Five myths about people other than men and women…
April 21, 2014 § 13 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!
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.