ahunter3 (ahunter3) wrote,

Diminishing Returns

My transgender woman friend is replying to a comment that she finds annoying. Somebody has said that they have nothing against transgender women, "but why do you embrace all of the most phony and stereotypical trappings of restrictive femininity? It's all pink lipstick and false eyelashes and nylons and pointy shoes with you. Don't you see how that comes across to us cis women? It's like you think that's what being a woman is all about!"

My friend finds the comment annoying because she feels like she keeps answering it over and over, it's a reoccurring theme and she's tired of it. She writes, "We don't like being misgendered. I happen to be tall for a woman, with more narrow hips and a more angular jaw. I grew up before puberty blockers. Many of us need to send as many signals as possible or we run the risk of being addressed as 'sir' or 'mister'. Why is that hard for you to understand?"

She uses socially recognized indicators of gender. Things that men don't do, things that men don't wear. That only works as long as men, in general, don't do those things, don't wear those items.

Meanwhile, we cheer when we hear stories of boys in preschool who aren't chased away from the fairy princess costumes. We celebrate the decline in rigid notions of what boys can do, what girls can do. We agree that the body with which one is born should not artificially limit one's choices, that people should have the maximum freedom to be and do any of the things that other people get to be and do in our society.

Many nonbinary and agender people say they would be glad to see gender disappear entirely: just treat people for who they are, don't categorize people as genders at all. But at the same time, many of them continue to be assigned to a gender by the people who encounter them. The assignment tends to be the same assignment they were given at birth--not because of actual genitalia, necessarily, but assorted visibly discernable physical characteristics that are the product of our sex hormones and the effects they have on our bodies. The same things that my transgender friend has to work against to avoid being misgendered. So it happens with nonbinary and agender people, too, they get misgendered and to try to keep that from happening, they, too, make use of garments and grooming styles to "look more masc" or "look more femme", to offset those traits.

I could identify as transgender or as nonbinary, but mostly I don't. I don't seek to be perceived as a female person, and I don't seek to be perceived as someone who is neither male nor female. I most often call myself genderqueer instead, and explain to people that I am a gender invert, a male girl (or male femme if you prefer), that I have a body and I have a personality, a sex and a gender, and what makes me genderqueer is that they are a mixed bag, an apparent mismatch.

Like the transgender and the nonbinary people, I, too, use some signals to convey visually a bit of who I am. I wear my hair long, I wear some jewelry that's not typical for males to wear, and I wear some apparel that isn't considered men's clothes (especially skirts). Since I present (nevertheless) as a male person (the facial hair being a pretty distinctive marker, and a prominent male larynx also makes that statement), it's a mixed signal, which is more or less as good as I can accomplish in the absense of a widespread social expectation that there are such people as male girls out there.

If there were a lot of other male people doing that, though, using items that socially symbolize femininity without attempting to be perceived as physically female, wouldn't it just dilute and eventually erase the perception of those items as feminine? Or is there a way to create the identity "male girl" and be recognized as a feminine male instead of being seen as a longhaired man in a skirt?

And is it a problem anyway? If the world had not insisted on a bunch of rigid notions about how girls and boys are supposed to be different from each other, would I have ever pushed away from the "boy" identity and decided I was more like one of the girls?

Maybe. Maybe not. I think the answer to that depends on whether males in general have different traits (other than the physical, I mean) from females in general. If there are such differences at the generalization level, I might still have come to see myself as an exception, even without the excessively rigid and proscriptive attitudes I grew up with.

People might want to hold on to artificial signals, signals that have historically said "feminine" or "masculine", not to gild the lily of their body's own physical manifestations but to signal where on the spectrum of masculinity to femininity they consider themselves to belong. There's no innate reason for most of these markers to convey the meaning that they currently convey, but that's true of the sounds that constitute our language and yet we continue to use language to communicate.

But if, on the other hand, there are no real non-physical-body differences between the sexes, it does seem like gender would disappear if there were no ideology propping it up. So notions of "masculinity" and "femininity" might fade away, along with any possible signals to convey them.


You're secluded in quarantine, and all the performances and events have been cancelled, so it's a good time to read a book!

My book has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.

Links to published reviews and comments are listed on my Home Page


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Tags: agender, altercasting, androgyny, cisgender, dysphoria and misgendering, femininity, gender invert, genderqueer, masculinity, social vs biological
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