Pieces of chalk in the colours of the LGBT pride flag

LGBT History Month – I don’t have to be the genderqueer person you think I should be

I’m playing catch-up with the posts I’d planned for this LGBT History Month but, hey, at least I’m writing. I’m discussing my gender identity, in the 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 mentioned in my introductory LGBT History Month post that 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, and that identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I must perform your expectations of this gender identity in any way, be it in attitude, action or appearance.

As a male genderqueer person, I’ve had more than a bit of this over the years:

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you go out wearing make-up?’

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you go out wearing women’s clothes?’

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you paint your nails?’

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you get your ears pierced?’

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you shave your legs?’

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you use the women’s bathroom?’

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you make your voice higher?’

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you behave in a more feminine way?’

‘If you’re genderqueer, why don’t you shave every day?’

It’s easy to see where this comes from. Where the gender binary is the expected norm, ‘deviation’ is typically measured by how far one moves from one identity to another: If you were born with a male body and have had all the expectations of masculinity and machismo thrust upon you, your non-compliance and non-conformity with these are measured by how much you perform femininity or marianismo – and vice versa.

This performance, to extend this into a suitable theatrical analogy, is assessed more on costume than character, and the outward appearance is seen as signifying one’s non-binary gender identity over anything else..

It’s easy also to see how this behaviour has become normalised, because it’s easy to look at a male person in ‘women’s’ clothing or a female person in ‘men’s’ clothing and identify them as not being a ‘real’ or ‘true’ man or woman (I hope this doesn’t strike anyone as a clumsy generalisation – I’m just saying this to make a point).

It’s because of this that wearing the ‘opposite’s’ clothes has become an easy way for non-binary individuals to assert their identity – to the point where it’s something many both expect themselves to do and expect other non-binary individuals to do also.

It’s possible to look to social media for examples of this; many prominent non-binary individuals and non-binary activists assert their identity in diverse ‘typically transvestic’ ways; but, in not acknowledging that the only gender identity they express is their own, they’re often taken as representative of a larger community, setting the/a standard for those exploring their own gender identity to achieve.

I’ve observed that non-binary individuals who don’t ‘conform to this non-conformity’ are often isolated or ostracised from larger non-binary communities as not ‘real’ or ‘true’ non-binary individuals – a phenomenon worth exploring in its own right.

But, do you know what’s not easy, for many? Acknowledging and accepting that someone’s gender identity isn’t based upon, nor reliant on, the clothes they wear, how they style their hair or the way they walk or talk. Every one of these criteria, often used to assign a gender to someone, is superficial and, if you were to see these individuals in a line-up – naked, bald and bare – you wouldn’t be able to tell who’s who, because what really makes a person who they are is what’s found inside – something all too often forgotten.

That ‘found inside’ is something on which it’s hard to put a label, because of the unique nature of every person alive. In essence, you have as many identities as there are individuals; and determining that identity, exploring it and interrogating it until something clicks and it ‘fits’, is the right and responsibility only of the individual concerned.

The question of gender expression comes after that of gender identity, I would argue, and is the main point of what I’m writing here today. I know I’m genderqueer, and that knowledge is, more often than not, sufficient. Typically, I don’t feel any great need for others to know this and, when I do, it has more to do with challenging how they perceive gender than how they assign one to me. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘offensive’ about being thought a man or woman, but I am angered and disappointed that these are, for many, the only two possibilities for me and that they’re open to nothing more.

So, when it comes to expressing my gender identity: I don’t feel the need to feminise my appearance or my mannerisms because I have a male body, to ‘prove’ that, although I’m male, I’m not a man. I don’t feel the need to be physically androgynous in order to perform a space smack bang in between male and female in the event it’s thought that’s where genderqueerness originates and exists. Others feel those needs.

As a male person, a ‘correct’ performance of genderqueerness is often believed to mean the embodiment of feminine ideals – if I were a female genderqueer person behaving and dressing the way I do, I’d be considered performing my genderqueerness appropriately and correctly.

I don’t feel it necessary for me to feminise myself in order to feel comfortable with my gender identity, and I won’t allow others to try to force me to ‘re-gender’ certain aspects of my appearance, attitudes or actions in order for them to be able to categorise me and, therefore, feel more comfortable with me and around me because they ‘know what I am’.

Why should my gender identity and my gender expression be restricted in this way? Why should this be prescribed or expected by anyone, whether they be cisgendered or non-binary, heterosexual or LGBTQIA+?

Just because, as a male person, I don’t perform ‘a significant amount of femininity’ doesn’t invalidate my genderqueerness. Identifying outside the gender binary doesn’t mean that you automatically jump from male to female or from masculine to feminine or vice versa; or, indeed, that you must adopt a particular aesthetic, whether this be the ‘opposite’ of what’s expected of you, or something blended, combined or queered.

If, for example, I wear make-up, let me nails grow or wear a ‘woman’s’ item of clothing, I do it because I like whatever it is in its own right, and not what it might represent – and certainly not to satisfy the whim of any other person.

At the same time, I don’t feel obliged to ‘be’ or ‘do’ masculine because of my sex. What I’ve written above applies when placed in that context, also.

The next time you’re around something that’s ‘inherently’ masculine or feminine, think about what makes it so; think about the kind of person you may expect to see wearing it, reading it, doing it, or whatever. When you’re exposed to a behaviour that’s ‘inherently’ masculine or feminine, think about the kind of person you think ‘should’ perform it.

If you come across a non-binary gender identity or expression, regardless of whose it is, don’t think of it in terms of how much of the ‘other’ it represents, when you invariably make some kind of determination about the individual’s physical sex.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something is ‘more’ or ‘less’ non-binary because it doesn’t match your expectations of these identities or what you’ve been directed to expect from or of them.

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