Beyond the Binary: Question Ten
June 19, 2013 § 7 Comments
Onwards – and today it’s one of those questions you could spend the rest of your life answering. Panel bios here.
How does your sexuality relate to your gender? I know a few agender people who are all asexual, for example – do you think there could be a link there?
Hel: Erm. There might well be? Gender and sexuality are complexly interwoven things, and goodness knows that gender-transgression is often seen as codifying sexual non-normativity (or vice versa). I suppose my gender and my sexuality are both pretty similar in that I use multiple labels about them to reach an approximation of the “right” thing? I’m genderqueer (genderfluid, genderfucking, “politically identified as female/oppressed-as-female”, non-binary, androgynous…) and queer (bisexual, pansexual…) – I suppose in both cases I use an excess of labels to describe something that is ultimately about rejecting normative labels. (That might just be my approach to language generally, though – throwing lots of words at something and seeing what sticks, and ending up with a close-enough approximation of the truth, whatever ‘truth’ is. I’m really interested by this sort of thing – how understanding is framed and directed and transmitted by language, but how language so often ultimately proves insufficient, and so we get this cycle of language expressing/legitimating a ‘new’ set of experiences, but being not-quite-right and so new language develops again… this constant cycle of change and reinvention!)
Jennie: I tend to be attracted to physiological femininity, but not necessarily just to women. Other people with the right curves can sstill be appealing to me. I don’t go for women at what might be seen as the extreme end of a polarised binary, either physically or psychologically; in fact, I tend to prefer skinny women with masculine personalities, though I’m also attracted to glamour so things like make-up and long hair can still appeal to me. I don’t tend to perceive the people I’m attacted to as belonging to one of two groups even if they’re physiologically and psychologically normative men or women. I’m attracted to people; it just so happens that the people who are my type are more likely to class themselves, or to be classed by others, as female.
We don’t know all of the reasons why people experience themselves as non-binary but we do know that a lot of intersex people have low levels of sex hormones and correspondingly low sex drives, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there is (in at least some cases) a connection to asexuality there. In my case I have high natural testosterone levels and I’ve only experienced a low sex drive when put on feminising homones (which I’m very glad to have quit).
Nat: I find it difficult to separate either of those from my life experiences of growing up with an unidentified autistic spectrum condition. I know that I don’t experience or conceptualise my sexuality, gender identity and gender dysphoria in the ways that most other people seem to. Traits and experiences that I’ve long explained as being due to having a neutral gender or being asexual, now seem clearly autistic in light of my recent diagnosis. I’ve since re-read my early writing on asexuality and felt much of it seemed the very cliche of autistic experience, down to describing my childhood as feeling like I was a ‘space alien’.
I really have no way to say whether my asexuality and relationship with gender have a common cause, but I do wonder whether being autistic and not aware of the fact led me to look for explanations for why I felt so different from others, and so to analyse and accept my sexuality and gender difference more readily. I wonder if I others with similar sexualities and genders to mine feel more comfortable fitting these into culturally normative identities and roles.
Meeting asexual and nonbinary people who were clearly not autistic (as well as many who were) was a helpful step in my path towards accepting my place on the spectrum. There is a correlation and perhaps a link, but these are separate things.
(Apologies for the somewhat off topic response to this question, but I struggle to talk about my past understanding of especially my sexuality without relating this to my attempts to explain my autistic experiences without the word ‘autistic’).
CN: I definitely think that gender and sexuality are intertwined facets of who we are, rather than distinct areas of the self – I think the problem comes when society claims fixed relationship rules between the two (i.e. ‘all feminine men are gay’) rather than understanding that it’s an individual thing. I wrote a piece a while ago about the ways in which desire for genderqueer people can contain the potential to disrupt someone’s own ideas of gender – I also feel that my understanding of myself in terms of gender and sexuality is linked at a foundational level. Short version: my understanding of myself as someone enacting a unique positioning of gender and sex was tied to my understanding of my attraction to others as equally unique combinations of whatever it is we call gender and sex – and that I couldn’t try to second-guess my attraction until it happened, because who knows in advance how two particular combinations will react? Well, obviously I could try to second-guess because I’m a chronic worrier, but I could also keep an open mind – and the more I challenge my own ideas of who I am in terms of gender and sexuality the more I find out about myself. I think it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have a narrative sense of their own lives – and, in that narrative, I think that how we do and feel gender (in all its manifestations) overlaps with, and often includes, what we do or don’t want to do in bed and who we want to (or don’t want to) do it with.