Labels

So, sometimes I think maybe it doesn’t matter what I call myself. What if I declare that my gender is just me?

But then I see statements like this:

I also see underthings.

I can’t help it. I’m a woman in her late 30s, all I think about is lingerie.

And I want that.

I want that belonging, that being the same as other people. Somehow the other labels I can put on myself don’t quite cut it in the way that a gender label would. Sure, I’m androphilic, but nobody uses that term but me as far as I can tell. I’m a [dayjob job title], but I’m more than my dayjob. I’m a cat person who also likes dogs, but that’s not the same. There’s [my true calling], but I’m more than that too, and anyway, gender is somehow different from all of those things.

Tonight, at least, it feels like the reason it bothers me so much that I don’t have a gender box to fit in comfortably yet is that I feel excluded. I feel like everybody but me knows where they fit in – but that thought comes from media, from society, from the overculture.

I know I’m not the only one who has problems with this. With as many billions of people on the planet as there are, I can’t be the only one.

So, maybe I’m the only goth in a school full of jocks and cheerleaders, but there are goths at other schools too, there must be.

But how do I find them when our thing in common is the lack of a label? Goth is just a metaphor here, I don’t have a word for what I am.

It’s hard to keep this up. Part of me wants to give in, to just pick woman as a label. If nothing else, it would make things simpler with my partner, who is a straight cis man. He’s open minded and awesome and doesn’t give me shit about my gender crap, even when it interferes with our sex life (which it does, boy howdy, does it ever; that’s a whole ‘nother post I’m not really up to writing yet), but I know things would just be simpler if I were a woman, or a butch straight woman, or something other than I hate gender it’s stupid societal bullshit and I’m sick of thinking about it.

I wish I could just let this whole issue go, but I can’t. It’s like a slightly loose tooth or a piece of gristle stuck between my molars, I can’t stop poking at it.

Interestingly, I can think of at least one other major issue in my life that has the same deal going on. I wish I could just drop it and stop reaching for a simple answer, but somehow I can’t.

…and suddenly I am reminded of what T. Thorn Coyle says about holding the yes and the no at once, and looking for a third path.

This is Another Fucking Learning Opportunity, isn’t it.

Goddammit.

Binary Bullshit

Yesterday I listened to a podcast episode that talked a lot about masculine/feminine energy, and how it can be problematic to use those terms because we have so much baggage attached to them thanks to patriarchy. Things like yin/yang, solar/lunar, etc were proposed, but I kept thinking “but wait, WHAT ENERGY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

Because pretty much everything they were assigning to either box was either also present in the other one or actively contradicted something already in the box!

Here, I’ll try to show what I mean.

Feminine/Lunar/Yin:

  • Receptive-but-not-passive
  • Creative/nurturing
  • Being (rather than doing)

Masculine/Solar/Yang:

  • Active
  • Destructive
  • Doing (rather than being)

So these seem pretty straightforward, right?

WRONG!

Receptive-but-not-passive as an opposite to active doesn’t really work.

I think farmers would be startled to hear the sun is destructive.

Last time I checked, men and women both do shit and are things.

Another example: feminine energy was described as nurturing.

Until pretty recently, a lot of nurturing roles in society were held by men – they were powerful roles, so men had them instead of women. Farming, teaching, animal husbandry, etc. were manly things to do. Now they’re not.

Also: isn’t nurturing active? Doesn’t it require output? You don’t nurture by receiving or being. You nurture by doing. ARGH.

This all just slides back into my frustration that you can’t really assign anything to masculine/feminine without some pretty major contradictions.

Furthermore, insisting on a binary all the damn time is pretty narrow-minded.

Like, presumably the opposite of nurturing is destroying… or maybe it’s ignoring something and letting it die?

Receptive and active aren’t necessarily opposites – what about a great big snake swallowing something? That’s receptive in that the snake is receiving the thing it’s eating, but I suspect the prey wouldn’t consider it inactive.

If “being” and “doing” are opposites, what do we call mindfulness? You can walk mindfully and be both fully present (being) and in motion (doing).

As the podcast went on, it got harder and harder to pay attention because my mind kept running off on tangents.

I seriously could not come up with a single trait/characteristic/descriptor that was exclusive male or female. Most of the standard ones offered by society are patriarchal bullshit and easily dismissible, but so are a lot of the ones offered by alternative lifestyle folks. Between confirmation bias and unconscious sexism, it’s almost impossible for us to really shed our binary-gender lenses, I know, but still.

Of course, ultimately society’s expectations have  huge impact on us, and there’s something to be said for the argument that yes, gender is made up and a societal construct but it still impacts people so we should quit bitching about it. I know a trans person who transitioned in part (as they explained it to me, anyway) so that other people would react to her in a way that felt appropriate.

I’m woo-woo enough to admit that folks who identify as masculine and folks who identify as feminine have different vibes to them. I can’t figure out which vibe I give off, though, and I sure as shit can’t figure out what I am using the bullshit boxes society offers.

Clearly I’m having a GENDER IS STUPID CAN WE JUST STOP PLEASE UGHHHH day. Time to go pet the cats and get back to focusing on my dayjob.

Hey Readers, I Need Some Advice

I’ve been invited to an event — being thrown/hosted by a meetup aimed squarely at women. I’m fairly sure the reason the organizer invited me (other than me having an interest in line with the subject of the event) is that I read as female.

So now the question: do I go? Do I email her and say, “well, I don’t really identify as a woman, but if I’m still welcome, I’d love to attend”?

A bit of an edge is attached to this by the fact that I stand to make a good bit of money off this event if I do attend, and it’ll help the teeny craft business I’m trying to get off the ground. Is it better to keep my head down and pass to help my business?

This is kind of freaking me out. I feel like if I am honest and straightforward about my gender identity (or lack thereof) I might miss out on a really good opportunity for my biz, but it feels like if I stay quiet and just go, I’ll be selling out. I’m out to a handful of my local friends, in a low-key sort of way, so I don’t have to worry about that.

I know I have a couple of readers now… what do you folks think? I could really use some advice.

More fun with gender labels

So, I saw this post on Tumblr:

anonymous asked:Please tell me what it means to be a woman if it doesn’t mean a person with a vagina. If you remove biological femaleness from the definition of “woman” you’re left with stereotypes related to femininity. If you then try to remove the stereotypes, you’re left with a word that defines absolutely nothing, and is useful to no one. & making a word that is important to the discussion of systematic oppression into meaningless window dressing is fucking bullshit.coolben94 answered:nothing means anything. welcome to the world.manslator:

jennytrout:

Behold in wonder as Anonymous reinforces the archaic ideal of gender as determined by genitals! Marvel at the simultaneous dismissal of cis women as merely a bag of stereotypes with a vag attached!

Manslation: Women, please explain your humanity to me because right now all that’s coming to mind is a walking vagina wearing lipstick and high heels. I can only understand you so long as you are reduced to a sex organ and a bunch of bullshit cliches. If I can’t stuff you into a box based on your genitals, you’re of no use to me. Watch as I pretend to care about discussions of systemic oppression while transphobia pours from every single one of my orifices.

I wanted to reply as follows but am frankly too chicken to do so under my real name – as I’ve written before, I have trouble couching this shit in ways that people won’t get pissed by. Writing about it here feels less vulnerable.

So here’s the thing.

If

woman doesn’t mean “person who has a vagina (whether factory-installed or surgically-installed, so to speak)

and

woman doesn’t mean “person who embodies [cultural stereotypes]

then what the fuck does it mean?

Swap woman with man and vagina with penis and I have the same exact question.

No, seriously.

Men and women (and folks of various other genders) have different vibes to me, and certainly have different qualities and are raised differently and and and…

but where the fuck is the dividing line?

I am a firm believer that we all have the right to identify our own gender. If you come up to me and say “I am a woman” or “I am a man” or II am genderfluid” or whatever, I’m not going to say “prove it!” or something. I might, if I know you really well and am feeling courageous and am pretty sure it won’t make you angry, I might be brave enough to ask, “what makes you say that? how do you know?”

I ask because I have no fucking idea what gender I am. I have no innate sense about it. I can look at myself in the mirror and think, “yeah, I see why I read as a woman, and why I sometimes read as butch,” but I don’t have an innate identification with either of those. The only gender vibes I get for myself are negative (as in, “I’m not…“).

I am 110% accepting of the gender someone tells me they are.

I just wish someone would explain how they know, because then maybe I could figure my own out.

Subjectivity

I saw a thing on Tumblr today that said, “sex is what the doctor sees when you come out of your mom; gender is when the doctor wraps you in a pink blanket if you have a vagina or a blue blanket if you have a penis.”

Once upon a time, I would totally have agreed. The first time I encountered Kate Bornstein’s take on gender, I scoffed, but now? Not so much.

Auntie Kate sayeth:

Sex is fucking. Everything else is gender.

And I agree. When people say “biological sex,” what they mean is “having enough of the biologically-measurable signifiers we have attributed to a particular gender.” These markers include but are not limited to:

  • Chromosomal arrangement (XY vs XX; any variations thereof are suspect)
  • Gonad arrangement (ovaries vs. testes; any variations thereof are suspect)
  • External genitalia (penis vs. vagina; any variations thereof are suspect)
  • Hormone levels (testosterone vs. estrogen; the ratios associated with female vs. male aren’t very well-defined, though)

Here’s the thing: plenty of people are born every year with those markers on both sides of the sex binary. Those folks, if they’re identified at birth, are often assigned to a gender and then surgically “corrected” to match; whether the surgery is needed or not is subjective and in some cases the doctors don’t even ask the parents before operating.

Each one of those markers fails as a total binary, and knowing that one person can have, say, XY chromosomes, internal gonads of indistinct type, a vagina, and high testosterone levels and still be designated as female because “well, there are enough female markers, so let’s go with that” sure as shit  makes it sound subjective to me.

Plus, I’ve read accounts by a number of trans folks who transitioned and had surgery because their external biological sex indicators affected how people treated them. They had to change not just their clothes/hairstyle/makeup/whatever, but also their physical bodies, in order to be accepted as the gender with which they identify.

Biological sex markers are gender markers.

Yes, these biological features usually come in groups, XY-testes-penis-testosterone or XX-ovaries-vagina-estrogen, but not always – the same way that in our society most folks identify as men or women, but not all.

It’s the same way that societally-agreed-upon gender markers tend to come in groups – pink-horses-princesses-woman-biological-markers vs. blue-cars-guns-male-biological-markers.

Hell, international sporting federations can’t even properly agree on what makes someone male vs. female. When are we going to stop pretending that this stuff is subjective?!

Call me a radical gender anarchist, but I’m with Auntie Kate. Sex is fucking. Everything else is gender.

Therapy

Of course, the more you fix, the deeper the next round of things to work on. Having sorted out my primary familial relationships, I’m now looking at my relationship to myself and my relationship with the world. This includes gender stuff, since a big part of both those relationships is gender. Gender is a big part of how we view ourselves and a big part of how we interact with the outside world. It informs everything from tone of voice and speech patterns to clothing and body language. It’s very complex. It’s a social construct, yes, but since I still live in the society that shaped it, it affects me. A lot.

My shiny new therapist and I are meeting every week now, which should be helpful. She was raised as a girl, so she groks what that’s like in a way my previous therapist (raised as a boy and pretty unaware of gender theory) really did not. So this is good.

But good grief it’s scary.

I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to work on this crap, too — I’m very good at wiggling my way out of working on stuff I’m scared of.

I’ve worked on a lot of these things before, too, which feels kind of strange. Like I’m walking down a spiral staircase inside a tower, and the pillars holding the staircase up are different things to work on. Each time I go around, I go to a deeper level, but I also circle past the same pillars. Having made it past a pillar in a previous level doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily be easy to make it past the same pillar on the next floor down.

One step at a time, though. I have to remember it’s not a race. Plus, everything in the staircase is me, really, so that’s a bit comforting.

I’ve come this far. I bet I can make it at least a but further.

Women’s Events

If I remember correctly, the last women-centered event I went to was a tech conference for women. It didn’t say women-only, mind, it was just women-focused. Men were welcome  but I didn’t see any there, and almost all the sessions were about being a woman in the tech community(ies).

I felt really uncomfortable. Like I didn’t belong.

Somewhere back in the day, all-girls/all-women stuff didn’t bother me. I was in Girl Scouts, I had girls’ nights out, etc. I can’t really pinpoint what happened or where or when, but now, if I’m in a group of all women, and it’s brought to my attention that it’s a Women’s Event ™ in some way, I clam up. I feel like a spy. I have massive passing privilege, and I feel guilty and shitty as a result.

Even just hanging out with a small group of friends — if it’s me and two gals and we’re just being gals, it’s all good, but as soon as someone says it’s a “girls’ night out” I feel like I should go home.

This is on my mind right now because yet another creative mind on the internet I adore is having a women’s event. This happens often enough that I’m unsure whether to force myself to identify “properly” and just go, or stop reading things that are ostensibly for women.

I mean, things that affect women affect me — I’ve had sexist jokes made in my presence in the workplace (and managed once to speak up and make the person feel like the shit he was being), people talk down to me in some circumstances because I’m female (like when my boyfriend and I went car shopping for my new car, the salesfolk mostly talked to him, even when they learned the car was for me), the presentation of women in pop culture affects me because they’re closer to my physical body than the men are and most people assume I want to look like them, etc.

So I read a lot of things aimed at women, and find them thought-provoking and helpful and interesting and and and.

But then these awesome people have retreats or conferences or whatever and the description sounds great until I get to the “like-minded women” or “safe space filled with women like you” or whatever and I just close the tab and try not to fall into a funk.

It’s like they hung up a “Girls Club – Everyone Else Keep Out!” sign, like Calvin keeping Susie out of his treehouse.

Boys clubs exclude me because of my outsides, girls clubs exclude me because of my insides.

I’m sure the lovely people running these events would want me to come, would be horrified and sad if I said I felt excluded, but that’s not the point. They’re welcome to draw whatever boundary they want around their event. I know safe spaces for women are vital in a sexist society, and I don’t want to infringe on that. Hell, a part of why I feel so bad is that I know on some level I would be infringing if I went, and I feel guilty for wanting to go.

I feel sad when it seems like I don’t belong, and I feel confused and distressed to know that they would say I belong even as I know in my gut that I don’t.

Shit like this makes me wish I could just be normal so I could go to the damn retreat.