I Consider Gender

I’m an inveterate taker of Internet quizzes, and have been pretty much ever since the Internet became a thing. Doesn’t matter what the topic is. If someone offers to reveal my inner Disney Princess, or the colour of my aura, or my ideal toenail length, I’m there. So when, a few weeks ago, I stumbled on this quiz to reveal my gender identity, of course I had to take it.

I didn’t expect it to shake me.

Going into it, I thought, “Like anyone really needs a quiz for that!” I was sure that people figured out their gender at an early age, whether they identify as Cis, Trans, or none. Or some combination. And I fully expected the quiz to confirm what I’ve always believed about myself–or believed since I started thinking about these things: that I’m a Cisgendered woman.

I haven’t always thought about gender. Not my gender, not other people’s. Sexuality, sure. I remember when David Bowie came out as Bi and was on the cover of some national news magazine my parents subscribed to. I think I was in grade school, maybe middle school. I thought, “Oh, okay. Boys can like boys. I guess that means girls can like girls.” And it didn’t matter so much to me. It just made sense. As I got older, I met some people who didn’t feel much connection with sexuality at all. And that was okay, too.

But I never thought about gender as distinct from sexual identity. I knew some Trans people, mostly Trans women, and I knew they were distinct from the drag queens I knew. And that was about it, until last May after the Eliot Rogers business in Santa Barbara and the wash of related hashtags that came out on Twitter. One of them was #CisGaze, and I started following it to…well, because I thought a responsible person who’s concerned with issues of social justice should listen to different kinds of people talking about their experiences. So I connected with some people who identify as Trans, and some who identify as Genderqueer, and some who don’t identify with gender at all. I started looking at my simplistic notions about gender: that it’s part and parcel with the genitalia you’re issued at birth and you’re Trans if you don’t agree with them. Or something like that.

I always identified as Cis because I agreed with my genitalia. At least, I never had a problem with them. I never thought, “I should have a penis!” or anything like that. Which was pretty much the entirety of my concept of a Trans person’s thought process: not feeling at home in the body they were born with and trying to reshape their personal reality. Trans people who didn’t transition through surgery, or at least intend to transition some day, weren’t a part of my reality. So hearing about that, trying to absorb the reality of it, men who are fine having vaginas and even being pregnant, and women who’ve never had boobs or even wanted them…It was uncomfortable and challenging to process, and it still is. In fact, I’m still working on simply accepting these things as so, without delving into the wider implications of what it does to my world view.

Anyway. So, this gender identity quiz popped up on some feed of mine, and I took it. And this is what I got.

What the hell??
What the hell??

I took it again and got the same result. And a third time. And more. And I got the same result every time. The thing about these quizzes, when I take them, I always try my best to choose the answers truest to my reality. Sometimes there aren’t any that come even close, of course. And I most often think, because of this, that Internet quizzes have more to do with the internal reality of those who make them than that of those who take them. (I have to pause here to say I really like that last sentence. It has a good rhythm.) But this one–I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because I gave honest answers, and the result was SO NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. Because I’ve never had a problem with my genitalia.

The more I thought about it, the more I had to consider the idea that this stupid Internet quiz was right. That I’m not exactly the Cisgendered woman I have always supposed myself to be. I’ve never gone out of my way to present as “a combination of the two” (which I realize is missing the mark, because gender isn’t binary). But there are definitely things about me–many things about me–that clash with the strictly “feminine” identity.

(Side note: Right now I’m feeling as if I need to put any and every gender identifier into quotation marks.)

I’m big. I’m loud. I take up space. I’m proud of my intellect. I’m outspoken in my opinions. I drink straight Scotch, by preference. I get impatient with typically “female” clothes and styles; I’d rather have freedom of movement than look pretty (although I enjoy looking pretty). I joke that I don’t “Girl” well. I wear make-up on special occasions, or when I’m getting a picture taken, but I’d rather sleep than mess with all that shit. When I was in school, I was always the one whose socks were falling down and whose hair looked ragged, whose shirt came untucked. I’m interested in Math and Science.

I never considered these things “masculine.” They’re just me. But as I think more and more about gender being a social construct, and maleness and femaleness existing on a…on a behavioral spectrum, I guess, where Male people are supposed to be one way and Female people are supposed to be another way, I have to wonder. It’s disturbing. I feel it in my stomach, which is interesting to me because that’s the area of the third chakra. The third chakra rules matters of identity, self-worth, and personal power. And it’s my weakest chakra, the one that’s blocked.

When I was growing up, my parents never paid a lot of attention to my gender. In fact, in a good many ways they actively disengaged from matters of gender. I got girl clothes because I was born with a girl’s body, but that was about it. I certainly was never indoctrinated into the female rituals of presentation and grooming. No one ever told me “Girls don’t do X, Y, or Z; that’s for boys.” I played with dolls, and I also played with a chemistry set. In my world of Let’s Pretend, I was as likely to be an intrepid scout as I was to be a princess–and more likely to be a mountain lion than either. I’ve remarked in recent years, with people talking more and more about diversity in books, that I never felt under-represented because I was a girl. I identified much more strongly with Aragorn than I did with Galadriel, and I was perfectly happy being Tarzan to my friend’s Jane.

All this stuff looks different in the light of those quiz results. A piece of me wonders why it matters. Why does anyone have any gender at all? I relate to people as people, not as their gender. At least, I try to.

All the same, I think about how I feel looking at pictures of masculine men and feminine women. Invariably, I feel a stronger personal connection to the men. I tend to feel attraction toward very masculine men, and it’s not only that I want to tap that. I want to be that. Does that say something about my gender? It’s the same way I feel about anything I find moving or beautiful. I don’t want to own it. I want to be it.

I think about all the body dysmorphia I’ve suffered, and still suffer. Looking in the mirror and being confused because that’s not who I am in my head. Not this aging, fat woman, with saggy boobs and big belly. But something sleeker and more streamlined. Something I’ve never been able to attain.

I wonder if my not presenting a clear gender is the ultimate reason I’ve had so little success in sexual relationships. I’m heterosexual, no doubt about it. I’ve tried being with women, and it doesn’t do it for me, despite Donnie from U of M assuming that my best friend and I were “Lesbo Lovers.” (And no, this didn’t offend either of us. Donnie was a goof, but he didn’t mean any harm.) But though I’ve been with a fair number of guys, I’ve only had two serious boyfriends. one of whom is my current husband. I always thought it was because I wasn’t the right kind of girl, and I usually put it down to my weight or my lack of conventional beauty. Not being the kind of girl guys want. But what if it’s always been that I’m not really a girl at all?

Family picture from 1985. I'm second from the right.
Family picture from 1985. I’m second from the right.

I’ve never wanted to be a guy, not like a friend of mine who used to moan about having big breasts because they wouldn’t let her “pass” as male. I never aspired to androgyny. I’m always just the way I am. But the person I am is far more comfortable in clothes anyone could wear than in anything obviously masculine or feminine. I remember liking the New Wave movement because there was a lot of flexibility in the ankle boots and tunics. Frills for the men, straight cuts for the women. A guy I slept with on and off at U of M wore the same leg warmers and sweatshirts with the collars ripped out that I did.

Last night at dinner, I asked my husband, “Would you mind if I decided I’m Genderqueer?” He said, “Big shock there. Have you ever had the fish at this place?”

Am I coming out as Queer with this post? I don’t really know. I have some qualms about making a declaration. Mostly, I’m afraid of people who really ARE Queer saying things like, “You can’t just decide you’re gender fluid when you’re fifty!” or “You’re showing your Cis privilege by co-opting the Queer experience!” or “If it’s not a political issue to you, you have no right!” Things like that. It’s not a political issue, and I haven’t suffered for my gender (not so much, anyway). I’m in a safe relationship. If I come out as Queer, don’t I have to experience pain and oppression? I’m okay with the “She” pronoun. Does that make a difference?

Mostly, as with all of these blog posts, I’m just turning things over in my mind. Considering.

That’s okay.

 Addendum, 5 January 2015

A Trans acquaintance/friend read this today and had the following to say: “FWIW, what you said in that post said ‘Gender Nonconforming’ to me rather than trans* spectrum. Two different things that are often confused.” He went on to tell me that “Queer” refers only to trans* spectrum, and if I were Queer I’d probably know it, just like I know I’m straight. I didn’t know that Queer had that strict an interpretation, so now I do. And it makes sense, because I have never felt Queer, although I’m not sure I feel strictly female, either. Thanks, J. for setting me straight…uh, so to speak.