A Giant Lie Called Gender

Written Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The concept of gender, in its entirety, has been on my mind a lot lately.

This probably isn't surprising, given the entire name of this blog and the nature of my life; but in all honesty, the notion wasn't quite as centered in my awareness and thoughts for a while. I needed to work on other things.

Now, though... now it's back. And it's time to explore some more.

The following paragraph mentions various forms of violence and child abuse as I experienced them; please feel free to skip it if needed.

I've had a contentious experience of the construct of gender for as long as I can remember. As a young child, gender was the justification for much of the physical and emotional violence done to me. Most of this violence came from relatives and caregivers, in the form of gendered assumptions, based entirely on (in essence) the shape of my crotch. The superficial reasoning was usually expressed in some fashion resembling "that's not OK for a boy to do." The response for years was usually a severe beating, or later on, verbal abuse and threats of violence to accent the hateful words. I spent several of my formative years having difficulty walking without pain because of the savage bodily harm that was done to me for trying to be myself.

Needless to say, I learned fairly quickly not to be myself. At some point I buried all awareness of my reality for safekeeping and began to slowly believe the lies I was being told.

Lies about myself, about what was acceptable to do, about who was acceptable in general. Lies about people and what we "can" or "can't" do.

I was lied to, as a child, about a heart-breakingly long list of things - but the one that still stings the worst was the lie of gender.

I'm not sure I have a conclusion to any of this that I can express, not just yet. What I do have is a swirling mass of unorganized thoughts and ideas, all orbiting this central conceptual construct, all telling me that the way forward for my life as a person is to push even harder to reject that lie and find the truth hiding underneath it.

I've mused before about feminism and its inherent expansion of what "gender" is considered to entail, but lately, I've found a bit more clarity around my feelings on the subject. I think I've tended to default to self-describing as "girl" (notably not "woman" but we'll get back to that) because, in the current landscape of feminist and queer liberation efforts, it feels much less restrictive as a starting point. Toxic masculinity is still such a rampant reality that starting from "male but X/Y/Z" seems to create a massively long list of caveats, exceptions, and ideas that I can only imagine drawing weird looks from people if I tried to explain myself that way.

By contrast... girl musician? Girl with a career as an engineer? Girl who likes using power tools? Girl who likes driving fast cars? None of those are problematic, in the eyes of society at large, and are unlikely to draw the same amount of confusion.

Digging further, though, the only reason for picking a starting point in the first place is the deeply entrenched misconception that anatomical sex has a meaningful correspondence with personality traits.

I find myself wondering... if nobody thought about people in terms of physical bodies, how would I explain who I am?

Musician... career engineer... gleeful power-tool-user and fast-car-driver... deeply contemplative, concerned about others, invested in continual growth and exploration and self-improvement...

None of these things need "gender." To a large extent, I think we'd live in a much better world if we all rejected the notion that "gender" even exists in a way that's meaningfully relevant to those kinds of facts about specific people.

I understand that there is a value in the idea, to many people - a sort of shorthand way to express identity without diving into long-winded details. I'm sensitive to the sort of comforting, security-blanket-like fuzziness that accompanies gender-certainty for people who have it. I've personally felt tinges of that over the past few years, and even leaned into it occasionally to help guide my own self-exploration.

I also wonder, deep down, if gender isn't just another one of those things that we as humans cling to desperately and invest in deeply despite the fact that it's doing nothing but hurting us.

All I know for sure is my own experience, and that trying to generalize from that into anyone else's world is a mistake at best.

So returning exclusively to my own experiences... I've played with the concept of "non-binary" for quite some time now (the very first post of this blog mentions the term) but never really felt it fitting, for reasons that until recently I couldn't quite articulate. I think, at this point, my quibble is not with the idea denoted by the term but rather with the etymological construction of the term itself - after all, despite many protestations to the contrary by various groups of people, words do matter. A lot.

I'm reminded of a quintessential conundrum from within the lesbian community (another place I feel at home) - the desire to define ourselves in a way that is not simply in reference to men somehow. This is heightened by the additional layer of "Sapphic" attractions which aren't exclusively aimed at "women" either, but rather a sort of vague cloud of possibility-space within which one occasionally finds various amplitudes of femininity.

I don't want to express myself in reference to binary gender, so "non-binary" inherently feels unfitting. Hell, I don't want to express myself in reference to the lie of gender at all.

Where do we go from here? I have no idea. I have no words. I have no clarity for how to establish a commonly-useful expression that captures the essence of what I'm struggling to convey. But I'll keep looking. There's plenty of us on the hunt, all over the world. We'll find something.

For now? I feel like, if someone were to ask me what my gender identity is, I really only have one remotely satisfying answer:

"I don't interact with gender. I'm magic incarnate."