On Gender (and Lack Thereof)
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.