So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

12 August, 2007

Bulletins From Planet Gender

I've been trying to figure out how to talk about my sense of how gender works for me. It's come up in a couple of conversations around the blogs recently, and it's one of those things that I chew on occasionally anyway. A friend commented to me the other day that she figures that in a lot of ways she has some more "masculine" traits than I do but has never had issues with the concept of being female; another friend, years ago, told me I was butch because that was the way I am.

It's very difficult. Partly because I'm not trans; I'm sex congruent, for all my sense of gender incongruency. I had a couple of long conversations with Little Light about that one a while back, about whether or not it was in some way an appropriation for me to start filing myself as genderqueer, because my body isn't a problem. (My mind, maybe. Or the surrounding world. I'm not sure.)

I think what I reach for is polyvalent gender, really. (Which makes sense, given how much polyvalency I have in the rest of my life.) Back to riffing on clothes again, and dressing like me -- I was talking with my husband about this in terms of clothing things the other day, because I was wearing clothes that filed for me as "just a little too ornate to be professional-class semi-formal", which is a particular sort of distinguished female presentation. And I pointed at the skirt and said, "If this were black, it would be perfect goth wear", and that goes off towards the goth aesthetic of certain types of androgyny (though the skirt won't go past 'goth femme'), and I swing that way too. Today I seem to be dressed nearly sex-irrelevant hippie: loose pants, loose shirt, in psychedelic blue. I flux to earth-momma hippie too, though. Then there's the "and t-shirt" set -- slacks and t-shirt, which is a slightly more formal "generalised twenty-to-thirtysomething" (I don't care for jeans); skirt-and-t-shirt, "female twenty-to-thirtysomething, sort of hippie"; slacks, t-shirt, flannel shirt, I don't know, maybe, "slightly chilly twenty-to-thirtysomething" or "slightly butch twenty-to-thirtysomething". And the bit of gender expression that owns a grey top hat and a burgundy velvet frock coat and lusts after Victorian men's waistcoats. There are a few others kicking around in here too.

I know people who have a very consistent gender presentation with regards to clothes. When I was in Montreal this past weekend with my family, I mentioned to the other woman that she tends to default to a notch or two more formal than the rest of us; I'm not sure how I'd file her style, but it comes off to me as both 'professional' and 'femme' most of the time. Another friend of mine comes off to me fairly consistently as "butch geek" -- jeans or cargo pants, t-shirt, often a flannel shirt, not infrequently belt with pager, tools, and so on. A couple of folks hit somewhere in the vicinity of "basic preppie" -- nice pants, polo shirt. I know a variety of people who land in various high geek and low geek styles.

I'm all over the place. And I think that's the important thing, the being all over the place.

So people elsewhere were talking about the fluidity of gender, and how some transfolks have a very clear gender identity and some don't, and this is the same for cisgendered folks, and that's where I think I come in: back to being the shapeshifter, the snake in woman's form. There's stuff I can do that fits some of the standard gender-stuff that I grew up familiar with, but it's not all in the same place, and trying to stick to one bit turns it into a mask-dance rather than anything that feels like identity.

And part of my problem with trying to pin my identity down to "female" has been this sense that calling this seething mass of gendered tentacles down to one shape was just asking for trouble. Performing gender is all well and good, but sticking to one style of performance isn't going to work for me in the long run. And the words for the consistent forms are words of inconsistency: shapeshifter. Fey, perhaps; fey I've done deliberately at times. "Gender-fluid" I've seen, or "genderfuck" -- that latter making it more deliberate, a choice to twist and rearrange and just mess with the concept of gender. I have this multiplicity of sense poured into a woman body, but even an approximate call-it-androgyny in a body with a female shape doesn't mean I don't get comments like, "Has anyone ever told you that you have a lot of male energy?" Whatever that means.

My first useful thread was when I ran into a bunch of folks who floated the notion of "geek" as a gender, which was the first gender that I could work with at all as me, rather than as a mirage that vanishes when the air shifts. I had an immediate apprehension of what that was pointing at -- the shape of the mind, the identity, the way it tends to manifest. And if I had to pick a gender, I'd pick that one, because it has in it this tendency to go sideways into weird little idiosyncratic corners sometimes. And there's space in there for me.

And a bit after that, I started spending a fair amount of time with interestingly gendered folks, some trans, some not, and started to wrap my head around the notion that I didn't need to pin myself down to one thing. I could be this huge slithery mass of contradictions, and it was okay. Born naked; the rest is drag.

And the thing is, I know people who have a lot of the same stuff in their heads that I do, and it hasn't left them feeling gender incongruent. They express not merely being comfortable in their bodies, but also in their minds, in the way things feel and shape inside. Sometimes I wonder what they have that I'm missing.

11 comments:

Trinity said...

"Partly because I'm not trans; I'm sex congruent, for all my sense of gender incongruency. I had a couple of long conversations with Little Light about that one a while back, about whether or not it was in some way an appropriation for me to start filing myself as genderqueer, because my body isn't a problem. (My mind, maybe. Or the surrounding world. I'm not sure.)"

What did you decide the word for that was? I could use one.

(Well, it's not exactly that my body is "not a problem" -- it would still be nice if my dick were made of skin and attached. But that's not quite, I don't think, the same thing as being in a mismatched body entirely.)

Annwyd said...

It's funny, because much of this applies to me too. I'd like to experiment with different presentations, would even like to crossdress (have, in fact, frequently crossdressed for Halloween since I was very young; I always thought that was cool). Would like to try on different masks.

But in the end, what I come back to feels female; female with some male bits in it, perhaps, female with some peculiar connections, surely, but female.

And it makes me think, more and more, that gender is not the simple social construct that so many say it is. That maybe instead it's the bastard liminal spawn of complex social interactions and something far more elusive on the inside of the skull.

Daisy said...

Why is "androgynous" or "androgyne" (noun) now out of favor? Very useful and descriptive term for lots of people!

(Anyway, I still think it, in my mind.)

A.W. said...

"Partly because I'm not trans; I'm sex congruent, for all my sense of gender incongruency. I had a couple of long conversations with Little Light about that one a while back, about whether or not it was in some way an appropriation for me to start filing myself as genderqueer, because my body isn't a problem. (My mind, maybe. Or the surrounding world. I'm not sure.)"

Perhaps it's an odd thing, that I haven't tried to find a word for the varied ways I end up expressing myself gender-wise, I usually just consider myself a relatively shifty amalgam of things that have already been badly categorized. A body, sure, yes, I know what I'd prefer there, but everything else; I always figured that was the world's problem in deciding where to put me reading and behavior wise and I mostly gave up trying to make a sort of orderly fashion out of myself, probably mainly because I'm just not very good at it. But then I kinda had an "Ah, fuck it" moment wrt sorting after accepting which body I wanted (with the word male being previously attached, but not man) so I could very well come back to that question of what, if any, labels would I prefer at a later date. Or possibly sooner, I've found several things kiddy-corner to it with gendered pronouns that upon closer examination I don't like. I could've read your post all wrong, though, if so, ignore said paragraphs, n'sorry.

And it makes me think, more and more, that gender is not the simple social construct that so many say it is. That maybe instead it's the bastard liminal spawn of complex social interactions and something far more elusive on the inside of the skull.

If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to cart this off for a quote, credit attributed of course.

Annwyd said...

A.W.: I'm flattered. By all means go ahead.

Trinity said...

Daisy,

I don't personally like "androgynous" all that much because I associate it with the whole "consciously trying to reject gender" thing and that's not quite what's going on for me.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Trinity --

I really think that's what people are trying to point at when they want to make the cis-sexed/cis-gender distinction. And I don't think there are good concept-spaces for people who aren't both sex and gender incongruent in the same sort of direction. For people who are all in the same direction, conflation is possible. Outliers are ... well, outliers, who cares about outliers?

Back to the monster in the labyrinth, the hybrid and undefined.

Daisy --

I don't feel comfortable with 'androgynous' consistently because, hey, sometimes I am female. Sometimes it's too neutral for me because I'm feeling male today. Sometimes ... it's a colour split out of the prism, but I'm gesturing at the whole span of light I see.

A. W. --

I think there's a lot of value in going, "Fuck it, someone else's problem." In a lot of ways, that's what happened when I took the word 'genderqueer' -- I stopped worrying at all which boxes were right or not or whether I was implementing them correctly, because I wasn't of any of them.

Trinity said...

"And I don't think there are good concept-spaces for people who aren't both sex and gender incongruent in the same sort of direction. "

Yes. I mean there's talk about gender (or gender role)-incongruent people, sometimes even as a brave vanguard. But there's rarely talk about the experiences of such people, really, in real, sensible terms.

Sunflower said...

Most of what Annwyd said goes for me, too.

The thoughts I have that are really relevant to this post are still works in progress - I've started twice to talk about different aspects and realized the articulations just weren't finished cooking.

Thing is, it's not just about gender (-normative or -queer), it's about spirituality and my essential nature, which makes it a very big topic indeed.

Annwyd, I'll probably be poking your blog sometimes in the next few days; I think we might have a lightbulb or two to toss at each other.

Sunflower

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Nothing wrong with a little mutual illumination. ;)

Annwyd said...

There isn't much in my blog as of yet--I keep meaning to put stuff there, but it slips my mind. Let this act as a reminder to me to actually do that.

But lightbulbs are good, compact fluorescent or not. ;)