I work at a planetarium. In my job I get a lot of questions, from children and adults, that I'm supposed to answer to the best of my ability. Questions about stars, planets, galaxies, and the Universe in general. But the hardest question, one which I get from time to time, has nothing to do with astronomy.
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
It's such a simple question. A bit personal, perhaps, but it should be straightforward to answer. I wish. Instead it's instant identity crisis every time someone asks. I don't even know where to begin, and usually end up unable to put together an intelligible answer. Or I panic and tell them what I think they want to hear and spend the rest of the day feeling utterly uncomfortable with myself and the world. Damn it, I think to myself. Why did you have to ask the hard question? “How big is the Universe?” or “What happened before the Big Bang?” are trifles in comparison.
With this blog post I intend to put some of my thoughts and feelings regarding the matter into words. This has been a very long time coming, yet it is only very recently I have begun to talk to others about my own gender identity. It's tricky, incredibly personal, and most of all I'm scared of not being taken seriously. But I'm so terribly sick of having expectations and assumptions forced upon me all the time which make me feel like an alien abomination. Therefore I want people to understand.
So am I a boy or a girl, then? Well, it turns out not to be as simple as that. My body is female and I'm generally comfortable with it. Yet I do not identify as a woman. I've tried, but most of the time it feels like pretending to be something I'm not. But I don't really want to be a man either. Sometimes I think it would have been easier if I would have been born with a male body, but I don't think it would have fundamentally changed things.
It comes down to these blasted things called gender roles. Views and expectations, often even rules and regulations. Told and untold they dictate how we're supposed to act, feel, and even think. All of it based on something as arbitrary as what sex our bodies happened to be born with. Most of the time they're invisible, too. It's called structures; ways of reasoning and perceiving we've collectively brainwashed ourselves into thinking of as fundamental and inescapable.
Does it have to be this way? I certainly don't think so. But these structures aren't going to go away by us simply ignoring them and pretending that we're all equal. No, we have to illuminate the unseen and speak the unspoken, really see and become aware of the injustices before we will be able to work against them. That's the way it is with subconscious patterns of thought, and here we're talking about it on a cultural level.
We have to start questioning. Is it true that women and men are wired fundamentally differently, and that there are no alternative ways of being? And do we really have to categorise, segregate, and treat people differently based on these supposed differences? I think we don't. I believe that a world where your sex is about as relevant as your blood group would be much more interesting to live in.
I want to be free. Free to act, speak and think whatever I like. But I'm not. I find myself avoiding doing certain things for fear of being viewed as a woman. Wearing dresses, for example, is problematic for me because I find myself being treated differently in an unwelcome way. I get loads of comments about my clothing, and conversation topics tend to drift towards appearance and general gossip, as opposed to the rather more interesting topics of e.g. science, culture or politics which tend to be brought up around me if I'm wearing traditionally male or gender-neutral clothes. So, while I'd like to wear traditionally female clothes once in a while, I prefer being judged based on my thoughts and intellectual qualities rather than my appearance, and so I don't.
The only way of gaining respect seems to be by appearing as manly as possible. But while I often avoid things conventionally regarded as expressions of femininity I wouldn't want to be a man either. There are huge problems with the masculine ideal as well. The whole never-ever-talk-about-your-feelings thing, for example, why would I want to assign to that? Why would anyone?
No. I'm done with it. Understand that I'm totally fine with you assigning to either gender, and feel free to challenge or conform to any gender roles and stereotypes from within that identity. Go for it! But I can't. Every time I am forced to label my identity either 'male' or 'female' I am overcome by such a profound feeling of disgust that I've simply given up on it. I consider myself to be without gender, agender, or simply undefined. It is a form of genderqueer.
Now, I understand that this is confusing. Why is it relevant to you? Why should you even care? Well, I'm not the only one who view myself as outside the gender-binary system. We're a fair number of people, and we deserve respect and recognition, just like everyone else. And yes, I do realise that it takes conscious effort to think of and treat people in a way you may not be accustomed to. Therefore I here present some tips on How To Be A Good Ally:
- Ask what pronoun people would prefer you using when referring to them, instead of assuming something that might make them uncomfortable. For myself I'd prefer if you'd use they rather than he or she. I will not get angry with you if you slip up and use the wrong word, but if I have enough mental energy at the time I will politely correct you.
- If somebody else uses the wrong pronoun about someone you know identifies differently, politely correct them. Especially if they're present, this shows that you take their gender identity seriously and that they have people on their side.
- Try using gender-neutral words when talking about people in general when their gender is unknown or of no importance (which according to me would be most of the time). For example, use person instead of woman or man, sibling instead of brother or sister, parent instead of mother or father, child instead of boy or girl. This works towards an inclusive way of speaking (and ultimately also thinking).
- Do not question somebody's gender identity, especially not in public. Trust me, there is often enough of an internal identity crisis going on without having it forced upon oneself by others.
- Do not joke about someone's gender identity. There might be exceptions if you know the person really well, but be very careful. Even if it's in good fun with no malicious intent it trivialises the matter and might serve to undermine the person's self-confidence.
- Accept the situation. Even if you don't understand. You don't have to understand. We're here, we're queer, deal with it. It doesn't hurt or threaten you in any way whatsoever, and you are still free to assign to any gender of your choice.
That's enough for now, I think. Someday I might run through the streets screaming 'THE MIND HAS NO SEX' at the top of my lungs, but I think blogging about the issue is a big enough step in my coming-out process for now. If you survived this far, thank you kindly for reading this wall of text. If you feel like it, I would greatly appreciate a comment with your thoughts on the matter. Coming out is a scary thing, and knowing that there is support helps enormously. Feel free to ask me a question if you're curious about something. But no hating, please. If that's your sentiment you can bloody well bugger off, and good riddance.
Hah. Now I know what to answer the next time somebody asks me that question.
"Are you a boy or a girl?"
Love and rainbows,