I’m Fred and I’m transgender – my gender doesn’t match the ‘girl’ label assigned to me by society as a baby. My gender’s non-binary – neither ‘man’ nor ‘woman’ but a genderqueer mixture.
When I talk about this gender mixture, I’m not talking about stereotyped traits of masculinity and femininity, but something much less tangible about the internal self. Layered over this internal gender identity, people outwardly express their gender in many ways; this outward expression is often about a desire (conscious or not) to be ‘read’ correctly by other people. Gender presentation might include clothes and accessories, hairstyles, patterns of speech and body language, and the various signals might be mixed and layered to express the nuances of identity. The signals might be carefully thought through or not thought about at all at a conscious level. Most people think of themselves and present themselves as men or as women (or girls or boys); a significant minority (including me) think of themselves as neither or both, and might present themselves in ways that express that.
I perceive myself and present myself to the world as a mixture of man and woman, masculine and feminine, with a definite overtone of masculinity. If we think of gender as a spectrum like this (blue for man and red for woman)…
… I’m somewhere between the second and third splodge from the left: not a man but nearer the masculine end of the spectrum.
Other people I’ve talked with about this have placed themselves at different points on the spectrum – some firmly at one end or another; some in different places in the middle bit.
Some people experience their gender identity changing over time, or being at different places at different times or in different circumstances. Some of those people might describe themselves as genderfluid.
Incidentally, I know people who identify themselves as very feminine and also as men, and people who identify themselves as very masculine and also as women. I’m sure there would be men and women who’d put themselves in the same place on the chart as me but would identify firmly with a binary gender.
(In fact there are way more layers and directions that the chart doesn’t address, because gender’s really complicated – but that’s also what makes it so interesting.)
Some people I’ve talked with about gender identity get confused about why I think it’s important. “I’m just me – I don’t really think about that stuff.” “I don’t know where I am on that spectrum – it doesn’t matter.” “I don’t feel like I’m not a woman, but I don’t feel strongly womanly or feminine either.” There isn’t a strong correlation between this and whether or not someone’s transgender: it’s not just that people whose gender identity matches the one assigned to them don’t have to think about it.
Some people – I’m one – have a very intense sense of gender identity. I don’t feel like the colours are irrelevant to me: I feel like I’m overflowing with my particular mixture of them.
Some people identify themselves as agender – not having a gender identity – so the spectrum of colours doesn’t work for them.
My working hypothesis is that the chart needs another dimension. Instead of the one line
it should be more like a grid or paint chart:
So identities can vary in …let’s call it “hue”
and also in intensity:
I’m somewhere towards the bottom left: quite masculine, and intensely gendered.
The intensity at which people experience their gender identity can vary as much as the hue of their gender. Because we talk about variations in the hue and don’t talk much about variations in intensity, people with a less intense gender identity can feel as though intensely-gendered people are making a big deal unnecessarily, and people with an intense gender identity can feel dismissed.
I hope that by being more aware of the different directions of variation, I can be more understanding of other people’s thoughts and feelings about gender.