*These ideas and opinions are my own, made up from my own experience, understanding and perception.
Like a string of Christmas lights going on, I recently I had several light bulb moments all one after each other. I had listened to ‘All About Yves’ by Yves Rees.
My journey, in terms of my gender has been going on probably since I was born. My parents did not bring me up in any kind of gendered way, I didn’t have highly stereotypical and binary nicknames like ‘princess’ or anything like that. My parents didn’t ever refer to feminine looks or call me pretty, maybe with the exception of special occasions when I wore ‘girly’ clothes. As a kid, some of my favourite activities were stereotypically masculine. I used to love it when we went on barbeques with other family friends, out by our local rivers systems. It meant we could spend the day catching frogs, or lizards or tadpoles or any number of other creepy crawlies.
Despite the fact that my mother who has an aversion to clothing and interests that are stereotypically feminine, I was also drawn at times to ultra-feminine ‘things’. I loved dressing up in girly things from time to time, I loved floral prints and a full skirt that you could spin around in and make them ‘go out.’ When I hit my teens, I became more interested in makeup and girly clothing and jewelry. Friends of the family, who held being tall, slim, and attractive as something very important for girl children, asked my parents where I inherited my girly interests from. A bit of a sideways insult to my mother.
When I was 11 at Christmas time, I was given two main gifts, a pogo stick and a white fluffy bridal costume (both things I wanted). My mum laughs to this day at me, out the front of our house in my bridal gear on the pogo stick. At the time, I got very cranky at her for laughing at me. This moment sums up how I feel about my gender to this day.
I grew into my gender by doing drag king performance. Doing this over time helped me realise I was gender fluid. I liked the feel of wearing men’s clothing and masquerading as a man. I was also presenting as masculine when out of drag, I had left all my feminine stuff behind when I first came out. I liked it when people called me ‘sir’ or thought I was male. This was a different response to the other lesbian women I was around at the time who got really upset. I then read a description from someone else, on an online forum, where they described themself as being gender fluid, like water and oil. Put water and oil in a container and it will separate, shake it up and it momentarily mixes together and after a while it separates again. So, I took on the identity as being gender fluid, these days I have been using the umbrella term of non-binary as I think it’s easier.
Recently, when I was listening to Yves’ book, there was a couple of things that really stood out to me. In one section they were talking about women’s spaces. They were talking about the way non-binary has been tagged onto a lot of ‘things’ in relation to women. Events, organisations, or any number of other things where the event is open to ‘women and non-binary people.’ Personally, I had a growing unease with this, and I hadn’t been able to pinpoint why. In their book Yves does. It’s basically because if you are non-binary and assigned female at birth (AFAB) you will be viewed through a lens as a derivative of being a woman, rather than being seen as a very separate gender or gender grouping. Yves puts it in a much more articulate way than me, but when I heard this, I thought ‘Oh my goodness, yes, this is it, this is part of why I feel so uncomfortable in these spaces.’ It’s like my gender is still not being recognised. Those who are gender diverse may understand, however it is probably much harder for people who are cis gender. The second part to this involves the people who are non-binary, who are assigned male at birth? I don’t think they have been thought of enough in contemporary contexts and I would be interested to know about participation rates of AMAB non-binary people in various events/organisations where non-binary is tied up in with women. Yves suggests that what needs to happen is organisers need to think more deeply about the purpose behind said event. There is no answer as to how to deal with this at the moment.
I’ve been struggling with a type of gender dysphoria for a few years now. I’ve put on weight and wearing regular clothes is hard, because the feel of a lot of clothing on my skin is hard to tolerate. I’m too sick/disabled to be able to perform, very often. Doing my queer acts that involve drag and burlesque and playing with gender a lot, I don’t feel that I get to affirm my gender. I feel a lot more masculine than how I present and because I am sick, I usually don’t have the energy to argue with, or correct people when they misgender me in everyday situations. This hasn’t helped the overall feeling I’ve been experiencing. I don’t go out and get to be around other gender diverse or queer people very often, so I feel quite invisible. It’s hard to affirm my queerness and my gender.
What is my gender anyway? It has caused me much stress and angst in recent years. More than what anyone knows because I’ve not talked about it. I’m very drawn to masculinity, but I do also like femininity. I have asked myself if I’m actually a trans man, rather than non-binary. The answer has been no. I’ve asked myself if I want to have my breasts removed, the answer to that is no. I am however, definitely trans. Trans meaning to move away from the gender I was assigned at birth. When it comes to gender expression, I like the aesthetic of people who are ‘loaded’ with gender. I like the type of queer presence that is really creative and is both (traditionally) feminine and (traditionally) masculine. I love the looks of trans activist and icon, Alok. They always look amazing and are such a strong advocate and activist for many. I also understand this type of look and that of people who do ‘extreme’ gender or even not so extreme are still in danger. There are still so many people in the apparently ‘evolved’ western countries that don’t accept gender diversity. There are also other non white countries and cultures that are far behind in acceptance and celebration of all kinds of queer.
What I realised recently is that there is no road map for me. This is something that Yves mentions in their book. A friend also mentioned this in a Facebook post in the recent ‘coming out day.’ They posted that there were no role models for queer people. Queer people being something that is still being defined. It’s not necessarily binary in gender, it’s not necessarily binary in sexuality. It’s not necessarily someone who is sexually active (they maybe under the Asexual umbrella). It’s something other than a lot of these things. In other words, someone who is gay or lesbian, might not be terribly queer and there might be seeming ‘straight’ people who think in a very queer way. We are creating this map now as we move forward.
Thinking about all these things, I realised a lot of the reason I have felt uncomfortable is there is no road map for me. I’ve been working it all out as I go, and this is why my coming out has led me through an array of identities over 16 years. I believe labels are useful. Useful if you come across information that helps you, and they can be used to describe loosely who you are, but after that it needs to be thrown away. When it comes down to it you are a person who needs to communicate themselves and their needs.
What I have worked out is that I am a trans masculine person, who likes to wear a lot of clothes that are traditionally ‘feminine’ or considered for women. However, I don’t believe clothes have a gender. I think people should wear what they like. Any man should be able to wear skirts and dresses and any woman should be able to wear masculine cut clothing. It doesn’t matter, it’s all clothing. Clothing doesn’t have a gender. Neither do names. Names do not have a gender, which is a reason why I have never changed my name. Androgynous or gender neutral is assuming there is a binary. To get rid of the binary, we need to believe there is one.
Having said this, I do believe that queer culture and queer history, or LGBTIQA history is important. So, when people say, ‘gender doesn’t matter’ or ‘sexuality doesn’t matter’, I disagree. There are strong histories there and there is still a really strong sense of finding ‘your people’ for many LGBTIQA or queer people. There is a rich history of people standing up for their rights and fighting oppression. There is a rich history of the way people have expressed themselves. This is still happening. The road map is still being created and we are a long way off it being complete. There is still a lot of hate in the world for all shades of LGBTIQA/queer people. There is still a lot of work to be done to stop people from being killed.
I have so much gender and sexuality expression (thinking in binary terms). I’m a trans masculine, pansexual, asexual, queer crip, who likes to wear traditionally feminine dresses and other clothing, partly because of the challenges of my disability, partly because that’s what I like to wear. I ‘pass’ as a slightly ‘arty, older woman. This keeps me safe in public spaces where being queer might not be accepted, for that I am grateful. If I were a well person, I’d probably be more of a dandy. If I was AMAB, I’d like wearing skirts. In any case, I’m going to stop putting pressure on myself to be more masculine presenting, because what is that anyway?
That eleven year old bride on the pogo stick new herself more than she thought she did.
All About Yves, by Yves Rees
All About Yves on audio book