My cross purpose
Among the padding
To seek the opposite
For the days when less
We are guided to think
I discover, by selection
If a majority shouts pretend
To have larger breasts
I can’t forage for bargains
Choice is no longer spoilt
Instead you are precious
I, a treasure hunter. New
Role to play
Revealed in the practice
A body chafes, sweats, itches
Needs care in the fabric
That dresses her in their
I feel freshly apprenticed
Finished the introduction
This shopping trip only
Chapter two of much
Gender expression, even
Broken into body parts
Is scales, not binaries
I seek to buy inbetweens
Days curves displease
Flesh resists the binding
Form and comfort meet
In layers of cotton
I happen upon you
One department over
Advertised as sportswear
But I will buy you to sleep
A/N NOT comfortable.
I do this in parts
On the quiet days I can fall apart
It’s the weekend. It’s the morning
It will be hours until the dawn
My face can drip dry
As dishes do
In dark of night
I sit in tailor’s pose
Call it cross-legged
Knees and elbows out
The impression of a man
Back curled over them
Gaze starts at the navel
In washed-out black
Faded cotton that forgives
Sweat runs down saturated cotton
Dampens even the place I sit because
This roll of socks?
Time for a heel-turn
Back to the drawing board
Toss these tainted things out
To be purged in a hot white wash
I come across a mental barrier in my exploration of gender. Namely, that when I ask myself “how about exploring masculinity?” my brain comes back with “what masculinity?” and throws up a handful of examples of toxic instances of masculinity I do not even wish to touch. Yet, this is the road I see before me, to pick up elements of masculinity to see if they suit.
Riley J. Dennis mentions in her “Everyday Feminism” series* that the word ‘gender’ comes from the same root as ‘genre’. This was a productive thought for me, one that I brought me a little further in this dilemma. Genres, after all, have some characteristics that would be well-suited to helping me understand genders as non-binary:
- They are distinct, but not mutually exclusive
- They are based on, but not limited to, a set of tropes
- They are suited to telling, and classifying, particular stories or experiences
- New ones may be introduced
- Existing ones often evolve
- These categories are constructed for the market, the classroom and to talk about sets of stories
- They can be subverted or critiqued
- They have gatekeepers
If masculinity, or rather masculinities, is a genre with a set of subgenres, then one may be found that I am comfortable exploring and it would add to, rather than contradict, the rest of my sense of gender. However, I think about gender as genre and complications immediately come to mind:
- Stories often present a rigid binary
- Essentialism prevails
- Classifications are prescriptive, not descriptive of lived experiences
- Modern masculinities seem not to exist, in stories
- Existing masculinities do not seem allowed to evolve
- Gender is presented as ‘natural’ and conflated with biological sex
- Any subversion or critique is met with hostility and violence
- Online, the alt-right is setting itself up as the one true gatekeeper
Note that the above describe my personal experience through the lens of this particular conceit, not fact. But I do believe it is sufficient to illustrate a trend. One that I find singularly counterproductive, dammit.
The irony is that I have started to see surprisingly parallels between what’s prescribed for ‘woman’ and ‘man’, among self-proclaimed defenders of binary gender roles, especially that of ‘man’. It’s perhaps most easily illustrated by their attitude towards sexuality. The campaign for control over women’s bodies is matched by a campaign for control over men’s bodies by other men. Centred on forbidding masturbation and forcing sexual conquest, rather than forcing reproduction and forbidding sexual activity. Hatred of the other, whether that’s women, queer persons, persons of other countries or religions, is matched by self-hatred.
Can you see the inversion of the great commandment (love others as you love yourself), or the golden rule, if you will?
This leaves me hesitant to even enter that politicised poisoned mental minefield.
Feminist thought isn’t much help, since it seems more concerned with circumscribing traditional masculinity than proposing a new masculinity.
Neither does circumspectly asking men what being a good man is like, since the answer often boils down to “I grew up and became less of an impulsive idiot.” A surprising problem with straight, white men (which all of the ones I can ask are) being the default is that they regard their lived experience as just that of people, not men. Which means it doesn’t tell me much about where their stories may be distinct.
So here I am, the trailing end of the spectrum of my gender in hand, unexplored territory ahead of me, with no good map for guidance. I cannot leave these thoughts alone because I have first-hand stake in this now, even if it’s only with a part of myself, even if it’s new, even if it’s small and secret and private.
So I keep asking, what masculinity?
*I do not remember the particular video, but it’s an educational series: https://everydayfeminism.com/author/rileyd/
You sit on your bed, stalling
Here, here is the line
You have swung, before
Across the full spectrum of womanhood
Found it wide and wild and good but
An end, trailing
Of the spectrum that is you
Do I cross to follow?
Butler and you were wrong
You were bound up in performance
Clothes according to the feeling of the day
Manners and fantasies and thoughts
Did you disregard the start
From inside, calling
Do I cross to follow?
I am woman, have been
Forever settled, yet unsettlingly
The moon she is not full
She is gibbous
After first quarter, growing
Do I cross to follow?
You sit on your bed, stalling
It’s so small in your hands
Will it even fit over your head
Wrestling hook by hook by hook
A minute later, familiar
A sports bra without foam triangles
Instead, one panel across the front
You sit on your bed, breathing
Let your belly blow up, balloon
And hold and let it smooth out
Deep. Your feet on the floor, rooted
Deep. To the bottom of your lungs
Down. The exhale streaming
You stand beside your bed, breathing
Today seemed like a good day
Home sick, the rain unceasing
If you were going to be miserable
You were already miserable today
It’s not a vest, not a corset
Familiar elastic cradles your ribs
I cross my arms
No soft round flesh presses down, oh
So odd, this space above your forearms
You mimic drawing a bow and arrow
Amazonians bubbling to the surface
Mind collecting new connections
For new sense memory, new
Excuses and disguises, the enabler
If you dare go outside at all
I cross the hallway to the bathroom
Far enough today, the sight
Amusing all of the sudden, pecs
When you have never worked out
The gym the slim woman’s domain
Clothes, chosen with ritual care
As you do for formal occasions
Jeans, a unisex T-shirt you hate
Normally, no good on a woman
This is as far as I cross
You do not look at your face today
But your shoulders are fascinating
Broader, bracketing a flat surface
Below the fat distribution’s a bit…
That’s work for another day
No constriction. Deep breath
I back down
In the bedroom you undress
Pyjamas and blankets pressing down
You burrow. It was fine. Surprisingly
Familiar. Surprisingly fine.
A big thank you to everyone who contributed to the May edition of the blogging festival Carnival of Aces. The Pride month, er, June edition is being hosted by A³ with the theme Then, Now and Tomorrow. The call for submissions is here.
On the theme “Asexual (and Queer) Identities and (Gender) Performance and Play” the following:
- “Passing as Normal” by datingwhileace
But what does it mean to pass as a sexual person?
Also, it’s the default to assume that someone has sexual desires and to assume that young women want to get married and have kids. Since I actually do want to get married and have children, it seems like I am perceived to have sexual desires to the outside world.
- “Beyond the Binary” by A³
It took a long time (all the way until I was almost 26) and some serious research for me to understand that there’s a psychological component to gender and that your self assigned “gender identity” actually pretty much fully developed by the time you’re four years old. The reason I was so confused by this for the longest time was because every time I ping my brain for a gender identity I keep getting an error message back (usually in the form of dysphoria). So, just like I’m asexual I’m also agender.
Anyway, I owed a huge debt to the genderfuck folks for helping me find the confidence to express my gender in a way that challenges the norm and makes me feel the most comfortable; By doing absolutely nothing.
- Intersectionality Part 1A: Gender Roles, an episode of the podcast Aceterpretations by Quartic, KK and luvtheheaven
The first is “gender identity”. I don’t have one. My relationship to gender is the same as my relationship to “romance”: I understand that it’s very important to some people, but I personally can’t imagine what it is, and I don’t think it makes sense for me to use this language for myself.
So, yeah, I’m not sure if my asexuality or (lack of) gender have influenced the way I dress. Perhaps not worrying about presenting in a normatively “feminine” fashion has just freed me to wear different kinds of clothes. I don’t exactly dress how I want – i.e. like the hero of a fantasy adventure game (you know: tunic, leggings, nice boots, leather pouch of infinite capacity)! But I try to make the best of the options available to me and have fun with them
What this sample will give you, though, is an idea of how I like to dress, and the kind of clothing I choose to wear when not constrained by weather or professional considerations.
(Followed by a really cool few examples)
It gave me words that were explicitly coded queer for the way I wished to look on any given day. “Female geek” also became “mildly butch” and “feminine” was replaced by “femme”. Old-fashioned surfing brought up two more words that tickled the imagination. “Lipstick” for “femme” and “chapstick” for “butch” which… yeah. I don’t always put them on but I’ve got chapstick stowed in all accessible places and lipstick only in my small make-up pouch I bring out for weddings and Christmas dinner.
- Danielle wrote “(A)sexuality, Gender, Acceptance and Stereotyping, Oh My!”
I took and Anthropology of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality class this semester (one of the best courses I’ve taken in my academic career, but more on that later) which culminated in a research project, my chosen topic being how archaic gender norms – namely that men are naturally promiscuous and women naturally chaste – affect how people identifying as asexual view themselves. I made use of AVEN and sought out not only those even remotely in the gender binary, but also people identifying as agender. It was incredibly fun and interesting to hear stories from fellow aces, and I hope to do more of this kind of thing in the future.
(The rest of the post is about the findings)
If I forgot any contributions, please drop me a note!
I’ve come across lists of labels for (a)sexual orientations and gender identities several times. I took note of the terms ‘gynesexual’ (attracted to femininity) and ‘androsexual’ (attracted to masculinity) as a nice pair of terms to use as an alternative to heterosexual and homosexual.
I like learning words that strike me as useful. Especially because I believe one of the chief contributions the ace community makes to mainstream society is new vocabulary. It deconstructs orientations, attractions and relationships and then offers new words for the components people don’t normally distinguish from each other.
Then I watched So… is the Doctor Gay Now? A Doctor Who Ramble by the genderfluid Council of Geeks. I’m going to go with ‘they’ for a pronoun since they present as “inbetween” (their word) for most of the vid.
They considered whether the Doctor’s gender switch between their twelfth and thirteenth regeneration (Peter Capaldi to Jodie Whittaker) made them gay. The Doctor, after all, has (mostly) been attracted to women (Rose, River Song). They say that, yes, technically, she is now, since gay, homosexual, means “attracted to people of the same gender” and the Doctor’s attractions don’t change along with her gender identity. So, while The Doctor’s a woman, and has been portrayed as being attracted to women, she would now fall under that header.
However, that’s mostly because of the limits of our language. Council discussed how they themselves usually decline to answer yes or no to the same question. Days they’re a man, they’d be a heterosexual man, days they present as feminine, they’d be a gay woman. Instead, they answer “I am attracted to women.” Not quite the same. They wondered whether there was a label for that. Which set my mind to shouting “ooh, ooh, gynesexual” and prompted me to start writing about it.
Because useful words deserve a spotlight.
I’ll be curious to see if the BBC dare let the Doctor be attracted to women on screen while she is a woman herself. I think I agree with Council. They’ll most likely skip over it entirely during this regeneration and keep her relationships platonic, like in the classic Doctor Who series.
I found it interesting too that at this point they called the classic Doctor “asexual.” It’s the context in which I’ve seen asexual used most often while I was searching for material for my Carnival of Aces contribution, something on asexuality in Holland before 2010. Prior to that year most people spoke of asexuality as the opposite of sexualised, sexually attractive or sexually active.
Marga Klompé was the best example I came across. She became the first female minister in the Netherlands in 1956. In an interview, Mieke Aerts described her as deliberately having an asexual persona and that she never leveraged being a woman in power. Aerts wistfully reflects that a more sexualised society makes that almost impossible. This was the most common use of asexual in Dutch until 2010. Then articles started appearing by people identifying themselves as asexual in the sense of not feeling sexual attraction towards others and, in most cases, happily not having sex.
Let’s dig a little more into the Doctor as member of a race of Timelords. It’s an alien race who have multiple bodies of any gender over the course of their lives. In the video, Council questions whether that would make labeling attraction to any gender meaningless. Presumably, they’d only identify as sexual or asexual, romantic or aromantic.
But even inside the narrative there’s hints of more. Though the ninth Doctor disparages labels, he does say Jack is omnisexual. Assuming that’s the equivalent of pansexual, I’m going with gender mattering at least somewhat in attraction and that labels still function, even if they’re more fluid in who is what.
I do think that if all members of a species can switch genders several times, it makes ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ problematic as words. You’d have to switch labels to describe your preferences every time you regenerated. So words that only take the gender to which a person’s attracted into account seems ideal. It would make sense, if linguistically Timelords also identified primarily as male or female, that they could adopt gynesexual and androsexual as labels for being attracted to either gender. Gyneromantic and androromantic for the other level of orientation and ace, aro and bi and other words already in use would nicely round out the list.
What I also like about these words is that there’d be no majority. Yes, most women’d be androsexual and most men would be gynesexual, for the sake of procreation, but there’s no single label for the majority like there is when you use heterosexual and homosexual.
“Interview: Marga Klompé kon nog aseksueel zijn” Koos Neuvel. Vrij Nederland. 18 februari 1995. p 76.
Bit of a disclaimer: in this post I discuss two different uses of the pronouns. The re-introduction of “they” as gender-neutral pronoun for general use and the use of different pronouns by people with non-binary gender identities. These are NOT the same, but I hope to show that the former can serve as a stepping stone for understanding the latter for cisgender people who’ve never thought about pronouns before. Later in this post, I reject “zie/hir” as viable gender-neutral pronoun for general use. It is my personal opinion that “they” fits this role better. On the other hand, it and other lesser-used pronouns can be very useful tools for expressing that you gender identity does not match that of other people, I think. I do not want to dive too much into that side however, because I know too little. That said, enjoy (hopefully)!
Imagine a bridge, silhouetted against the sun. From either end, two indistinct shadows approach. That they raise their arms and embrace in the middle, you can just about make out. After a few moments, they walk on. One turns back, raises their arm again and waves. The other never notices, their head bowed and deep in thought.
Later you’ll recount this story to a friend, how happy and fleeting a moment it seemed. Since you never saw the figures’ features due to how the light fell and the distance, you use “their” as a gender-neutral possessive pronoun. You scarcely give it a thought, seeing how often it’s used these days. It’s simply useful that you don’t have to guess whether to call them “he” or “she”.
Even less on your mind is how crucial pronouns are for people not strictly male or female, or how, when you read Shakespeare in high-school, you never stumbled over the gender-neutral pronoun either. It’s so normal. Grammar’s just boring facts. Right?
When I first registered on the asexual and demisexual forums I was puzzled by the need to specify a preferred pronoun. Other languages have two second person singular pronouns, formal and informal. Dutch has “u”, German has “Sie”, French has “vous”… In addressing “you” in English politely, I have to bust out the modal verbs and the honorifics. I filled out what I’d say in my own language when asked what my preferred pronoun is. “Zeg maar jij.” You’re allowed to use my first name and address me informally. In one latinate word, to tutoyate, use “tu” and “toi”.
In English it’s about gender identity, probably the most quantifiable characteristic of it to show up in the asexual community. Your preferred third person singular pronoun. He, she, they, or something else. “They” in particular interests me, because it’s making a come-back as a gender-neutral pronoun in general.
The reader, they…
Gender’s pervasiveness can be a bother when I’m speaking or writing. I may want to address a reader neutrally. It’s easier, in a Germanic language such as English, but I can’t avoid pronouns forever.
These days, business letters often leave off honorifics. Readers are as likely to be men as women, and both are to be respected equally. In speaking or speculating about a hypothetical person it’s good to be able to leave gender open to the imagination…
I’ve seen “zie” and “hir” proposed for use in these contexts, but they feel a little like Esperanto. Good in theory, not viable in practice. Traditionally, “he” is used when a person’s gender is unclear, and “she” in a feminist response to that, to even the playing field.
I’m glad I’m now able to speak of “them” instead being forced to pick “he” or “she” when addressing an unfamiliar person in the third person. A few years ago, it still felt ungrammatical, but now it’s almost natural.
So even in a cisgender world, a gender-neutral pronoun is a wonderful thing. Let’s hope the Powers Who Guard The English Language will allow it to dwell once again within their hallowed halls and grammar books in the future.
See, the use of “they” is a revival of sixteenth-century practice according to the Oxford Dictionary’s website that debates the use of “they” as third person singular. It got changed to “he” in cases where people spoke of a person with an unclear gender around 1850.
Yes, when people complain about using “they” for a gender-neutral pronoun, you can legitimately say “but Shakespeare could do it. Why can’t you?” and be speaking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you Shakespeare. So did Jane Austen, Louis Carroll, Walt Whitman and the King James Bible.
The boxes they cannot tick…
I cannot imagine how crucial the choice of pronouns is when your gender isn’t simply masculine or feminine… Then it’s less the polite “Stranger, I respect I do not know your gender” and more the humane “I recognise this basic fact about your identity.” I get that much, but I think that scarcely covers how much of an impact it has.
Language, naming what we are and where we’ve been, is powerful. Being able to name what I am has helped me immensely in my sexuality. If gender identity, how it really works, not just male-or-female, can be expressed more accurately in language, in pronouns, it goes a small way towards being accepted.
It’s already a smaller mental step, I think, to go from “use they for strangers” to “use they for people who prefer it” than from “third person singular is he or she” to “we need to add a new pronoun (e.g. zie/hir)”.
Conceptions of gender trickle down to institutions, such as in countries with forms with more than two options for gender, “male” and “female”. Or like social media sites who have more than two radio buttons (sometimes after a big kick in the butt). Or like Amsterdam, who’s done away with the need for gender registration at a local level altogether as of last week. Thus declaring gender less of a clear-cut and crucial fact of identity, and allowing for a shades-of-grey type situation that’s closer to reality, much like a gender-neutral pronoun does.
I was at first confused, and still strangely tickled by the question “what’s your preferred pronoun?” (and yes, I’m keeping “Zeg maar jij” because I hope someday someone will ask and we get to be dorky about language together). Now, I like the concept’s logic, how it fits in with a bigger change in language, the revival of the gender-neutral pronoun “they”. I like how a little bit of useful pre-Victorian grammar is returning in our Internet-era English. I also like how it offers some openness in the language, a measure of politeness, when gender identity matters. That even in English, I can offer respect by way of pronoun choice, even if it’s in third person instead of second.
So, what’s your preferred pronoun?
- The use of “they” as third person singular, according to Wikipedia
- They versus he or she, according to Oxford Doctionary website, and the debate about its use
- The common use of “they” before 1850 by famous authors, on the Telegraph (UK newspaper) blog
- A good blog about several different pronouns that were proposed as an attempt to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun.
- Documents existed that described how to use zie and hir and zir.
- Good guide for content creators about asking about gender in forms in a good way.
- On pronouns in social media such as Google+ (article)
- Facebook, of all websites, has enough options for its users, says the Daily Mail
- Some countries recognise more than two gender identities but the US government won’t, for now, a petition and its official answer
- Amsterdam’s solution sounds cool, doing away with registering gender altogether (Dutch)