Monday, 22 June 2015

Gender trouble.

(Oh look, a "sneaky" allusion to the famous Judith Butler book of the same name! How many people would have got this reference without me pointing it out? It's too late now, your time to shine is over, yes my blog post is using the name of a book published four years before I was born. Think of it as inter-textuality. So post-modern!)

Gender sucks. This is an opinion but also kind of a fact. As my non-binary squeeze asked me a few days ago, "what is gender?" And I kind of floundered and offered a few responses - it's a set of social behaviours, it's to do with human conditioning, it's innate, it's learned, it's a spectrum, it's all performative actions - but none of them seemed to really work in the face of their gaze, their cool almond-shaped eyes looking up at me, ringed with delicate eyelashes and deep thought.

I have to have some notion of gender, right? It's something we all have, but not something that gets critically considered unless you or someone you know isn't cisgender - that is, having your gender identity and your physical sex match up. I am not cisgender. I am a demi-girl, which is one of those "tumblr genders" that people seem to think doesn't exist. But also being pansexual, I'm used to erasure.

Being a demi-girl, to me, means I have some level of detachment from being feminine or female. As much as I am female, I am also not-female. This element of not-female isn't male, either: it's just not really anything, maybe agender or genderqueer (i.e. having no gender, or being somewhere in the middle of the indiscrete mass of gender identities) but not specific. Being a demi-girl, for me, means some kind of disconnect between my XX-chromosone, supposedly 'female' body and the expectations placed upon me for being a girl.

For all my behaviours - my empathy, my need to please but also challenge authority figures, my rebellious streak, my wanderlust, the Maths papers I bailed on - I worry whether they were truly my choices or made by the environment I grew up in, which necessarily includes the patriarchy. I am good at remembering names, but is that because of the burden of femaleness impacting my thought processes and others' expectations of me since I was a kid to the extent that it's become part of my personality?

I have too many unanswered questions about this, so identifying as not-a-cis-girl helps me with it. Being demi- helps me feel more secure in my skin, helps me challenge notions, helps remind me that acting typically feminine does not make me a stereotype, that girly is not synonymous with weak, that internalised misogyny is not my fault but that of the system I was born into. (It's like one of my agender friends commenting how accepting her gender identity as agender helped her be more comfortable wearing dresses and skirts: to paraphrase, once she accepted she had no gender and thus nothing to lose from not being 'feminine enough', the act wearing feminine clothing didn't carry the same problems and was liberating.) I have no problems with the undeniable womanly curves of my body, as a binder would probably damage me too much without doing anything to sort out my hip-to-waist ratio that proves I endured female puberty - but being unhappy in your body is not a prerequisite of any gender identity whatsoever. Dysphoria is not essential to the trans or non-binary experience.

You may feel this exact way and yet still identify as cisgender, but guess what? That's your prerogative. Like not every person who is attracted to people of more than one gender has to identify as anything other than how they feel, nobody's going to try and make you have a gender that's not what you identify as. (Shout-out to all the straight guys in the back I've slept with! Guess what? You've fucked a non-binary person! If that makes you feel uncomfortable then that's your problem.) At the same time, there are options.

Gender isn't a fixed construct. We get to make up our minds ourselves. There are more words than there used to be, but there's also much more awareness and discussion of feeling like this. Feeling confused over my gender isn't a new phenomenon for humanity, and not for me - I've been a conflicted tomboy all my life, stealing my brother's girls but pretending not to like pink to keep my brand consistent - but I have the language now to express it. Technically I am trans, in that I am not-cis, but I don't see myself in that umbrella. Rather I am in the non-binary camp, of people whose gender is not either girl or boy, yes or no, pink or blue. How is increased language and awareness a bad thing?

And because of all this, and because of understanding gender as a spectrum before I even worked out where I was on it, I define as pansexual. I am attracted to people, and their gender is irrelevant. Call me bisexual and prepare for a long discussion about this.

I still don't know what gender is. For my enbie beauty (whose non-binary label they wear as a hesitant badge of pride), it's freedom to dress as they feel on any given day without giving a fuck. It's not worrying about not being served in Betty's for wearing a skirt and not having their identity questioned on the days they wear combats. It's something that makes them happy in a world full of insecurity and uncertainty: the knowledge that they are not boy or girl, and that it's okay and really most people don't care other than to compliment them on their banging Hello Kitty dress.

Dating my enbie (non-binary person) brings its own string of challenges: it's made me aware of how I use language so much more, the arbitrariness of gendered clothing, the constant weighing up of whether to confront catcallers or not, and the total shittiness of men in women's clothing being a "joke", like femininity is funny and shameful.

Wearing female clothing brings you into a female space regardless of biology, and on the streets that can mean harassment and danger as others feel entitled to look at you and make comments. My enbie happens to be 6'2" and wear stubble with their flowing red and brown locks, which raises even more confusion from passers-by. There's not been much actual street harassment, but there's so much whispering and confusion, comments to friends, wolf-whistling. I ignore it, burning to confront harassers and educate them about gender; I can't imagine how it makes my other half feel.

Neither of us are out to our parents, and there's something depressing about that. If we can't be who we really are round our families for fear of them not understanding - or worse, laughing about it, or reacting badly, or cutting us off - then living authentically gets that much harder,

Maybe we all have gender trouble. But if you learn anything from this, it's that your cheap laugh at the expense of a muscled dude in a red dress in the Fallout 4 E3 previews is a bullet shot to the hearts and souls of gender non-conformers around the world. Laughing at a man wearing a dress says you think women's clothing is embarrassing, and any feminist worth their salt can see why that's problematic. So, I will fight tooth and nail to keep my non-binary friends and kin safe, even if that sometimes means the best way to fight is through stony glares and silence as we walk on in our swishy blue skirts.

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