“Agender”: Neither Man Nor Woman, But Definitely Fabulous

Androgyny is in. From supermodel Andrej Pejic to gender-neutral parenting articles, the media can’t get enough of us non-binary (“boy” or “girl”) folks lately.

But is not identifying as male or female really about androgyny?  Is being elsewhere on the gender spectrum the same as being gender neutral? I look at pictures of Pejic and I wonder if I’m missing something everyone else sees. It’s hard to recognize androgyny (showing characteristics of both sexes) in a person walking down the street in five-inch heels, short shorts, and a flowing top, blonde locks perfectly coiffed Marilyn Monroe-style. The same is true for us average non-binary folks. Many of us identify, like Pejic, as neither male nor female, yet our gender presentation is not neutral either. Trying to get us into that box takes a lot of squeezing, tugging, and tucking.

In a piece on NYMag.com earlier this week, The Frisky contributor Rachel Rabbit White writes about people who identify as agender or neutrois, meaning a neutral gender. But the problem is that the folks White interviewed, like non-binary social media superstar Micah who founded the site Neutrois Nonsense, identify and express themselves in a way that’s consistent with most people’s mental picture of the word “androgynous.” For example, Micah uses the pronoun “they,” chose to have a mastectomy, and takes hormones.

Such steps (along with an androgynous presentation through clothes and haircuts) are common among non-binary people who are assumed to be female at birth, but they aren’t consistent across the board. ”There are a lot of ways of being and doing non-binary,” explains non-binary trans writer and artist Merritt Kopas. “For some people, falling outside of these categories might be experienced as an absence of gender and thus named as agender. For others, it might be experienced as an excess of gender or a feeling that one occupies every category rather than none, which might be called ‘genderqueer.’”

The term genderqueer speaks to a queerness in expression that isn’t immediately visible.  For example, when I walk down the street with a shaved head, breasts, and a skirt it is not easy to guess my gender: my expression doesn’t match my identity as genderqueer in a way that most people can see. Some genderqueer people use fashion to exaggerate their androgyny, while others may not “look trans” at all, or may appear to be binary transgender people (as in, a “trans man” or a “trans woman”).

Marilyn Roxie, curator of Genderqueer Identities, described the genderqueer process as a constant journey without a comfortable conclusion. “Part of the help in the drop of these [gender dysphoric] feelings has been in realizing that looking or feeling feminine aesthetically does not have to contradict having a male identity,” Roxie explained.

Writer and activist s.e. smith brings a sense of humor to the common misunderstandings around ou genderqueer identity: “Sometimes I think about buying http://www.sesmithisnotalady.com, seriously. [… M]y profile photo is a person with big tits and hips in a blue dress frolicking across a field of flowers. I mean, if it got any more femmey, it would cause a glitter explosion when your browser loaded.”

This weekend at Femme Conference 2012 in Baltimore, I met activist and performer JAC Stringer of Midwest Genderqueer, who uses male pronouns, identifies as a genderqueer femme, and has the website tagline “queery musings of a genderfucking femme boy.” And you know what? I’m pretty sure JAC also causes glitter explosions, sporting a head of bright pink and blue hair and sometimes dressing in a style that I can only call Lisa Frank retro chic. Yet JAC’s gender presentation, like s.e.’s, doesn’t feel “neutral.”

It’s a common assumption that non-binary people were all assumed female at birth, i.e. born with the body parts we typically associate with girls. With the exception of Pejic, who doesn’t have a pronoun preference and has de-emphasized the importance of gender in interviews, there are few visible examples of assumed-male-at-birth non-binary people. Kopas explained how this narrow POV can harm assumed-male-at-birth people and others who fall outside the typical presentation:

It seems that we’ve started treating the most visible examples of non-binary people as if they represented the full range of ways of being. […] Who does this leave out? People of color, fat people, male-assigned people… As a male-assigned non-binary person, it’s sometimes felt like a struggle for me to have that part of my identity recognized even by other gender-variant folks. People want to place me as either as a man because of my physical features, or a woman because of how I dress or because I’m on [hormone replacement therapy]. But there’s no non-binary uniform or medical regimen — nothing says that someone can’t dress femme and still identify outside of a gender binary. So if non-binary is to mean more than a particular kind of androgynous expression, then we need to talk about the range of ways that it can look and feel.

In short? “Agender” may sound like a tidy little label — but that would be an underestimation of every agender person that you meet.

Via The Frisky

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On The Tyranny Of Narrative(s) And Representation(s)

This is a post by a genderqueer menace that goes into detail about (among other things) how transmisogyny and patriarchy affect which narratives become the dominant ones and why, amongst non-binary/genderqueer people, those are often the narratives of DFAB people. It also contains a really awesome critique of androcentrism amongst non-binary/genderqueer DFAB people.

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I recently read the NY Magazine article on agender/neutrois identity (it conflates the two in the article; while there is overlap, not all agender people identify as neutrois, and not all neutrois people identify as agender) and, like most articles on trans* identities written by cisnormative society, I’ve learned not to expect much. At least the article got pronouns right; I winced at “born female” bits and assumption that all binary gender transgender people follow the “born in the wrong body” narrative. But there were more obvious, gaping problems I had with the article, which are, incidentally, problems I have with representation within the trans* and genderqueer communities.

For starters, all the agender people they interviewed for the article were designated female at birth. There wasn’t a single DMAB agender person mentioned in the article, and I know DMAB agender people exist. This is incredibly problematic, especially given how many positive representations of DFAB trans* and genderqueer people there are versus DMAB trans* and genderqueer people.

While it’s true that all sorts of media has a sick fascination with DMAB trans* and genderqueer people, rarely are these representations positive. Most of them are odiously transmisogynistic and make mockeries out of the real lives of DMAB trans* and genderqueer people. The reason is this: society finds it less “weird” and suspect when people it assumes are women/girls “leave” womanhood/girlhood because being a woman is literally the worst thing in patriarchy. For a person society assumes is a man/boy to “leave” manhood/boyhood… well, that’s unacceptable and not understandable for the patriarchy because being a man/boy is seen as inherently superior to being a woman/girl (of course, the same is true for masculinity and femininity, but it’s important to decouple masculinity from men and femininity from women, because non-women can be feminine and non-men can be masculine, and this is particularly important to remember for trans* and genderqueer people).

Since I mentioned all the mentioned ones being DFAB, I’d also like to point out the agender people they mentioned by name all came from lesbian communities. This is annoying on so many different levels. For one, it implicitly buys into the notion that all trans* people “came from” gay and lesbian communities before they transitioned, whether it means to or not. It does little to decouple gender identity from sexual orientation when so many people already assume that DMAB trans* people are gay men in denial transitioning to be straight, and that DFAB trans* people are lesbian in denial transitioned to be straight. In these narratives, it’s incomprehensible that a DMAB trans* person could desire women and that a DFAB trans* person could desire men (and even more so that they could be attracted to multiple genders!  Sexuality, how does it work?). So, what about DFAB agender people who have never identified with the term “lesbian?” Why is this narrative of DFAB trans* people coming from the lesbian community so fucking privileged?

It annoys me so much because, well, I’m agender, transgender, and genderqueer and I have never identified as a lesbian. I came out as bisexual when I was 13 and have had sex with men (and a woman too). Lots. And. Lots. of sex with men. Before I transitioned, and after I began too. I feel silly that I have to even emphasize that, but apparently, I do. To loosely quote Stephen Ira, it’s like DFAB trans*and genderqueer people who desire men (and other non-women and women in addition to non-women) sprout fully formed from Judith Butler’s head. Our existence before Lou Sullivan (who is known because he was a gay trans man, not because he was an important HIV/AIDS activist or anything) has been utterly erased, and honestly, with all the representations that focus on DFAB trans* and genderqueer people who solely desire women and/or came from the lesbian community, I want to strangle cis people who perpetuate this in articles and the trans* and genderqueer people who perpetuate this by emphasizing those fucking narratives.

Aaaannnd like most articles about transness, it had to emphasize bodies. It’s absolutely true that bodies are an important part of many trans* and genderqueer experiences. After all, many of us have dysphoria or dissonance surrounding our bodies and medically transitioning changes the body. The mind/body split is an irritating one. While the article did discuss some of their experiences being agender, it heavily emphasized gender expression and transitioning: being embodied. I get it, we can do weird shit with our bodies, but we’re not inherently more embodied than cis people. Can we talk about our experiences that don’t involve the body? Please? It wouldn’t be so problematic if all we were to cis people were monstrous bodies formed by Frankenstein, ignoring that we’re more than a fucking body and hellooo we’re a mind and spirit too (if we’re still on the monster comparison here, Frankenstein’s monster was smart. He taught itself how to read, write, and speak. Yeah. But he’s mostly remembered for being a “monster.” Go figure.).

Certain bodies, I should say. Usually white, able, non-queer or at least appearing non-queer, thin, attractive bodies if we’re talking the positive ones.

And now let’s go into wider issues involving the trans*/genderqueer community that surround hegemony.

I’m sick and tired of hegemonic masculinity being emphasized in DFAB trans* and genderqueer people. It’s not also intentional, and not always explicit. It’s possible to accidentally fall into hegemonic masculinity when you’re trying to be genderless, gender neutral, or androgynous in appearance. After all, masculinity is an assumed default; femininity is coded as the more “gendered” gender expression, even though masculinity is just as “gendered,” simply because femininity is a “deviation.” Of course, it’s possible to be masculine and feminine at the same time, but if we’re talking about hegemony here, the possibility is pretty adamantly rejected. When someone aiming for “gender neutrality” etc is wearing only men’s clothes, forgoing makeup and staying away from colors coded as feminine, I can’t help side eye that just a little. Of course, clothing isn’t everything; how you wear clothing can also make a world of difference. And gender expression isn’t strictly reductive to clothing. Again, when one eschews the feminine but doesn’t mind taking up the masculine and this is socially rewarded, I side eye this, especially when this version of gender neutrality/androgyny/what have you is taken up as the way to be agender and/or genderqueer (which the article kinda implied by focusing on gender neutral agender people, and not ones, say, who might feel like wearing skirts and makeup and whatever). I, for one, know gender expression doesn’t have to have anything to do with gender identity, and for me, it really doesn’t.

And that’s not even getting started on the rampant sexism, heterosexism, misogyny, and transmisogyny various hegemonically masculine DFAB trans* and genderqueer people spew. Anyone who thinks DFAB trans* and genderqueer people are magically less dramatical, cliquey, snarky, mean, and policing of gender, sexuality, and otherwise than DMAB trans* and genderqueer people, not only are you a huge transmisogynist shit, you are so fucking wrong and you don’t even know how wrong you are. From my experiences in DFAB trans* and genderqueer spaces (which, in practice, tend to be trans men-only spaces and will alienate genderqueer people by calling them “trenderqueer” and “hipster lesbian” [but sometimes tolerate trans masculine people because certain forms of masculinity are kewl]), they are gender policing, sexuality policing, and sexist as shit (if I had a dollar for every fucking trans man who whines about not being able to use the t-word and insists they have the right to use it because their lives are soooooooooooo terrible I could pay for my goddamn name change). Sure, there are exceptions, but those spaces tend to be… well, mixed, or trans feminist in nature.

Why is there such a goddamn emphasis on certain types of masculinity?! This emphasis is even worse when you factor race into it. White DFAB trans* and genderqueer people get to be femme and gender radical and androgynous and pretty, but it’s much harder to find POC DFAB trans* and genderqueer representations that have a non-masculine and/or non-butch gender expression, especially black DFAB trans* and genderqueer represenations (they exist, but good luck finding them represented in many representations made by fucking trans* and genderqueer people whether it be a panel at a convention, interviews, etc.). And then you get even more of that fucking annoying “came from a lesbian community” narrative emphasis. Good luck finding an entire community of POC DFAB trans* and/or genderqueer people who are gender non-conforming and queer. I’m sure they exist somewhere, but by and large DFAB spaces are white, hegemoically masculine, and heterosexual as fuck.

The other exception seems to be with DFAB trans* and genderqueer people who are chubby, fat, curvy, large, etc. I suspect there are a number of reasons for this. For one, it’s harder to bind if your chest is large or you’re on the larger side (even harder if both). Many DFAB trans* and genderqueer people that either/or have large chests or are a large size have to contend with not binding and accept that reality when there is a huge emphasis on binding if you’re DFAB. I suspect this is a large factor of the greater variety of gender expressions I see in DFAB trans* and genderqueer people who fall outside the ideal body size; accepting not being able to bind may mean embracing non-masculine aspects of the self until one can afford chest surgery if they want it. Then again, it could be something else entirely. I’m pretty privileged in this area because I’m relatively svelte, so I’ll stop speculating, but it is an interesting observation.

And why does there seem to be a trope that us transitioning genderqueers only partially transition with hormones, or that we only get surgeries? Why does it seem so weird that some of us want to take hormones all our lives AND get surgeries to deal with body parts that shouldn’t be there or should be there? I get that it’s important to show that partial transitioning is a thing. I don’t get why our options in representation have to be either no transitioning or only partial transitioning. Whether I have a beard, a deep voice, a flat chest, and a penis (speaking theoretically here; I only have one of those things and I’m working on another, mostly because I can’t afford razors) has absolutely no goddamn bearing on whether or not I’m genderqueer. The amount of hormones I take has no bearing on whether or not I’m genderqueer. The amount of surgeries I get and the kinds I get has no bearing on whether or not I’m genderqueer. Dictating that falls into, well, gender binarism and cissexism by insisting I have to have these parts to be non-binary and genderqueer and can’t have those, which is a crock of shit, and sounds, well, exactly like the discourse of cissexism that insists boys have penises and girls have vaginas  (and you can’t have both or neither either, but that’s getting into dyadism) and birth designation of gender is the Law and Science and fuck you for arguing with it.

It’s not that any of these things are bad to be. It is simply that those ways of being genderqueer and/or non-binary are way, way privileged and those of us that don’t fit that are often put in a position where we’re made to feel like we have to be those things, or put in position where we have to be those things. And that’s bullshit.

You won’t really ever see me identifying as “DFAB.” I mean, yeah, I’m dfab (to my knowledge). But it’s not so much as an identity one actively identifies with as a description. The idea that being designated or assigned or coercively assigned a gender at birth can be an important, defining identity in and of itself blows my fucking mind and not in a good way. To me it doesn’t really make any sense. It’s Psyduck as fuck. And honestly, a lot of times DFAB/FAAB/AFAB/whatever version you use pride comes off as WBW 2.0, especially given the transmisogyny issues in DFAB space. Great! You had an F on your birth certificate! Why is that something to be inexplicably proud of? I don’t really see DMAB trans* people being proud of being DMAB and identifying as DMAB in quite same way. I’m sure someone could explain it to me, but for now, I’m filing it under “Suspect [and Psyduck] as Fuck.”

These are some of the reasons why I’m slowly falling out of favor of using DFAB/DMAB or any marker of what people’s birth certificates say as far as sex, especially with non-binary and/or genderqueer individuals. While it is important to acknowledge that DFAB trans* and/or genderqueer individuals tend to be more privileged over DMAB trans* and/or genderqueer individuals because of transmisogyny, DFAB/DMAB quickly falls into the pit of assuming that all DFAB people have the same upbringing, experiences, etc. and vice versa. In other words, it falls into the fallacy of assuming a universal DFABhood and a universal DMABhood (kind of like mainstream second wave feminism tended to assume a universal womanhood). It also falls back into gender binarism, which most non-binaries and genderqueers wants to get away from.

Visability?

So I read this article that was published in NY Magazine.

My initial reaction upon seeing the title was, “oh, cool! Non-binary visibility!” because I’m pretty sure this is a first. To my knowledge there’s never been an article about non-binary people in a mainstream publication. Then after reading a bit I was kind miffed to discover that the author had found out about non-binary gendered people via tumblr.

Fucking tumblr, the absolute worst place to be if you’re actually trying to self-educate about anything even mildly related to social justice. I just wanted to throw Judith Butler at her (the author). Tumblr is a giant flame-war with teams full of arrogant PC-er than thou white knights pouring out their righteous anger and condescension over their keyboards who’s only experience as activists is yelling at people over the internet, it is NOT educational. If you want an education about non-binary/genderqueer/trans* read post-modern gender theory (which you can’t find on tumblr) and then seek out our communities in your geographic area, offline. (this touches on a much broader rant that I have yet to write about how you have to live at the intersection of theory and practice/lived experience.)

My final reaction was, “meh”. The article is, as a whole, well meaning and positive, the author doesn’t really understand and muddles a lot of things, but she means well and isn’t any more incidentally cissexist than any other cis person who’s written about trans* people.

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NOTE: One or more of the commenters mentions the fact that all of the people interviewed were DFAB and asserts that this must be because of internalized sexism. This is bullshit, stemming from the assumption that non-binary/genderqueer people are only or predominantly DFAB. There are plenty of DMAB non-binary/genderqueer people, but the narratives of DFAB people are privileged over those of DMAB people because of patriarchy and transmisogyny.

ACAB, Die Cis Scum and Other Rhetorical Hyperboles

So, a friend of mine started a discussion about the value (or lack thereof) in using the phrase ACAB. Reading the comments for and against it, all of the arguments were very familiar and almost identical to the ones used to argue over the value of using other rhetorical hyperboles. However, after reading over what my friend was saying and several other comments multiple times I unexpectedly got something new out of the discussion. Something that I feel applies to all rhetorical hyperboles like this one and the debates waging around them.

People who argue against the use of phrases like ACAB/ “Die Cis Scum”/”Kill Whitey” etc. often make the argument that statements like these are alienating, not productive, or  not conducive to creating discussion and dialogue, but this is because they are trying to contextualize a militant tactic (the use of a violent/threatening rhetoric) within the parameters of a strictly educational and outreach oriented approach to activism, but that is not the context in which these phrases are used; that’s not what they’re there for.

ACAB exists for the moments when a cop has you pinned by the throat against the side of a car and is wrenching your partner out of your grasp. It exists for the times when they’ve shot yet another victim in cold blood. It’s for the times we are not trying to educate. If there is never a time in your career as an activist in which you are not trying to educate then it is hard for you to envision such a time existing all. You mistakenly assume that everyone is trying to fight oppression through education and outreach, just like you, but if that were true phrases like ACAB wouldn’t exist at all, because they are, by nature, alienating and hyperbolic.

No one tries to educate people about what is wrong with our criminal justice system by screaming ACAB. When I want to educate people about police brutality I hand out pamphlets or talk about my own personal experiences in a calm and rational manner. When I’m watching cops harass people of color or beat protesters or slam my friends faces in the hoods of cars it’s not a good time for educating anyone, or if it is the cops will do that work for me with their actions. You can be damn sure that if things have reached the point where someone is screaming ACAB at the top of their lungs people are well beyond alienated; they are trying to deal with and express their trauma or show solidarity for someone else’s.

*I would really appreciate feedback on this post, I’m somewhat unsure of how clearly I’m getting my point across here.*

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NOTE: This kind of leads into a larger debate about which style of activism is more productive, grassroots community organizing or militant/ insurrectionist tactics. People tend to set these two styles of activism up as a dichotomy and say that you can only pick one and that only one of them is THE RIGHT WAY to be an activist.

Some people staunchly on the community organizing side of the line tend to poo-poo militant rhetoric or direct action because they believe the ONLY way to be an activist is the by trying to educate people and draw them in and get them involved. I believe that community organizing and militancy are not opposites that you have to choose between, but different styles appropriate to different situations. I also believe that if you strictly prefer one over the other then that’s fine, practice voluntary association and work with an affinity group of people who share your tactics. However, I think it’s particularly important to acknowledge that there are people out there who share many of your goals, but may use very different tactics from your own and that their work is still incredibly valuable. Both of these styles of activism are crucial, you can’t eradicate sexism by smashing windows, but you can’t smash capitalism with pamphlets and fliers either.

Gender? What Gender?

So at the beginning of this month my partner and I had a fairly unpleasant run-in with the boys in blue, which I’ll probably elaborate on in a month or so (after we’re done with court and the things I say can no longer be used against me) because it was a pretty traumatic experience that I’d like to be able to write about.

Anyway, the reason for this post is that, in the midst of that really terrible incident I had a moment that was bizarrely validating. The cops were confused about my gender. They knew they were looking for “a male and a female” but were unable to decide for several minutes which one I was when they found me. I was initially, at a distance assumed to be “the male” then when I got closer they bickered about it for a bit before finally deciding that I was “the female”. This was the first time anyone had ever actually expressed doubt or confusion about my gender in my hearing. The most interesting thing about it, to me, was the fact that at the time of this interaction I wasn’t binding or doing anything in particular presentation-wise that would strongly affirm either assumption. It was a weird moment in a weird, stressful, terrible day, made weirder by the fact that I was in a situation where I felt that my safety to some extent depended on my affirmation of my assigned gender when asked about it. When you’re in handcuffs it’s not really the right time to be trying to educate your captors about trans* issues and the gender binary.

On My Queerness. Discovery, Pronouns, and Frustration

this was written by the same wonderful friend of mine who wrote “On Shopping“. Their blog is here.

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It all started with a conversation trans woman in my car, driving. I remember saying something along the lines of, ‘I’m a girl, obviously,” She seemed to get upset with me (understandably now) and said, “that’s not obvious.” I still haven’t thanked her for this, but this small comment liberated me from my own constraints for the first time, and I haven’t looked back.

When I found language for the way I had been feeling for my entire life, I felt completely overtaken. Fear came first. I couldn’t understand what it might mean to dislocate myself from the role I had spent so very long trying to adhere to. What would it mean for me? Who would I seek out now? I didn’t want to be a part of ‘womens’ specified struggles anymore. I wanted to be a part of trans* and queer communities. I wanted to think outside of what I had been told to, to feel out what I had been hiding for many long years. But I didn’t know them. I didn’t know how to be myself, and at that point, I didn’t even know what the fuck that meant for my relationships, my masturbation, my clothing, anything. I felt screwed up inside.

Those desires haven’t changed, but my feelings around my gender have. I have slowly opened up about wishing to be referred to as ‘they’ in place of ‘she.’ (We’ll come back to pronouns soon) I began letting myself present masculinity when I wanted. I cut my hair short, then shaved my head. I stopped hiding my unshaven legs. Stopped shaving my armpits again. I reevaluated my submissive roles in relationships I had. It was hard and lonely and I’m still there, in the thick of it, as I type this. But it’s easier now.

I spent a few months avoiding feminine dress. I thought, well, now that I’m out, I can’t go back. I thought I would be somehow avoiding the punishment I thought I deserved from society if I conformed to my gender role via dress. But I came to terms with my queer. I learned the idea of gender as a performance, and I’ve been slowly allowing myself to present as fem as I feel comfortable. That’s been one of the most fun parts: dabbling in (what I feel is my uncharted and unsolved) wonder with femininity. Figuring out how it is a part of me, but does not limit me. How I can encompass different elements, and that there is no here or there. I am queer because I am, not because I refuse to wear a frilly shirt and was born with breasts.

Pronouns have been tricky. In recent weeks, I’ve been opening up about wanting to be acknowledged with gender-neutral pronouns. Folks have been awesome about it, but as they begin to use respectful language, I begin to realize how much less I care about pronouns from strangers than I did a few months ago. I like it when people call me ma’am and then see my hairy legs and dyke outfit. I like it when little kids ask me if I’m a girl. I like it when someone calls me sir then gets embarrassed. I like that being in between means other folks might still not have the language, like I didn’t some months ago. But it’s not even about that, to me. For those that respect my desire to be called they, I appreciate that. I appreciate that because they know me, and I’ve asked for it. But I don’t need that as much as I thought.

So being out as queer isn’t what I thought it would be. Nothing changed in me except my willingness to be honest with others about it and the availability of language. It’s been bumpy and scary, but I’m ready for more. I have met some amazing queers and learned which straight-identifying folks are trustworthy and worth counting on. I hope for more.

Fuck. This is my state.
Sometimes this shit just hits too damn close to home. The people in my life who are trans* are also people who are at fairly high risk of incarceration do to their political activism, and a friend of mine (who is cis) just got out of jail after serving six months. I can’t even really articulate how hard this hits for me when it could so easily be one of the people I love dearly. goddamn it I don’t even have the money to be donating for stuff like this right now, but I’m gonna do it anyway.