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when I wear a skirt, it makes them think about gender and not jumping to
June 2, 2014 7:57 AM   Subscribe

agender: portraits of young people who identify as neither male or female. (first two links NSFW: nudity)

see also, the photographer's tumblr which includes many more great photos.
posted by and they trembled before her fury (81 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
What I like best about these photos is that they depict the people in them in a way which shows that gender is nowhere near the top of the list of what makes them interesting.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:05 AM on June 2


It's interesting how much the consistent use of "they" rather than gendered pronouns throws off my reading. There's a part of my brain that sounds the alarm because "they" generally implies 2 people and I'm there's only a reference to one person in my head. I keep finding myself automatically re-reading the text scanning for reference to a second person.

I guess gendered pronouns are pretty deeply embedded in our culture. I imagine that growing acceptance of the fact that gender isn't binary will lead to more articles with "they", and the exposure will make reading them easier.
posted by leo_r at 8:06 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


This is cute... buuuutttt as an astute commenter on the featureshoot site points out, celebrates but a sliver of potential diversity within the non-gender identifying community (race, age, size?)
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 8:07 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


I know the Marilyn who was photographed! They are super cool and run the excellent resource Genderqueer Identities.
posted by capricorn at 8:12 AM on June 2


I don't care what gender you are, wearing a tie with short sleeves is not a good look.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:21 AM on June 2 [11 favorites]


I guess gendered pronouns are pretty deeply embedded in our culture. I imagine that growing acceptance of the fact that gender isn't binary will lead to more articles with "they", and the exposure will make reading them easier.

"They" is inherently plural, using it as a third person singular reference will never sound 'right'. These people need a third person singular pronoun without an attached gender condition, but "they" isn't it.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:26 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


"they" as a third person singular gender neutral reference has been around at least since Shakespeare. It may have been taught as grammatically incorrect, but it's got centuries of precedent.
posted by KathrynT at 8:28 AM on June 2 [51 favorites]


can we not derail this thread over singular they, please? :D
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 8:30 AM on June 2 [29 favorites]


The singular "they" has existed since Middle English. Also: words are tools, not molds. They are constantly being re-purposed to suit the communicative needs of human beings; that is how language works.
posted by northernish at 8:31 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


It still "sounds" funny, though, and distracts from some readers' comprehension. Similarly, the frequent use of "shot" confused me, since the first picture was of someone who was "set on fire". As I struggled through the rest of the pictures, I was amazed at how many of them were shot.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:34 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


For a long time -- almost a decade I think -- I identified as agender, and I used to ask people to use they/them to refer to me. These days I consider myself more genderqueer/genderfluid than agender I think, and my pronouns are no longer they/them, but, it still kinda hurts to hear someone tell me that I can't/shouldn't use the pronouns I want them to use for me. It feels like it's an outright rejection of some facet of my identity.
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 8:39 AM on June 2 [43 favorites]


It still "sounds" funny, though, and distracts from some readers' comprehension.

I keep forgetting that it's the responsibility of the minority to keep the majority comfortable at all times.
posted by northernish at 8:44 AM on June 2 [35 favorites]


Perhaps it is good to distract from some readers' "comprehension" - as Rory Marinich pointed out in, I think, the misogyny thread, sometimes communication that makes people uncomfortable or uncertain or that they find challenging is productive. It pushes people to think a bit harder about things and makes them extra aware of their pre-existing assumptions. This is especially true when we're not talking about a difficult text or word. I don't think we need to privilege smooth, easy consumption of a text over all other ways of reading.
posted by Frowner at 8:53 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


Your comfort over how grammar sounds to your ear does not trump the right of people to not be constantly and triggeringly misgendered. I really doubt the people who quibble over they not sounding "right" would happily and flawlessly accept a request for other third gender pronouns like zir/hir. Gender nonconforming people encounter enough pushback and gatekeeping every day; do you really want to add to it?

For what it's worth, I have friends who prefer they and I can confirm that with enough practice (and also, caring, and empathy, and not wanting to use the wrong pronoun in the same way I don't want to call them by the wrong name) that "they" flows off the tongue naturally and feels right, because it is right, because it is the pronoun that they asked me to use.

If this is something you'd like to get better at, can I suggest preordering the zine A Quick and Easy Introduction to They/Them Pronouns ? Only $2!
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:55 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


I get that this is semi-off topic, but Flash Player? Really?
posted by Silvertree at 9:01 AM on June 2


I have always love the gender neutral singular "they" and have never found it confusing and use it in all kinds of contexts. But yeah, I agree, let's not have this derail the entire thread.

I live in NYC where lots of people wear nonstandard stuff regularly enough that it isn't usually commented upon, but sometimes when I go home to visit my mom I'm reminded how uncomfortable some folks are with seeing a person in clothing that they're not "supposed" to wear. Even extremely mild stuff, like when I wear men's sock garters with my skirts and knee-highs. I wear the sock garters to...you know, to KEEP MY SOCKS UP, it seems like a completely bizarre thing to comment on, and yet! It super weirds people out. It reads as edgy and transgressive in my mom's crowd, when to me it's barely even worth mention.

When I shaved my head a few years ago, my mom's friends basically lost their shit.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:01 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


[This would be a more interesting thread if it didn't take the first possible derail. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 9:01 AM on June 2 [8 favorites]


These are brilliant photos for a great project, but like other commenters I wish the photographer had included some more diverse models. I still struggle with the idea that I can be both genderqueer and curvy because so much visual discourse for androgynous/genderqueer/agender people is centered around skinny kids in shirts and suspenders (not that I begrudge them either, I just wish they fit me too).

That said, I'm glad to see feminine agender people included -- so many people seem to think that androgyny must always be linked to masculinity, which is pretty backward.
posted by fight or flight at 9:02 AM on June 2 [17 favorites]


On a related note, I've also recently been pointed at the For The Love of Bois project, a photographic celebration of masculine-of-center folks. It's pretty rad.
posted by fight or flight at 9:09 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I still struggle with the idea that I can be both genderqueer and curvy because so much visual discourse for androgynous/genderqueer/agender people is centered around skinny young things...

That was literally one of my first concerns when I was working out my gender. The community has been kind of mute on the subject. The world seems to think androgynous people are all thin, flat-chested, feminine of face, short-haired and 23.

(I just present as male, bald head and beard and all... but wear colorful socks and occasional subtle jewelry. Meh.)
posted by Foosnark at 9:12 AM on June 2 [8 favorites]


I live in NYC where lots of people wear nonstandard stuff regularly enough that it isn't usually commented upon, but sometimes when I go home to visit my mom I'm reminded how uncomfortable some folks are with seeing a person in clothing that they're not "supposed" to wear.

It's struck me on a number of occasions that if I moved to Houston, it'd probably only take a couple minor adjustments for me to be consistently read as male -- the main problem being my voice. Pretty much, short hair gets you like 80% of the way there, and men's clothing another 15%. Or so it seems.

When I shaved my head a few years ago, my mom's friends basically lost their shit.

When I was experimenting with hair length back in grad school, I spent one parental visit period -- forget whether it was a holiday or a summer visit -- hearing a litany that my hair was too short, it needed to be long enough to go over my ears, didn't I think it was too short because, see, it doesn't go over my ears, didn't I agree that gosh, that last haircut was a bit too short on account of it not going over my ears, hadn't I better grow it out a bit so that it does go over my ears, etc.

I had figured that there would be a bridge too far somewhere, but the specific emphasis on ears kind of baffled me -- not sure if that's an idiosyncratic thing (it wouldn't be the first, shall we say) or a cultural rule that I just didn't get exposed to.
posted by sparktinker at 9:13 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


The world seems to think androgynous people are all thin, flat-chested, feminine of face, short-haired and 23.

Yeah, it's a shame that even within broadly accepting non-conformative communities there's still an element of what "fits in". I know there's a whole lot of nuance and history to unpick about it so I'm not going to start here, but I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that it's very difficult for many people to get away from the idea that expressions of masculinity are the "default". I have a few femme genderqueer friends who are constantly having to remind people (even pretty "up-to-speed" people) that femininity can be part of non-conformative gender presentation.

Personally, I have no problem with my body. My body is a genderqueer body. The problem lies in how society perceives my body. That's what we're still working on.
posted by fight or flight at 9:22 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


That said, I'm glad to see feminine agender people included -- so many people seem to think that androgyny must always be linked to masculinity, which is pretty backward.

OH GOD WELCOME TO MY LIFE. I'm genderqueer - not agender, but rather "all the gender!" - and it does hurt to know that for most people to consider me visibly genderqueer I have to alter the way my body is shaped and wear all men's clothing.

To me, this issue is very linked to femme invisability in queer spaces. And also, backwardly, how transfeminine people are so policed and shamed and GASP WHAT ARE YOU DOING in our culture; me wearing jorts and sneakers and being covered in bike grease and sweat everyday is never going to be as transgressive as someone wearing glitter in their beard, even though we both might be just as genderqueer as the other and it's not a contest.

Sometimes, being a femme babe (not a female, not your babe) is a way to deal with my dysphoria as much as putting on a binder and a jean vest and tucking my hair back into my five-panel is. I feel like such a failure when I present MOC sometimes. I just want to be a tall, lean, cute hipster bike boy and instead I'm this weirdly lumpy fat idiot with skinny wrists jutting out of a little boys' flannel that doesn't really fit me and a heat rash from my stupid uncomfortable binder. Sometimes I just want to feel attractive and cute and like my body is an asset, not a hinderance. Sometimes I want to celebrate myself with pastel wigs or stockings or a new Stila lipgloss.

Samuel Shanahoy recently answered an Ask on his Tumblr (I don't like browsing Tumblr at work so no link) where someone (quite rudely) asked why he "dressed like a girl" if he wanted people to use he/his pronouns and accept him as a transman. Basically, his answer was something like, I'm always uncomfortable in my body, I might as well wear clothing that's fun for me. And I know earlier he's made comments like how his outfits are characters, or concepts, and people get confused and think that's who he really is; but it's not.

All gender is performative for me. My "true" gender, or whatever, has nothing to do with my body or clothes; I feel like I'd be perfectly happy as a brain floating in a jar like Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But as long as I'm performing gender, I refuse to limit myself to only some choices so that people take my identity seriously. I want, and deserve, it all.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:40 AM on June 2 [48 favorites]


Yeah, it's a shame that even within broadly accepting non-conformative communities there's still an element of what "fits in".

See also gay bear culture, which originally arose as a response to the gymbunny/twink gay male physical ideal, and was allegedly inclusive.

Now? Not so much.

I can't even imagine how difficult things must be for agender folks.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:45 AM on June 2


Please, enough with the pronoun derail. People with nonbinary gender identities use nonbinary pronouns. Rejecting their pronouns shows them the same disrespect as choosing to call a trans woman "he," or a cis guy "she," in order to gender-police them.

Speaking of gender policing, I do have to challenge the claim in the article that the least-respected people in the LGBT+ community are agender people. First of all, oppression olympics are never a good idea. That said, intersectional identity happens, and gender-policing harassment is based on appearance not identity. I attended a local genderqueer group for a while, but left after getting tired of hearing young white 20-somethings who passed as cis people on the job and in the street, and only queered their gender presentation at parties or friends' houses or support groups, denying their own privilege vis-a-vis people who can't choose to closet their trans status--while, ironically, giving the cold shoulder to visibly trans women who showed up. And only reacting enthusiastically to the presence of other young, white people while making pious statements about the evils of racism, classism, etc.

I guess I'm just feeling disappointed to see a set of portraits that give off some of the same vibe. Not to diss the people pictured--it takes all kinds to make a gender rainbow. But I'd wish more of the spectrum were represented.
posted by DrMew at 10:09 AM on June 2 [11 favorites]


young white 20-somethings who passed as cis people on the job and in the street, and only queered their gender presentation at parties or friends' houses or support groups, denying their own privilege vis-a-vis people who can't choose to closet their trans status

I get where you're coming from, but I'm having difficulty seeing the difference between passing as straight at work during the week and partying it up with fellow queers on the weekend, you know? A lot of work environments are incredibly toxic to the non-gender-conforming.

Yeah, it's a use of privilege. But sometimes that's a matter of physical safety or continued employment, you know?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:22 AM on June 2 [6 favorites]


the photographer's tumblr which includes many more great photos.

All gender issues aside, I really really like this person's photography. Gives me some serious Saudade.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:30 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who thought they were all victims of violence, each one having been "shot" in various locations? It took me a minute to get that straight in my head, along with the pronoun usage.
posted by harrietthespy at 10:32 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Oops - I see that the use of the word "shot" confused others as well.
posted by harrietthespy at 10:34 AM on June 2


What saddens me about that confusion (which I had too) is that it was all too believable that someone had pointed a gun at one or more of these folks and pulled the trigger.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:37 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Please, enough with the pronoun derail. People with nonbinary gender identities use nonbinary pronouns. Rejecting their pronouns shows them the same disrespect as choosing to call a trans woman "he," or a cis guy "she," in order to gender-police them.

Honestly I think there's a good bit of daylight between outright rejecting the preferred pronouns of others, or refusing to use them (which I haven't seen in this thread), versus noting that referring to a single individual by the they/them/their pronoun can make it a little clunky to try and write about them. The former is absolutely a form of disrespect, but I guess I don't see the latter that way at all.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:40 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


When I shaved my head a few years ago, my mom's friends basically lost their shit.
My parents were always pretty hands-off with regards to whatever my siblings and I tried while working out our adolescent self-expression; I never got the "get a haircut, hippie" lecture when I grew my hair long or anything like that. I wasn't there and have a hard time imagining it, but apparently our mom had a bit of an uncharacteristic freak out when my grown-up older brother came home with ::gasp:: an earring.

I'm barely Scottish by ancestry, but I had always thought that kilts were cool and finally made myself one a couple of years ago. As someone who identifies and presents as male it's been interesting to observe reactions; setting aside the tired and predictable "where's your bagpipes" and "what's under the kilt" comments, I've been surprised not to get more abjectly stupid gender-based commentary than I have... it's like there's a loophole for kilts (at least traditional tartan ones), and I'm pretty sure that it's cis-male privilege with a dash of cultural sensitivity.

While learning about kiltmaking, I spent a fair amount of time hanging around an online community of kilt enthusiasts. One thing that makes my head explode is men getting genuinely upset at the idea of women wearing kilts. Or men who have this fervent belief that, if a kilt opens on the left instead of on the right (which is how a traditional kilt is constructed,) then ewww it's a skirt and not a kilt. There's a lot of insecurity and defensiveness under the surface, and that's on a message board predominantly frequented by adult, white, straight, cis men. Like FFFM said, I can't imagine how difficult it must be for agender people to navigate this stuff.
posted by usonian at 10:44 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


That said, I'm glad to see feminine agender people included -- so many people seem to think that androgyny must always be linked to masculinity, which is pretty backward.

oh, my, yes. this is a primary locus of my discontent as well. i grew up getting my mind blown by pierre et giles, beautiful dancers, Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, weimar berlin cabaret stuff, flamboyant shit of that nature. this shit tends not to read as queer if you're doing it while AFAB.

Personally, I have no problem with my body. My body is a genderqueer body. The problem lies in how society perceives my body. That's what we're still working on.

yes. yes.


Dr Mew, I was also bothered by the article's assertion that nonbinary people face the most oppression. It's not true. I'm so tired of queer shit decentering trans women, poor trans women, trans women of color.

Regarding "getting tired of hearing young white 20-somethings who passed as cis people on the job and in the street, and only queered their gender presentation at parties or friends' houses or support groups" I offer this. Unless I am willing to present myself as a man I am stuck being a woman and I have had dysphoria about that pretty much every day since I was twelve. I tried being a man for years and that didn't work either. I feel like I am going insane. It is not discomfort with my body and desire to bring my body into line with my expectations but it is discomfort with how, regardless of how I feel about my gender, I am forced into one of two options neither of which work for me. I wish one of them did. I hate feeling like I have a problem with no solution that is such a weird problem that other queers don't get it, to say nothing of the mainly straight, mainly cis world that, like it or not, I got to live in.

I'm not saying that my experience is the only possible experience for someone AFAB with funky gender, but I'm getting really tired of the backlash against AFAB nonbinary people I see online. This might be a little inside baseball for Metafilter but, fuck.
posted by beefetish at 10:49 AM on June 2 [27 favorites]


This might be a little inside baseball for Metafilter but, fuck.

I really appreciate that you, and other folks in this thread, are bringing "inside baseball" gender discussions to MetaFilter. It's extremely interesting and helpful. So thank you.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:57 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


Work environments can be hugely toxic to queer folks, and people stay in the closet about their gender or sexuality at work for very valid reasons.

The thing is, some people don't have the option of a closet. I can choose not to disclose that I'm pansexual at work. But there was no way for me to gender transition while being employed and to hide that. My spouse can walk down the street and have nobody know whether her gender identity is binary or nonbinary. But she cannot hide the fact that her body is transfeminine, and she suffers all the time from street harassment.

Now, I identify as a gender flexible trans man, and I really do get that the gender binary is enforced socially and institutionally constantly, and in that respect it's easier to be trans and have a binary gender identity. But it drives me nuts when other genderqueer people claim that they are "more oppressed" than binary trans people and/or medically-transitioning people, when said genderqueer people are passing as cis and are materially privileged because of it. Five years into my own gender transition, my trans status often goes unnoticed by cis people, and this is a huge privilege which I need to own, that many of my trans siblings do not have (whether their identities are binary or not). Other genderqueer people who enjoy this privilege need to own it, rather than claim their invisibility to others proves they are more oppressed than people who can't hide who they are.
posted by DrMew at 11:00 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


On language use, the second link ops for avoidance of pronouns entirely:

On a bright winter morning, Sasha Fleischman dresses for school. White button-down shirt. Vintage silk bow tie. Gray pinstriped vest. Tweed newsboy cap. Black ruffled skirt. The 18-year-old carefully wraps white Ace bandages around both legs, covering another set of bandages that in turn protect a layer of antibacterial gauze dressings. It’s a long, arduous process, but the Maybeck High School senior has gotten used to the routine. And it’s sure better than lying in a hospital bed watching endless television news reports about the attack that transformed the bashful teen into a reluctant civil rights martyr.

For the rest of the article, Fleischman is referred to as, well, Fleischman.

So not only does this avoid the issue that some readers might have with "they" (legitimately or not), but it also shifts the focus away from gender being the primary interesting thing about Sasha, to other things about them: that they're a senior, only 18 years old, and a little shy.
posted by damayanti at 11:11 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Dr. Mew, I hear what you are saying. I am not denying any of those things. I am pointing out that when I say what I said in my previous comment I hear what you are saying. Pretty much every time. I am not "other genderqueer people" who are being dicks about their privilege. I agree with you. I understand that I am materially privileged by a condition that also causes me constant mental and emotional anguish and that these two elements cannot be separated. But I get really fucking tired of, when I say, "Hey, I have a fucked gender, it kills me every day," that I hear, literally nonstop, "Oh yeah, well, people who are medically transitioning/transfeminine have it worse." No shit they have it worse, but why are you bringing it up in response to my statement?
posted by beefetish at 11:14 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I get where you're coming from, but I'm having difficulty seeing the difference between passing as straight at work during the week and partying it up with fellow queers on the weekend, you know? A lot of work environments are incredibly toxic to the non-gender-conforming.

And yet, so much of this has to do with who speaks, who gets represented the most - less what people actually do than what they say about themselves and how loudly/often they say it. I think it's helpful for most folks to use that old "step up, step back" framing - if you're from a group or background which is over-represented or overvalued in a particular setting, that is the time to step back and let others speak - while if you are feeling doubt about whether your issues are "worth" bringing up, you should consider whether people like you are undervalued or underrepresented in a particular setting.

The thing is, skin color and gender presentation and class and all that stuff are only heuristics - someone could be rich and thin and gender-acceptable and still have invisible disabilities or a terrible clusterfuck nightmare of a childhood and it might be important to hear from them. But those things are a heuristic - and I think that means that if you're from an overrepresented/overvalued group, you make sure that there really are special circumstances that mean your contribution/poster-child-status/etc is needed.

I'm not saying that my experience is the only possible experience for someone AFAB with funky gender, but I'm getting really tired of the backlash against AFAB nonbinary people I see online. This might be a little inside baseball for Metafilter but, fuck.

I find this really difficult to deal with too, because I feel like it's more of a trend than a thought-out thing. Like, I see it from cis women, from masculine-presenting people who identify as femme, etc - and not in a "masculine presenting people should be thoughtful" way but in a tumblr-bullshit hyperbole "masculine spectrum people are the enemy of femme people" way. It's frustrating because while I experience - in some circles - some privilege because I am not femme-presenting, in my daily life I am much more visibly queer and non-conforming than most people who are femme and AFAB, and so while I may be overvalued in queer spaces and god knows I'm certainly visible, I get a lot more homophobic harassment as I walk down the street and run into a lot more problems in job interviews, security lines, etc that are specifically because of my gender presentation. My point isn't that my troubles are so very serious, etc, but that it is very productive of cognitive dissonance to hear from my queer "community" that I am overprivileged and the enemy of all that is beautiful and feminine while also hearing homophobic harassment and various forms of bullshit from the rest of the world - which are then totally discounted by my queer community because as a non-femme AFAB person, I have no real problems and am just a whiner. I think there's also an assumption that if you are AFAB and masculine presenting, you have nothing but a long line of women who want to go out with you, and hence are sexually overprivileged as well. Which may well be the case for some people, I admit, but I have never noticed it in my life.

Again, I think your mileage varies tremendously depending on your particular queer community.

The real truth is that both gender and sexuality were pretty well knocked out of me as a child. My gender is "fat"; my sexuality is "social outcast" - those things contour my feelings in the world to the point where "male, female or other" and "attracted to what gender" aren't even relevant questions. I like wearing pants and men's shoes and so on, but I don't really have gender feelings or sexuality feelings. I say I'm queer because I'm sure not straight, but I don't think I'll ever really have anything remotely recognizable as a regular gender or sexuality.
posted by Frowner at 11:18 AM on June 2 [14 favorites]


Oh shit Mew I reread your comment and I get what you're saying now, sorry I took it personally.

God I hate this. I would like to find other AFAB gender-fucked people who are not total oblivious-to-intersectionality assholes who are also not young and, if I'm totally wishing on a star, not all masc of center.
posted by beefetish at 11:31 AM on June 2 [7 favorites]


Another AFAB genderqueer person here. I present masculine of center, but because I'm heavy (and thus rather female shaped depending on clothing choices), I'm generally read by strangers as a butch lesbian.

I have very short hair, and it's fun when I'm wearing men's cut shorts that show my furry legs, and someone comes up behind me going "Sir, sir?" and I turn around and they get this look and go "OMG I'M SO SORRY, MA'AM!" and I laugh and tell them it's really not a big deal.

I don't think I'm "more oppressed", but I think it depends on how you parse out certain things. People who are binary trans generally have their gender identity recognized. Whether that's in a positive "unnoticed by cis people, but recognized as " or in a negative "visibly trans" way, their active "THIS IS MY GENDER" efforts are recognized.

People who straddle the binary* or shoot for ambiguity/androgyny are often just shunted into whichever side of the binary they most closely resemble. I can't/don't bind, so people just always default to female pronouns, which is fine, though my preference is for singular they. When I first told people that I preferred singular they, the initial 3 responses were "I don't like that pronoun because reasons", "I can't do it because it's grammatically incorrect", and "don't you think it's dehumanizing?" ... I don't really care if you don't like it, you don't have to use it for yourself! Do you never use english in a way that is remotely grammatically incorrect? Why is this the hill you need to take your stand on? Obviously I *don't* think it's dehumanizing, because, hey, I'm a human! And I'd like you to use it for me!

It does get a bit frustrating sometimes to have assumptions made about my gender AND sexuality based solely on my appearance, so I can see where someone who is presenting as binary during the week (because of jobs or family or whatever) could feel very oppressed by the time they're able to be themselves on the weekend.

I have a friend in a similar situation, works/lives in a VERY conservative town, is afab genderfluid, lives with parents, AND is kinky. At work they are referred to as "Miss lastname", at work and home they have to be very closeted about their activities (though family knows about the gender stuff), and when they have the opportunity, they can *actually* be their whole self. Had I not moved out of my former town, I would have never felt comfortable enough to open up and figure out my own gender stuff.

All of that stuff about myself to say: I really appreciate that there is more visibility about non-binary folks these days, and yay for the photographer for doing this!

On preview: Frowner: solidarity fistbump, beefetish: I know several who fit that description here in Denver, many that fit some parts of it, and even multiple who are feminine of center.

*(no sexuality references intended, though I did chuckle to myself when I re-read it)

posted by HermitDog at 11:36 AM on June 2 [10 favorites]


I think one lurking issue too is that a lot of folks including me have rather undertheorized understanding of "femme". And I think femme-ness is a difficult concept, and there's a whole bunch of stuff entwined with it that's about race and class and gender and is fundamentally inseparable from theorizing what femme is.

Like, sometimes I see people talking about "femme" and they're pretty clearly talking about a very surface aesthetic - femme is glitter, or silk blouses cut on the bias, or make-up. Sometimes people are talking about a more completely embodied aesthetic - femme may or may not involve glitter, but it involves ways of moving, ways of looking, ways of relating the body to other bodies. Sometimes people are clearly talking about behaviors that are often seen as gendered - femme is baking, or doing hair, or hugging someone, etc. Sometimes it's "femme is doing things but doing them in a...decorative [?] [arch or camp?] way", like fixing your motorcycle with pink tools or having heavy BDSM gear that has glitter on it. Sometimes it's about emotions and behaviors - being femme is to be a caretaker, to express love, to value loyalty, to form loving friendships.

So I personally find this confusing. Like, I tend not to describe myself as femme or think of myself as femme, but I bake a lot and certainly do a lot of emotional caretaking and I like fancy shoes...

I think there's an anti-foundationalism inherent in the idea of "femme" because the one commonality seems to be an opposition to the idea of the "authentic". Like, it's okay to have pink handcuffs or wear foundation because there is no real/pure/better/authentic way of practicing BDSM, and there is no "natural" beauty. Which I like a lot, and think is a much better way to interact with the world than ideas of masculinity/foundationalism/authenticity that kind of haunt even the most playful butchness.

But my point is, I don't know if I am a "masculine spectrum" person just because I am wearing loafers.
posted by Frowner at 11:37 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


I think one lurking issue too is that a lot of folks including me have rather undertheorized understanding of "femme".

Well, that raises a question for me: it seems like the whole point of (post?)modern gender politics is to move away from the historical definitions of male/female/masculine/feminine. So does using 'femme' not buy into that whole historical mess? This is a serious question.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:55 AM on June 2


So does using 'femme' not buy into that whole historical mess?

For me, and for the other fabulous cuties I know who self-identify as femme, femme is defined however you darn well please.

"Femme is perpetually misunderstood and remains cloaked in silence and invisibility. Femme is a glitter-filled explosion of the gender binary." *
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:05 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


For me, feelings like DrMew describes are mostly jealousy. Of privilege, of people who are "better" at being trans than me, of people who are "better" at being gendered as women than me (whether that fits them or not, so it's plainly problematic), of people who have more options about how they're perceived than me, of AFAB bodies, etc. It's something I'm working on because it's obviously toxic both internally and externally and ties in closely with my dysphoria. For example: I recognize how awful it is that AFAB people are often socialized into makeup, but I still beat myself up over 13-year olds being better than me at it like I used to be frustrated that kids spoke my second language better than I did.
posted by Corinth at 12:09 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Also, the title of this FPP is kind of brilliant. It has me jumping to conclusions about the word "conclusions" and then it's like, oh, that's the point. Well done, there.
posted by Corinth at 12:11 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


I really wish society in general would get the fuck over caring about what other people wore, because skirts are fucking comfortable and should be available to all who want them without so much stress.

When I moved up here to Seattle on Amtrak I had an adventure that landed me somehow in the senior/assisted car in the back and bottom level of the train, perhaps because the ticket was booked and purchased by my senior age second (and cool) stepdad.

I was presenting as male, but letting my hair down and such, and at some point I was ma'amed by a nice older gentleman in the darkness of the train after he'd joined the train.

The next day in the daylight he was confused and asked "Wait, where did the young lady go that had your seat last night?" (Young lady? Awesome.)

"That was me."

"W-what? I'm sorry, why didn't you correct me when I said 'ma'am'!?"

"Because it doesn't really matter, and I don't care, and maybe I'm kind of both."

And I could practically see the lightbulb go on over his head as the gears turned, and eventually he just smiled and said "No, I suppose it doesn't really matter, does it? Never really thought about it like that."
posted by loquacious at 12:19 PM on June 2 [34 favorites]


Frowner was re: femme, hell yeah, I think there is a lot to explore in the realm of femme being the "marked" category in opposition to masculinity's "unmarked" "classic" category if we're considering the usual binarist ways of things.

I would really also like to figure out a way to do femme things with a body socially recognized as female without the social assumption being that I am doing those things to render myself as sexually available, presumably to men. Holy, holy shit.

Hermitdog: THAT IS SO RAD.

Also I am about dying of joy at all the non-binary people in this thread. Holy shit it's so nice.
posted by beefetish at 12:29 PM on June 2 [7 favorites]


For me, and for the other fabulous cuties I know who self-identify as femme, femme is defined however you darn well please.

See, the thing that frustrates me a little bit about this is when I get caught up in discourses where people are doing the whole "femme is love, femme is glitter, femme is exploding your binary" thing and I am positioned in that conversation as not-love and implicitly binary-endorsing because not-femme, and yet the definition of femme remains so vague that it's very difficult to respond in any way. (And I feel as though "exploding the binary" has to come with glitter and a DIY pink flogger in these types of conversations - I feel like I explode the binary, and yet the world would die of laughter if I owned a flogger of any sort, never mind a glitter one.) "Femme" seems to become defined as "things that are good and liberatory" with a nebulous other of bad, repressive things. Which just seems weird, and sometimes I feel lately that there's peer pressure to say that you're femme to show that you're ideologically on the right side.

I also feel like there's this creeping foundationalism (which isn't new to the queer community, I think) where if you do not identify as femme, you aren't just some other thing, you are positioned in opposition to femme. It's not really butch that is the opposite now but some more nebulous "masculine presenting" thing.
posted by Frowner at 12:40 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Frowner, agree, also the weird neotenous pastel thing that is going on in internet gender circles straight up gives me the creeps and while I'm willing to assume at least part of that is my internalized misogyny something is awry there.
posted by beefetish at 12:51 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


"Femme is perpetually misunderstood and remains cloaked in silence and invisibility. Femme is a glitter-filled explosion of the gender binary."

I'm finding the origin of that quote extremely enlightening and confusing, thanks Juliet.
posted by daveliepmann at 12:55 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Frowner, agree, also the weird neotenous pastel thing that is going on in internet gender circles straight up gives me the creeps and while I'm willing to assume at least part of that is my internalized misogyny something is awry there.

I think there can be cultural fashions that aren't awry, though - I think we live in a society where we are expected to express our identity through possessions and style in a really hyperbolic way everywhere. Lord knows my collection of weird men's shoes alone could fuel a blog for quite a while, and that isn't particularly different from having pink glitter shoes, etc.

For me, it's the mix of ethics and aesthetics that's difficult to get my head around - like "femme is love, but femme is also lavender sparkle gym shoes", as if you can't really have one without wanting the other. I can't really say "my nebulous identity of fat-body-genderless-person is love!" Or I could, but it would not sound persuasive in the same way, because we have a discourse of femme but not of random-fat-people. It wouldn't sound, you know, cool or enticing.

I think part of this for me is just that I don't have an identity that fits into any modern concept of "enticing", whereas I think playing with enticement and seduction as forms of power is a piece of how femme is figured - on tumblr at least. Like, there is nothing that is sexually comfortable to me that is pretty or cute or slinky or seductive or alluring; there's nothing to me that is even plausible as pretty or cute or seductive or alluring. There's nothing to me which is exciting-grotesque - whereas femme grotesque is Divine or pointy fingernails or Ursula the sea witch or something that's compelling, my grotesque is like the ancient turtle thing from Neverending Story.

Mostly, I think I just want to be boring in a corner by myself, so really this isn't, now that I think of it, even my conversation.
posted by Frowner at 1:04 PM on June 2 [12 favorites]


Frowner I am super glad you are having this conversation because it is giving voice to usually unvoiced thoughts that lurk in my head regarding the sticky/rough/itchy parts about social construction and reception of identity.

I am also intrigued that you call out pointy fingernails and sea witch as alluring. I have been approaching how to be genderlessly, scarily feminine and pointy nails/sea witch/evil old queen as anti-alluring constructions of femininity. Hasn't worked for me yet but I am trying to get there with worse hair, bigger muscles, and more flamboyant colors/shapes.

I think I will petition to have a gender of "Derek Jarman Army". I was all about the dancers in The Last of England.
posted by beefetish at 2:00 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Genderlessly feminine?

Okay, now I've officially lost the plot. I have no idea what female or feminine mean anymore. I just know that female = what people say I am (and it doesn't feel wrong or right, per se). But I don't understand what it is, beyond the biological stuff.

Recently I found the term'straight butch'. It didn't seem such a bad fit.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:12 PM on June 2


remember folks, gender identity can be distinct and seperate from gender expression. you can be agender, and still have a femme gender presentation (or whatever).
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 2:25 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


I seem to have ended up somewhere around "Femme Newsie."

I'm more physically comfortable in skirts and dresses and my particular body is more flattered by feminine tailoring, but I'm deeply deeply uncomfortable with how solidly this puts me in the "girl" box (distinct from the "woman" box, which also has its own problems, obviously.) Glasses, shortish hair, not wearing makeup most of the time and incorporating bits and pieces of men's clothing has helped a little.

I don't know, I keep writing up replies to this thread and then deleting them. I feel like because I'm a cis woman who doesn't mind so much being a woman, my own struggles with gender presentation and feeling like the version of myself that I'm putting out in the world doesn't match the version of myself in my head are just...you know, who cares? What's my vague discomfort with the gender binary compared to what other folks -- including many of the people in this thread -- are dealing with?

I wonder what kind of a person I would be if I was less conflict avoidant, less reluctant to draw attention to myself; if I hadn't been raised by well-meaning people with incredibly narrow ideas about how girls and women should look and behave; if I'd met different people, gone to a different school, spent more time with my queer women friends and less with boys who repeatedly reminded me how weird and loud and undesirable I was.

I understand how difficult it is for many people who are nonconforming, and I know how lucky I am that I haven't had to deal with that kind of danger and pain in my life. But there is a part of me that envies those of you who have found a place for yourselves somewhere in the middle.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:28 PM on June 2 [8 favorites]


I am also intrigued that you call out pointy fingernails and sea witch as alluring.

I think there's a strong tradition of the alluring "grotesque" - it's the allure of the grotesque that gives it power and also makes it hated, because people resent being allured (for all kinds of reasons). I think also when the "wrong" people have power, that's always figured as scary - Ursula the Sea Witch is alluring/grotesque (rather than just alluring or just grotesque) as a way of indicating her villainy - because an old fat woman should not have power, or if she has it, she should be completely at the beck and call of a king/warrior/male figure.

And I think there's the fact that we're taught to hate the maternal. Also the way the maternal is desexualized. I mean Ursula the Sea Witch is sexualized and a powerful maternal figure, and we are supposed to equate that with villainy. I think that's where femmeness comes in, right? That it's possible to be powerful and sexual and maternal and autonomous, when those things are not supposed to go together.

Have you read any Angela Carter? She's very much about the excessive/alluring-anti-alluring powerful feminine.

Genderlessly feminine?

I think that right now people are still in the process of forming language to express some of this stuff. I feel like what's happening is that people are peeling apart concepts that have always been believed inseparable - "woman" from "feminine" from "femme" from "gender" for instance - and we're eventually going to have a much vaster and more flexible vocabulary for talking about gender and sexuality. That new genders and sexes and modes of expression are becoming possible through using language and lived experience, and that none of those are foundational - like, you can't say "a woman is really, truly X and therefore we can generate a whole bunch of categories like "not-woman" or "extra-woman" or "almost-woman" which will also be really, really true because we have proved that woman is really truly X".

I think the tricky bit, politically, is that there are still many aspects of life where "woman is really truly X" is the rule that is enforced on people, and thus people experience certain aspects of life as if they were foundationally true. If I have to act as Woman-is-X to get a job, or if someone says "you are Woman, I am going to hurt you because I want to hurt Women", the fact that I don't think "Woman Is X" is a useful concept is in tension with the fact that "Woman Is X" is being enforced on my flesh. So you can see that this creates some challenges for organizing.

I also think that it's tricky because we've all been so socialized to arrange things in hierarchies that it is difficult just to let them float as a plurality. One way of doing gender must be better; we must think of gender performance as something to optimize and rank; we must clarify the relations between different gender performances. (This is different from critiquing potentially problematic things because it assumes a priori that once you understand everything Really Well, the end result will be a ranking system.)
posted by Frowner at 2:29 PM on June 2 [18 favorites]


I think the tricky bit, politically, is that there are still many aspects of life where "woman is really truly X" is the rule that is enforced on people, and thus people experience certain aspects of life as if they were foundationally true. If I have to act as Woman-is-X to get a job, or if someone says "you are Woman, I am going to hurt you because I want to hurt Women", the fact that I don't think "Woman Is X" is a useful concept is in tension with the fact that "Woman Is X" is being enforced on my flesh. So you can see that this creates some challenges for organizing.

This is a wonderful encapsulation of something very frustrating and tricky to talk about.


I also think that it's tricky because we've all been so socialized to arrange things in hierarchies that it is difficult just to let them float as a plurality. One way of doing gender must be better; we must think of gender performance as something to optimize and rank; we must clarify the relations between different gender performances. (This is different from critiquing potentially problematic things because it assumes a priori that once you understand everything Really Well, the end result will be a ranking system.)


I think a lot of this relates to the patriarchal conception of gender hierarchy, where "woman" category has labor (sexual, emotional, physical -- Think about it) alienated by "man" category. I have found that starting point to be a pretty useful place for examining various failures of the patriarchy for pretty much everybody from trans women to cis guys and everyone in between.
posted by beefetish at 2:50 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


I think that right now people are still in the process of forming language to express some of this stuff.

I got a lot of comfort about not fitting into a lot of the current boxes we have about gender/sexuality (even the weirdo outsider boxes!) from this quote from, of all places, an interview about Valerie Solanas:
FAHS: Valerie's sexual identity is still so bizarre—it's unable to be categorized according to the ways that we understand sexual identity today. We don't have the lens, yet—I want to say the word yet, because that's important. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but I kind of feel like she would have hated people calling her bisexual in the way that we define bisexuality today. I think the politics of sexual identity have the potential to become a lot better than they are now.

GHORASHI: Yeah, there really isn't a way for people to identify as gay or lesbian and also want to have hetero sex.

FAHS: Yeah, yet of course people do this all the time. I'm a sex researcher also, and I study a lot of behavior inconsistent with identity. Our identity categories aren't as advanced as what we understand to be true behaviorally, so I love the reviews of Up Your Ass from 10 years ago, because they're still saying things like, "Queer theory has nothing on Valerie." The characters have these sexual identities that we literally don't have the framework to understand yet.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:53 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


> I feel like because I'm a cis woman who doesn't mind so much being a woman, my own struggles with gender presentation and feeling like the version of myself that I'm putting out in the world doesn't match the version of myself in my head are just...you know, who cares? What's my vague discomfort with the gender binary compared to what other folks -- including many of the people in this thread -- are dealing with?

This really resonates with me. I don't want to clutter up the thread with my vague discomfort, either. Yet there is so much that I don't understand, and it feels important that I learn about this stuff. In order to better understand others, and also myself.

I don't mind being called a woman, because after all, my body matches the pictures in biology books that are captioned with 'woman' or 'female'. Does that make me cis?
I'm okay with that if it does, I just don't know.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:53 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


I find this really difficult to deal with too, because I feel like it's more of a trend than a thought-out thing. Like, I see it from cis women, from masculine-presenting people who identify as femme, etc - and not in a "masculine presenting people should be thoughtful" way but in a tumblr-bullshit hyperbole "masculine spectrum people are the enemy of femme people" way.

Just feel the need to vent on this, it feels to me like the LGBTQ communities have caught some sort of autoimmune disease where it's all about identity policing and establishing a ladder and pecking order rather than being aware of our own overlapping communities our place in them, and how different kinds of privilege interact. The reality that someone can pass here and face legal discrimination, domestic abuse, or epidemic levels of mental illness there gets lost.

It's like those identities are becoming gang signs, policed by pseudoscientific handwavium. Not the identities themselves, but the insistance that they be treated in essentialist ways that don't overlap or cannot be fluid or developed over time. Not just gender identity, but sexuality as well, since large chunks of my relationship history now gets othered into a distinct sexuality that must not be confused with gay, straight, or bi. The things you learn in middle age about what you really must have been doing all this time.

About the only positive spin I can put on it is to pose some pseudoscientific handwavium of my own, that a generation that's coming out younger and further removed from the closet and the cultural construction of queer identities are looking fixed reference points rather than a palette of colors for autobiography and autoethnography. What am I? I'm 32 flavors and then some. I'm wrestling through gender stuff in the closet, again, which is a different space from doing it at age 20 in college. The demands I need to pick a team don't help.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:55 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Too-Ticky, Narrative Priorities, I am so into hearing your voices. I want to hear more from everybody. Too much all this is kept to ourselves and carried in secret. I want to hear from everyone.
posted by beefetish at 3:01 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I hope that all this conceptual chaos is going to end up with a better (and more flexible) vocabulary for talking about gender expression.

Another thing that I think is tricky — though I guess this might be specific to the corner of the internet I hang out in these days — is that there is such a huge flood of gender-convoluted people who are finally coming out and talking about their experiences and trying to make some sense of it all. (No judgment! I'm part of that flood!) And sometimes it feels like we're all just sort of blundering around blinking in the sunlight and trying to find someone else who knows what the hell is going on, or some sort of landmark to latch onto.

I look around at my community and I feel like I'm watching middle schoolers on the first day of summer camp scrambling to create some sort of social landscape so they don't have to feel quite so lost. And sometimes that means overvaluing some trait just because it gives you something to bond over ("femme is love!"), and sometimes it means starting shit over trivial differences just to be able to draw a line somewhere, and sometimes it means taking this one incident you read about in a Julia Serano book and generalizing it into The Way All Queer Communities Operate and then having Strong Feelings about that, and ... yeah, it's exhausting.

And I mean, I'm right there in the middle of it, flailing around with everyone else and trying not to make too big an ass of myself.

But so that gives me some hope on some of the more egregious tumblr-style turf-war shit. Like, there will always be people like me who are having our first day of summer camp and acting out really egregiously because we're scared and homesick and confused, but it won't always be this massive demographic tidal wave of us just swamping everything else, eventually this will all hit some sort of equilibrium and things will settle down.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:02 PM on June 2 [9 favorites]


If I have to act as Woman-is-X to get a job, or if someone says "you are Woman, I am going to hurt you because I want to hurt Women", the fact that I don't think "Woman Is X" is a useful concept is in tension with the fact that "Woman Is X" is being enforced on my flesh.

It's not often that I read things that make me say, "Fuck, yes" out loud but this is one of those things. Fuck, yes.

I don't mind being called a woman, because after all, my body matches the pictures in biology books that are captioned with 'woman' or 'female'. Does that make me cis?
I'm okay with that if it does, I just don't know.


Ditto, I think. But I read about cisgender, and I was like, "Nope, I'm definitely not that." And then I read about transgender, and I was like, "Well, this is awkward, because I'm definitely not that, either." What now? (N/A? Person? Default configuration: woman?) The more time passes, the more sure I am that I am definitely not either of those things and that gender is something I maybe don't even have. It makes me feel defective and sometimes slightly insane, like there's some secret I haven't been let in on, something I just don't get.

My body has a womb and ovaries and such and is subsequently policed, socially and politically, like a woman's body, which has thus far made me quite certain that I'm a woman. That's all I've ever understood or experienced. My identity as a woman feels both decisively political and impossibly personal, because the intersection is inescapable: It's my body, and I grew up finding out how a very particular, often invisible, set of rules is applied to this sort of body and others like it.

I've learned that there are certain things that people say and do and think about this body, even certain things they're tacitly and legally allowed and encouraged to do to bodies like mine, certain laws that are made specifically to restrict the autonomy of this body and its biological processes, like post-Roe women were estrogen-fueled mad scientists whose unwieldy powers needed to be tamed by restricting access to abortion, effecting legal maneuvers to encourage compulsory pregnancy, and letting medical professionals opt out of treating us with the aid of something called, presumably without irony, a conscience clause. Patriarchy, gotta overthrow it, etc. etc. Anyway, these bits of information have all made me feel a very strong connection to other people who are policed as woman, by virtue of that policing -- is that what people call sisterhood? But when I hear people talk about gender (versus, I suppose, sex), that doesn't appear to be the sort of experience under discussion. So I'm kind of at a loss.

I would really also like to figure out a way to do femme things with a body socially recognized as female without the social assumption being that I am doing those things to render myself as sexually available, presumably to men. Holy, holy shit.

Ugh, for serious. This is the part where I whine about how dudes with much larger chests than me can go completely topless in the summer -- even, like, in the bodega! or on a restaurant patio! -- because they have men's bodies, but I can't do it EVER even if it's 95F outside because I have a woman's body, which means I would be being obscene and/or asking to get raped because a woman's body is inherently, intractably, unavoidably sexualized (per The Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women, natch).
posted by divined by radio at 3:58 PM on June 2 [16 favorites]


gender is something I maybe don't even have. It makes me feel defective and sometimes slightly insane, like there's some secret I haven't been let in on, something I just don't get.

My body has a womb and ovaries and such and is subsequently policed, socially and politically, like a woman's body, which has thus far made me quite certain that I'm a woman. That's all I've ever understood or experienced. My identity as a woman feels both decisively political and impossibly personal, because the intersection is inescapable: It's my body, and I grew up finding out how a very particular, often invisible, set of rules is applied to this sort of body and others like it.


I am doing that thing that people do about particularly exciting sports plays, with the pointing at the screen really demonstratively and making hooting noises and shit like that.
posted by beefetish at 4:31 PM on June 2 [8 favorites]


While I understand what you're saying, I think there is a definite difference in hardships between gender struggles conducted mostly internally and gender struggles that spill out into what you do with your body and how the world treats you. So I do appreciate that it can be difficult to talk about unique internal contemplation when people dealing with external fallout are navigating the patriarchy in more visibly transgressive ways. That said, I also admit that cis-ish* people verbalizing introspection in awkward places - like discussions that trans/genderqueer/etc. people are having about their oppression and what to do about it - does sometimes come across as ... twee or snowflakey, I guess? So I think some degree of hesitation to mention internal questioning can often be warranted when it comes to the usual outlets, but I think this thread has shown that there need to be more places for cis-ish people to talk about the ish.

I'm really enjoying reading this thread.

*I'm not trying to sound condescending, please let me know if this construction is over the line.
posted by Corinth at 4:56 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


"I think there's a strong tradition of the alluring "grotesque" "
- Frowner

Ugly can be beautiful, pretty. The pretty, never. - Oscar Wilde

I just want to be able to wear silk breeches and court shoes with a velvet suit as he did. But I have 14 fewer inches in height and at least 24 fewer inches of hair.
posted by Dreidl at 4:58 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


I'm cis but have felt a private joy in being able to do decent male drag on the rare occasions I've had the chance to wear that costume, all mixed up with shame that I am built non-femininely enough that I can carry it off and thus maybe not a "real" woman after all.

More gender flexibility/freedom would be good for everyone, is what I'm saying.
posted by emjaybee at 5:40 PM on June 2


I empathize with those who don't feel internally gendered, but do strongly identify with women due to shared experiences of patriarchy.

I know that when I was in college a zillion years ago, when the official position of feminist orgs on my campus was Transsexual Empire stuff (transsexuals are all sick men making mockery of real women and invading their spaces!), my admission that I didn't feel female was taken as both crazy, and as some kind of antifeminist assertion. I certainly didn't want to be an antifeminist, so I focused on my feminist identity and tried to ignore my gender identity. That allowed me to muddle through (though I was required to complete a Goddess Within Workbook before being allowed to participate in any political actions, I kid you not).

Anyway, feminist genderflexible intersex trans guy here just to underline that physical sex, binary sex assignment at birth, gender identity, gender expression, sexual identity and political identity are all separate characteristics. You don't have to identify as a woman to identify with them due to shared experiences. And not feeling much of any sense of an internal gender is as valid a gender identity as any other. Some people call that a neutrois gender identity, some people call it being agender, and you can call it whatever you like, and not lose your feminist commitments thereby.

One thing I will say, though, is that the fundamental insight of trans experience is that your body having the same configuration as the one labelled "female" in text books does not mean you are a woman. It's gender identity that makes you a woman, or a man, or whatever flavor of genderqueer you may be.
posted by DrMew at 6:41 PM on June 2 [8 favorites]


This is a fascinating thread and I'm so much appreciating the discussion.
posted by Lexica at 9:36 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


I think that right now people are still in the process of forming language to express some of this stuff. I feel like what's happening is that people are peeling apart concepts that have always been believed inseparable - "woman" from "feminine" from "femme" from "gender" for instance - and we're eventually going to have a much vaster and more flexible vocabulary for talking about gender and sexuality.

That captures perfectly, and insightfully, what has been tickling the edges of my brain for some time. This stuff is complicated (I don't feel like I understand it at all) and it will help when the vocabulary and theory catches up to the performances people are creating.

The photos in the first two links are beautiful, really great portraits. I agree that more diversity would add to the project, and I want to see this carried forward ten or twenty years since a number of the subjects just looked young to me, rather than fully embodied in their physical selves. Watching the portrayals evolve with time would richen this for me.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:43 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I am so, so appreciative of all you beautiful people in all of these threads.
posted by odinsdream at 10:22 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


> One thing I will say, though, is that the fundamental insight of trans experience is that your body having the same configuration as the one labelled "female" in text books does not mean you are a woman.
I'm under the impression that as we're gathered here, most of all of us know that. But in the outside world, many many people simply don't agree with it.

And personally, I carefully avoided saying that having this body makes me a woman (as you may or may not have noticed). Because I've been taught not to say that, because it hurts people. I do my best not to step on people's toes like that.
But I'm still left with the question: if that's not what makes me a woman, then what is? What do I have to base my gender identity on?
And the longer I look, the less I find.

Nevertheless, it doesn't feel wrong when people call me one. I'm lucky like that, I guess. But it's just based om my physical traits that they do that. They call me a woman because my body looks like one of the type that people call female.

Gender is not located in the body, I've been told. And I'm very willing to believe that; people's life stories indicate that this is true. But inside myself, I can't find another place where it might be. So it's hard to empathize with people who apparently feel gender clearly. But I try.

If it causes people so much joy, so much pain, if they are willing to do so much in order to be able to correctly express their gender, it must be a real thing.

Maybe this is a bit like being blind and hearing other people talk about colours.

Wait... the absence of a feeling of wrongness when people call me a woman. Could that be it?
Is that all? That seems rather... thin.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:16 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Is that all? That seems rather... thin.

Actually, in my experience, you've described it perfectly. Since an early age I've never been comfortable adhering to our social expectations of what girls and women are supposed to be. I was a "tomboy" when I was a kid, a punky goth outlier as a teenager. I cut my hair short and wore dresses sometimes because I thought I was supposed to, not because I wanted to. I chafed inside my body. But I never had a name for myself. I just assumed that everyone felt like this and I would grow to accept it, eventually.

The sea-change happened when I realised that I didn't have to accept it. When I moved away and started meeting trans people and queer people and people who feel the way I have always felt and they embrace it. They talk about it around the dinner table! They compare binder reviews and when someone announces that they are using different pronouns it's met with nods and smiles and no problems, just like that. Amazing.

And I realised that when someone calls me a woman, or refers to me as "Miss" or "young lady", I have to suppress the urge to look behind myself for someone who isn't there. When I wear skirts I feel like I'm in drag*. Identifying as a woman (or what we, currently, define as a woman) feels wrong to me. So does identifying as a man. So, right now, for right here, I am both, or neither. Or somewhere in between. But that doesn't define me. Sometimes I use it as a badge, sometimes it's a shield or a bridge to start a conversation, but most of the time it's just the way I feel when a man calls me "sir" in the street, then looks at me again and is visibly confused. That doesn't feel wrong.

*Though I'd argue many aspects of gender performance, even for straight cis people, can be a type of drag. But that's a whole other thing.
posted by fight or flight at 2:29 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Yesssssss, fight or flight, yessssss to all the things (the visible confusion is so much fun). Yes to much of the discussion before this!

I was raised mormon, so questioning such things is Just Not Done. I had my thoughts of "hmm...I don't really FEEL like a girl, but I don't think I'm a boy either...", but I never really dwelled on them because I knew if I ever voiced them, it would not be a fun conversation. I knew that trans people existed, but I didn't feel like a man, so I didn't think that applied. It was a bit over a year ago that I first discovered the concept of non-binary gender. When I started really navelgazing and pondering whether I was/wasn't "a woman", I really considered whether I was just not fitting into the societally defined role that I grew up with, or if it was on a more basic level. A person who told me that by default, identifying as genderqeer meant I was a misogynist anti-feminist suggested that I had a lot of unexamined misogyny, and I probably hadn't even considered that. I explained that I had considered it and actually wrestled with it a fair bit, but that I came to the conclusion that no, my feeling genderqueer was not a result of some underlying hatred of women. And I still consider myself a feminist.

Finding people who can accept (and even be attracted to(?!)) me as I am comfortable presenting and identifying has been amazing and at times causes me moments of "Really?! This is my life now?!" in a good way. Having the knowledge that I'm not alone in feeling like this, that it's ok to do so, and it's ok to present in a way that is comfortable to me and gives me confidence (in addition to some other life changes) has been such a sea change for me. Crippling anxiety/self-consciousness? Lots of that is mitigated. Constant underlying worry about being called out for not fulfilling the role of "woman" well enough? Gone. Giving any shits about what other people think of how I look? NOPE.

Just for the record, if anyone is living in an area where they don't feel their non-binary/genderqueerness is accepted or welcomed, come on to Denver, cuz there's a pile* of us**. :D

*not a HUGE pile, but enough that I feel like I can reach out and talk to someone who is one of my people when I need/want to, and we're not all a homogenous group, so there are different perspectives and voices.
**us = gq/n-b in general, not specifically gq/n-b mefites, though if there ARE any other local mefites who identify as such, please reach out!

posted by HermitDog at 8:56 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]


You don't have to identify as a woman to identify with them due to shared experiences.

An organization that has been doing really good work in this field is Bklyn Boihood. I loved this article, How my past as a Black woman informs my black male feminist perspective today.

I've noticed some discussions of privilege and "am I trans* enough to share my trans* experience" worrying in this thread, which is something I struggled with a long time. In the long term, I think the more people who come forward and say "hey, the definition of what it means to be born with the body I was born with is a socially constructed fabrication, I don't accept these limitations, I define myself" there are, the more accepted it will be in the future. However, people who still enjoy some cis-privilege have to be careful not to make the entire movement about us. It's not that you have to remain closeted about your genderweirdness; it's that you have to make sure the people in the community who need the most support are getting that support, instead of only focusing on glorifying ourselves in the dubious name of visibility.

One of the great things about supporting transwomen, transwomen of color, gender-nonconforming folk who have a presentation that makes sustaining employment difficult, etc is that they will tell you how to support them. Really. There are a ton of strong, vocal advocates out there already doing the work; they know what needs to be done. It's up to the rest of us to listen, and provide support. Here are just a few ideas I've picked up just from sitting on the sidelines.

LEGAL: If a trans person is being prosecuted unfairly due to their gender (profiled as a sex worker just for walking down the street, placed in prison despite not committing a crime, placed in the incorrect facility like Avery Edison or CeCe McDonald) work to get these cases publicity and contact authorities in the relevant district to show your disapproval of their bigotry. Volunteer for a transformative justice group - for example, here in Illinois you can volunteer to guide people through the legal name change process. Consider signing up for a prison penpal; in addition to being unfairly targeted by the prison industrial complex, many trans people are less likely to have family or other support on the outside and can often face dehumanizing isolation.

ONLINE: Don't take it personally if some people on Tumblr are venting about a group you belong to; taking it personally (not all cis people! not all AFAB people!) is a lot like all the indignant men who flooded the #YesAllWomen tag. Keep in mind, online space is often the only space people get to openly complain; their everyday life may be very different. No one cares that you're one of the good ones; show it, don't say it.

SOCIAL LIFE: Don't allow people you know to use transphobic slurs or misgender anyone, ever. Make it clear that you think media and jokes that play on harmful stereotypes about transwomen are not funny, at all. If you host events or manage a business, publically declare an anti-harassment safer space policy, and kick out anyone who violates it. Make it clear that your events/business/group/etc is queer friendly and that anyone who has an issue with it can stuff it. If possible, include gender neutral bathrooms.

And I guess, the less concrete examples, is just be there for the people in your life. Fave your friends' selfies, tell them they're cute, listen to what they're going through. Support them. Be a part of the queer community you want to exist, not the outdated one that left a whole lot of folks behind, and not the dark divisive underbelly you saw squabbling here or there last week.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:00 AM on June 3 [15 favorites]


One thing that makes my head explode is men getting genuinely upset at the idea of women wearing kilts...then ewww it's a skirt and not a kilt. There's a lot of insecurity and defensiveness under the surface,

Yeah I wear kilts in the summer at home. For those of you not familiar with me I'm a large hairy scarred up square jawed muscular man, define the straight edge.
I've got little time for those people. It's not being macho...or, well, perhaps it is, but not strong or courageous to give people crap about this kind of thing.
It certainly does indicate insecurity.

I dunno that I help the issue at all. I tend to give those kinds of people a heap of intimidation. 'Nice dress' I tend to just tender an F.U. or yeah, that's right it's a pleated, canvas dress so my dick can drag over jagged rocks, got a problem with that?

I don't know where they find the time to care. But, speaking from the other side of the equation, people seem to get bent out of shape if you seem to not be in the boys club if you're obviously a man's man.

It's not just conformity really. But they seem to think it's almost like a betrayal. Like their manhood is threatened because you, as a fellow man, are not acting/dressing the same way they are.
But dammit, kilts are comfy and if I don't want monkey butt/bloody balls/jungle rot I don't wear underwear.
Weird how going commando is considered manly, but the only people who actually do it were in that line of work.

How dull is it when everyone is dressed the same? I live in an ocean of conformity most times and yeah, it is. Even on people's off hours, it's like they gotta wear the cargo shorts, sandals, backwards baseball hat, etc. Everyone.
Granted, it's pretty practical most times. Nice to lug a cell in your shorts while your toes are cool.
But good God, it's 2014. We're supposed to be well past this kind of crap. We should already see people with cheetah heads grafted on their necks and cybernetic links in their brains. 'Oh, yeah, I modded my gene sequence so I'm part swan today'
Fuck, people can't get their heads out of their asses enough to not give a person crap for wearing indeterminate outerwear?
I used to get a little raw b/c many queer folk were pretty hostile to me. I mean, I know I come off like Chuck Norris' father's boss. And I give off a weird vibe because I'm really well past this garbage (such that I seem disapproving when I'm just blasé. Different generally isn't dangerous. Repetition/monotony is.)
But I was at a thing a bit back, pretty much all lesbians, and you see how some people change and just can't deal with it. And if I had to put up with that kind of crap, I'd be a little leery myself - I at least have the option of busting some heads.
But yeah: "SOCIAL LIFE: Don't allow people you know to use transphobic slurs..." it takes a lot of work to change those habits and, unfortunately, the threat of violence isn't enough.

It's definately a social thing. And, unfortunately for me because it's going to take more work than just acceptance, requires a sea change. One has to be actively inclusive and exclude people who rote the stereotypes. I'd like to skip ahead. Y'know, to the cheetah stuff and enlightened acceptance such that we can all relax and get back to not caring what someone wears or how they identify, etc. (I'm sure 100 years from now people like me will be the odd ducks). But there is just sooo much baggage we gotta scrap off first.
I mean - f-yeah gender neutral bathrooms. Just from a purely practical perspective. Everyone poops. Everyone. (Well, 100 years from now there's a mod... but for now). And yet we've still got these Victorian (Elizabethian?) mores we're lugging around.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:01 AM on June 3


But good God, it's 2014. We're supposed to be well past this kind of crap. We should already see people with cheetah heads grafted on their necks and cybernetic links in their brains. 'Oh, yeah, I modded my gene sequence so I'm part swan today'

Yeah, this is really how I feel. I hesitated to post in this thread, though I found the discussion fascinating, because I feel that cis privilege that I can present as a regular male if I choose to, which I do most of the time. But the issue for me is not so much that I don't fit in as one gender or another, it's that traditional macho masculinity disgusts me and I just find it all so limiting. If I could upload my consciousness to a computer, I'd pick a different body every day. It's just my meatspace avatar. I don't feel any real attachment to being male or female, or human for that matter. Bring on the cheetah heads, for sure.

That said, I recently went to Coachella in drag, and it was absolutely exhilarating to be in public dressed up like that and to be so accepted for it. If anyone had negative reactions, they kept them to themselves. So many people were so positive towards me, and people treated me sooo much differently from how they do when I'm dressed like a dude. I'm really interested in more opportunities to express my inner self outwardly in that way, but I don't feel like dressing feminine in daily life is really the way to do that. So really I don't even know if I qualify to even be a part of this discussion, because again I have the privilege of being able to revert to a traditional male appearance at any time, and I've never faced any outright oppression or discrimination.

The quote above from the Valerie Solanas interview really resonated with me as well. I feel like the choices of vocabulary we have available to discuss these things are really lacking. I can't imagine trying to discuss these issues with someone who doesn't know anything about them, or who thinks in the traditional way about gender. I'm not a transvestite (eww what a gross and horrible word), and it's not about being gay. I dunno. The labels society uses to talk about these things are so shallow, when really I think anyone who is willing to examine without judgment how they really feel about their gender will find that it's not a one word answer, it's like a couple sentences or paragraphs really.
posted by malapropist at 11:23 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I can't comment at length because I'm at work, but this thread (post pronoun-derail) is like getting a hug from the internet. I needed one today.
posted by libraritarian at 1:53 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


Intimate Photos Challenge What It Means to Be Born a Boy or Girl -- an article on the FPP photos that includes details I haven't seen elsewhere.
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 12:11 PM on June 12


dunno if someone other than me wants to make a fpp about this:
'Others: Gender,' Brian Reda Photography Project, Documents Trans And Genderqueer Individuals (NSFW)
i'm kinda tired of posting photo gallery fpps honestly.
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 1:40 PM on June 15


Came here from MetaTalk, learned lots.

Thanks for sharing your experiences everyone.
posted by greenish at 9:20 AM on June 17


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