations that have become wrapped up in it, and say, “That’s not me.” And a big part of that is because I’m ace.
*I’ve been following the latest Tumblr debate about this word to some extent, and my usage of it here doesn’t mean I support either side; I’m just going to continue to use it as long as it’s still the generally accepted term.
**Not that all (or even most) men and women do fit them or want to, and I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a masculine or feminine ace—I’m just saying that identifying as either of the binary genders wouldn’t work for me. I know that masculine and feminine people of every sexual orientation struggle with sex-normative stereotypes of their gender, and then certain groups face the opposite problem of having the dominant narrative say they aren’t or shouldn’t be sexual. So to some extent everyone has to deal with being a certain way but not matching up to the stereotypes of that identity, and that definitely doesn’t mean their identity is wrong. For me, opting out of the gender binary altogether was the best way to deal with that, but I recognize that that wouldn’t work or be a good choice for everyone.