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A(gender): An Anthology

 
 

The Western-instituted gender binary of “man” and “woman” violently imported on much of the global population by settler colonialism and imperialism has intrinsically shaped how the vast majority of us understand gender today. The gender systems of Indigenous cultures throughout the world remain subjected to persecution, inferiorization, and erasure, as they have historically. Many Indigenous cultures have upheld a gender system which openly accepted or tolerated more than two rigidly-defined roles and still do today, although the damaging effects of settler colonialism and imperialism remain resoundingly present throughout the world. The violence directed at those who we may consider “queer” or LGBTQIA+ exemplifies this most evidently. While the gender binary of “man” and “woman” has begun to notably lose its grip in the early twenty-first century, at least regionally, there is still much work to be done. A(gender): An Anthology is an attempt to uplift the perspectives of those who may identify as being without gender, genderless, gender neutral, or otherwise separated from identifying within gender systems. It exists as a unique collection of personal essays, poetry, and abstract writings by agender writers questioning, examining, and critiquing gender.

Edited by Michael Paramo


Table of Contents


What Am I?

by Stone Ship

 

Am I Man? Am I Woman?

I don’t know.

When I am awake, I act. Do my actions make me male? Do they make me female? Does doing things give me a gender?

Do my actions make me male?

Years ago, man and woman, with love and wisdom, tell me:

“Boy, put your hands down. Don’t walk like that.

Boys don’t walk like that.”

Years later, I see a certain recognition in the eyes of man and woman both when I enter a room.

This isn’t you, I scream at me. A dense cloud forms in my head. It expands. It hurts.

Do I uphold the systems that men built for man to thrive in? Do they benefit me? Or do I suffer from those systems?

Years ago, man and woman, with love and wisdom, tell me:

“Boy, don’t cry. It’s a waste of time. Boys don’t cry.”

Years later; bruised, alone, I cannot cry. I want to. The cloud in my head gets heavier. I can’t think. I can’t breathe.

Man, tell me. Am I still a boy, if I want to cry but cannot? If I do not want to be feared or respected, but loved? Can I be a man without these things, and without wanting them?

Can I still be violent without wanting these things?

I know that I am violent.

Does my violence have a gender?

Is my violence male? Is all violence male?

Years ago, man and woman, with love and wisdom, tell me:

“Boy, be a Man. Be tough, be strong; or people will crush you and eat you up.

All boys must become men.”

Years later, I can taste my blood in my mouth. But there is also blood on my hands. Not my blood. There is fear in the other Man’s eyes. My secret is safe.

Yes, I have a secret.

What is my secret?

I don’t know.

But I know that I must keep it a secret. If I am found out, then people will crush me and eat me up. And I must protect myself. I must protect my secret.

When Man’s violence comes knocking at my door, I will give him Man’s violence in return to protect myself and those I care about.

I do not say this with confidence. I say this with fear. I do not want to be crushed. I do not want to be eaten.

I do not want to be found out.

The cloud in my head gets denser and more painful.

My actions, likely make me a man in your eyes.

Does that mean I am a man?

Why do I feel like I’m always performing an extremely uncomfortable role?

Why do I feel like a prude playing a stripper? Exposed, but desperately trying to stay covered?

Stop looking at me.

I will hide my face behind a beard.

Could it be that I’m a woman playing a man?

What is a woman?

Years ago, woman and man, with love and wisdom, tell me:

“Boy, stop being so shy.

Girls are shy.

You’re a boy.”

Years later, I am still shy. But the women around me are not.

I already know I’m not who I pretend to be; but am I also not what I think I am? Another cloud forms in my head. The pain doubles.

What else do I know about women?

Years ago, woman and man, with love and wisdom, tell me:

“Boy, remember;

you must protect women.

Women are kind and gentle.

But they are weak.

Men are strong.”

Years later, I see women that are kind. But I also see women that are cruel. Women with great capacities for committing violence, physical or otherwise. But they are all strong.

Is all violence male?

It isn’t only men that I see screaming at women that they can’t be women because people told them that they were boys when they were born. It wasn’t men that were telling women that they can’t escape from their male privilege even though they weren’t men. It’s not only men that say that a person’s genitals can tell us the truth about who they are. It isn’t just men who drive these women to kill themselves.

Woman, tell me. Do you fear me? Do you fear that my violence is male?

I am big, I am strong. I am of able body. I get angry. It is not wrong to fear me. I can tell you not to fear me, but how do you trust a Man to tell the truth? I’d tell you that I might not be a man, but I fear your violence. You can keep your fear and I will keep mine, until I know that I do not have to be afraid of you.

The cloud gets denser; and I feel weak and miserable. I feel imprisoned by something that I cannot explain.

Years ago, man and woman, with love and wisdom tell me:

“Boy, stop being so scared of everything.

What’re you, a girl?”

Years later, I’m scared. But I’m called a fine young man. I see fear in the eyes of men and women when I’m in their presence. They’re scared too.

What are we all so afraid of?

I’m scared that they will discover my secret. I’m scared of being caught naked. I’m scared that my truth will be laid bare, when I don’t know what that truth is myself.

I’m scared of men. I’m scared of women. I’m scared that men will try to kill me. I’m scared that women will try to make me kill myself. I’m scared of myself. Because I cannot understand what I am. I cannot understand what men are. And I cannot understand what women are.

Women and men are both violent.

Women and men are both cruel.

Women and men can both be kind and strong.

Women and men can both command respect and fear.

The system is unbalanced; but women and men are both capable of the same things.

I can be all of those things. And I have been all of these things. But that still does not tell me if I’m a woman or if I’m a man.

Neither makes sense. Nothing fits.

What am I, if I’m not a man or a woman? What am I when I stop pretending to be either?

There’s a loud screaming in my head. I can’t hear myself think.

Years ago, I was alone, broken and bleeding. I didn’t want to live. Man and Woman had done this to me. Man and Woman did not try to save me. I saved me. Not man. Not woman. But me. Stripped of Man and stripped of Woman I found that I still exist.

The clouds part a little and the sun bursts through. I exist outside of man and woman. I exist.

Is there any part of you that exists beyond your manhood and your womanhood? What makes you a man or a woman?

When I am asleep, do I dream male things, or do I dream female dreams? If I were to show you my dreams, would you be able to tell? Do women dream only of roses? Do men dream only of war?

When I am dead, what am I? Man or woman? What will I be to myself, and what will I be to you?

To myself, I will be nothing.

To you, I will likely be a man.

But stop making me a gender.

I’m agender.

 

Stone Ship is an Engineer, watersport enthusiast, metalhead and pop culture lover from Tamil Nadu. They believe in the power of rock music and storytelling to make the world a better place. They can be reached at @sunkenstoneship on Twitter.

The Road Model of Gender

by Deramin

My favorite adage about education runs, “simplicity is useful, but untrue; whereas complexity is true, but useless.” When it comes to gender, two models are primarily used for explanation: the gender spectrum and gender galaxy. I’d like to present a “Road Model of Gender.”

The gender spectrum model has the benefit of simplicity. It’s easy to visualize a gradient between male and female with people along the whole spread. But it’s overly simple. Agender and genderqueer people who are outside that gradient are completely ignored in this model.

The Transgender Language Primer” describes the galaxy gender model as:

“a galaxy is a 3d object in space that consists of billions of star systems, nebulae, dark matter, and other space objects, all interconnected by the force of gravity. Similarly, gender is an overarching term that consists of incredibly diverse identities that can be expressed in infinite ways. Like a galaxy, gender is an interconnected web between the relation of people’s internal gender, which is unique to them, the expression of their gender, and its relation to the socialization and expectations both within their own societies and elsewhere.”

I suspect this model’s closer to the truth, but too complicated for most people to grasp, and doesn’t acknowledge the corridor most people keep to currently.

The Road Model of Gender

There exists two metropolis cities and a main road that runs between them. One city is men and the other is women. Binary gender people live in the cities. Cis people live in the city they were born in, binary trans people moved to the other city.

Nonbinary people don’t live in those cities. Many live along the road or travel between the cities. Demi-gender people usually live closer to one of the cities. Genderfluid people travel between them. Agender people don’t live in the cities or along the road. Other nonbinary, genderfluid, genderqueer, or agender people might be exploring the rest of the world. The mountain tops and valleys, other cities, maybe even other worlds. All those places exist, though many people in the cities don’t believe them and stay where they feel safe.

Bigender, trigender, multigender, polygender, etc. people have dual/multi-citizenship. Best metaphor would be frequent travel and telecommunication so they’re living and working in multiple places simultaneously.

Anyone can travel. They might move throughout their life, or they may just take a vacation or even a hike. People live where they say they live, even if they aren’t there right now. We really don’t need border control among these cities, thank you very much.

The biggest flaw with the galaxy model is that it focuses entirely on what’s possible but doesn’t provide any framing for why so many people cluster in two groups or between them. The city model helps answer that.

People live in the cities because it’s convenient. Their stuff is there, moving is a hassle, and socio-economic reasons pressure people who hate the city to stay. They provide greater access to services and jobs. The major hospitals are there. Concentrated infrastructure is cheaper. Cities provide the illusion of safety. The city-dwellers imagine it’s dangerous and lonely outside them (it’s not). People stay in the cities because it’s easier and they’re afraid to leave. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

Other people just fall in love with one of the cities and that’s the only place they want to be. Telling them to leave feels hostile. Being told cities are inherently bad might feel like an attack on something they love that’s a key part of their identity.

You don’t have to be born in the cities. Plenty of people aren’t. They may move (by choice or force) to one of them very early in life because it’s perceived as easier. They may still be treated as a foreigner or feel like an outsider. Others live their whole lives outside them. The idea of living in a city or wanting to may seem strange to them or outright hostile. The feuds between them may seem silly and unnecessary.

We should make services easily available and accessible to people outside the cities. We shouldn’t punish people for where they live or push them through intentional inconvenience to live places they hate.

Pronouns are a way to say where you’re from. Refusing to acknowledge and use someone’s pronouns is like insisting they live someplace they don’t (maybe someplace they hate). It’s wrong and insulting. People who use multiple pronouns are telling you where they are now as they travel. Other travelers may use one set of pronouns because that’s where they pick up their mail and it’s convenient.

Trying to tell someone they have to fully assimilate if they move and totally abandon their old culture is also insulting. Even if they don’t want to live there, that doesn’t mean some traditions aren’t still meaningful to them. They might still have an accent, and that’s fine. Likewise, someone can be perfectly content in the city they were born in but favor the dress, mannerisms, etc. of a different city. That’s not inherently bad. It can be inspiring and freeing for many people. Ignorance and power structures can make it harmful in some contexts. Culture never exists in a void.

For myself, I live in the woman city, I was born here, I like it here, but sometimes I just have to get out. Travel, go camping, whatever, just away. I really hated it as a kid, but it grew on me. I use she/her, and I look fabulous in a dress. But sometimes (like now) trying to wear woman’s clothing gives me a low-key panic attack. I dreamed of binders decades before I knew they existed. In roleplaying games I’ve played an even proportion of men and women. My last two characters were nonbinary. Because of course if you could turn into a wolf or a bird you could also change your sex characteristics and why wouldn’t you some days if you could? Oh…

I hope this model can serve as a bridge between understanding the gender spectrum model and the gender galaxy model. It’s helped me understand where I live and travel. Maybe one day we’ll all be scattered among the stars, but for many of us they still seem like distant lights.

 

Deramin is an artist who makes queer nerdy embroidery patches and decorates hats and jackets (as Majestic Mess Designs). She also writes articles and poetry, usually about queerness, disability, and D&D. Her work has been featured multiple times in The Asexual Journal. She discovered she was asexual and genderfluid from D&D friends. Now in her 30s, she lives off a steady diet of tabletop roleplaying games, warm kindness, spite, gallows humor, kombucha, and farmers market fava beans in Eugene, Oregon. Twitter: @OTDDeramin

Living Agender, When the World Doesn’t Want You

by Sasha Valeria

I  accepted myself as nonbinary basically the same day I came out as nonbinary. I was joining an online Discord, very nervously as usual, and the group required that you post an introduction sharing certain things about yourself. Before I joined this group, the only genders I’d ever known were male and female, and the only pronouns I’d ever come across for people were “she” and “he.” The list of possible roles in this chat room though included a “nonbinary” option for gender, and “they/them” for pronouns. Seeing that those were options I could choose was what finally made it click for me.

Before all of that, going into public restrooms and being addressed in gendered ways always made me uncomfortable, but I was always able to play it off. Restrooms had other people, and I’m social anxious and awkward as it is, so that makes sense. Being addressed in a gendered manner usually meant being called terms that, for where I grew up, would be considered a bit rude to do to people. Because calling someone “sir” or “ma’am” where I grew up in Colorado when addressing someone that wasn’t much higher up than you in work environments, was more like back talking. After moving to Atlanta, it was the opposite. So, you know, I had to get used to that, and the discomfort would go away, or so I thought.

To no one’s surprise, it didn’t. But, having rationalized it as much as I could, I had just learned to live with the almost constant discomfort of what I now know to be social dysphoria. So, on that day in September 2016, just over two years ago to the date of me writing this, it seemed like the world finally clicked into place in my brain. I spent a few months only really being out to anyone else in that chat room and a few other smaller ones specifically for nonbinary peoples and such, before finally gaining the courage to come out to my best friend and my partner. And that’s where my more serene world started cracking at the edges.

Neither of them were disrespectful about it, my partner even agreed to misgender and deadname me in person so I could stay in the closet and not get the treatment that the more out and open trans people in my school got, which was really nice of them. My best friend, on the other hand, was a bit less accepting. To this day, two years after coming out and having finally mostly transitioned to my new name and a more affirming clothing style, he still doesn’t seem to fully get it. And that’s when it finally hit me, that most cisgender people probably won’t understand.

Online interactions, though, were amazing, in comparison. Most people were super respectful of light pronoun correction, and the people who knew me with my old name and gender were mostly able to transition over with me with little to no difficulties. That same chat room that got me to finally accept myself to myself? I’m now one of the head admins, next in line to be server owner when the current one steps down, and almost half of the staff are trans in some way or another.

Having said all of that, though, it says something that I’m able to accept myself, even recently finally accepting that I’m agender on top of being nonbinary. I’m even able to be out and proud of it online, but I only feel comfortable being out to three or four people offline. I’m not out to my parents or family at all, though I suspect my closest sibling knows because of my current fashion choices, considering half my wardrobe is nonbinary-flag-colored. I’m not out to anyone at school, I’m not even out to any of my three dorm mates, because it could very easily turn sour.

In my two years of immersing myself into the asexual and trans communities, for all of my other nonbinary peoples, there seems to be one truly unifying thread of reality. The intense difficulty of coming out, staying out, and being able to be who you are inside.

When one of the most common slogans on items for nonbinary people is “You are Valid,” or something along those lines, it just feels like most people think we are not, in fact, valid. Obviously it feels great to get validation for something about yourself, whether it be your talents or skills or gender, but having a validating phrase be one of the main things to put on pins makes it all to real that we aren’t seen as valid by the majority of society, or at least it doesn’t feel like we are. When my partner buys me a nonbinary-flag-colored squishy with the words “you are valid” it is the highlight of my month, which says something about the situation we have to put up with.

Very few nonbinary people I know and almost none of the agender people I talk to regularly are “out of the closet” to people they talk to in person and didn’t meet online. The number one stated reason is rejection. Not being accepted as “a real thing” by a portion of people, being called attention seekers, and constantly being confused for a binary trans person by those who are more accepting but not really up to par. There isn’t even legal acceptance in most places. I can’t get the proper gender marker on any of my documents because I’m a citizen of the wrong state, and many others are in my position.

And for agender people, and lots of nonbinary people in general, it’s often sparked by the fact that so much in life is gendered in one way or another. I’ve seen and talked to quite a few people going through this, and they’ll usually mention how they just feel it would be easier to be binary, and that they don’t want to be nonbinary because the world is so heavily binarized. Obviously not all nonbinary people feel this way. In fact, I don’t feel this way, and for the past two years I’ve questioned my gender a grand total of once or twice a year, because being nonbinary just feels right in the inner most parts of myself.

I mentioned it before, but I’m not out at home or school. Sure, I changed my preferred name in the system, but because changing my legal name would get back to my mom I’ve refrained from doing as such because I don’t feel like she would accept me as I am. And even if she did accept me, she would have ridiculous ideas about what I am or what I’m doing. I don’t even mention my sex because then even well-meaning people would start to get ideas about what I look like, or what I do with my life, or crazy things like that because they have these stereotypes of nonbinary people in their heads. I wanted to come out to my dormmates when I moved in, but when in the first week they started making attack helicopter jokes and stuff like that, I no longer felt like I was able to be myself around them.

People like to say that there aren’t gendered stereotypes for agender and nonbinary people, but that’s just not the case. There’s this idea that nonbinary people are all assigned female at birth, wear chest binders, have undercuts and wacky hair colors, and wear punk clothing. So, now, not only do people I interact with expect me to behave and socialize like my assigned gender, but when I tell them I’m nonbinary they might expect me to act a certain “nonbinary” way, instead. Some people even try and say that the names we pick are “too feminine” or “too masculine,” gatekeeping our identities from us.

Not every nonbinary person feels physical dysphoria, we don’t all wear chest binders — we don’t even all have chests to bind. Some of use want surgery, some don’t, but some people believe nonbinary means to be one way or the other. Not every agender person uses the same pronouns, we don’t have to and so we don’t. Some people are fine with using “they/them” alongside their preferred pronoun, some aren’t. Just because I use or don’t use certain pronouns does not automatically give someone a clear indication of my gender right off the bat, despite what some may think.

Fact of the matter is, by being ourselves we tend to break all the “rules” about gender there are. Even some groups of otherwise nice trans people think we are “not real” or “attention seekers.” We break gender boundaries so hard that some of the other people breaking gender boundaries think we’re going too far, though luckily they seem to be in the extreme minority. We are ripe targets for slander, hatred, violence, disdain, you name something negative and nonbinary people are likely to have gotten it or even are still getting it. And yet, we’re also somehow invisible: no acceptance, no recognition, called fake at every turn — people forget we exist at the same time they are kicking us down.

I feel the effects of these things even if they don’t happen to me, just like what happens in any community. I choose not to expose myself to the possibility of these things happening because I know I couldn’t handle it where I’m at right now. I’m not able to be out to my family yet, I rely on them for finances and being disabled in the streets is not something I’d survive. But, hearing about the worst of it while experiencing the more moderate versions of it at the same time takes its own toll on you. Living life when your very existence breaks most people’s ideas of gender is hard, even when you are in a space that is more accepting or you are more able to pick and choose who you’re out to.

Gender is hard. Sometimes it’s not the personal acceptance of it, sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not the social acceptance of it, sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s questioning your gender every two days, and sometimes it is questioning it two times a year, or even every two years. But, regardless, binary trans people will tell you that gender is hard. Nonbinary people, both those who are trans and those who aren’t, will tell you gender is hard. Agender people, whether trans or not, whether they also identify as nonbinary or not, will agree with you that gender is hard.

Gender hasn’t been hard for me in the ways it often is for many agender and nonbinary people. I’ve rarely questioned my gender, I’ve rarely been directly told I’m making things up or other worse stuff I’ve heard others say happened to them. While my home and social life aspects could use some work, they aren’t unsalvageable like those of a few others I’ve talked to. But, even still, if you asked me if gender is hard, I’d affirm as fast as my brain could process the question. Cisgender people don’t get how hard it can be and it’s not a fault of their own either. They just don’t have to deal with all of the internal and external difficulties as those who break the binary do. What they can do, though, is be respectful. Because even if gender isn’t something to ponder and question and agonize over for days or weeks or months or even years for them, it is for us.

Not every agender person is the same, of course. But the day my partner asked if I wanted to go by my deadname still or if I’d decided on a new name, was the day in my life I felt the best about myself. People say not to make your life your gender, which I agree with. My life isn’t my gender. But my gender, and acceptance of it, is what makes my life one that I’m happy to be living.

Sasha Valeria is a Nonbinary writer and editor, alongside being one of the head admins of the Asexuality and Aromantic Discord server. They love reading, writing, coding, and gaming, and don't like interacting with people much. Having dealt with losing the ability to speak due to muscle strain conditions, they spend most of the time in their room.

I Got It

by Sebastian Noël

 

I think I got it

At fourteen zoning out on the knoll

Thinking about how there’s no magic coming

My body’s on a set course from now to oblivion

No magic spell to cross the binary is coming

And nothing made me more sad than that

 

I think I got it

I never would’ve assumed so

I suppose I was unhappy with myself

Until my body started resembling an unwelcome guest

Maybe I just never gave it much thought

I let people paint and put a name on it

When they craved hair like an indicator

Not talking about the mop on their head

Talking about the hair that solidifies chromosomes

“I know you hate it but why would that matter?”

Yeah I really let them have their way

Threw away my ‘me’ and let the wolves fight it out

No reason to complain right? I had it good

Getting the clout of my peers, it’s good right?

Love, fame, and a living wage, that’s good right?

Knocking back 12 shots just to cope, that’s good right?

Crying in the mirror, that’s the good stuff right?

Saving none of your love for yourself, that’s the good thing yeah?

I had what they wanted, it never looked like suffering

So no one ever lent a hand, just let it all slide

Why’s that? I know why’s that

That’s why I think I got it

 

Yeah I got it

When I tell them I’m not of their number

But they don’t care, they got a bone to pick

Man man man, they gotta throw down hands

And nothing makes me more ill

Makes me wanna tear my skin off

Rip my organs out and rearrange them

In a way where they’ll start to see me

Do I wanna? No, but it’s like I gotta

Cos I got it, but they have to see I got it

I got the scars but, nah I ain’t got it

Somedays I feel like one way, so I don’t got it

 

Sebastian Noël is a nonbinary autistic poet, artist, and general stuff-er from the UK. Alongside poems they are currently writing their ongoing comic: 'Toerag' which explores neurodiversity and gender identity from a light-hearted kid’s point of view. For more poems visit: http://thetartanprelude.tumblr.com/ For comics visit: https://tapas.io/series/Toerag
My Twitter can be found @lnc0

On Gender (and Lack Thereof)

by Lijavi Toledo Loaiza

Two months ago, while in the movie theater, of all places, a sudden thought popped into my head.

I have no idea what gender is.

Absolutely no clue. I understand the basic concept and that it’s a thing that other people experience, but, just like with sexual attraction, I lack the ability to grasp what it actually is. Exactly the same as in that case, there isn’t a void inside me where gender should be. I’m not missing anything. Whatever metaphorical slot gender is supposed to fit into within me simply doesn’t exist. Again, just like with sexual attraction, a lifetime of confusion and struggling to fit into a box that spit me out as soon as I tried to set foot inside it suddenly made sense.

I’m not a woman. I always suspected that I wasn’t a real girl, and not only because the girls in 2nd grade said it was impossible for me not to like pink despite supposedly being a girl (never mind  my argument that assigning genders to colors was ridiculous). I rejected being ladylike and wearing dainty shoes that you couldn’t play in the mud in and I loved playing with toy trains and cars and wearing pants whenever possible. But I didn’t attribute these inclinations to not feeling like a girl. I just liked certain things and didn’t like others. My parents didn’t shove traditional social norms down my throat, but all explanations for why boys and girls are expected to act in certain, different ways just made me angry because they made no sense. Adults were supposed to be these wiser beings, and yet they insisted on getting this basic fact wrong. Hair and clothes and toys and careers and nothing whatsoever that I could think of could possibly be determined by gender. I couldn’t envision anything that made less sense.

I rejected it all immediately, only growing angrier upon discovering that it wasn’t a small amount of clearly deluded people who thought that way, but everyone around me. And everyone on TV, and in books, and in magazines. Everyone. I felt like the only sane person in The Twilight Zone.

Years passed. I thought I must be a girl by default because there were only two genders, but it still didn’t feel right. But I wasn’t a boy, either, because even the term “tomboy,” which the media I consumed only used to refer to girls, also didn’t fit. I wasn’t a boy, so I wasn’t going to refer to myself as one, even if that wasn’t what the word actually meant.

Then I learned about trans people (only within the binary), and thought that maybe I was a boy. That lasted about two seconds because I immediately went “nope.” And every time I revisited the issue and tried to lean fully into the boy side of things, I got thrown back, but I couldn’t retreat to the girl side, either, because that also rejected me. I was in a limbo between two cities that both had closed its gates to me and all I could see outside of them was a wasteland where nothing grew or lived.

It took over three decades of living to discover the terms “non-binary” and “genderqueer,” as well as a plethora of others that I’m still learning. A light bulb lit in my head.

You can be something other than a man or a woman? Actual options? Omg! I wasn’t in limbo land anymore! I fit somewhere! Yay!

Except… I was still clinging to the idea of having a gender. I’d yearned to find out what it was for so long, to feel that certainty and comfort in your gender that everyone else around me did, that when the word “agender” showed up on Tumblr, I read the description, went “that’s not me,” and moved on. I needed a gender. I wanted one so badly that I tricked myself into believing that I really did feel a gender. It was there. I just didn’t know what it was, and none of the many terms that I looked at seemed to fit, but I couldn’t be genderless. People have genders. Okay, so some people didn’t have genders, but I definitely had one.

Just like I definitely felt sexual attraction, and that blog post about asexuality that I related to was wrong. Yup, I was wrong that time, too.

It was a headcanon that did it. It wasn’t even the first time that I’ve had a non-binary headcanon for a character I love. It was one of the moments that had no linear progression from one second to the next. I saw a post on Tumblr from someone who shared my headcanon, then, two hours later, I was watching that character on the big screen, and it came to me. I almost gasped in the theater.

No, I don’t have a gender. And no matter how many articles I read about gender, I’m going to be the outsider looking in who can only partly grasp what people are talking about when they refer to that visceral sense of gender inside of them, because it’s completely outside of my experience. I can only see the ripples that gender constructs and the expectations it casts on the world. And I’m good with that now. Being agender is okay. Just like being ace is okay. It’s taken me thirty-four years of cycling through incomprehension and anger and frustration and back to confusion to finally find acceptance and happiness in discovering what my real identity is. And I’m so relieved.

 

Lijavi Toledo Loaiza is a Latinx, neurodivergent, bi ace writer. They’re working on their first novel, which encompasses their several, intersecting identities, as well as others, in an attempt to put some representation out there. You can find their thoughts on Twitter @lijavitoledo

The Skirt

by C. Bougie

The skirt doesn’t quite fit: your hair is too short, thighs too thick — feminine… Not enough balance, or something. The skirt doesn’t fit. What would help? A long/violet wig? Different shoes? If you only had a different body. If you could only alter you as in a game, stretching cheekbones and thinning legs to mannish ones, pulling out little hairs along your chin — if only it were cheap. Easy. Common. The skirt doesn’t fit; you unzip and pull it off. Stand there in your underwear, exposed.

The skirt never fits, or hardly ever does — it fit once or twice, on those euphoric days of which there have only been a few, maybe four days: where you lay on the carpet floor of your childhood bedroom feeling good about yourself and your gender; the skirt didn’t matter because you were on a high — you have now been drunk once, post twenty-one, so you can say it now, that feeling of gender euphoria is like feeling drunk. That night you drank yourself high you were stumbling in the downtown night telling the woman beside you I feel like a cloud, not very poetic but realistic —you were happy, floating on the proverbial high of science. Gender euphoria, rare, feels quite similar: you are happy because you stopped caring, ten minutes past, about the crook of your glasses and the length of your skirt along your thin, girlish legs; you feel, for once, like you. It comes maybe every five months or so—you are reading a novel about a similar character to your own when it occurs to you that you are okay — that you are a boy — and that you have, for an hour, at least, emerged from your fog. Or you watch an inspirational film at the end of which you cry out all your confused pain. Or you take a shot of testosterone (prepare the vial, the needle, penetrate the former with the latter, draw up, push out bubbles, stick the thing into your stomach and push) and you know that now things are alright. You are lying on the carpet floor of your childhood bedroom with a stuffed unicorn and its ten siblings peering down at your lying body and you are wearing the skirt and it splays like a paint splash across the soft lines of your thighs, the old carpet. You take a shot of testosterone and it stings, but you get to wipe the red blood bead from your skin and then bandage it over, like love. It is literal self-love, you think, and grin.

You look into the mirror in your father’s bathroom and do not recognize yourself, so you look a little longer, staring until you start to take on the old shape. Your head does not match the rest of your body — your head does not match your hair — you were born with wrong parts and the godly quest, ingrained, to find new ones. In which holy, gold grail will your future chest lie? Physical transition is a matter, you consider, of receiving and removing. You are trying to lose the breasts. Maybe then, you think, you will achieve heaven. Maybe then, you will have run yourself free from wonderland

 

C. Bougie is an undergraduate English major at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with focuses in creative writing and LGBTQ+ studies. Find more of their work at cpbwrites.wordpress.com.

Untraditional

by Audrey Duarte

 

I sometimes wonder what this life would be

If everyone could be accepted as

Themselves; just you as you, and me as me,

And them as them, and all that other jazz.

For if I must be judged I wish it were

Not by a label slapped on me at birth.

I hope the content of my character

And not my pants determines now my worth.

I’m not a woman nor am I a man

Nor any gender known under the sun.

It is this simple fact of who I am

That leads the world not to accept but shun.

          Yet I still know that I’m worthy of love

          Whate’er my gender—or my lack thereof.

 

Audrey is a 22-year-old recent grad trying to answer that ancient question, "Now what?" She is a genderless panromantic asexual, writes poetry when the mood strikes, and is passionate about social justice and the arts. You can find her on Twitter @aduarte96 as long as you don't expect anything too exciting. (Yet!)

Thoughts on being a fem agender: And never feeling queer enough.

by Shei


I have always admired androgynous people. In a world in which our identity is scripted, even before we are born (just look at most parents' craze around the sex of their future baby), I think dancing to the beat of your own drum is a beautiful act of defiance. However, as I became more involved in the queer community, I have come to the realization that gender non-conformity exists in many forms. I will come back to that later.

I know gender is a complex issue, constantly questioned, fabulously multi-faceted and never quite fully understood. I have always been attracted by its ambiguities, its blank spaces in which masculinity and femininity co-exist without ever being clearly defined. As I grew older and started to dig into the wonderful realm of gender studies I realized gender was a social construct, separated from any biological perspectives. This gradually led me to the idea that if my gender was (as Butler puts it) a performance, then I could not only play with it but also make it disappear. And after intense periods of questioning, studying and discussing with other non-binary folks, I realized that I did not relate to the concepts of femininity or masculinity. In fact I did not relate to anything at all.

To me, gender is an expression of the self. I know that for some people it is deeply linked to who they are and how they want to be seen, which I absolutely respect. However, I realized that in my case I would rather consider my gender as a blank slate. As someone who had deeply suffered from anxiety, loneliness, bullying, self-doubts, and other perks of being an introvert, being a queer and geeky teenager playing with my identity was a way to reconstruct the self I was never allowed to love. By dissing all common fashion sense in a campy mix of cute skirts, comic book tee-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, oversized hats, and flower prints, I discovered that I could use my appearance to feel more confident and empowered. This playful exploration (even if it came with some questionable fashion choices I would mostly like to forget) led me to the realization that I did not have to conform to what society expected me to be. I did not have to be feminine because I was born with certain genitalia. I did not have to be masculine to prove my point either. I could just be me.

As social beings we are conditioned to categorize people as male or female and understandably so: categories make us feel safe, in control. However, I do not feel like gender is important to me. I do not care if people perceive me as male or female, even though, in a heavily patriarchal world, refusing to be one or the another becomes an act of defiance. Do not get me wrong, I think there are powerful ways to reclaim masculinity and femininity. But what if we could learn to become more flexible, to leave people space for exploration, growth, and self-discovery? If gender was seen as more fluid, less essential to who we are, maybe people would feel less obligated to conform to socially scripted performances. Maybe we could just be ourselves and feel good about it.

This is why I do not think appearance should be gendered. It took me a long time to realize that androgyny did not mean being white, thin, heavily- tattooed/pierced, and only wearing 'masculine' clothes. Gender-neutral individuals are still commodified, even in queer communities in which they are deemed more desirable. Feminine-looking individuals are often seen as impostors, either victims of patriarchal codes or cisgender males in disguise trying to infiltrate spaces they do not belong. As someone assigned female I've thus had a hard time defining myself as fem (in other words someone whose gendered presentation is on the feminine spectrum). Even if I would love to rock a more gender-neutral presentation, I feel like femininity is what I am the most comfortable with. Because I spent most of my youth feeling like an ugly duckling, taking care of my appearance has become my way to navigate the exterior world. I like having long hair and wearing a bit of make-up because it makes me feel beautiful. I'd rather wear fabulous dresses than pants because they fit my curves better (thank you body issues) and are a lot of fun to play with. I like jewelry, bright colors, and cute accessories because they allow me to express myself. I do not think my gender expression and style are better than anyone else's: I just feel it is what fits me best. As a feminist, I also feel like embracing my femininity is an act of resistance. For marginalized people, taking care of others, daring to be vulnerable and fighting our internalized misogyny is a powerful move. This is why I have come to consider myself as a fem agender. Because my gender expression does not invalidate my gender identity. Because neutrality should not be defined as necessarily masculine.

However, embracing my femininity still comes with its issues. Even if many people believe that gendered presentation (how you look) does not define your gender identity (how you feel), queer people have to constantly prove themselves, even in their own communities. This can be explained by the fact that marginalized folks have the tendency to reproduce, even unconsciously, the oppressions they are subjected to. By questioning other people's identity if they do not look a certain way or are dating someone of the opposite sex we recreate the same scrutinies we have to face in our everyday lives. This creates an atmosphere in which many gender non-conforming folks feel like they are never good enough. Instead of supporting each other, we become afraid to express who we are for fear of being considered frauds. This is why it is important to rethink how we see bodies, clothing, and self presentation in general. Queer culture is all about deconstructing heteropatriarcal and cissexist norms — a fact that I have embraced by stepping out of gendered categories altogether. And do not get me wrong, I do not think my experiences reflect those of other LGBTQ people in general. My only wish is to be able to embrace my own identity as I see most fit. No matter how I look, I do not belong to any gendered category. I am just being me.


Shei is a French queer freelance writer, witch, and LGBT jewelry crafter. They identify as agender (they/them), can rock any hair color, and are passionate about feminism, pop culture, and gender studies. They can be found on Instagram (@_godsavethequeer_) and Tumblr (outer-space-unicorn.tumblr.com).

Słowa, z których składa się samotność

by Ginny N.

Stoję w ciemnej kuchni ze szklanką gorącej herbaty w dłoni; oparta o kuchenny blat patrzę przez okno. Lubię te wieczory i te krótkie chwile, zanim ktoś wparuje do pomieszczenia zapalając światło — i nawet go po sobie nie zgasi, choć widzi, że mnie nie jest do niczego potrzebne. Czuję ogromną samotność. Prawdopodobnie nie znam jeszcze terminu agender, ale wiem, że jestem inna – także od moich przyjaciół, a co dopiero od ludzi, z którymi w tamtym domu żyję. Tego wieczora myślę o oswajaniu samotności, skoro jest ona inherentną częścią mnie. Tak jest lżej. Przynajmniej na jakiś czas.

Długo, kiedy myślę o sobie, myślę: kobieta, skoro biologicznie wszystko świadczy, że nią jestem. Skoro nie mam dysforii (chyba nie mam, dzisiejsza ja nie jest pewna, jak to do końca dla niej działa). Jednocześnie nie potrafię powiedzieć, co czyni mnie kobietą. To po prostu „fakt, [wstaw wzruszenie ramion tutaj]”, myślę. I, równocześnie: żadnej z cech, które się na mnie składają na mnie nie potrafię opisać jako inherentnie kobiecej. Jako ludzką, jak najbardziej, każdą z nich, ale nie: kobiecą.

„Problem” w tym, że choć to ono jest mną, nie widzę siebie przez moje ciało. Nie porzez jego kształt. Gdy patrzę w lustro widzę: mnie. Tylko tyle. To nie moje piersi, ani macica definiują kim jestem, tak samo jak nie definiuje tego moja niepełnosprawna noga. To, kim jestem definiuje mój umysł. A choć zaprzątają go mocno kwestie feminizmu, nie czuje się kobietą czy mężczyzną. Wie, że jest tylko jakością dodaną do dwóch brył tłuszczu, które znają kilka zabawnych sztuczek.

Nie myślę o tej nieprzystawalności dużo, ale kiedy myślę zostaję z poznawczą pustką. Co to znaczy być kobietą? Wpisywać się w stereotyp płci? Wyłamywać się z niego? Nie potrafię — choć próbuję — tego nijak poczuć. Aż kiedyś wracam tramwajem do mieszkania (już innego, bez ludzi, którzy nigdy nie byli moją rodziną) i myślę, że może jestem agender. Że po prostu istnieję poza płcią. Ta myśl przynosi mi ulgę. I pozwala posunąć się w moim rozumowaniu o krok dalej. Płeć zawsze była dla mnie czymś nieprawdziwym. Abstraktem, w żaden sposób niezakotwiczonym w rzeczywistości. Nie była czymś czym zamierzałam lub chciałam się przejmować (choć jako osoba świadoma wszechobecnego patrarchatu, niestety, muszę).

Od zawsze czuję się poza. Głęboko niewidzialna. Czasami to dobre poczucie — wygodne, dla mojej introwertyczności. Częściej jednak ciąży. Choć lubię to kim jestem i dobrze czuję się ze swoją aromantycznością, aseksualnością i agenderowością, trawi mnie też myśl, że te trzy słowa ujmują tę część mnie, przez którą tak łatwo się o mnie zapomina. W taki zwykły, codzienny sposób, gdy cisheteronorma i seksualizacja wskroś przenikają rzeczywistość i, także te jej aspekty, które pozornie nie mają nic wspólnego z seksem czy romansem. Jak wtedy, gdy stoję w szkolnym korytarzu, a ktoś praktycznie na mnie wchodzi. Gdy po egzaminie nikt nie pyta: Idziesz z nami na piwo? Kiedy mieszkam w mieście, w którym nie mieszka żadne z moich przyjaciół i przez cały ten czas nie odwiedzi mnie tu żadne z nich. Okruszki zbierające się pod opuszkami palców i drażniące skórę bardziej niż powinny.

Jesteśmy, jako gatunek, organizmami biologicznymi, które wmawiają sobie, że są czymś więcej, a jednocześnie wszystko w naszych społeczeństwach podporządkowane jest pociągającej za niewidzialne sznurki biologii. To tak jakby ludzkość, z pełną świadomością grawitacji, stanęła na rękach i upierała się, że jeśli puści ziemię: upadnie w niebo. Nie jest łatwo być tym, na kogo faktycznie nie działa grawitacja.

Poczucie samotności wraca. Dobrze jest mieć więcej słów, które pozwalają ją zrozumieć i osadzić we mnie. Nawet jeśli bywa, że te słowa ciążą. I że sama myśl o potencjalnym tłumaczeniu ich większej części ludzi, których spotykam każdego dnia, sprawia, że zaczyna brakować mi łyżek. Dobrze jest je mieć, choć utwierdzają mnie w przekonaniu, że moja samotność nigdy nie zniknie. I że, tak jak myślałam te kilka lat temu: mogę ją co najwyżej oswoić i do pewnego stopnia polubić.

Provided below is an automated translation of Ginny N.’s piece. This is for accessibility purposes only and is not meant to supplant the original version:

I am standing in a dark kitchen with a glass of hot tea in my hand; leaning on a kitchen counter, I look out the window. I like these evenings and those short moments before someone enters the room, lighting up the light — and will not even extinguish it, although he sees that I am not needed for anything. I feel huge loneliness. I probably do not know the term agender yet, but I know that I'm different — also from my friends, let alone the people I live with in that house. That evening I think about taming loneliness, since it is an inherent part of me. It is easier. At least for some time.

For a long time, when I think about myself, I think: a woman, since everything biologically proves that I am her. Since I do not have dysphoria (I probably do not have it, today I am not sure how it works for the rest). At the same time, I can not say what makes me a woman. It's just "the fact [put a shrug here]", I think. And, at the same time: I can not describe any of the features that make up me on me as inherently feminine. As human, most of all, each of them, but not: feminine.

The "problem" is that although it is me, I do not see myself through my body. Not by its shape. When I look in the mirror I see: me. Just enough. It's not my breasts or my uterus that define who I am, just as my disabled leg does not define it. Who I am defines my mind. And although feminism is very intriguing to him, he does not feel like a woman or a man. He knows that he is only a quality added to two lumps of fat that know some funny tricks.

I do not think about this incompatibility much, but when I think I'm staying with cognitive emptiness. What does it mean to be a woman? Fitting into the gender stereotype? Break out of him? I can not — although I try — feel nothing at all. Until one day I come back to the apartment by tram (no one else, no people who have never been my family) and I think maybe I am an agender. That I simply exist outside of sex. This thought brings me relief. And it allows me to go a step further in my reasoning. Sex has always been something untrue for me. An abstract, in no way anchored in reality. It was not something that I intended or wanted to care about (though as a person aware of the omnipresent patrarchate, unfortunately, I have to).

I've always felt outside. Deep invisible. Sometimes it's a good feeling - comfortable, for my introversion. More often, however, she is pregnant. Although I like who I am and I feel good about my aroma, asexuality, and agenderism, I also think that these three words capture the part of me that makes me forget so easily. In such an ordinary, everyday way, when cisheteronormativity and sexualization permeate reality and, also those aspects that seemingly have nothing to do with sex or romance. Like when I'm standing in the school corridor, and someone is practically stepping on me. When after the exam no one asks: Are you going with us for a beer? When I live in a city where none of my friends live, and none of them will visit me all this time. Crumbs that gather under the fingertips and irritate the skin more than they should.

We are, as a species, biological organisms that tell ourselves that they are something more, and at the same time everything in our societies is subordinated to attracting the invisible strings of biology. It is as if humanity, with full consciousness of gravity, stands on its hands and insists that if it releases the earth, it will fall into the sky. It is not easy to be who gravity actually does not work on.

The feeling of loneliness is coming back. It is good to have more words that allow her to understand and settle in me. Even if it happens that these words weigh. And that the mere thought of the potential translation of most of the people I meet every day makes me miss my spoons. It is good to have them, although they confirm my conviction that my loneliness will never disappear. And that, as I thought these few years ago: I can only tame it and to a certain extent to like it.

 

Ginny N. – an aromantic, asexual, agender atheist from Poland. Feminist and aspiring SFF writer, who creates diverse queer characters as a default. Also writes essays for Gallifrey.pl and Lewa ręka fantastyki about Doctor Who and about pop culture in general from a leftist perspective. Pronouns are she/her, they/them or no pronouns at all.

How to Appreciate Unwanted Things

by Lore Graham

 

Before he’ll unlock the museum doors,

he asks you to change your thinking.

You promise enthusiastically, emptily,

knowing what he wants to hear

but not understanding it at all.

 

“Once I let you in, admire the relics,

compliment them,” he reminds you,

“but accept their obsolescence.”

You can’t help but think them pretty

even stashed in dusty boxes.

 

Months later, the papers report arson,

callous destruction of beautiful property,

and you weep for long-misplaced relics.

 

He sheds tears for your ignorance, but breathes

relief, unburdened of long-unwanted antiques.

 

Welcome Drought

by Lore Graham

Some hard days xe walks along

the desiccated riverbed again.

On the worst days, xe bends down,

scoops up flecks of copper mud,

brings them to xyr lips when xe yearns

for that old taste of brackish water.

 

Fewer days are hard now. More often,

xe sucks on butterscotch or licorice,

leaning back in xyr rocking chair with

a dog-eared book and a flop-eared dog.

Xe listens to the grass shiver in the wind,

no longer dampened by crying estuary.

 

Xyr parents — both dentists — liked xyr

house better before the dam was built.

They live on a hill; they’ve never lost their

vinyls and egg crates to the jealous sea.

 

They call xym on the phone sometimes.

By mutual unspoken agreement, no

one speaks of the dam, though xe knows

what they think, and they know

xe knows.

 

When xe hangs up, xe smiles, only a touch

sad that xe can't ask for saltwater taffy

anymore.

 

Lore Graham is an agender speculative fiction writer who lives in Massachusetts. When ze isn’t writing poetry or romance, ze’s usually cooking, cross-stitching, or spending time with zir cat. You can find more of zir work at grahamlore.com.

An Impostor: and other abstract thoughts

by (Grappling Hooks)

Sometimes, I feel like an impostor. A poser. To the world, I am a male. I have the parts in working condition. I must be male.

          Am I male?

          Am I?

          I must be, otherwise… “What are you, freak?!” The demons that dwell in my head scream at me.

          “You can’t not have a gender!”

          “What are you, an idiot?”

          “If you look like a he, you’re a he. Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

          I somehow always manage to pull myself out of this train of thought. I don’t know how I do it.

          There’s this weird incongruity betwixt how I see me and how society sees me. Excluding a few close friends and others online due to wonderful internet anonymity, I am not “out” as agender. It’s the same thing with my asexuality. How can you describe the feeling of lacking an attribute that nearly all the world shares. How do I explain how I don’t have a gender. Will I get acceptance or outright denial of such a claim? Does it matter?

          I’ve been thinking a lot about gender recently, or more specifically, my lack thereof. I think about how I use the facade of a male for every day-to-day life. It’s not that I’m comfortable in my body, nor am I uncomfortable. It’s just… detached. This feeling has plagued my thoughts. I thought it was abnormal. Well, in a sense, it is. If I were to use the term “abnormal” to mean not-widespread, then it would be. But that doesn’t, or rather shouldn’t matter to me. Should it?

          Playing the mask of male isn’t the only way I think I’m an impostor. I’m also not agender. I can’t be. I must merely be pretending. How can I know what I don’t have?

          The second-guessing, it’s evident in my writing. You could see it in my thoughts if you could read my mind. One thing that has really helped placate me was developing my own model of understanding gender. I even made a video on it. Here, I’ll quote a relevant part: “There would also be a condition of a ‘lack of agreement or disagreement,’ or general apathy, this is how I view my agenderism (though some agender individuals may view this in alternate ways, you get the basic gist).”

          I guess it’s the writing that helped. There’s something about articulating my thoughts that I find comforting. Hey look, it’s happening right now!

          Is it weird that I don’t know what I’m supposed to be writing? I wanted to write about how I feel like an impostor in some sort of “doublethink” kind of way. I guess I veered off-track. I started writing about my inner thoughts and feelings and now I’m writing about how I’m writing about my inner thoughts and feelings. That can really throw someone off, that level of meta. Hmm… should I write about some personal experiences now?

          Alright, let’s see. I really only started to figure out that I was agender after I started to get to the root of what gender is. Ideas festered in my mind and I made an entire YouTube video based on that. It was a weird attempt at reconciling the ideas of social constructivism, performativism, and innateness.

          If I believed gender was nothing but a social construct, doesn’t that mean everyone would technically be agender? That’s a point I was at for some time. That caused a lot of issues as well. I didn’t know what I was. Some sort of thing?

          Y’know, I’ve noticed a weird trend in my writing. I absolutely love italics. See, I did it again?!

          As I’m writing this out on my computer, my word processor keeps wanting to correct the term “agender” to “gender.” Literally converting a word to its antonym.

          At some point, recently, I had commented that I was the four a’s. Asexual. Aromantic. Atheist. Agender. Another way that I find myself second-guessing myself. I think that I might like identifying with things that I’m not. Is my agenderism a phase? Am I caught up in some leftist conspiracy to destroy gender, obliterate Western civilization, and turn the FRICKIN’ FROGS GAY?!

          Probably. Do I care? No. Something else that has been common with me recently, apathy. It comes in waves of lethargy, I just don’t care. Is that normal? Again, do I care? No.

          I’ve noticed that I’m struggling to stick to the topic of agenderism. It does seem a bit difficult to write about one’s lack of a gender identity, to be honest.  Maybe I’ll touch up on one more topic before I leave.

          Toxic masculinity. How am I still affected by it? I guess years of conditioning don’t just evaporate once you realize a truth about yourself.

          I really should be wrapping up now, I borrowed some books from the library and need to finish them up before I return them.

"Once upon a time..."

by (Grappling Hooks)

Note: This entry is a spiritual continuation of "An Impostor."

Once upon a time there was a little child who thought too much. All day, the child would think. The child's parents didn't like that. They were concerned for their child. How was their child to grow up, get a steady job, get married, and carry on the family name if the child were to think all day? The child's peers were not fond of the child as well. They were cruel to the child. They taunted and teased. The minor annoyances that children inflict upon others. The child went to school as well. The child's school teachers did not like the child either. To them, the child was a danger. A disruption. The child was defiant of their authority, contradicted them.

The child really did think too much.

The child thought this too. Day and night, in waking hour and sleep, thoughts were the plague of the child's mind. Thoughts beginning with "Why?" and "How?" The child knew this was not normal. The child was aware of their abnormalities in other ways as well. For instance, the child never seemed to be interested in matters of love. This was no concern for the child at merely six years of age, but, as time passed, it started to become noticeable as they entered adolescence.

Just as well, the child realized something else: the child did not like pink or blue. Did not fit the divide. The child was pushed to one side, the side befitting what was between the child's legs. Forced and shackled to a color, the child grew sad. The child grew detached. The child went quietly, putting on an act of blue. The act was so good, the child even fooled themself. Years later, the child saw through their own lies. The child is not happy, but the child knows. The child knows that they stand apart from ideas of blue or pink entirely. The child knows, and that is enough.  

Grappling Hooks is an aroace, agender individual. Ey is a second-generation Indian-American immigrant who lives in New Jersey. Ey uses They/Them or Ey/Em pronouns. Plays the guitar, sings, has a YouTube channel, and a Twitter which can be found @HooksGrappling

Little Revelations

by Alex Barnes

It’s a strange thing, how often you can make new discoveries about yourself in such a short amount of time. Realizing I saw myself as agender was one of those times, although it wasn’t a gradual progression for me. It came to me, rather suddenly, as I was lying down to go to sleep one night. There’s always a common link between lying in bed at night and having these kinds of thoughts; having realizations about one’s life. It was like a sudden spotlight flicking on, revealing where I was on the stage, and showing me, finally, what character I was. In that moment, I realized I didn’t see myself as male or female. Neither of the words seemed to fit. As I thought on it more, I started thinking that they might never have to begin with.

I was thrilled to have had this revelation and gain a better understanding of myself, but it came with some degree of regret as well. I kept thinking, for months after realizing it and trying out neutral pronouns, that it would have been so much better if I had known this years ago and had more time to get comfortable with this new sense of self. I could have made use of the LGBT resource center at college. That could’ve been another way of making connections and meeting more people. People like myself.

Since graduating and moving back home, I’ve been struggling with depression and a kind of longing for the past. I kept wishing I could go back to where I was in college. I had friends there and a sense of purpose. I had a clear sense of who I was and who I wanted to be.

I felt I had lost that once I graduated. Many of my friends had moved away or moved on to new parts of their lives and it was harder to keep in contact with them. It’s not something I blame them for or hold against them, but it still didn’t make things easier. I became lost in my day job, which didn’t provide the same kind of stimulation, instead giving way to daily repetition. I didn’t feel like myself at all, or really like anyone at all. I had the usual outlets to keep me afloat; friends, family and hobbies, but it often felt like it wasn’t as effective, like the power that it once had was slowly dwindling.

Yet this sparked a sense of self in me again. There was something new I was realizing about myself that could, potentially, take my life in a new direction and break me out of the rut that I found myself mired in. This was in May 2017 and it has been just over a year since then. I found communities online, started attending pride events, and encountered people who were like me. My expansive social circle that had once dwindled started to grow again.

This fairly major discovery gave way to smaller discoveries that kept coming to me over the course of the next year. I kept finding new revelations that explained things about myself, things that I never fully understood when I was young. Invariably, it often had to do with how I presented myself online. It had become a convenient way to explore my identity, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it.

It’s more common for people to show what they look like when they’re on the internet now. People want to show their appearance, which there’s nothing wrong with. When I was a kid though, that wasn’t really the case. In school, I was encouraged to not show what I looked like online or even give out my real name. Everyone in my class was taught this, actually. We had to watch a whole presentation about how you never truly know who or how many people were on the other side of the monitor. They never said it outright, but the general default seemed to land on the other person being a murderer, so you never wanted them to know where you lived or what you looked like. Someone showing you a picture of themselves was a rare thing and a sign of trust, in my experience.

I had a few people ask me to show a picture, although I rarely actually used pictures of myself. There were people I was close to that earned that privilege, but more commonly I would use a picture of a random person, usually taking from street photography I found online. I wouldn’t claim to be the person in the photo, but I would claim that’s basically how I look. I thought I was very clever, but I’m sure it’s a ruse no one actually fell for.

Yet there was a common theme in all the photos I chose. Invariably, the person was someone whose gender could not be determined simply by looking at them. They were always more androgynous. At the time, I don’t think I was aware of any reason why. The photos I chose unearthed something in me, giving me that feeling of seeing myself even though I was fully aware it wasn’t and it wasn’t even close to how I actually looked. Yet, when I look on it now, it almost feels like I was showing how I wished I looked. My ideal face.

I’ve always struggled with having what was considered a generally masculine appearance. I’ve had frequent anxiety about having facial hair and body hair. I never wanted chest hair or arm hair, yet I have it all the same. It was a way of vicarious living, I suppose. Lately it’s been easier to find things I like about my body, but it’s not always an easy thing to do. Like most things, it takes practice, I imagine. Although, I get better as time goes on.

In a way, that was the advantage of having an online presence. I could cultivate this image I wanted of myself. Some saw it as deception, building relationships off of a lie, and it was. I didn’t think it was as harmful. Most of that attitude seemed to be from people who preferred I be female, because of the potential of an online relationship. I never pretended to be female or claimed to be. Most people assumed I was based off the way I spoke online. It came off as more feminine to people, as I’d been told. Yet somehow, I was fine with that. People mistaking me for a girl, strangely, didn’t get under my skin.

However, when I did consider myself male, only a few people actually knew, and sometimes they would tell strangers and I found that infuriating. I didn’t want people to know. I still didn’t want people to think I was female either. I didn’t want people to think anything. At the time, I justified it as people not wanting to form an opinion of me based on my gender. I wanted it to be thought of based on how I acted as a person. Though people seem to assume one or the other anyway. I suppose it’s a natural curiosity in people.

At the time, the only categories in my head were “male” and “female.” It could’ve been that, without realizing it, I was taking the only option I knew of that was the closest to saying “neither.” It didn’t make sense to me at the time. I didn’t understand why I was doing these things or why these things upset me, even as they were happening. It was just my natural, intrinsic reaction. It was not something I could explain.

It became clear to me as to why when I had the realization of who I was. For me, it explained all of those things and numerous others. More than I would’ve imagined, and seemingly more all the time. It should be overwhelming, it seems like, but it’s made my life feel more stable.

In the end, these little revelations helped ease my anxiety. The initial anxiety I felt was feeling like I discovered it too late. I felt as though I had wasted many years of my life not knowing who I was, and I kept thinking how many years I could have had and how much better it all would have been.

But the past is the past. That’s the important thing that I have to remember. As a hobby of mine, reading has often helped me understand myself at different times of my life, and this was no exception. The mantra that has been coming to mind, one I came across years ago in the series A Song of Ice and Fire, is a simple one: “If I look back, I am lost.” The important thing to remember is to not look to the past or what could have been. What matters is who we are going forward. Yet it’s hard not to wonder, which is how those revelations helped. Even if I didn’t have the word for it at the time, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t who I discovered myself to be. Would it have been better? Possibly. There’s no way to tell. The way the past could have been has just as much uncertainty as the way the future can be. The only difference is that the future can be what you make of it. The way I’ve begun to see it, I was always who I am, even if I wasn’t aware of it. Going forward into the future, I can embrace it, and live that life now. It is never too late to start the life you want.

Alex was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota and studied creative writing St. Cloud State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2014. They identify as both asexual and agender. They previously wrote reviews for video games for the sites PlayStation Home Gazette, PowerUp Gaming and Twin Cities Geek. Stories have been a lifelong passion of theirs, whether it’s reading them or telling them. They primarily write fiction, with stories spanning across multiple genres. While they keep their tastes broad, the fantasy, science fiction and horror genres are very close to their heart.

Pronouns are for Other People

by Heidi Samuelson

I had a good friend recently ask me about my pronouns. And, interestingly, they are the first person in my life ever to do so. But my answer to the question is complicated.

Because what is a pronoun? It’s a word that substitutes for a noun, and a personal pronoun is associated with a grammatical person, as in, first, second, or third.

First person is easy.

I was agender before I even knew that was a word.

I was assigned female at birth. I was socialized as a girl, as a woman. I never particularly identified with things associated with femininity, but I never identified with masculinity either. My favorite toys weren’t dolls or trucks, but animals. And like every kid, I liked dinosaurs to the point where I said I wanted to be a paleontologist.

My parents never forced me into particularly gendered interests. I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. At the same time, I was never told I had to do something because I was a girl. No one ever told me to be more ladylike. Gender roles weren’t emphasized to me by my family in ways that I can remember.

I liked reading and music and basketball and movies. I had friends who were girls and boys. And these things are still true as I’ve gotten older.

If you look at my brain and the way I process information, I’m more “rational” than “emotional.” I’m not particularly nurturing. I like talking about ideas more than I like talking about people. And these are things unfairly associated with men.

There was a meme going around a few years ago where you were supposed to pick the three fictional characters that you were most like, and I chose Daria, Nick Miller, and Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else I saw do the meme stuck to characters that were the same gender as them, but I didn’t even think about it.

It was only as I got older when I realized that my gender mattered to other people, that it prevents me from feeling like I have bodily autonomy. That some of my interests are “weird.” I studied philosophy, one of the most male-dominated academic fields, and I was told in graduate school that I would never get a job except maybe as a department’s token feminist philosopher.

One thing I have most in common with other women is being unfairly treated, unwantedly hit on, talked over, never taken seriously, made to do secretarial tasks at jobs where I was not in a secretarial position. I’ve often wondered how my life would be different were I man.

But I know I’m not transgender. I don’t feel like I’m in the wrong body exactly.

I’d prefer being in a sexless body. I’d prefer being a brain in a vat.

I’m not genderfluid. I don’t move on a spectrum I feel like I’m not on in the first place.

When I’m alone, I don’t feel gendered. I don’t think of myself as a woman.

I’m just me, I am I, the first person.

Second person is rightfully impossible.

The ideas of masculinity and femininity are bogus, and we all know this even as we cling to them, because they’re so easy to disprove by the existence of people who don’t fit into them the way they “should.” And femininity doesn’t even really exist on its own; it is essentially just the negation of masculinity. Women are always a lack.

Biological sex exists on a spectrum and is based on far more indicators than the outward appearance of genitals or the ability to give birth. There are chromosomal factors that determine sex but with multiple variations that don’t neatly fit into male and female. There are corresponding hormones with variations in levels. But though the amount of certain hormones has been found to affect behavior, none of this means that there are strictly two genders that correspond neatly onto strictly two sexes.

You, the second person, are somewhere on these spectrums.

You exist in a culture that has its own gender norms. You have your own psychology and set of experiences that no one else has access to. You know if you don’t fit into the role you’ve been given or the body you were born with.

But you usually have to choose one or the other.

Social practices have worked to take biological averages and use them to reinforce a social gender binary. Our current form of capitalism has run with the notion of pink and blue as a way for parents to broadcast their child’s gender to the world before the child is even born. Capitalism loves rigid distinctions, because categories can easily be marketed to.

And so gender is a pink tax as girls and women pay more for clothing and shampoo. Gender is a category used to establish social hierarchy and is found at the heart of a toxic rape culture that allows one half of the population to feel justified in dominating over the other half, often in domestic settings. We’ve legitimated violence against anyone who doesn’t fit into two gender categories because of some statistical biological tendencies.

This binary is so important to people and important to our social practices that we all fit into one box or the other. Are you an M or an F? You get asked this in strange places like buying a plane ticket, registering for university classes, or getting a library card, as if it could possibly matter.

I don’t know how anyone else experiences gender, I don’t know you, the second person, but I know you were forced to adhere to a gender in one way or another.

And if you fit, if your psychology and biology and social expectations all line up neatly into one end of the spectrum or the other, then you might not understand how and why not all of us do.

Third person is the problem.

When I’m with a few members of my family and a few close friends, I can sometimes just be me. I like to think that people who know me just see me and not a gender, but I’ll never really know if they do. I tend not to think about people’s genders, because I’m far more interested in a person’s ideas than anything else about them.

But people who know me always use “she” and “her” for me without hesitation.

The world assumes I’m a woman.

My body falls easily into the generic notion of human female. I have hips and breasts. I also keep my hair long so I can pull it off my face and because it’s easier to cut myself when it’s longer — a decade-old habit from being too poor to afford a haircut. I could hide under baggier clothes, and sometimes I do. If I’m being honest, I dress, generally, like a teenage boy. Sneakers and jeans and graphic t-shirts and flannel and hoodies.

But I’m still always she, her, miss, ma’am.

A stranger meeting me for the first time will see “woman” first and will automatically make assumptions about me without conscious thought. They will evaluate my body in terms of whatever the cultural ideal is and in doing so sum up my worth.

This also often means I will be automatically dismissed, not listened to, not believed, not liked, by both men and women, because we have been socialized to have automatic biases against women. It will be expected that I be “nice.”

There is significant research that shows men don’t believe women, women are generally seen as more untrustworthy than men, and men simply don’t believe that gender biases exist, even when provided empirical evidence to the contrary.

Other people need the categories, need the pronouns, need the shortcuts, because it makes life easier when you don’t have to think about why someone else might be different from you and what that means. Even our brains seek patterns and fill them in without conscious thought. Disruptions in the patterns make the brain work harder and use more energy, which is something none of our bodies like to do. Some anthropologists have suggested we simply have a natural tendency to think in binaries.

And all of this is why my answer to my friend was that I don’t really care about pronouns. I don’t feel strongly as a “she,” I’m just used to it. I certainly don’t feel like a “he.” I’m fine with “they,” but I feel like that is reserved for people who are non-binary but still have an identity.

I appreciate non-binary people who insist on “they.” I hope that by their insistence, they can normalize the use of “they” as a singular pronoun, because it should be. There should be language available for people who do not fit into the binaries, and it should be just as automatic in the third person and just as patterned into our speech as “he” and “she.”

But I just don’t feel non-binary or fluid.

I feel like nothing.

The thing about third-person pronouns is that they aren’t for you. These pronouns exist for other people to use to talk about you. And it doesn’t matter what I say or do or insist on, people are going to gender me as a woman anyway because of how I look, because of how they were socialized, because of how I have been shaped by the world around me and all the social structures I was born into.

I’m a statistical anomaly. An agender, aromantic, asexual person who resents being a biological entity and resents being in a society that won’t recognize any of these things about me anyway.

Getting accurate pronouns in a language that doesn’t think I exist isn’t a battle I can fight. Because getting my pronouns accurate doesn’t matter to anyone except maybe the friend who asked me the question in the first place.

To everyone else I’m “she.”

Heidi Samuelson is a writer based in Chicago and a former academic philosopher, earning her PhD in 2012. She wishes she knew what asexuality and aromanticism were when she was in her teens and early 20s. Her writing has appeared in the Open Court popular culture and philosophy series and can be found on Medium: @heidisamiam and Twitter: @heidisamiam.


Edited by

Michael Paramo is a two-spirit aromantic asexual and lead editor of The Asexual journal. As a graduate student studying (a)sexuality, gender, attraction, and intimacy, they have presented their research on historicizing asexuality at the National Women's Studies Association and have been selected for publication in a peer-reviewed journal to be released in late 2018. They aspire to live near the forest and the ocean one day and be fully embraced by the beauty and power of nature. They can be found on Twitter @homoasexual and @Michael_Paramo

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