This LGBT History Month, I’m going to take some posts to discuss my gender identity. It’s my hope that sharing my thoughts, feelings and experiences will help people to see not only beyond the gender binary, but that each gender identity can be split into as many different ‘types’ as there are people who assume that identity to describe themselves.
I identify as a genderqueer person. I have a positive and proud relationship with my gender identity, but I often find that my ‘performance’ of this is often not the one ‘expected’ of me, something that can lead to circumstances and incidents in which I experience, at varying levels, abuse, bullying, discrimination and victimisation.
When you identify outside the structure of the gender binary, people will typically attempt to find another structure into which they can fit you that gives your gender identity a meaning they’ll understand, or they may take experiences you have in common and create tenuous links between these to try and find a way to relate to you on their terms. It rarely works, and it’s possible to find yourself on the receiving end of annoyance and frustration because you’re either something they fail to understand, or you don’t fit in with their idea of your gender identity.
Typically, they’ll ‘blame’ you for their inability to see past their socialisation and cultural conditioning, and may even expect you to change in order to be closer to the ideal they have in mind for you and your gender identity. That’s pretty much where I am right now.
I would argue that non-binary gender identities have been in existence ever since the gender binary itself; it’s the increased visibility of these identities that’s leading many to think they’re ‘increasing in number’ – no, it’s simply that their ‘public performance’ is becoming more commonplace. As this visibility increases, these identities are becoming more accepted and, excitingly, more anticipated, as prospective parents realise that their child’s birth sex may not be indicative of one particular gender – or any gender at all.
However, our understanding of any gender identity that qualifies as ‘non-binary’ continually risks being defined as simply ‘a man doing women’s things’ or ‘a woman doing men’s things’ with very little appreciation of the complex fluidity and flexibility of a non-binary identity, or the assumption and performance of this filtered through an individual’s experiences and preferences.
As more genderqueer people enter public consciousness, their lives enter the easily accessible and consumable streams of popular and social media, and the existence illustrated therein becomes the benchmark for those who identify as such. You end up with typical associations between ‘genderqueer’ and a specific range of activities, experiences, ideas…You end up with ‘normal’ genderqueer people, and normative genderqueer attitudes and actions. So, when someone comes along who identifies outside both the gender binary and the popular perception(s) of genderqueerness, it can be difficult both for them to be understood and to make themselves understood.
This can lead to these people experiencing many of the negative behaviours that originate from homophobia and transphobia, as those who are exposed to an individual’s unique relationship with, and performance of, genderqueerness fail to acknowledge and appreciate their differences and react in an increasingly typical way to ‘anomalies’ within any community of gender identity or sexuality – possibly with anger, denial, dismissal, fear, hatred or violence, amongst others.
What I want to do in these posts is to share some of my thoughts and feelings about, and experiences of, my relationship with being genderqueer. I’m not a ‘typical’ non-binary individual in much of my appearance or many of my actions (a statement based on the expectations and reactions of others), which often leads to confusion about, and rejection of, my gender identity. My genderqueerness lies, primarily, in my thoughts and feelings – in the essence of what makes me who I am. I would hope that this makes people think a little more about the range of non-binary identities in existence, and about how these don’t always depend on the assimilation of feminine traits by a male person or of masculine traits by a female person in order in order to qualify as such.
I don’t define my genderqueerness by a ‘balance’ of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in who I am and what I do – to do so would continue to legitimise the gender binary, wouldn’t it? I simply look at the world around me, take the ideas and ideals that I like and make those a part of my life; and I choose to reject those I do not like and feel would restrict my existence to something governed by the limitations of the gender binary. I build my identity based on the person I want to be and try – try – to interact with the world around me based on how I would like others to see me and the types of relationship I would like to enjoy with others.
The points in these posts will reflect my experiences and identity alone. I wouldn’t presume to speak for any other genderqueer person or for the community as a whole; each individual’s experiences and identity are unique, and I believe they should not be categorised, evaluated or influenced by anyone except the person at the centre of these. Below are the points I will address in future posts, but each statement stands for itself. As I write, I hope you’ll join me to explore these in more detail.
‘Genderqueer’ is both who I am and who I choose to be. Identifying as genderqueer means that I identify as neither man nor woman. Identifying as genderqueer is not a phase, nor does it mean that I’ve not yet decided whether I’m a man or woman. Identifying as genderqueer permits my gender identity and expression a great degree of flexibility, fluidity and freedom.
Identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I experience gender dysphoria. Identifying as genderqueer does not mean I identify as trans*, although I do recognise that ‘genderqueer’ has its place on the trans* spectrum. Identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I ‘reject’ my sex, nor does it mean that I have a negative body image or that I experience body dysmorphic disorder. When it comes to my body, identifying as genderqueer means, for me, that I am indifferent to my sex.
Identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I am excluded from performing gendered behaviours that are historically, traditionally or typically culturally or socially associated with my sex. Identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I must perform anyone’s expectations of this gender identity in any way, be it in attitude, action or appearance.
Identifying as genderqueer should not imply that I am homophobic, transphobic, heterophobic or cisphobic.
‘Genderqueer’ is not, for me, a cultural, political or societal statement; however, I recognise that it can be for others. Identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I am, or should be required to be, radical in my thought and action. I do not identify as genderqueer in order to be antagonistic or polemical.
Identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I should be subject to deification, nor does it mean that I should be subject to demonisation.