I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to me to be agender. You see, I am non-binary and for many folk the term ‘non-binary’ brings a certain sort of person to mind. Perhaps they are androgynous. Perhaps they have short hair. Perhaps they exist somewhere between masculine and feminine, so that when you meet them you don’t know whether to default to ‘he’ or ‘she’ and you go with ‘they’ to play it safe until pronouns are presented to you.
That is not who I am.
Androgyny is appealing to me because it doesn’t belong to the binary, but it is also stifling to me, because it belongs to a hidden trinary instead.
I certainly love androgyny. I have always had that confusing ‘do I like you or want to be like you’ reaction to androgynous folk. My connection to gender is tenuous, enforced only by the assumptions people lay on me. I have never felt I belonged to my assigned gender and I never desired to belong to another gender. Androgyny is appealing to me because it doesn’t belong to the binary, but it is also stifling to me, because it belongs to a hidden trinary instead.
I hate being misgendered. I am not a man or a woman, I am a person only. Gender not found. Each time I am misgendered, it is like a paper-cut. I am riddled with them. Going out into the world, I can feel myself being misgendered by the eyes of others before they ever open their mouths to confirm it. I know it’s privilege that it is only a paper-cut, and that I can force a smile and pretend they are right if I feel unsafe. Nonetheless, I feel perforated by it.
I am not a midway point between Man and Woman.
And so the appeal of androgyny is obvious. I would be seen not as a man or a woman, but something in-between. My pronouns would be more likely to be accepted and remembered. There would be fewer paper-cuts if I was a question mark instead of a wrong answer.
The frustration is: I am not a midway point between Man and Woman. I am not a Third Gender. I am no gender at all. I don’t really want to be in-between.
This is all very hard to articulate, but essentially the fact that presentation is not gender is core to who I am. I think we all know that presentation is not gender — that a man who wears dresses does not become a woman in so doing, that a woman who wears trousers is not a man for the length of that time. That what we look like or how we dress or style ourselves is not really our gender. But in practice, presentation is a huge part of how we perceive gender.
For me … my body is me, apart from a few dysphoric things that I would change one day if I had the chance. Neither thing would change my presentation drastically. There are some parts of presentation that I pay attention to because they make me feel a little better. Small changes to how I dress, conscious thought into whether something feels right for me and how I want to present myself, or not.
Presentation is a tool … but it still provides no real answers for me
But ultimately, if I were able to make every change I wanted in body and dress, I would still be misgendered 100% of the time. Because presentation is not my gender, and my gender isn’t a point on a linear spectrum where point A is ‘Man’ and point B is ‘Woman’ and ‘Non-Binary’ is somewhere in-between. My ideal presentation is not androgyny and thus I am left with no options.
Presentation is a tool. It can help affirm gender to ourselves, and display it for others. I have family who are genderfluid or bigender, and they change their presentation all the time to express that. I understand that.
But it still provides no real answers for me. I suppose I’ll have to wait for a future where gender isn’t assumed. Where we don’t look at people and think ‘man/woman/other’ based on how they look. I don’t think that future is so very far away.
I’m just tired of paper-cuts.
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