If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.
I’m doing this post out of order, in spite my intentions to just work through the list from top to bottom, because this was the post that circled around and around in my head whilst I considered doing this series.
First, like a good philosophy student, I want to define terms. I’m just going to copy and paste what the World Health Organization says:
“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
And, here’s the GenderWiki definition of gender fluid, just in case you’re too lazy to look:
Someone who is gender fluid switches between genders, which may include male, female, neutrois, third gender, or any other genderqueer identity. They can also switch to have combinations at the same time, such as male and female, or other mixes, such as male, neutrois, and a third gender. They can combine varying amounts of gender identities; three, four, or five, or many with which the individual identifies. They can also be every gender and combination at once, a term known as polygender (other terms for which may include multigender or pangender, which may be considered derogatory by some).
But some of you are here not for a consolidation of definitions; you want to read what this means to me. Especially if you already looked up genderfluid (look, I’ve seen it with and without the space and I like it spelled this way) and realise that this is one of those things where you need to actually ask me what I mean if you want to know how it applies to me. Given the big role gender played in my life, even before I knew what gender was, I’m happy to help you understand.
As a kid, obviously, the word “gender” didn’t mean anything to me, even though the concept impacted me. I knew I was a girl (look! girl bits!), but I also knew that I liked boy things as much as or more than girl things (something that will mean something else when we talk about my bisexuality…ha!). And I knew that this confused and bothered some people, and that it made friendships difficult. Girls thought I was weird for liking boy things; boys weren’t sure they believed I liked boy things because I also liked girl things. Ugh! That was a real pain for wee Amber.
It also led to turmoil later. I went through years and years where I tried to strongly reject all girl things (not that I wanted to be a boy, but if I liked boy things more in general, I didn’t want girl things getting in the way of friendships…plus, my subconscious feminist hadn’t yet realised that this was doing me a disservice; she just knew that boys seemed to have a better deal in life and I wanted in on that…and then I tried to balance not wanting to hate being a girl with trying not to be “too much a girl” and had a whole different miserable experience). I hated colours purely on principle, I was distraught if someone accused me of being at all girl-like, I was ashamed of the things about my body that proved that I was a girl. But I never actually wanted to be a boy in a way that would lead me to change my body or be trans. I felt guilty when I liked things that I’d lumped in as girl things (someone bought me a relaxing spa facial that was ruined by feeling guilty the whole time). I even only wore makeup at one point (I wanted to wear it, but I felt I needed an excuse) because I’d grown up knowing and knowing of plenty of boys who did that (thank you, David Bowie). I wanted people to be romantically interested in me because of me, not because they wanted girly me or because they could picture me as a boy. On and on…what a mess it was in my head and my heart. I’ll spare you the numerous stories and situations and hope you can get a sense of what a non-fun time that was.
Let’s fast-forward. Still before I’d even learned about gender in the context of the definitions I pasted in at the start of this, I had the great fortune of opportunities that let me gain some pretty solid self-esteem (my self-esteem is another future post or two). As part of that, I kind of laid off on the self-categorisation a bit and just accepted that I was me. That didn’t change what a pain it was to interact with other humans if gender mattered, of course. But then we can fast-forward a little more to when I learned that definition of gender I pasted in. In my world, this was huge. Because here is what it meant to me:
Unlike my sex, which was a real thing that included definable and concrete elements like breasts (small, but existent…hello, girls!) and female genitals, gender wasn’t real in a way that I felt I had to honour or allow to constrain me. It was something that changed from culture to culture, from age of time to age of time. It was made up. It had no right to mean anything more to me than any other fiction. And it was a bloody shame that someone else’s fiction impacted my daily life. That it would (and does) impact it even if I reject it as a reality, because the rest of society accepts it.
I started using genderfluid to describe this state of mine where, sometimes, I feel “girl” because I fit the gender stereotypes of Western culture that they consider the female gender…and sometimes I feel “boy” for the parallel male gender reasons…but, mostly, I just feel “Amber.” Which is to say that I rarely think of myself as male or female in a gender way, just in a sex way. And, when I do, I remind myself that I’m buying into a fiction that, in my opinion, has done more harm than good. And then, even if my feelings or actions or appearance don’t change, I’m back to feeling “Amber” and life is better.
Whether or not I wear makeup (which anyone who pays attention knows I feel isn’t just for females) or skirts (ditto) or pink or etc (ditto and ditto), I’m Amber. And even things like “being very emotional” or “being too logical” that are ascribed to one sex or another by way of gender roles are things I’ve seen in both sexes (and have seen both in myself). Same story with behaviours (girls are backstabbing and boys are emotionally distant…okay, have really only seen the “emotionally distant” in myself, and even that rarely…but you get my point, right?). So, I reject that stuff as actually fundamentally tied to any person just because of the genitals with which they were born. And I certainly reject it as ways to categorise myself, because I don’t fit a box and I don’t worry about fitting a box.
Here’s a short FAQ:
Q. What’s my gender?
Q. What gender pronouns do I prefer?
A. I don’t have a preference. As long as you aren’t trying to be insulting (cos I don’t ever prefer to be insulted), you can use female, male, or gender-neutral pronouns. I’ve happily responded to all.
Q. Why genderfluid and not agender?
A. Because I read the definitions and see overlap and see how both could apply, but genderfluid just feels right. And since it’s all made up anyway, I’m going to go with my feelings on this.
Q. Do I ever cross-dress?
A. As someone who’s female sexed, I have a lot more room to manoeuvre clothing/appearance in this society. Unless I stuffed my pants with something to make it look like I have boy parts, I can wear trousers or skirts in all sorts of styles and people likely wouldn’t assume I was dressing to fit a gender. (And I’ve only stuffed my trousers as part of a Halloween costume. Never really found myself wanting to be physiologically male…except during that day or two a month when my female parts are trying to kill me…ha!)
Q. Is it okay if I, the reader, feel like I have a gender and want to claim a gender, request specific pronouns?
A. Yes! I have come to where I am because this is the healthiest place for me (something I learned through both study and experimentation). If you have found another place that is your healthiest, rock that place!
Q. Is it okay that I, the reader, think of you as female?
A. Sure. I have the genitals that classify me as female. However, I’d appreciate you stopping short of assuming that my physical femaleness tells you anything more about me than that. It doesn’t tell you my personality, my aesthetic, my capabilities, etc. You proceed at your own risk if you try to gender me (instead of just sexing me). (And everyone pause whilst the perpetual adolescent part of me has a laugh at the ways you can interpret that last sentence.)
We should be back to posts that follow the order of my original list next week. Thanks for being observant and noticing this out-of-order post. I’m going to go empty the rubbish, cook some dinner, and read scifi. These are all things easily encompassed in the Amber gender.
Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy)