The Problem of Gender

[Written April 2, 2024]

Since I reopened the site, my little bio on the main page has finished with this line: “Pronouns: he/him, but gender can go jump off a cliff.”

I’ve been thinking about gender for at least 20 years.  When I was young, the vision of my future available through media and cynical elders was alienating, and I didn’t fit in with my peers, either.  People might say feminism was good (and also finished), but they certainly didn’t act like they believed that first part.  And if I played their vision forward, I couldn’t see a positive outcome: I could either “come out on top” and have everyone gunning for me, or I could not be on top, yet still be in the line of fire of people aiming for it.

For a while, I didn’t really believe people really thought that way.  Maybe they were just really committed to the bit?  But, then I got into high school.  Into college.  And, jumping ahead a bit, into professional life.  It didn’t actually get less toxic.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong.  Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. —George Washington Carver

In college, I played with gender a little, but quickly learned I didn’t want femininity.  At the time, that seemed to be the only other option; much of the modern internet (including tumblr, Tw*tt*r/𝕏, Facebook, and even YouTube) hadn’t even been founded yet.  I simply didn’t have the information to explore any other alternatives more deeply.

My true thoughts were that I didn’t necessarily want any gender applied, but because pronouns are gendered, I had to pick one.  It seemed that being referred to as masculine was a reasonable default for my male body, in addition to shielding me from a large amount of misogyny, transmisogyny, and homophobia.

Meanwhile, transphobic people insisted that gender was produced by genitalia.  The ideal configuration, therefore, seemed to be having those removed (as opposed to being converted in a binary way.)  However, I wanted to keep my “pure” “natural” body as much as possible, and for all I knew, the 1990’s standards of care were still in effect.  (Material I read was not recent enough to know about the SOC version 6🌎, if that would even have been helpful.)

That left me at an impasse.  I didn’t think that what I wanted existed, and I didn’t think I could afford it anyway, so I dropped it.  I would continue cosplaying a man in public, even if that meant being a gender sell-out.

The question of “am I cis, though?” would continue to bother me over the years.  I didn’t have an answer.  When I found the agender label, I really couldn’t figure out whether it applied.  Was I agender?  Was I cis, yet uncomfortable with being given unearned privilege?  I didn’t know how to tell, and neither did anyone else.

The agender pride flag with seven equal horizontal stripes; colored black, gray, white, pale green, white, gray, and black, top to bottom.

People would say, “Gender Identity is a person’s internal sense of gender,” and I’d wonder what an internal sense of gender was.  Trans people had told me that gender was socially constructed.  I could easily trace that through the classification of sexes, the assignment of gender roles to them, and the policing of presentation objectively; but the subjective experience remained formless, like grasping at fog.  How did transgender people know they were trans?  How did cisgender people know they were cis??  The harder I looked for shapes in the fog, the more it was an amorphous cloud.  No matter how deep I went, answers always seemed to be just out of reach.

People would say, “If you feel you are agender, then you are agender!”  It was very inclusive, but not helpful at all.  I scoured the internet and the library for nonbinary and agender experiences.  A majority of them were by people who had been assigned female at birth, and most of those were like, “Childhood was great, then puberty happened, and I was expected to stop being myself. 🙅🏽”  As a non-woman, I could understand that [refusing to have a feminine role foisted upon them], but it didn’t help me very much with my own feelings and experiences.

Eventually, though, I decided to accept agender as my “identity.”

Within days, I discovered a post claiming that the majority of cis people do not “feel” a gender strongly.  Augh, I had just gotten those worms back in the can!  To make matters worse, I went back to my research, and soon found someone who had opted for “gender nullification surgery,” the thing I didn’t think existed nor was attainable!  Now, I could afford it.  A forgotten box I had put away 20 years ago ripped open, spilling jelly beans all over my mental landscape.

A two-panel comic of my head being blown open by discovering nullification surgery.

Good news, though… I got everything cleaned up.

I’m a different person in a different life now.  I came to enjoy my body as it was, and I still believe that keeping my natural body is optimal for physical health.  If it’s not impacting my mental health nor physical safety, then there’s no reason to change anything.

This includes retaining the “cosplaying as man” presentation.  As long as there are only two socially-recognized genders, trying to exit masculinity will be perceived as femininity, which remains as undesirable to me now as it was in college.

I’m also keeping the agender label.  I still don’t fit in with, nor feel at ease around, men.  Philosophically, the ideal society chills out about gender, allowing some overlap between ‘men’ and ‘women’ instead of pursuing complementarianism🌎.  I would rather like everyone to be free to pursue whatever presentation or activities they want, without having the spotlight turned on them for the smallest trangressions of arbitrary gender expectations.  From all I have read, I just don’t think this is a cis point of view on it.

What a long, strange trip it’s been…