|Gender Fluidity and the Nature of Identity
||[Nov. 17th, 2016|02:14 pm]
"What do you people mean when you say you're 'really women inside', anyway?", she posted, challenging us. "You folks apparently want us to believe that your minds, or hearts or whatever, are like those of us who were born female. But you've never been female, so how do you know whether who you are on the inside is like who we are on the inside? Frankly, it's pretentious and arrogant! You're appropriating women's experiences and women's identity!"
Well, she's got a point. None of us who were not born female know from first-hand experience what it is like, "inside", to be one of the people who were born female, and yet it is to them that we are comparing ourselves, and with whom we are identifying ourselves, when we say our gender is woman despite having been born male.
But although it's not as obvious at first glance, she's in the same situation.
She identifies as a woman. She considers herself to have elements and aspects of herself that are things she has in common with other women. But she's never been any other women, she's only been herself. Her only firsthand experience is of herself, and therefore if she limits herself to firsthand experience, she can't know how much of who she is represents what she has in common with other women, and how much is specific to herself as an individual. The only way she can extrapolate a sense of a shared identity as "woman" is by external observation and recognizing, from the outside, patterns and commonalities.
Which is what we're doing, too.
Notice that, like most everything else involving gender, it is a process of generalization. We observe women and generalize about our observations. We observe our own selves and generalize there, too, in identifying traits and tendencies, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously.
For quite some time now, I have described myself as a male-bodied person who is a girl or woman. That's an identity, it's a conclusion, and it's a political statement. But it's also a generalization when you get right down to it.
Not too long ago on Facebook, in response to a post about whether other genderqueer folks in the group have moments of self-doubt and a sense of being an imposter who doesn't really (always) feel the way they've described themself, I posted that I've been all over the map between "I'm sure all males experience themselves as inaccurately & inadequately described by the sexist reductionistic descriptions, I'm just more vocal about it" through "I am definitely more like a girl than I am like the other boys, so that's one more difference in addition to being left-handed and having eyes of two different colors" all the way to "I am a girl; this is a really fundamental part of my identity and explains my life far better than any other thing, I am Different with a capital D and this is the Difference".
Ever since I posted that, it's been sort of echoing in my head. Hmm, why don't I have a stronger tendency to think of myself as one of the guys who feels very badly defined by the sexist ideas of what it means to be a man?
I certainly have gone through periods in my life when I thought of myself in those terms. In the timeframe from about a year after I came out at UNM in 1980 — let's say 1981 or 1982 — until I finally withdrew as a graduate student from SUNY / Stony Brook in 1996, I put aside my sense of myself as fundamentally different from (other) guys. I wrote about that somewhat in 2015 in a post about repositioning
Essentially, I spent those years not only trying to "join up" with the feminist movement but also expecting to be in the vanguard of males with a serious personal grudge against the whole "being a man" thing in our society, expecting to meet other such people and then I would connect, feel far less alien among male-bodied people. My alienation would be towards the patriarchal sexist idea of what it means to be male, and I would not be alone in that.
And I wrote, and I spoke, and I went to the library and sought out books and magazine articles, and I went online and joined email-based groups. But I didn't find them.
Here's what I found instead:
• Warren Farrel's The Liberated Man, and sensitive new age guys, and articles about how bad it is that we male folks aren't allowed to cry or wear pink ties. Gimme a break.
• Men's rights groups of angry divorced men who want custody of their children or freedom from sexist alimony considerations, but who weren't considering themselves to be at all on the same team as feminist women, just using "sexual equality" as a tool towards making their argument
• "Profeminist" men's groups in which the tone was mostly abject self-abasement, shame and apology for how our male jackboots have been on the throats of women and how our positions of privilege benefit us unfairly. All of which is true but there was a severe lack of any profound emotional connection to wanting things to be different for any personal reason, any personal benefit to things changing. A mild consideration for the situation of gay guys but no sense of having found others like me.
• John Bly and Sam Keen and their drums and male-bonding, reinventing or rediscovering what it might and could mean to be a man. No strong sentiment of being angry about the whole "being a man" thing being imposed on us, or of feeling "that ain't me", though. Kind of reminded me of Boy Scouts.
... and as time went on, I had reason to question my standoffish disinclination to identify with any of these movements or groups of guys: What, do I have a need to be the most radical of anti-patriarchal males and therefore a need to see any and all other males as less so, or something like that?
What I realized, especially after I'd been drummed out of academia, was that I'd suppressed the sense of being personally different in order to emphasize this as a social movement against a social system. But in my original burst of self-understanding, I had specifically seen myself as a person who was like one of the girls instead of being like one of the boys, despite being male.
In other Facebook post, I made an off-the-cuff comment in passing about genderfluid people being the ones who have "girl days" and "boy days", and some genderfluid people replied to correct me: "Hey, I am never a 'boy'... I am fluid between being agender and being on the feminine spectrum"; "I float somewhere between being a demiboy and being a man, I hate it when I get misgendered and people say 'she' or 'maam'.."
"GENDERFLUID", in other words, refers to a wider and more general notion of a gender identity that shifts from time to time or context to context. Not the limited "oscillates between the two conventional genders" model I tend to associate with it.
So as it turns out, I guess I do fall into the description. My description of myself as a "male girl" (et al) is a generalization. And a choice in how to present, how to describe.
So far, I have sent out inquiry letters to women's studies / gender studies / sexuality studies departments and programs at universities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. (Or, more specifically, my publicist sent them out — the emails went out from him and replies to the emails go back to him).
Two programs have made replies asking when I'm available and how much I charge including travel and room and board charges. Nothing definite but it's exciting. One is in Vermont and one is in Virginia.
Meanwhile I've gone back to querying lit agents (even if it's mostly a waste of time), and I have a query in front of a publisher. Today I sent a follow-up letter to a publisher to whom I sent a query back in April, because they'd indicated that I would hear from them within a few weeks. If their policy was "we will only contact you if we're interested", which isn't uncommon, that would be a different thing, but in this situation I decided to nudge them.
Total queries to lit agents: 822
As Nonfiction: 601
As Fiction: 221
Total queries to publishers: 14
No Reply 3+ Months: 3
Pub Contract Signed, Then Publisher Went out of Business: 1