Genderless and asexual: two interconnected identities

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.

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Am I non-binary? A disclaimer of sorts before my January 2015 Carnival of Aces post

This post is somewhat of a repeat of parts of this post; I kept the repetition because I like having a more succinct summary of my experience of gender (this post is 1,000 words shorter than that one!). This post is also somewhat of a follow-up/addition to that one.

When I saw the topic for the Carnival of Aces this month, which is Nonbinary People and Asexuality, my first thought was, “Do I count as non-binary?” I only recently came to the conclusion that I’m genderless—you can read all about my process of coming to identify with that term in the post linked above if you’re interested—and being so new at this, as well as being an atypical genderless person as far as I can tell (more on that below), I’m a little nervous about assuming that I qualify as non-binary. Of course there’s the idea of one’s self-identification being the most important and that other people don’t have the right to label-police you, but if a member of a privileged group started going around saying they identify as a member of a marginalized group, that would obviously be problematic and could be hurtful to actual members of the marginalized group, and I definitely don’t want to do that by claiming “I’m non-binary too!” when maybe I really shouldn’t.*

My reservation comes from the fact that, while I do identify as genderless, I still see myself as a woman, and at the moment don’t desire to change that. The reason is that who I am and my life up to this point has been significantly impacted by always having viewed myself, and always being viewed by other people, as female. I want to acknowledge that; I don’t want it to disappear. I don’t want to get rid of that part of my identity. Also, being a woman makes feminism personal to me in a way it can’t be to cis men. And so I’m currently identifying as a genderless woman.

It follows that, unlike most of the neutrois or other genderless people whose accounts I’ve read, I don’t desire to alter my body to make it gender (or sex) -neutral. Rather, my body and my internal sense of my gender are somewhat disconnected. While if I could magically have a sexless body I might consider it (and I know I would choose to do so if I lived in a different world, a world without compulsory sexuality and a patriarchy to fight against), for now it is important to me to continue to be seen as a woman. If I’m a woman, I can show the world that you can be female and have hairy legs. I can show society that being a woman doesn’t have to mean being girly, or going all the way to the other side and being masculine. I can feel solidarity with other women worldwide who face the oppression of the patriarchy, because I’ve felt it myself. Losing my femaleness would mean losing all of that.**

So while I’m maybe not non-binary in a typical way (although maybe there isn’t a typical way to be non-binary!), I think the descriptor does fit. For one thing, I’ve realized that calling myself non-binary is important to me (just as being a woman is), because the more self-identified non-binary people there are, the more the gender binary—which I believe is a false construct—will be called into question. And, when it comes down to my internal sense of my gender, I’m definitely not masculine or feminine. And that’s the definition of non-binary.


*Pegasus’s discussion of the term “cis” is relevant here—some people would say I’m cis, while others might say I fall under the trans* umbrella.

**For a similar-but-different perspective, read Rotten Zucchinis’s musings about specifically not wanting to change hir body to match hir gender and being torn between feminism and a non-binary identity in “Body Politics: With(out) Gender”, found on page 7 of the zine that can be downloaded here (it’s formatted for printing so you have to jump around to read it in order, but it’s worth it). In another piece in that zine (“Invisible Monster Hiding in Plain Sight”), ze writes, “Gender—the way people usually think about it—is just another dimension of the human experience that doesn’t apply to me. And that isn’t because of my body. I don’t have a problem with my body—I have a problem with what my body means to other people,” which is quite similar to how I feel (see this post and this one where I talk about my discomfort with being read as feminine).

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. Continue reading