Gender invites comments, questions, and suspicion. Gender invites opinion. Gender is individual, yes, but it is also social. Gender has been forced upon me, and gender has been withheld from me. I’ve been free to explore my gender, and at the same time, it has imprisoned me.
I have a complicated relationship with gender. I think we all do. I resent it, yet I have it. I don’t want it, yet I need it. It can make me feel incredibly euphoric, and it can also make me feel like shit.
Gender is something I can explore on my own, but this is not a solitary activity. Gender is individual. It is identity. Gender is also socially constructed. It is society.
There’s the gender I understand myself to be, and there’s the gender society understands me to be, and these are different. The gender other people see me as does not dictate the gender that I am. Society does not get to select my gender. At the same time, the gender others see me as determines how I am treated.
If my gender appears confusing to others, if it raises eyebrows and question marks, I can be on the receiving end of stares, saliva, and slurs, as well as inappropriate comments and invasive questions. If my gender doesn’t cause confusion, I can hide in plain sight. I can have access to a higher level of safety. Who I am is erased, yes, but I’m less likely to experience people’s anger and distress over my gender.
If I look like a man, a whole host of privileges become available to me—more so if I’m read as a masculine man and less so if I’m read as a feminine man. If I look like a woman, I experience different kinds of harassment. If I’m read as a feminine woman, I receive sexist forms of attention. If I’m read as a masculine woman, I draw less attention, but that’s also when the homophobia slips in.
What does it mean to be a queer non-binary person that the world sees as a lesbian? That’s the positionality I’ve been embodying lately, and I’m grappling with the relationship between who I am and how I am perceived.
Your gender is your own, but it does not exist in isolation. Gender is interactive. Whether you like it or not, your gender or lack thereof will invite interaction. The kinds of interaction and its impacts depend upon how the world sees you. The more normative I look, the fewer eyebrows I raise, the safer I will be, and the more privilege I will have.
Gender is individual and social. Gender is innate and constructed. Gender is real and totally made up. Gender is exhausting, and it is exhilarating too. I often grow tired of gender, yet I do not want to live without it. I just wish it didn’t invite so much comment.