I guess I have found myself wrapped around this issue again. Most of it relates to society, but some of it relates to how I identify and how I present in public. I guess, I have long been wanting to express more androgynously, and I have but in some way I feel that isn’t being conveyed. I have done that, from time to time, and generally speaking my presentation isn’t femme or butch. I have made steps toward that end, but I am feeling as though what I have done isn’t particularly efficient and portraying how I really feel in a way others understand. Generally speaking, if you looked at 101 photos of me and observed my dress and appearance you’d read me as femme (mostly because they are head shots, and the fact I like to dress up for photos) even the times my dress was masculine or androgynous it seems… difficult, at best for people to read what I am presenting without it being dichotomous as “feminine or masculine”, usually the prior.
Generally I am read as “female” regardless of what I am wearing, and I feel a little “weird” for saying I have a slight issue with being read as “feminine-only”. I have no trouble with “feminine” outside of the oppression directed at me for displaying it, and when I am in a skirt and ruffly top I expect people will gender me “feminine and woman” (which is usually how I feel that day). That’s not my point. My point is that when I dress in men’s clothing, or in gender neuter clothing that I am still read as “feminine” (and there is a difference between “Androgynous” and “Neuter” in style). I also noticed the tendency to “dismiss” androgyny among queer women (in queer and cis/hetero spaces) among people unless it’s overt “stereotypical androgynous” or quite literally “Gender-fuck” (which is cool too). I also have no intention of making ‘butch’ my permanent presentation either. My gender expression gets overlooked, it seems, by most people because I have breasts, long hair and curves. The fact that I identify “physically” with being a woman is generally apparent, but people don’t take notice of the other parts. Perhaps this is because when people perceive you as a woman, they gender you in line with cissexism. But it’s so much more than that. I identified with androgyny before I transitioned, I dressed androgynous. I mean, my metro phase just got me read as “Gay Man” before. Furthermore, women and men were generally surprised by the level of things I did that were less like other males back then. Now, this is not to say that I think those traits are, or should be considered “feminine” or exclusive to women.
Traits I am referring to are as follows (it’s a long list, so bear with me): (well manicured nails, well-managed hair, owning more than 3 hair care products worth more than $25, obsessively shaving facial hair, shaving/waxing ones body (legs included), preferring submissive sexual/relationship roles, wearing “guy-liner”, being emotionally receptive (crying at movies), cooking a baking, being a feminist or pro-feminism, desire to be stay at home parent (that one being especially loaded), being passive/non-confrontational, being hyper-vigilant at night, or in unfamiliar places, growing hair long as socially permissible, wearing hair styles that put hair being in/around your face, wearing clothing that departs with traditional notions of masculinity (I.E. silky, sheer, semi-translucent, colors, styles of wear I.E tucking shirt in, verses wearing out), where you wear your pants (around your butt vs. above your hips, something wide hipped males sometimes have to do), carrying yourself in an atypically masculine way, enjoying or interest in hobbies socially considered feminine, lacking interest or enjoyment from hobbies socially considered masculine, interest in fashion, and seriously this isn’t all but I’d seriously be here all day if I named them all. I really only mentioned ones with more notable cultural positions on.
Point is, none of those things can’t be done by a male who identifies as a man, in fact quite a few men do many of those things. In a society that embraces a more gender liberated system it is likely that someone could “likely” do all of those things and still be able to be considered “a man”. But for me, this is where the problem in lies. I don’t consider most of those things to be feminine, for me. It’s funny, but I am more masculine now than I used to be in some regards. And, to a degree, I find it difficult to have my unique sense of gender expression recognized with others. But even more so, I feel like I am not doing enough to reflect my preferred gender expression. Some of that is out of fear, some is triggering (like the association of decades of short hair with “being male”), but mostly it’s because I do not identify with stereotypical Androgyny. When a society polices gender, and sets forth gender norms, and rigid stereotypes it affects the meaning of all forms of gender expression, even androgyny, butch, and femme.
To be all to honest, I have no idea why it bothers me so bad that people call me feminine when I am not dressed feminine, and not recognize my androgyny. Likewise, it grinds my nerves even more when people refer to me as masculine, either for my past gender role, when I was in said role, or for the obstinate things people refuse to let go of about me. Certainly, don’t expect people to read me as “androgynous” when I am dressed feminine. That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that my androgyny is incredibly important to me, which is why I am as comfortable “now” with gender neutral pronouns as I am with female ones. Female pronouns are my preferred pronouns generally, but I’ll except either. I feel like in many ways I have two very distinct aspect of me, one is female, and one is male. I’d almost say I feel “Bigendered” in some ways, but that word doesn’t really define my gender as I have a female body identity. Perhaps this is just simply put, gender fluidity, and that in the many of ways I experience “female expression”, but sometimes I don’t. I can’t stand my genitals, but sometimes I am marginally okay with them. Gender dysphoria doesn’t have to be “non-stop, endless torment, demanding one be in agony without respite” to be dysphoria. Some days I feel better than others, that all. However, my androgyny isn’t about my genitals. In the end, the truth is that I’d rather be an androgynous woman than an androgynous man. Remember the whole… I TRIED IT ALREADY BIT? Part of this lies in the degree of discomfort I feel with my body. I don’t want some “extreme gender” where I epitomize feminine, and I want the masculine version even less. My gender expression isn’t so much that I hated presenting as male/masculine, just “I didn’t like doing it full-time”.
To be clear Gender Identity and Gender Expression are two totally different things, and as much and society mucks up gender, sex and orientation, they muck this aspect up beyond all measures done to the others. And I know, for a fact that I am not the only person, woman (cis and trans) who lies on the “Feminine side of Androgynous”. Some of it can’t be helped, and other parts can. To a degree, that “fear” I mentioned relates to the dysphoria I feel about certain aspects of my body. Just like my dress and appearance of über femininity early on compensated for my unfeminized body, the feminine bias on my androgyny may compensate for the parts of my body that hurt me deeply. My gender dysphoria is the only thing in my life that makes me wish I had a time machine to go back and do something about it when I was young. Moreover, I learned something about perhaps the most feminine part of my appearance on any given day… My hair. Once you have invested so much time into growing it, it bothers you, and effects you more emotionally when you cut it, or when something happens to it. For a person who already had deep emotional attachment to her hair, this one is by far the toughest.
My hair could certainly convey Androgynous better when I dress Androgynous, and our culture has a firm attachment between feminine and hair length. Well, and I don’t know if you have looked at the prices on “androgynous clothing” but it can be quite steep. Chain clothing stores, and generic brands of clothing (Target, Wal-Mart, Ross, et cetera) generally cater more to stereotypes, or are just neuter, not androgynous. And I guess now I am not willing to sacrifice something that I value for the sake of appearance, or gender preconceptions in our society. I have always been this way with my hair. I cried when they cut it, I cried when my dad buzzed it, I even got beaten for resisting hair cuts… I have a firm and overpowering psychological connection to my hair, and an emotionally driven urge to refuse cutting it outside of styling it a certain way (which is also usually “tiny, acceptable bits”). Perhaps because of some representative meaning through my experiences with hair throughout my life. I never had long hair because I was forced, coerced, beaten and made (either via regulations in the military, or through punishment as a child) to keep it short.
And in all my ramblings, I again made total sense out of something that has long bothered me (which I guess is part what my writing is about). Why I hate short hair, and why my androgyny doesn’t include it, and why it’s so troubling that my androgyny is overlooked because of the cultural connection with the two. Coercive genders aren’t just harmful to binary identified people, this is certain… It’s also harmful to the non-binary folks who identify with androgyny, agender, bigender, genderqueer or otherwise. Moreover, the male clothing is probably also triggering to me for the same reason, but not to the degree that I can’t overcome it like my hair is. I adore my hair so much, cling to it so much that it almost literally causes me physical pain to cut more than the tiny frizzled ends off of it. There are many who refuse to see me as androgynous, who will see me as almost exclusively masculine or feminine.
Another matter occurred to me in my ramblings. Binaryism, binary entitlement, and the great entrenchment of our culture and gender binaries has done something to androgyny as a form of expression. Erase it. Make the definition of “Androgynous” so narrow as to cause so few people to actually fit it, and by extension it affects all non-binary gendered persons. To whittle it down into a tight rope walk that only a few can do naturally. To change the definition to help binary identified, binary presenting individuals and the expense of all those who have no choice but to walk that fine line. Also, I looked reasonably masculine as a man, and feminine as a woman now, doesn’t that make me androgynous? Don’t I by very definition fit, lest of course I go frilly girly one day, or butch another? That is the problem I have. I am androgynous, I identify with it, and it is the trait which I best feel defines me, and my androgyny is important to me… Neither male nor female, but sort of both. Liberated of from the restriction and titles of both inside of me.
In some degrees, my transition has been as much about my gender identity and my body as it has been about my gender expression. And as my body does more for me in assuaging my gender dysphoria, my gender expression is transitioning ever closer to the goal of presenting more androgynously. I have been this way my whole life, a mix of both, felt as though I was both partially and one or the other partially. It’s a kind of, abstract feeling to define. I have neither been “overly masculine” nor “overly feminine” in my life. I have always liked picking and choosing which I preferred for the moment (expression wise, not bodily), not about “staying on one side or the other”. I know that this sort of thing is the perfect argument for the destruction of social constructs of gender, but I think that some of those feminist arguments miss the point. Regardless of what system you have people are still going to experience gender, gender identity, and they are going to want to express it. There are always going to be people in a minority who don’t express that in a way like others. The key isn’t to create a society null and void gender, sex, or any of that, but to make a world where such traits are inconsequential to that persons rights, opportunities, or validity as a human being. Gender will never be abolished in my opinion, because people will always experience it and seek to express it. However, hopefully we can destroy the standards that exist and create a system where everyone can decide for themselves who they are.
As I said, my androgyny is important to me. I am not basing it in the trappings of cultural dogmas, but in how I feel as a person on an essential level. My androgyny is an extension of the “duality” I feel to a degree. A transgender, genderqueer or agendered person in a gender construct free world doesn’t become just like everyone else, their “uniqueness erased”, they just become free. There are independent reasons for defining things in our world if you observe the nature of things. This however, doesn’t in and of it self make the conclusions correct. Androgyny is just the word I use to define how I feel, that feeling of being a bit of both, but it doesn’t define me I use it to define my experience. That is why it is important. It’s hard to dislodge that from people’s perceptions of how I feel about my body, and how I feel about my expression but I post about that another time. Perhaps everyone experiences this, but because of cultural paradigms repress it’s existence and remain silent about their experience of it. Who knows… I just hope that one day we’ll unravel this oppressive system and all truly be free. Until another time, good evening and take care all my non-binary, and wonderfully queer siblings. This includes the “Great Mx. Punk” to whom I am greatly thankful for their guidance, conversation and camaraderie. Ze was the one who first opened me up to the concept in the first place, and for that I thank them.
- “The Gender Revolution For Boys” (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Androgyny (knowledgeguild.wordpress.com)
- StyleLikeU Roundtables: Modern Femininity and Androgyny (abovestandardissue.wordpress.com)
- A misconception about being androgynous/genderqueer/other (cnlester.wordpress.com)
- The Effect of Class on Gender (bilerico.com)
- reader question: gender-quest! (rainbowgenderpunk.wordpress.com)