By Shanna Katz
This month, Tracy discusses their genderqueer identity, and all of the complex processes surrounding this identity.
This interview is about your Gender Fluid identity…What are some other identities of yours?
Lesbian (although I prefer to the term “gay”), white/caucasian, atheist, middle class, liberal democrat, English-speaking, athlete, partner.
Define your Gender Fluid identity – what does it mean to you, how long have you had this identity, how was the process of getting there?
To me, identifying as gender fluid or genderqueer essentially means that you’re not cisgendered, which I’m not. However, I can’t say that I truly identify with terms like gender fluid or genderqueer. I don’t know if I don’t identify with those terms due to some internalized homo/transphobia, or if those terms really just don’t fit who I am. When I think of “gender fluid,” I picture somebody who can slide between a male identity and a female identity—essentially, being comfortable with either a male or female identity and appearance depending on any given situation. When I think of “genderqueer,” I picture someone a bit more androgynous who upon first glance one might not be able to place them in a male/female box. It’s possible that I don’t truly identify with either label because I don’t fit my stereotype of
either. Basically, when it comes down to it, I don’t mentally identify as female, and therefore have a genderfluid/genderqueer identity for all intensive purposes; however my sex is female and for official purposes (official documents, doctors, etc.) I say I am female.
The process of getting to this identity was quite confusing and actually very uncomfortable. Ever since I was a young child, I never really felt fully female, but at the time, I didn’t think I had any other options to identify as. As I got older and became more familiar with the LGBTQ community, I knew what transgender was but never thought that I applied to me as I believed that, in order to be trans, you had to fully hate your gender identity and wish to be the “opposite.” As I progressed through college, and then through graduate school, I began to allow myself to explore a more masculine identity—something that I had vehemently opposed for years, yet secretly yearned for. This took the form of cutting my hair to what some would call a men’s haircut and allowing myself to wear men’s clothing, both of which made me more comfortable with and within myself. While I am more comfortable like this, and oftentimes wish I could pass as a man, I don’t want to actually become a man. So for me, I don’t feel like a true female since I don’t fit the stereotypes of what a woman should be or is, but I also don’t feel like a male, since I’m not one. When it comes down to it, I’m just me, and that’s something that there is no label for.
Talk about some of the language surrounding this identity – what terms do you like/dislike?
I think there are many terms surrounding a non-cisgendered identity that the general public doesn’t understand and therefore these terms have negative stereotypes and connotations. Overall, I get the sense that either being genderqueer/gender fluid or trans is grossly misunderstood, and even those simple terms are taken to mean something they’re not. I haven’t told many people about my gender identity (not because I’m ashamed or scared, but rather because I don’t go broadcasting other things that “just are” about myself to others, like my height, weight, birthday, etc.), so it’s hard to comment on any personal reactions. Yet from stories I’ve heard from friends and comments in and from the media, it seems like many people think not identifying with either male or female means that you have a mental disease, are a pedophile, want to become a man/woman (if you identity as genderqueer/gender fluid;
essentially, you want to become the “other,” which is obviously not necessarily the case). I also dislike the term androgynous as for me, that provides a medical or clinical connotation and isn’t very user- friendly, if you will. Overall, I’m not truly comfortable with any of the terms that exist for somebody who has a non-cisgendered identity and prefer to just identify myself as “me” as that’s really the only term that I can find that really fits who I am. At times this is very discouraging and depressing as I feel like a freak who is so outside of society’s boxes that I don’t even have a label, but other times it can sometimes be refreshing when I realize that I don’t have to ascribe to one of society’s predefined labels and required stereotypes to fit that label.
What are some common questions you get about this identity? How do you answer them and how do they make you feel?
As I previously mentioned, given that I haven’t had too many encounters about this identity, I don’t have too much insight. However, the few people I mentioned this to automatically asked me if having this identity meant I wanted to transition (to male). That’s something that I’m wholly undecided about, but have thought about. Regardless, while I know these people, who are very close to me, are just curious and don’t fully understand what it means to be genderqueer/gender fluid, it was still a frustrating question to hear as I find it frustrating and irritating that society needs to label people or put them into boxes. However, I am aware that it is our brain’s natural inclination to do this to help us better understand our surroundings, yet there are times where I still can’t help but become frustrated and wonder why who I am now isn’t okay and why me not being cisgendered automatically implies a full transition.
What are some of the positives of having this identity?
Until this survey, I haven’t really thought about this identity being positive at all as it’s a continuous struggle. Unfortunately, in today’s world and with the worldview that I have (living in the U.S., a heteronormative society, etc.) I can’t say that I can think of any positives to being genderqueer/gender fluid.
What are some of the struggles that have come along with this identity?
Ugh, what struggles don’t I have with this identity? The biggest one (most prevalent and most frequently occurring) is the struggle of feeling completely uncomfortable with who I am and in my body. Since I was young, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and the older I get, I feel that my unhappiness with my body and my awfully poor body image is related to me not identifying as female or male. I’ve never truly felt like a female, but since society has told me that’s what I am from the day a nurse wrapped a pink blanket around me, I am somehow striving to be more feminine, even though it’s not really me. I’ve been seriously into recovery for the past two years and through my hard work I’ve realized that my gender identity plays a huge role into both the eating disorder and the recovery process. When I think of myself as a woman (which I what I look like on the outside), I look at myself in the mirror and hate everything I see (I’m too fat, too curvy, breasts too big, etc.). When I think of myself as a man (the only other option society gives me), I feel much better about myself, but hate other things I see (i.e., large breasts). My body image and the concept of body image play greatly into my mental health and this comprises a large portion of my eating disorder. Sometimes I wonder that if my gender
matched my sex, would I have had an eating disorder to begin with? That drive to fit in (coupled with family issues and mental/emotional/verbal abuse) was a huge factor in the development of the eating disorder as a young pre-teen.
Pretty much, I can sum it up as such: every morning I wake up and I put on my men’s clothes to go to work. I work in a professional atmosphere (that is very LGBTQ friendly) and at times, my apparel might not be obviously men’s, but more often than not, I feel like it is (and in my head I know it is). Many days I struggle with feeling inadequate and out of place at my office because all of the other women wear skirts, dresses, heels, tighter fitting clothes as is typical for a women, more jewelry, etc. And there are many days where I wish that I could dress like that as well, however it just doesn’t feel right, which is upsetting. I often feel like I need to make a choice—man or woman—and stick with it and take the necessary steps to “become” one or the other (so either fully transition, or do what women “do”—diet, exercise, etc…which would then fully engage my eating disorder). It’s very difficult to wrestle with this and I have to constantly remind myself that I’m okay as I am and I don’t have to pick one side or the other.
Other things exist that aren’t exactly struggles, but are general annoyances, which include things like “male” or “female” being the only options on forms and official documents, or the lack of verbiage for one’s partners. I’m most certainly not my partner’s girlfriend, nor am I her boyfriend, so what am I? Our affectionate term is that I’m a “not-woman,” something that makes me smile as it’s quite silly sounding but something that I feel which adequately describes me.
How does this identity fit or not fit with your other identities?
Overall, I think it fits in okay except when it comes to the sexuality piece. Being gay or lesbian implies being attracted to someone of the same sex/gender. Yet when I’m not on one end of the continuum, what does that make me and what label do I get? Technically, I guess I wouldn’t be a lesbian because that implies a woman who is attracted to other woman. Since I’m not a woman, but am attracted to other woman, what am I? I’ve also recently discovered (well, allowed myself to acknowledge) my attraction to some gay men, but in a sexual sense only. So now I’m a “sort of kinda lesbian,” who also is sexually attracted to gay men…so now what does that make me? And to top it off, my partner, who still identifies as “she,” has started testosterone and is transitioning. And I’ve found that the more masculine she looks, the more attracted I’ve become to her. So now what? Bottom line—super confusing.
How do you feel this identity is received in the sexuality and/or sex positive communities?
I actually haven’t really explored this identity within any sexuality/sex positive communities. But, I do feel like overall, things that are outside of the norm (i.e., anything other than vanilla sex) are more acceptable in sex positive communities so I would feel more comfortable identifying as non-cisgendered within a sex positive community than outside of one.
What else do you want people to know about this identity?
I think I’ve pretty much said it all in the above 3 pages! Seriously though, I think the one thing is that this really is a confusing process. For some, it’s an end process and for others, it’s just a stop along the way to a full transition. I’m not sure exactly what it is for me, but whatever it is, it can be a huge struggle that carries a lot of negative stigma. In an ideal world, this would carry so much less negative stigma and could be a topic of conversation and accepted as a viable option rather than something that needs to be hidden and lied about for the sake of society’s own comfort.