It is not a secret that I take immense pleasure when I am addressed/referred to as anything but female; it’s almost juvenile. I love being called sir, dude, etc because woman/female doesn’t fit. Although being male doesn’t fit either, having spent 30 years being labeled in the wrong term, any reference outside of said label is liberating. It’s exciting. It’s the opposite of everything I’ve been told I am. It’s outside of the identity I was told to have.
Still…as I begrudgingly admit, being referenced as male is incorrect, despite my somewhat childish glee from it.
I have watched my friends and family struggle with my gender. Their struggle is tot from a lack of acceptance but, wholly, a struggle with their understanding of what gender is. They are being confronted with a very real person that shatters a comfortable notion of what sex and gender mean, not just for him/her/themselves, but what these terms mean in regards to language, philosophy, and application. I don’t envy the position those within my world are now within. As hard as it is to be me, and know what that means, it is also incredibly easy for me to exist. This is my reality, my world, and I’ve learned what it means to love the beauty, and the beast, of it.
I once gave a very simplistic understanding of the difference between the terms sex and gender. Sex is what is between your legs; gender is what is between your ears. Basic, and incredibly naive and misleading. I should have known better to simplify something that, quantifiably, can never be truly simplified. I do know better. Language, like all aspects of existences of this world, lives in a constant flux of simplicity and complexity that exists at the same moment, no matter how impossible that may seem. It’s because language is what gives philosophy it’s meaning, and philosophy gives language a depth. Both are headache inducing.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand the role of language in this discussion. Because language is what gives what I experience meaning. It is liberating and, infuriatingly, confining. It has long stopped being black and white. It evolved with humanity, and bent and shaped itself with the needs of each passing generation. It holds fear, ignorance, exploration, enlightenment, acceptance, and hope all within its grasp. It needs to be all of this, I need it to be this, in order to get through the day. As a person with a deep, torrid love affair with words, with language, I need language now more than ever. I need language in order to break it. To break words and understanding of said words; not to mold them to what I think is right, but to free them from the limitations we as people have placed upon them. To free words from the limitations I, myself, have placed upon them.
I say this because a reality has set itself upon me, thanks to a few discussions and the descriptor in the title of this post. The concept that gender can be binary, but sex isn’t, and ultimately, this is a flawed concept; as flawed as my simple definition of the two terms. Because what if isn’t a what if? What happens when I say that what is understood as sex, what we define as male/female, based upon what is in our laps is incorrect? Even as I write this, I struggle, because I want to write what if so badly. But it isn’t a what if. What if implies that there is a possibility, probability, of an alternate reality for the situation. An alternate existence, and there isn’t, because I exist in this reality. With my existence, there is no what if. There just is. Have a headache yet?
The same arguments I’ve made regarding gender fluidity, the reality of my existence, and what that existence means in regards to the definition of gender, is the same when placed against the meaning of what sex is. What my sex identity is. This issue, the clawing need that so many have for an incredibly outdated, and human created definition of sex, is still the foundation for every conversation I have regarding gender.
“So you don’t have a gender, but you are still biologically female so you are a girl, right?”
Even I have clung to it because it was all I knew. It was all I understood. It was what was taught, verbally and non-verbally, and “normalized.” For as open as my mind was, it was still so utterly limited by a social construction of language and identity, and an intense need to reign in, and limit, the philosophical voice in language (which, again, is all a human construct).
One of the best quotes I found was, ironically, in a book I’ve had for years, but never read. Riki Wilchins, a contributing writer in GENDERqUEER: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary stated,
Beyond measurable facts, knowledge about bodies is something we create. We go looking for it, and we fashion it in ways that respond to cultural needs and aims. We create the idea of binary genders because it marks something we want to track and control about bodies’ appearance and behavior. We create gender identity disorders (sic) because we want to control sex and discourage the desire to change the body’s sexual characteristics…There is no bright-line separation here between knowledge and politics. Knowledge marches to the beat of power. Specific kinds of knowledge about bodies enable us to exercise specific kinds of power over them. Such knowledge is not “disinterested.” It is very interested, it is purposeful, it has aims…pg36-37.
That power play, the issues of gender and sex, and sexuality, placed within a political sphere exists within every conversation I have regarding my identity. As it was brought to my attention, apparently some people are afraid to speak with me because they don’t want to listen to left-wing, bleeding heart liberal, feminist, women’s studies rhetoric. They don’t want to be “preached,” at because they just don’t agree with what I state as fact regarding my identity…
In other terms, they don’t want to listen to a human that contradicts everything they know because they are afraid to face a possibility that their knowledge, their language, is flawed. That their uncomfortable feeling has less and less to do with me as something different, but everything to do with the idea that they are partially to blame for this ideology around normalcy. It’s actually very understandable. It’s discomforting to feel and think that close to humanity. To not only to look upon your own but then look upon others. and really think on existence. Not many people want to go that deep, are afraid, to go that deep. It’s doesn’t make these people bad, it just makes evolution of thought difficult at times.
My therapist (yes I am in therapy…another day, another story) said that the discomfort I pick up from those around me is because I’ve knocked over the proverbial apple cart. For years I pushed this cart. People placed their apples in it and trusted that I would maintain my status as the person who holds the cart steady. They knew who I was because they had created this role for me and I, so afraid and uneducated, accepted the role placed upon me. Until I stopped pushing the cart. Until I knocked it over and allowed all the apples to spill to the ground. I changed the status quo when I stopped shouldering the burden of an identity that was not mine. I changed the rhetoric, the conversation, all while eating the apples I, according to the world around me, I “spitefully” spilled to the ground. The anger, the self-righteousness to hold that anger, is staggering from those around me.
Here is the reality of why I’m focusing on language, and not on the an argument of why there are more than 2 sexes. Language, today, is reduced not to openness or enlightenment but instead a tool that can be turned into a weapon for the sole purpose of control; the control of others that have absolutely no impact on our individual lives. Sex and gender are two words, with complex histories and language, that are wielded like weapons to control the rhetoric around them, thus controlling every single person as they fall into said rhetoric. For example, the implication that I “spitefully” turned over the apple cart implies that I’m somehow the bad guy in that situation. That I purposefully changed my identity in that moment in order to cause chaos and pain. But what does it say that I turned over the cart in order to unlock the handcuffs chaining me to the apple cart? What does that language incite instead? What emotion is felt?
My cousin-in-law stated, as we had one of our many car ride philosophy jams, how she feels regarding my gender identity. This is me paraphrasing, but she said, “Your gender has absolutely no impact on my life…you are just you…why shouldn’t I accept that? How does you being you affect my life?” Again, paraphrasing, but you understand (I hope) why I bring this up. Wilchins was speaking on how knowledge, definitions and the knowledge of these definitions, are meant for power. The power of control over other’s bodies, to discourage anything outside of what bodies, sex, gender, can do, instead of allowing them to exist in their natural states. Instead, we define what is “natural,” what is “normal,” and denounce anything outside of that in order to place borders on language, thus placing knowledge in a very rigid box. If you rip all the lexicon away. If you strip away the language and just view the person in front of you, what do you see, and more importantly, how does that person’s existence truly impact your own existence?
Do they make you smile? Do they make you cry? Do you feel love? Why? Do you feel hate? Why? Can you spend the rest of your life never laying eyes upon him/her/they/etc again? Are you bored? How is your life, ultimately, changed by the existence of this person?
Now…how does who this person loves impact you? How do the clothes this person is wearing impact you? How does their gender impact you? Do you think you can label “what” they are? Is what you think they are what they tell you they are? If what they admit is different from what you think, how does that impact your life? How are you changed? Are you lesser of who you are because of this person? Are you more? Does it matter?
Does it matter?
I was told that, when I’m looked upon, I’m either seen as a masculine female, or a pretty male. Even the language in those terms is so limiting, and naturally incites a bias without meaning to, because there has been a conscious and, by default, a subconscious understanding of what those words mean. A masculine female brings up negative feelings of wrongness. A female is not meant to be masculine. She must be ugly. Fat. Wrong. A pretty male, although may incite thoughts of weakness, usually indicates a sensuality. A desire. Something wanted. I could go on and on about how language works this way, but this isn’t the point.
Ultimately, what I wanted to tell to my friends and family, is that there are “men” with vaginas and “women” with penises, and they aren’t these hyper-sexualized “freaks of nature” as they are deemed to be. There are also people, like me, that simply are neither, both in terms of sex and gender. I am finding those around me hold so tightly onto the ideology that I’m somehow biologically female, and I don’t know why. I can feel this tension in them; I can hear the words “she has to be” go through their minds, even if they don’t. This idea of, “I get your gender preference and I respect your pronouns, but you are still female.” I can see it churning behind their eyes as they look on my body. A body that, on some days, fully represents every socially constructed thought, word, notion of female.
The visceral response to my existence, and my so-called breaking of boundaries, is incredible and sometimes…incredibly terrifying. But I understand, because even I have experienced within myself this visceral, almost violent reaction to the words that define a binary existence. Black or white. Up or down. Female or male. Heads or tails. What do you with the in-between? Can the in-between exist? What does mean for an in-between that doesn’t exist between two things? What does it say about humanity that the idea of existence cannot simply mean just that…existing. That existence must be labeled, categorized, sub-categorized and then folded neatly on a shelf. Even I fall into this trap of using labels.
But what else can I say, when I look into a mirror and I don’t see a “biological” woman nor a “biological” man, or any other biological sex (yes, throughout history and even in today’s lexicon there are more than 2 sexes, as there are more than 2 genders). I look into the mirror and I see greying eyes and rapidly thinning features. I see salt and pepper hair, aging skin and old scars. I see a muscular chest, a soft stomach and long legs, awkward legs. I walk through this world constantly flowing back and forth between labels because that is how “others” see me.
They see me as “female” because they “know” that’s what I am.
They see “male,” because they see “masculinity.”
They see “Faith,” and just don’t care to see sexuality or gender identity.
But no one ever took the time to ask me who I saw, at least, not until recently, and I think this is where the problem is. People feel like they have a right to assign a label, a category, an identity, onto someone else because the person they are labeling doesn’t have the right to tell them what to call them. Please take a minute to re-read that sentence. People think that they have a right to label others, but those they label do not have a right to dictate what that label is, because it violates the first person. Remember that headache?
But that’s just now how words work, and since I have had time to truly look at myself, I can honestly saw that I don’t see myself as a biologically female person. I don’t see a biologically male one either. It’s the same feeling I have when I contemplate my non-binary gender identity. I don’t see either ends of the spectrum. Instead, I see something old. Not something new because there have been those who are the same as me, for thousands of years. I see freedom. I see struggle. I see fluidity outside of language. I see a body just trying to survive.
I see me…and I am free. In that freedom, although I can feel the push and pull from those around me, I’ve found a sense of calmness. As if the politics and need to understand what I am, who I am, don’t quite touch me anymore. I was told I was generous for always taking the time to talk about my experiences, but it’s less out of generosity, and more out of feeling like I’m finally where I am supposed to be. And being there, being in that understanding of myself, understanding that I just don’t reflect a gender or sex in today’s culturally tight-fisted understanding of what those terms mean, just frees my ability to explore myself even further. To push my own limited understanding of life, of experience and representation of that experience.
And I want to share that. I want to share my experience, argue my point of view, listen to people who don’t agree and continue to grow into Faith. Grow into this body that has been waiting for my mind to catch up after all these years of miscommunications and misunderstandings. It’s a truly wild experience, and terrifying, but I love it all the same. I love being able to be who I am without apology, without exception. Even if, at this time, it’s only to myself.
Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that you are a handsome, beautiful human and that is all you have to be.