Five myths about people other than men and women…

April 21, 2014 § 12 Comments

…that I’d like to kill with fire.

Or, failing that, seek to correct in some small way with a blog post.

Genderqueer, genderfluid, bigender, agender, neutrois, androgynous – those are just a few of the words people would use, who can’t use woman or man, in whole or in part, to describe themselves. And yet the myths about who we are seem sadly consistent and lacking in diversity. And just so bloody wrong.

 

1. We were all assigned female at birth

I don’t know if this comes out of a misogynistic notion that women are ‘more fluid’ (less stable?) (see bisexuality), an idea that no man would want to ‘trade down’ in terms of gender, or the fact that the most popular media image of ‘androgyny’ is one of a conventionally beautiful woman in a man’s shirt and phallic….cigar. Maybe a side order of Western cultural fixation on the ‘passing’ or cross-dressed woman in both low and high art (not to mention gossip and folklore) for the past couple of hundred years?

I’m sure there’s enough material behind this trope to furnish a rather fabulous PhD – but not, in my experience as an organiser of trans community events, a huge amount of evidence.

Let alone the fact that it’s both presumptuous and rude to try to bind someone to the sex/gender they were assigned AND COULD NOT LIVE WITH (I wouldn’t usually capitalise, but seriously, that’s awful) – it’s just not accurate. I’ve met people of all backgrounds and experiences who have come to live outside of a socially-mandated binary – not one deserves to have their story erased.

 

2. We all look like we stepped out of a fashionshoot

Mainstream fashion magazines inevitable showcase young, white, thin, tall, apparently able-bodied models for all of their looks. It’s no surprise, then, that their paltry attempts to subvert a strict gender binary play by exactly the same limiting rules. What is surprising is that that depiction is taken as an accurate one by so many people.

Not that pictures of skinny boys in eyeliner and skinny girls in suits didn’t have an impact on me when I was trying to find a way to express who I was – any port in a storm – but it’s as far removed from our actual lives as a ‘Winter wonderland’ photoshoot is from an actual December day.

Some people have bodily dysphoria – others do not. Some people will seek to make their bodies one combination of sexed characteristics, some another, some none at all, some all at once – there’s no one standard at play. We are every conceivable type of shape, colour, size, style, physical embodiment. If there is a rule at play, I feel it should be this – nobody gets to decide what a body/presentation of that body means unless the body in question is theirs. You can’t tell by looking how someone would describe themselves – not for women, not for men, and not for people who are both or neither.

Is there racism, fatphobia, ageism, ablism in the trans community that means that people who do conform to a fashionable notion of androgyny get more attention? Absolutely – and I’m one of the people who has benefited from that. But that should be a spur to examine our preconceived notions and change them, not a confirmation bias of supposed validity.

 

3. We’re just angsty teenagers/it’s a university thing

Claiming that something came out of/is the sole province of over-educated, ‘politically correct’ students and teenagers is a popular way of trying to discredit it. And not a particularly effective one. First off, it’s patently untrue – offline, online, I’ve been privileged to meet people of all ages who aren’t/aren’t solely women or men – often in the least likely of places (operatic audition panel, I’m thinking of you). A lot of people come to explore, to know their gender in their teenage years or throughout university – and a lot of people don’t, or started earlier, or keep going.

Secondly, even if it was the case – why would someone’s gender, the names they give themselves, be less valid because they’re young? Because of the scornful notion we have of ‘it’s just a phase’? Because we expect teenaged rebellion against conformity, and devalue it as a way of protecting that conformity? Fuck that.

 

4. We’re all really ‘just’ gay or lesbian

Not agender, or bigender, or genderqueer and gay or lesbian. Rather, hipster gays and lesbians who want a fashionable new word to describe ourselves. Because butch is so over. Or something. Hey – ‘genderqueer’ just goes better with my undercut.

I came out as androgynous at fifteen. I’ve felt an affinity for that word through good haircuts and bad ones, through being painfully nerdy to surprisingly cool, covered in acne, covered in tattoos, when I’ve been with women, when I’ve been with men…it didn’t make me fashionable, and it certainly didn’t stop me from being bisexual*.

The histories of gender and sexual dissidence are long, complicated and hopelessly entwined. And that doesn’t mean that you can tell who someone fancies by what gender they are.

And it never means that people who reject binary appellations are traitors to the world of cis homosexuality.

 

5. This is just a passing trend

To the library!

Gender-sexual dissidence reading list

Seriously. There’s nothing more I can say to that. Too many people have said too much before me.

 

I get so sick of saying it, but will continue to say it until it’s no longer needed – the first step to not being a dick is to not¬† make assumptions about anyone. Cis, trans, male, female, something else entirely¬† – if you start off with a stereotype, with a trope, with trying to force an identity onto someone from the outside, you are going to be wrong. More than being wrong, you are going to be causing harm.

And, besides – not assuming anything is so much more exciting. Real people are inevitably more interesting that the inaccurate reductions we’d make of them.

 

 

 

 

 

*My issues with that word/classification are a lengthy blog post in themselves, but used for clarity/political purposes when necessary.

 

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§ 12 Responses to Five myths about people other than men and women…

  • Anonymous says:

    Love the new blog post. It touched a few soft spots, for obvious reasons.

    1. The whole AFAB thing. I’m AMAB but often taken for AFAB and I never correct people in that assumption – in fact I positively encourage it – because it’s more acceptable for a genderqueer person to be AFAB than AMAB and I just don’t need the trouble.

    2. The university thing. When first we met I didn’t have so much as a GCSE (though I’ve since sorted that out). Still, I’d often get asked if I’d found myself at university. No, I found myself doing hard bloody graft.

    3. One you didn’t touch on, but it’s thought of as a middle-class thing. Well-off kids too sheltered to realise you gotta either shit or get off the pot. Well fuck that!

    Though to be fair that’s true of binary trans as well. It’s hard to be working class, somewhere on the trans spectrum, and still find a home in your own community. You end up trading one community for another, which breaks my heart.

  • 1. I would totally read that dissertation. (About assuming that genderqueer et. all folk are AFAB, because reasons.)

    2. I’m guessing that problems with the term/concept “bisexuality” has something to do with the implied binary?

  • abigailbuccaneer says:

    #1: AFAB non-binary people have created a community exclusively for AFAB non-binary people. I identified as an AMAB genderqueer person for some time, and tried to find communities for people like me – and the genderqueer communities I found catered only to masculine AFAB people who promoted harmful masculine-as-neutral ideologies. People like me were actively erased *by* AFAB genderqueer people, and I was slowly pushed into the trans woman box in which I now reside. In my experience, myth #1 is perpetuated by AFAB genderqueer people more than anybody else. (There has been stuff written on the positions of power that AFAB non-binary people have over AMAB trans people and how AFAB people have colonised the cultural concepts of non-binary and androgynous, it is out there on the internet.)

    • cnlester says:

      I’m really sorry that’s happened to you – that’s awful.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s definitely a thing. Partly societal defining and positioning of manhood in the context of misogyny and partly the old feminist response to it. AMAB people are more heavily policed than AFAB people realise (though not more than AFAB people, of course) because we have to hold up the standard, as it were.

        For an AMAB person to identify as anything other than male is a self-degradation, but some degree of allowance is made for binary-TS because that’s medical. To stop identifying as male but not go so far as to identify as female is taking the piss at best, or a strange and frightening deviance at worst.

        Meanwhile Women’s Space (such as inclusive of trans people) is still wary of perceived male incursion in a way that doesn’t extend to trans men (fair enough on some levels), but when that attitude is carried across into Queer Space it creates a culture that regards MtF TS people as being more committed, more genuine than NB AMAB people. The lingering idea that a person who is both A) possessed of some biological maleness and B) not explicitly identified as female is somehow ill-conducive to a safe space.

        Funny thing is, we never really eliminate the imbalance of privilege in Queer Space, we always just seem to move it about.

  • Jamie Ray says:

    Speaking as yet one more AFAB, butch-transgender whatever, it is so much easier for me to be masculine in my “real life” that for my gender opposite (AMAB) sissy/nellie queer to be feminine in their “real life”. So much of male femininity gets suppressed, pushed down, and hidden; or ridiculed and trivialized when it gets let out.
    I wish there were (we could create) more spaces for a wider variety of trans* people to mix it up in.

  • subsalix says:

    I think society is far too hung up on ‘labeling’. Of course a popular opinion, but you can go around shouting it, but actually believing it, is a whole other thing.
    I’ve always been interested in the whole gender and sexuality issue. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned it is that there is no absolute gender or sexuality, just these ideals, that I do not think will be achieved by anyone.
    My parents have always taught me that everyone is different and should be respected nonetheless, and I think that is important, teaching our (future) children that you can be who you want to be.

    • Well, yes, we label everything. This gives you a baseline for organization and language. That’s where the social construct meets the inward perception. Doesn’t mean that you have to go by one, but some of us do happen to like them for ourselves. Language can be both liberating and limiting, and it’s not going to quit shifting so long as we’re crawling about the Earth.

      Remembering that labels aren’t static cookie cutter shapes is the rub.

      People also have this wonderful propensity for assigning certain values to things that shouldn’t even have them. (As in: xyz is “evil” abc is “good” and mno doesn’t exist cause I’m too afraid that it will make me invalid as a person if I acknowledge it’s there, oh, and what’s that other stuff anyhow?)

      Your last point is what everyone misses. We should allow for self identification (if they choose identification at all) and realizing that our experience isn’t going to quite be like another person’s.

      I ain’t gonna rip off my skin cause someone else is uncomfortable with it.

      At the same time, I’m not going to require you go by a label for me just cause I like em.

  • Jonathan says:

    To the library!

    Yes indeed :) . But I’m surprised not to see Leslie Feinberg on your reading list. I’d definitely add Transgender Warriors and Trans Liberation to that.

    • cnlester says:

      Oops…I think I recommend those books so often that I didn’t add them to this list (written originally for friends I know have the Feinberg) – FUCK YES FEINBERG

  • Great post! Though an added addendum to number 3: what’s wrong with something being “just a phase” anyway? Why does gender and sexuality have to be fixed and immutible in order for it to be seen as valid? Just because someone’s identity shifts and changes that doesn’t invalidate their experience at any given moment.

    As I often like to say, life is just a phase.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes and no. Yes, “just a phase” is horribly dismissive (and ageist), but beyond that it’s worth looking at how fluidity can in itself be a fixed state.

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