People get confused by the wealth of gender identities people identify as today, from trans to genderqueer to non-binary, bigender, trigender and pangender, or having no gender at all. For some, the response is to scoff at the very idea there might be more than just male and female; they might use dehumanising language and advocate hateful, oppressive measures to be deployed against those who transgress against the status quo when it comes to gender self-determination.
This is despite a wealth of evidence indicating that gender is not the fixed binary system that has shaped much of Western civilisation (but not all civilisations in human history) in terms of (sexual, economic, social) politics, fashion, culture and religion. A great many more people don’t care enough to carry hateful banners or espouse anti-trans doctrines. Instead, they simply go by the rule of ‘live and let live’ – tolerating, even if not fully accepting or understanding. And then there are a few, small in number but growing every day, who not only accept but fully embrace the idea that the evolution of the human race is not only evident in how our physical characteristics change, but also our ideas and ways of seeing and interacting with the world.
I get the confusion – it is confusing, when you have grown up part of an entrenched binary gender system – but never the hate. Never the anger. How on earth does it impinge upon a man or woman for someone else to determine themselves as being neither of those? How does it impact upon a man or woman when a person comes out as transgender, that is to say, suffering from gender dysphoria because of the mismatch between their sense of gender and physical characteristics? The short answer is, it doesn’t. At all. ‘Haters gotta hate’ is, of course, a truism – but a deeply depressing one. If you are a hater, a ridiculer, a person who pours scorn upon that which they do not understand and probably fear, I advise you to read no further. If I thought I could change your mind, I wouldn’t say that. Unfortunately, my own experience in life is that those who are actively and aggressively hateful towards others, for any reason, have closed the doors to reason and peaceful coexistence.
Trans people are often in the news media, sadly not when being murdered and beaten which happens all too frequently around the world, but when they are looking for stories they like to present as sensational and ‘weird’. They are nearly always M2F – born male, gendered female – despite F2M trans people not only existing, but existing in great numbers. There is a strange fascination in society with, frankly, the idea, as people see it, that a man might gladly say goodbye to his penis and not see it as a loss. There is far less interest for the prurient to find in those who are born female, gendered male. Society is as hung up on penises today, fascinated by them, worshipping them, fetishising them, as back in the early days of humanity when people would craft phalluses as fertility symbols. Still, society is not nature, nature does what it does with no regard for our socially-constructed ideas and prejudices, and trans people of all kinds have always existed and will always exist.
While society obsesses over what they see as men transforming themselves into women, other forms of gender expression beyond the gender binary are ignored. Genderqueer is a catch-all category for gender identities that aren’t exclusively masculine or feminine, with genderqueer people expressing a wide variation of masculinity and femininity, or neither, in their interactions with other people and the way they dress and think. Genderqueer people have sexual orientations as varied as those expressed by trans and cisgendered individuals. I should say at this point, to be cisgendered is to have your physical body and gender identity aligned with one another – so, for example, a man is cisgendered if he was born with a male body and identifies with the male gender.
Genderqueer people can identify as predominately male or female, and as neither, and as switching between genders. They might not identify with gender at all. The term can be used as an adjective to describe people who transgress established definitions and distinctions of gender, whatever their self-determined gender identity. Put in the simplest terms, someone who appears to be a man but wears make-up and dresses is not adhering to social conventions. That’s looking at things from a purely physical perspective but of course, there are great many ways, in which people are expected or anticipated to behave, that have ‘male’ and ‘female’ labels attached to them. A man might be described as ‘effeminate’, while a woman might be described as ‘masculine’ or ‘butch’.
If we look at things stereotypically, which of course genderqueer and trans people are loathe to do, men are seen as being far less expressive emotionally than women, while women are expected to be weaker than men and cry more easily. Let’s face it, we’ve been chiselling away at this hoary old sexist crap for a very long time. Certainly before the ‘women’s lib’ of the 1960s. Long before bras were burned, there were women who lived their entire lives as men, who may actually have been trans or genderqueer, and men who broke social taboos not only by embracing homosexual identities but in dressing like the women of their times. What we are seeing today is a new openness, at least among some people, toward acknowledging that which has always existed.
Genderqueer is also associated with gender ambiguity. The term androgynous has long been used as a descriptive for those who present both masculine and feminine traits. Not everyone who identifies as genderqueer is androgynous, nor would they welcome that label. Many identify as masculine women or feminine men, or neither of those.
There is most certainly an evolution of sorts taking place, in so far as some anthropologists believe the traditional binary system of sexual identity is traceable only so far back as to the nineteenth century, when sexuality was first medicalised with terminologies and descriptives – and, of course, dangerous quack theories on how sexuality and gender could be refashioned into that which society would find acceptable, through the use of drugs, directed counselling and aversion therapy. It was only when the power of religion began to wane and science, in particular biological sciences, grew in influence, that social and political structures began to change, and we saw women demanding equality alongside men, and people beginning to identify as lesbian or gay for the first time in significant numbers, highly visible and actively pushing for justice and equality.
I remember well how pop stars such as Boy George and Annie Lennox were described as ‘gender benders’ in the early 1980s, their transgression of social norms foreshadowing today’s variety of sexual and gender identities. Of course, they came after David Bowie, who in the 1970s pretty much exploded into the public consciousness with his playful approach to how he expressed himself on stage and in interviews, often wearing a mix of male and female clothing and openly declaring himself ‘other’ in having sexual interest in both men and women. The 1970s and 1980s were, of course, often violently homophobic times to live through, with legislation in place to enable the harassment, persecution and criminalisation of those who dared to step away from heteronormative behaviours.
I came out as gay in 1987. I’ve always known that I could not, would not and didn’t want to identify as a masculine male – but then, neither was I particularly effeminate. I just wanted to be myself. It’s only today, in 2018, that I’ve embraced the term genderqueer as being an appropriate label for how I see myself in my interactions with the world. I have a beard, I wear jeans, I wear shirts – but I like to wear lipstick and other make up, mix up my clothing between that which is deemed male and female, am emotionally expressive and don’t feel the need to check that any of my behaviours, thoughts and feelings fall into ‘acceptable’ boxes of male or female identity. I’m still a gay man and always will be.
A friend described me as an ‘alpha male in touch with his feminine side’ a few years ago, and it still stands today as one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received. I’m not, to use the gay parlance, a ‘queen’; I don’t mimic and exaggerate female behaviours. I am, quite definitely, male. Nobody would mistake me as female, ever – but, what people have long seen as ‘strange’ and ‘weird’ about me, I now say is genderqueer. No doubt there are people in this world that want to beat the shit out of me and murder me for self-determining as that, but they’ve wanted to do that for decades because I’ve been an out gay man for most of my adult life. No change there, sadly. But, by owning my genderqueerness, I find it has given me renewed strength and determination to be myself and, if I want to pretty it up and behave in certain ways, I can and I will. I am a generally happy, well-adjusted (not sure what that really means, but hey) and intelligent person. If you don’t like me, if you don’t like how I describe myself, if you don’t like me wearing lipstick with a beard, whatever, I don’t give a shit. It’s none of your goddamn business. I have no interest in the life choices of a bigot, no desire to punish or humiliate or imprison, particularly, not unless they commit hate crimes. I’m content to leave them the fuck alone and can only hope most of them leave the rest of us alone, to get on with our lives.
I’ve undoubtedly left out reams of knowledge, because the topics of genderqueerness and gender in general are vast. There is a lot of information out there, though, on the internet, if you are wanting to find out more with an open mind and curiosity. It is, after all, curiosity that drives us forward in positive ways as a species. As ever, closed-mindedness and prejudice are the things that constantly seek to pull us backwards.
As always, I wish you peace and happiness and thank you for reading.
Andrew’s latest book, myfibromyalgia: one man’s experience of living with chronic illness, is out now in all Amazon store territories the world over. The ebook is £5.99 and the paperback £8.99. UK Amazon link.