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