LGBTQ Magazine

Beyond the Binary: Question Twenty

By Cnlester @cnlester

The end is in sight – five questions left to go. Panel bios here.


Question Twenty:

How would you go about defining yourself, in terms of gender or lack thereof, to a wider group? i am agender and find difficulty explaining that and my asexuality to everyday people, ie mom and other relatives. my friends have no issues or silly questions being that they are as “odd” as i am, or more so. 


GrrlAlex: I use transgender and genderqueer. Some get it, some need it explained.  I don’t have contact with any family so its only down to friendships/social networks.


Nat: In my case I went through a binary transition in the late 90s before retransitioning to a gender neutral name and presentation, so explanations to relatives tend to be reassuring (or reminding) them that I’m still just as transgender as I was before but in a different way.


When I’ve explained my relationship with gender to people who don’t already know me, I tend to say that I don’t consider myself to have a gender or, if I do, it’s something so complicated that it’s as difficult to summarise as my personality. Gender is not something that I have strong positive feelings about but I do have feelings of wrongness when being referred to with binary gendered language.


I don’t relate to the concepts of femininity or masculinity and think perceptions of those in me come from other people, and the society surrounding us, not from any innate part of myself. I don’t get hugely upset if people I casually interact with misgender me, but it becomes cumulatively upsetting if everyone makes the same assumption. However being androgynous means that I get a mixture of misgenderings, along with occasional people recognising that they can’t gender me and need to ask my preference.


 If someone uses gendered language to refer to me to others then I find it uncomfortable in part because it isn’t true but more so because it gives other people permission to do the same. This is why I prefer to be referred to with gender neutral language. I also find it upsetting to be misgendered by someone who’s aware that I’m nonbinary, either because I feel they’re intentionally disrespecting me, don’t care enough to remember my preference or slipping up and revealing how they truly see me.


 I’ve also been known to summarise all this with glib answers like “I don’t do gender” or that I’m “allergic to gender”. I’m also sometimes required to remind people that the details of my gender history are irrelevant or none of their business when they’ve decided to take the above information as an invitation to ask questions about my genitals or ‘trajectory’. I transitioned 14 years ago, I don’t think it should be relevant to interacting with me today.


Jennie: I tend to just say that I don’t feel male or female, and let people ask questions if they want to.


Hel: I’m unsure about the idea of using different/simpler language for ‘a wider group’ – surely you ultimately want everyone to be using terms which you consider to be respectful and accurate?  That said, it’s not possible to give a Trans 101 to everybody you meet – but normally in those situations I tend to either not raise gender, or to just express things in terms of actions I expect from them (i.e. “Please use a gender-neutral pronoun when referring to me”) rather than trying to give a long explanation/justification of my identity.


CN: I tend to keep it fairly simple and light – that seems to work for people who are willing to listen, and I haven’t found much that helps with the people who won’t listen. Often something as easy as: “Quick FYI – I’d really appreciate it if you could use gender-neutral pronouns” – and if someone asks why I’d usually go back with something fairly flippant – “well, I’m a gender-neutral kind of person”. When talking to people about being trans, I’ve found it can be helpful to build on the language they already have, even if it’s not so accurate – so if someone says “so it’s like you’re trapped in the wrong body?” I’d reply “well, yes, sometimes it feels like that, but that’s not quite right…” I think building a conversation gradually can be more useful than just an initial info-dump.

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