Friday, July 8, 2011

Two Silly Ideas.

Two ideas have been floating around in my head for a few months now, and I'm not sure if either of them is good. I'll probably do the first and I'm probably not taking the second seriously enough.

1. The Girl In The Closet.
I want Rowdy (or someone else I trust both as a person and a BDSM top) to shut me in a walk-in closet for 24 hours. Maybe a whole weekend. I'd get a jug of water (maybe a little food if it's a whole weekend) and reasonable allowances for potty breaks, and that's it.

Why: Partly as a kink thing, but mostly as a mental-clearing thing. In a weird way it almost feels like something I need, a reboot for the brain, a forced mediation. I'm a person consumed by my distractions--sex! blogs! food! electronics! hobbies! TvTropes!--and while I treasure most of those distractions, I also want to know what it's like to live without any distractions at all. It's something I would do independently, but I don't think I can force myself. So I'll get someone to force me.

Why not: It could just be a giant waste of time. I could become sufficiently physically or mentally uncomfortable that I only think about the discomfort. I'm also a little afraid that I'll beg out early and regret it, but I would not agree to an arrangement that didn't give me some way to safeword out.

2. Renouncing My Gender.
Maybe I should have said "the person in the closet." Because I'm not sure I'm a woman. I've got a female body and that doesn't bother me, but there's nothing else that convinces me I'm a woman. I'm thinking of officially declaring this and living (in kink/feminist circles, at least) as officially genderless.

Why: Not only am I not sure I'm a woman, I'm not even sure what evidence could convince me. I don't think I'm a man; I think I'm genderless, or other-gendered, or something. (Sometimes I don't understand how anybody knows what their gender is, but I take people's word that they do.) My gender is "person," and beyond that, I don't know how to define it. I don't feel manly or womanly in the least--I don't even know what "manly" or "womanly" are supposed to feel like.

Why not: I feel like I'm still taking this too lightly. I know that I'll still have to be a "woman" with family/work/school/etc. anyway. I'm only talking about myself here, but I feel weird announcing a "non-standard" gender, like I'm trying too hard to be "special" or something, like that time when I was a teenager and I typed in British spellings for a year. I don't want to alienate potential partners (or current/former partners!) who are attracted to women.

I also worry that maybe I'm overthinking it, maybe being comfortable in a female body is all it means to be a woman, and you don't have to feel like a super womanly lady girl person to be a woman.

I also worry that I'll totally lose my feminist "I'm a woman, and I think that..." cred.

For the time being, I'm still a woman. I'm sort of a "woman, but what the fuck is a woman anyway?", but I'm a woman. Right now. I'll keep you posted.


  1. I think the problem is that we treat gender as binary when it is very much a fluid thing. You can be a man, or a woman, or something else - or a mix. Whatever. I constantly reference this:

  2. Yeah, it seems like, once you abandon the commonly-accepted definition of "man" and "woman", it's difficult to find a definition at all, and most of the ones you do find are kind of lacking... or at least that's the problem I have.

    I sometimes consider renouncing my maleness, but what does that mean? I'm not going to make anyone use weird pronouns. I'm not going to act differently than I do now.

    Once you start coloring outside the lines, deciding what to draw freehand is a bitch. But I suspect whatever you end up putting down will be awesome.

  3. I'm intrigued by your first idea, but it seems like it would take a certain amount of practice to get into that mindset. It reminds me of the last time I tried to fast for Yom Kippur. I'm about as Jewish as you'd expect a person for whom "the last time I fasted for Yom Kippur" was years ago to be, so that's how seriously I took it. But I did want it to be the contemplative experience my parents claimed it was. Instead, I was just hungry. I can't think of a time when it was harder to ignore my petty distractions. I just really, really cared about food. Not that other people don't have good experiences giving things up, but plain old deprivation has never helped me stop thinking about the things I'm deprived of.

    As for the second idea, I'm extra intrigued. If gender is defined completely socially (which I could be convinced of), is that a bad thing? Does it make it any less true? I hope you can take the plunge of ungendering if you want to, it's obviously an incredibly powerful step. But it seems to me that since gender is pretty much a socially defined thing, being ungendered is too. If woman-ness isn't inherent in you, is non-gender-ness any more so? I'm curious, as a person who has never felt wrong identifying as a woman. But if you told me we were all going by hair color now, I could probably make that switch pretty easily. So I'm curious!

  4. Also that two-headed turtle is seriously freaking me out.

  5. Speaking as a female who doesn't feel spectacularly feminine at all times, I think renouncing your gender would be a mistake. Bowing out just because you don't fit the preferred stereotype doesn't do anything but reinforce that stereotype. Why not just be your own brand of female?

    I've been reading your blog for quite a while and I've been getting the impression that you still have some pretty deeply engrained ideas of what effect being one or the other gender actually has on a person (your post about children being told they can't do this or that because they're a certain gender, for example). The truth is, it's only as important as you make it--or at least it is for me. In this day and age, there is no male-gendered behavior that you can't do if you wanted to, physical limitations aside. You're a woman because you're a woman, not because you perform a certain set of societally-expected roles.

    I hate to paraphrase Oprah, but if there was anything right about what she's said, it's that you teach people how to treat you. And to speak a hard truth, it is much easier to demand the world accept you as a non-girly girl, then to be a nongendered person in a gendered society. One is just strange, the other is anathema.

    It feels very strange to be giving a total stranger advice over the internet, but hey. Just be yourself bro.

  6. Kirsten - I like that drawing, and I like the idea of "fluidity"--that if I wear a dress and giggle behind my hand today, it doesn't invalidate anything if I wear camo pants and use a hacksaw tomorrow.

    I'm not sure if that's gender fluidity or just, like, behavior fluidity, though.

    PJ - I agree about the weird pronouns; I'm probably stuck with "she." Although my mom did once tell me that if I'd been a boy I would have been named "Cliff," and I always thought that would be pretty awesome. Cliff Pervocracy.

    Emma - You want to be really freaked out? I saw them feed it, and both heads ate.

  7. To me, if it feels super-wrong to gravitate toward what the culture defines as "female," then you're probably not gendered female, and the same goes for "male." If it feels really wrong to you to express yourself in traditionally male or female ways, it is more likely that you're just equally male and female, or else "other," however you want to put it. For me, it feels "natural" to wear skirts, have long hair, and in the last few years I have been dramatically preoccupied with the power of my female body - that I wax and wane with the moon, that I can grow and sustain life with my own body. For me, that's what tells me I am female. But I want to emphasize, I have no idea if this is the "right" criteria, or if there is such a thing as the right criteria.

    I say, if it feels right to say "I'm a woman," then I'm a woman. If it doesn't feel right, you're probably not female, but at the same time that doesn't mean you can't consciously choose an identity apart from what your instincts say either.

  8. Ampersand - You're a woman because you're a woman, not because you perform a certain set of societally-expected roles.
    But I don't know what the hell a "woman" is! The only reason I've used it so far is that I've got XX biology and I sorta got pigeonholed there and didn't argue with it. But being XX doesn't make a person a woman.

    I don't know what does.

    I hate to paraphrase Oprah, but if there was anything right about what she's said, it's that you teach people how to treat you.
    I fuckin' wish, Ampersand. I fuckin' wish.

    With the exception of the people very closest to me (and they'll accept me even if I decide my gender is "dolphin"), the best I can do is "please don't actually attack me." And that's as a woman.

    I'd still be a woman in public and in non-gender-tolerant settings, anyway. It'd be hard enough to explain if I were a man, and I'm not planning to take on the task of explaining "can't you just treat me like a person either way?" every time I go outdoors.

    Sorry if I'm getting tetchy. But I feel like anyone cheerfully selling "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent" hasn't spent enough quality time in the feeling inferior trenches.

  9. My understand was that gender is something society decides for you. You can say "I wish to be treated as neither a man nor a woman" but realistically, most people won't honor that request. As long you look like an XX, society will assign you the female gender.

  10. GudEnuf - By that measure, trans people can't exist at all.

    So I don't accept that measure.

  11. I feel similar about the gender thing. I'm happy with the female body I have, and that is probably all that "being a woman" means to me. I am really good at - and enjoy - some "womanly" activities but I am also really good at some "manly" activities and I feel that it's entirely silly to make that divide at all because eventually they're just "my preferred" activities, regardless of who else tends to do them how often.

  12. You know, for idea 1, the experience might be purer, if you want to isolate yourself from human interaction and restrict yourself to a confined space for a real period of time, if you just, you know. Had someone lock you in a bathroom.

  13. ascendingPig - That's true, but everyone I know who would be up for this only has one bathroom in their home and other people living there.

    I considered a bucket, but then I just know I'd spend the entire time thinking about the bucket.

  14. *a little disappointed with the lack of awareness the commentors so far are showing about what gender means*

    Gender has NOTHING to do with stereotypes. You can wear dresses 100% of the time and sew and bake and still, if you feel that the phrase 'man' makes some internal sense as a description of you, you are a man.
    Also, given the history of feminism and trans stuff, I feel it's worth stressing that gender is individual, not political. From what I read into Holly's post, she's not trying to degender herself as part of a feminist agenda, and doing that would be seriously dodgy in terms of erasing actual non-binary trans people.

    Gender, as I understand it, is some sort of internal feeling, and I can't describe it any better than that because it's one of those things that I just don't feel, and I have to accept other people's word that it's there and makes sense to people who have it.
    TLDR: The gender you are is not a political decision, or some sort of weighing up of how much you're like a stereotype man or stereotype woman. It's the knowledge that you are that gender.

  15. While you can certainly be genderless, if you don't feel genderless as opposed to being female then you're not.

    You don't have to be feminine to be female. Ignore all the cultural bullshit about pinkness and dresses and just concentrate on whether you like your vagina or not. If you do like it, you're a woman. "Feminine" and "womanly" are utterly arbitrary bundles of behavior that have nothing at all to do with being a woman.

    I know I'm gendered male, because I'm sexed male and I like my penis. And that's it. I'm not at all comfortable with the male gender role; I think it's silly even when I don't go out of my way to violate it and idiotic when I do. But that's irrelevant; my penis is firmly a Good Thing, so I'm male.

    As long as we're talking about this, I think one of the most annoying things about gender in the English language is that we use the same words to refer to both gender and sex. (For these purposes, what trans people refer to as their gender will be lumped into sex; it's more an extension into the brain of "I have a penis/vagina" then the kind of gigantic memeplex the other kinds of gender refer to.)

    Saying "I am male(sex)" is like saying "I have a double chin". Saying "I am male(gender) is like saying "I am Catholic". They are totally different things and should not be nearly as easy to confuse as they are.

  16. re: the gender thing - generally I think that if the statement "I am a woman" doesn't make you uncomfortable, in a "no this is not what I am this feels wrong" kind of way, you probably are one. but it doesn't mean you're only a woman; you can be, like, bigender with woman and genderqueer as your identity. or anything else, for that matter.

    I occasionally think I'm genderqueer because of how I react to "women are X" comments, when I am not X. (which, yeah, is mostly a reaction to gender roles but not only.) I've noticed that when they come from men, I tend to go "Fuck you, you're just factually wrong," but when they come from women, I tend to go "Well then maybe I'm not a woman then."

    (Gender identities I considered identifying as: Woman, genderqueer, programmer, geek, ooloi, clownfish. So yeah.)

    You can't let anyone define what being [gender x] means to them; but the result of that is that you can't define what [gender x] means, period. At which point I just say, screw it, tell me what pronouns to call you and we'll leave it at that.

  17. Others can only experience our gender from the outside through our presentation. Sometimes the way other people experience our gender is at odds with how our gender is in reality. We, on the other hand, can experience our gender through the way it makes us feel; it gives us our internal sense of being male, female, or something else. The point is, the way we present ourselves and the way that other people relate to our gender has nothing to do with what our gender actually is.

    That Holly Pervocracy goes about her daily life presenting as female does not, in fact, make Holly Pervocracy a woman. Your choice in how you express your gender to the outside world--and to whom you express it--does not in any way diminish your gender, even if you are genderqueer.

    And yet there is another component. How we experience our own gender is important, as well. Our gender is something real that we can experience through our "knowing" but how we interpret that knowledge and whether we are able to accept and embrace that part of us changes a lot. Part of coming out is making peace with and embracing who you are: Coming out to others is really secondary.

    Sometimes coming out to yourself is all that is needed to be happy and that's okay.


    I am genderqueer and the act of putting a name to my experience and owning that identity has been one of the most profoundly positive, and difficult, things I have ever done.

    Follow your heart.

  18. @BlackHumor: What you have said is entirely not true. Gender has absolutely nothing to do with how you feel about your genitals.

    I am genderqueer. I am most decidedly NOT male. Also, I love my penis. It's the best. What pain my body has caused me has been because the shape of my body causes others to gender me male which causes me pain. Nowadays, thanks to medicine, being gendered male is no longer a problem.

    I feel that people who equate gender identity with ones relationship with their body lack insight into the realities of gender and what it means to be genderqueer.

    Just because body image is correlated with gender identity does not mean that their relationship is central to one's gender. I know men who wish they had women's bodies (but are quite happy being men, thank you) for pete's sake!

    So, yeah, get that idea out of your head!

  19. As an alternative to "1", have you considered going camping by yourself for a weekend with no books, electronic devices, or anything to distract you from your own internal state? Because if that's your goal, it might be that the kinkish aspect to your proposed "1" would actually detract from your purpose. Of course, if you really just want a kinky "locked in the closet" experience, then it's "1" all the way.

  20. "(Sometimes I don't understand how anybody knows what their gender is, but I take people's word that they do.) My gender is "person," and beyond that, I don't know how to define it. I don't feel manly or womanly in the least--I don't even know what "manly" or "womanly" are supposed to feel like...

    ...I don't want to alienate potential partners (or current/former partners!) who are attracted to women...

    For the time being, I'm still a woman. I'm sort of a "woman, but what the fuck is a woman anyway?""

    Thank you for posting this. This is me.

  21. I'm a man. In a male body. I wear skirts as often as I dare and I hardly do any stereotypically manly things, and I like presenting ambiguously. But… I feel like a man. When people talk about men, I feel they're talking about me. It's not a particularly strong feeling, but I feel I am a man.

  22. One thing I've noticed when talking with transpeople, both online and offline, is that they feel very strongly about their gender. They are absolutely sure that the gender assigned to them, is not the same as the gender they feel.

    Most cis people (myself included) simply doesn't seem to feel very strongly about gender one way or the other. For most it just seems like it's a matter of feeling comfortable with the assigned gender - and that most cis people lack the strong gender identity that transpeople have.

    Of course, this is only my experience, and only from talking with what I consider sane people - I'm sure that the users on your average PUA forum would yell at me for the above.

  23. Regarding #1, apart from the potential kink aspect, sounds to me like you just need a retreat. As PhysioProf suggested, maybe a no-Internet camping trip would do the trick, or a retreat somewhere at the religious center of your choice? (PS - I'm a new reader of yours, hi there.)

  24. I've sometimes thought about renouncing my gender, but I can't decide whether that actually solves the problem. I feel that gender is basically fake, but to state that I am NOT a woman means that I'm continuing to allow the category "woman" to be some kind of pool of feminine qualities that is real, tangible, and discrete. Whereas if I keep on accepting that I am seen as a woman, I think maybe I'll help broaden the category, hoping for a day when people realize "men" and "women" can have the same diversity of traits that "people" do. I'm not sure which thing works better. It's tricky.

  25. >> I'm sort of a "woman, but what the fuck is a woman anyway?"

    That's the kind of woman I've always been.


  26. For the closet trip, i would want a pee jug (i've used a wide-mouth detergent bottle before, like to keep from having to trek to the portapots in the middle of the night at Burning Man, and it wasn't stinky at all).

    Also, maybe you could combine the 2 as an experiment, and part of the negotiated closet-retreat could include being ungendered for the weekend? Though i am curious what pronouns you would opt for. "It" is depersonalizing, not just ungendered.


  27. >One thing I've noticed when talking with transpeople, both online and offline, is that they feel very strongly about their gender. They are absolutely sure that the gender assigned to them, is not the same as the gender they feel.

    True. That's pretty much the definition of a trans person.

    >and that most cis people lack the strong gender identity that transpeople have.

    Correct observation, wrong conclusion.

    Many cis people have very strong gender identities. But they don't have to go to war to get other people to accept them. They just live them, because that aspect of their lives - getting people to accept them as the gender they are assigned - is not difficult.

    Many cis people probably don't have strong gender identities. But again, if it isn't strong you just go with the flow, and your life in that area is not difficult.

    So, it's probably fair to say that pretty much all trans people have strong gender identities (whatever those identities are). It is not fair to say that all cis people have weak gender identities; you really can't measure it.

    Picture a wide, lazy river, viewed through a haze. You can see swimmers in it, but you can't see them well enough to measure speed, just which way they're going. Some are actively swimming with the current - that's cis people with strong gender identities. Some are treading water, but nonetheless going in the same direction - that's cis people with weak gender identities. Some are actively swimming upriver - that's trans people. Put them all together, and the ones actively swimming are the ones with the strong gender identities. The only difference between the cis swimmers and the trans swimmers is that the cis swimmers can take a break and the river will still move them in the direction they want to go.


  28. Delurking to much word. Get down with yo bad self, these both seem like very interesting ideas that should be explored further.

  29. I think you should try IDing and genderless for a while. Talk about it on anon boards, talk to Rowdy and Sprite about it, and see how it feels.
    And all the commenters saying "you shouldn't stop IDing as female just because you don't fit stereotypes!" STFU, figuring out your gender is a lot more complicated than you seem to think.
    A bigger STFu to the person who says it's about whether or not you love your body parts. I love my vagina, but I'm still a dude.

  30. You can be genderless with us! It'll be fun. We can play Frogger or something.


    I'm kinda shocked at the politics of the gender going on here, honestly. Then again, I got told pretty much the exact same stuff when I said I was a guy.

    As for the closet thing, that sounds like a pretty hardcore thing to just start off with. If you feel up to it, that's fucking-a, but I see it a bit like meditation. With practice, I can meditate for an hour or three, but it required practice; otherwise it was just sitting for a million hours going, "God, how long am I trapped here?"

    Then again, I'd go ballistic trapped in a small space like that. I do 'detox' like you describe by... er. Losing my internet. Oddly, having to PAY for web by the hour makes me a lot less likely to use it!


  31. Rogan: Also, we're really sorry about not getting back to you about the visit; we've lost our internet, and I know you gave us your phone number but we lost it because we suck.

    Gigi: Where did that turtle come from? o_o

  32. Sneak - I play Frogger every time I cross Mass Ave...

    Rogan - I don't have any claustrophobia issues (actually I find it kinda comforting), so I think I'd be okay with that. The thing about losing my Internet, though, is that I have no willpower. I'll just watch videos on the computer. And if I turn the computer off I'll just read books. And so on... It makes me want to do something drastic.

    Also, I'll email you my phone number.

    Gigi - It's from the Reptile Zoo in Washington State:

  33. Holly - I agree with what others are saying! I grew up in the country and I very strongly believe in the power of nature to refresh us and reset our minds. I have even been told by Professors (like, with doctorates so this is why I assume I know what they are talking about) that being around things like trees and water and fresh air does good things for our brains. I think this is good for the mind/soul whatever you want to call it, moreso than being in a closet would be. It helps bring reality back into your lap and helps you both medicate and find yourself while at the same time remembering that you are, as a human, part of the world and so on. I could go on!

    As for the second part - this one is harder for me to relate to. I don't honestly think about my gender that much, as Ulc says maybe it just isn't that big a deal to me because I don't have to "prove" otherwise. I feel that I was very lucky to have been born with such a mindset as to fit in with relative ease to the "societal model" we currently have going on. That being said, I have been told I think like a man, am a tomboy, have been "accused" of being a lesbian and so forth - which is kind of annoying because honestly, I'm not doing anything that extreme, and I have a hard time accepting that certain ways of thinking of behaving are "confined" to one sex or the other. When people start to bang on about how women or men do some things because of biology or because of how they once lived in caves or whatever, part of me just wants to scream "bullshit" at the top of my lungs.

  34. Wow the above post is full of typos - I apologize. First "I assume THEY know what they are talking about (they being professors) and MEDITATE, not medicate haha. Although I'm sure you COULD also medicate, if you wanted to.

  35. It's pretty! I like that turtle.


  36. PhysioProf: No distractions, great idea. No distractions in a forest? Dunno if that one got thought all the way through.

  37. If you want a bucket-like thing for your closet retreat, how about a litter box? I wouldn't want to poop in one, but if you're not eating much, you probably won't poop anyway. They make multiple-cat-formulated litter, which keeps two cats from smelling up my bathroom. I don't know how many cats add up to a person, though.

  38. also holy crap i should really reload before i comment

  39. Aaron Em - That's why I don't want to do this in a forest; I'd end up with elaborate leaf-and-stick contstructions, not pure "I have nothing to do with my mind and must turn it inwards" sensory deprivation.

    Emma - I am not pissing in a litter box. I can walk ten feet from the closet to a bathroom every four or five hours without disrupting my mental purity that much.

  40. lol, I don't really want to piss in a litter box either. But once people started bringing up wide-mouthed detergent bottles, I thought I would suggest something that's made to be pissed in. If you go hiking instead, you can just piss in the woods, and then you don't have to spend your mental retreat weekend thinking about piss all the time.

  41. I can tell you how I know my gender. Maybe it helps, maybe not.
    I'm a man and male. I know I am because when I say it, I feel calm and comfortable, happy and right. That's all.
    (I also have a vagina and squeal about cute little animals. Irrelevant to my gender.)
    Why not just try it out among your peers? Pick a pronoun and word you find appropriate for yourself and ask your friends to use them. See if you feel better than when they speak of you as she and woman.

  42. I'm posting this comment before reading the other comments because they often make my intended comment fly out of my head. I can't address your first point, so I'll leave that one to others. But your second interests me. I consider myself androgynous, where I feel like I embody both male and female. I continue to be woman in my daily life (dress like one, respond to "miss", wear my hair like one) for simplicity's sake, but inside I'm not just a woman.

    The funny part about androgyny is that there are two sides to this coin; there's the type that I feel I am, that has both, and then there's those that feel they have none. They are neither male nor female. Then there's the wonderful in between that humans do so well.

    How do I know that I am both? Well, I just know. It goes along with knowing that you're gay or straight or poly or pan or bi or...I think you understand the idea. You look at yourself (more often if you're atypical) and realize that's how it's always been. Or that it's what you are now.

  43. BlackHumor: While you can certainly be genderless, if you don't feel genderless as opposed to being female then you're not.

    You don't have to be feminine to be female. Ignore all the cultural bullshit about pinkness and dresses and just concentrate on whether you like your vagina or not. If you do like it, you're a woman.

    What if I generally like my vulva, but fantasize frequently and vividly about having a penis?

  44. Holly: I'd have the same problem, but then given all the "ooh shiny!" in my head I'd probably have the same problem just about anywhere, which is why I'm so fascinated by the Zen idea of "grandmotherly kindness" -- that is, getting whacked with a stick every time your concentration wanders.

    I've never had an opportunity to find out for myself how well it works, and I really don't have a very good understanding of what's required on the other side of the stick, so to speak -- I suppose whoever's wielding it would need either to be attentive and aware enough, or to know you well enough, to spot your focus slipping before you do. But I've heard that, when done right, it can be very effective.

    Dunno how feasible that is, or anything like it, but it's a thought and maybe you'll find it useful. This (if links work here) may also be of interest; it is entitled "Perseverance in the Tao" and relates the story from which I cribbed the "grandmotherly kindness" phrase. On the other hand, it reads like the stuff they'd give to people who aren't swift enough to learn by getting hit with sticks, so who knows?

  45. Holly -

    "I like that drawing, and I like the idea of "fluidity"--that if I wear a dress and giggle behind my hand today, it doesn't invalidate anything if I wear camo pants and use a hacksaw tomorrow."

    Frankly, I don't think whether you wear a dress and giggle behind your hand, or whether you wear camo pants and use a hacksaw, is necessarily relevant to a person's gender.

    Perhaps you feel that it's relevant to your gender. If so, I guess you have... context-sensitive gender?

    (Hey, if your gender is described by a context-sensitive grammar, is it necessarily Turing-complete? I could do computation with it!) (Okay, that's a horrible Automata joke.)

    In all seriousness, I don't see a woman who wears camo pants and uses a hacksaw as being any less a woman.

    Perhaps it's my upbringing and friend-circles of late, but ... *shrug* I guess YMMV.

  46. Maybe do some reading. Patrick Califia, Julia Serano, Kate Bornstein. Try Gender Outlaws, the first and the second. Maybe try IDing as genderqueer or whatever you like and seeing if that feels like a better fit. But do explore, check out some people who have come to some conclusions about trans*ness--you won't agree with everything you read, but some of it might clarify, for instance, what it means to be a "man" or a woman", even if you end up not relating, and some of it might resonate with you. I find a few things I'm recommending kind of offensive, but if you do your own exploring, asnd talk to people about how published things (mis)represent their own experiences, you should be able to figure out eventually what's most accurate for you. If you end up being interested enough. If it doesn't bother you, and you have no real incentive, that is also fine.

  47. Gender is just a label, a set of words tied to concepts. As a TS, I've been through a wide variety of "gender identities" as I've gone through the process. There are also multiple frames of reference for gender. There's the gender your inner self identifies with, the gender that you feel moment to moment, and the gender that others perceive you to be. The gender I identify with is somewhere between female and androgynous. The gender I feel has been all over the map, from male, to female, and many points near and far. The gender that people perceive me to be has shifted throughout my life from male to female, with many stops of confusion in between. Nowadays, I've got them all mostly in sync as somewhere between female and androgynous.

    If you're feeling gender confusion, then you absolutely should play with the various identifiers you feel are tied to your gender. I've done it many times, a period of self-adjustment is good for the soul. After my initial super-femme phase at the beginning of my transition, when I gained a lot of weight, I shifted to a less femme appearance and demeanor. I went through a phase of questioning whether I had done the right thing in pursuing my transition. When I tried to picture myself living as a man though, it just wouldn't process. It took me some time to find my place on the spectrum. It was like a pendulum, once released I had to go back and forth a bit until I found my center. What I've learned in all of this is that for the most part, you control your identity and how you express it will dictate what the rest of the world perceives. Do what makes you happy, the world is far easier to deal with when you're happy.

  48. :P I identify as bigendered, ergo, fuck the binary.
    -shrug- define yourself as what suits you and how it suits you, which you seem to do juuuust fine.

  49. Gender is complicated!! Holly, you're getting lots of conflicting suggestions, so I just wanted to say this. Nothing you've said about yourself is incompatible with being a woman--or a man, or both, or neither. Neither your haircut, nor your interests, nor your level of comfort with your body necessarily say anything about your gender.

    Gender, as I see it, is a feeling; an identification. It is, and must be, self-defined. I am profoundly cis-gendered; I just *know* that I'm a woman, and I know that trying to be anything else would just be *wrong* for me. So for anyone wondering if it's possible to "feel like a woman," all I can say is that yes, I do.

    If the idea of gender doesn't have much meaning for you, Holly, then you may indeed be genderqueer or even genderless. I hope you have fun figuring things out. And remember that you can change your label more than once, so you're not making a lifelong commitment. ^_^

    Finally, I personally think it's okay to identify as a woman in a sort of *demographic* sense--to check "woman" off on forms, for example, or to have "woman cred" in discussions of feminism--even if you identify differently in your heart of hearts. As someone with a female body, who isn't going out of her was to "pass" as male, and who was socialized as female, you would face the many of the same experiences and pressures as your more "girly" sisters.

  50. Holly, I hope you'll forgive me for replying with quotes from something I already wrote somewhere else:

    But there are places I reach for in my own brain when I want to know my name, my preferences, my personality, or other parts of myself, and when I reach into the place where it feels like gender should be, I come up empty. I’m not even sure what having something there would mean. There are people out there who know their own gender so certainly that they make huge, difficult life changes to be perceived as what they are. I sincerely respect that, and intellectually I can understand it, but I don’t really comprehend the strength of that pull towards a point on the gender spectrum. What part of me would be different, if I knew I was male?
    All this time, I’ve been afraid of jerking people around–asking of them the difficult task of changing their definition of me, and then having to do it all over again later because it didn’t turn out to be the right label after all. But maybe it’s not about being “right.” Maybe it’s about describing the place where I am now, about being a visible example of the complexity of gender experience. I resisted the idea of finding or making a different word for myself because I didn’t want to be seen as sophomoric, rejecting all previous thought on the subject so I could declare myself a unique snowflake. But I
    do get to choose what I am, and I am unique. So is everybody else! What if we started acknowledging that?

    The way you describe feeling sounds exactly like where I was when I started drafting that post. My original intent was just to explore the questions you're talking about here--what does it mean to be a woman if I don't feel womanly? But not manly, either, nor both? About two thirds of the way through the draft, I wrote myself into a very scary corner: there just wasn't a logical way to proceed without acknowledging that the absence of attachment to any point on the gender spectrum was my identity. So I took a deep breath, wrote the second of those quoted paragraphs, and adopted it.

    I'm going to write a followup post some time soon, talking about what's happened since, but here's a spoiler: it feels amazing. You wouldn't know it from the outside--almost nothing has visibly or tangibly changed. But it feels right to think of myself as agender in a way that calling myself female never did. Even posting about it right now, I can still feel the little bubble of joy and relief that came with that acceptance. I didn't expect it at all before I tried it.

    So, consider me a counterpoint I guess to all the people who are saying "well if you don't feel like anything else you must be a woman, just not a very femmy one." Maybe if you don't feel like any of these things, you aren't any of these things! I can't tell you if that's right for you, but I can tell you it's an okay way to be, because it sure is right for me.

  51. Fizz - That sounds exactly like the things I'm thinking right now. Wow. And I'm very interested to see that followup post.

  52. The other thing I worry about is that sometimes I do things that are quite stereotypically feminine--I wear skirts and I get fussy with my nails and hair--and I don't want to be subject to "ah hah! you're a woman after all!"

    ...Not that anyone's said this, but it makes me nervous now and then. I don't know how one goes about being ostentatiously agender anyway. I'm not buying a new wardrobe for this.

    Probably it does come down to what you say, Fizz--a change more in self-perception than in presentation.

  53. Gender, separate from sex, makes no sense to me. It's a completely arbitrary social construct, defined by the meaningless segregation of personality characteristics and a person's physical presentation. For me, identifying as a woman gives me the most freedom to act and dress the way I want. Some days I wear pants, button down shirts, boots, and bomber jackets, other days I wear 1950's style dresses. I like to keep my hair short, I work in a male-dominated industry, and I'm attracted to both men and women. I like using power tools and building things. I don't want children and I'm not a particularly "nurturing" or maternal kind of person. However, I can be very emotional sometimes. In general, I'm not a very stereotypically "girly" or "feminine" person, but I don't feel like the stereotypes mean I'm not woman. They don't mean anything to me. The only time they get on my nerves is when they mean that people treat me as a second-class citizen.

    I don't ever feel like a woman, or a man, or anything really. I'm just me, doing what I like to do, and going against the gender associated with my biological sex wouldn't help me become any more myself.

    That being said, I have no problem with people who do feel like their gender is important. It's no skin off my back to address people with whatever pronouns they prefer, because I'm interacting with an individual person, not with some amorphous concept of gender.

  54. I have trouble pinning down the idea of "gender". Always have. I feel like myself, and I am biologically male, therefore do I feel like "a man"? Who knows. How could I even start to separate out my identity as an individual from my "identity" as a man or otherwise? All I can say for sure is: I feel like this man.

    Isn't it all made up from individual fragments of behaviour and desire anyway? Gender is synthetic; pick 'n' mix.

    I really liked the "Gender Smorgasbord" concept you posted previously. Maybe you could go back to that and change your choices from the "terminology" platter, leaving everything else the same? Because all the things that make up your "gender", or rather your entire personality, are there right now. For what it's worth, I see you as someone who has fairly comprehensively de-constructed their gender already.

    Oh, and with regard to the solitary confinement - pick two willing friends who live near each other. One can go stay with the other, vacating their bathroom for use as your monastic cell. You'll have running water and a toilet. Whoever's supervising you can go across and use their bathroom if needed. In fact, for total quiet contemplation, they could stay out for much of the day, checking in on you regularly. A mobile phone for emergency use, with the keypad password locked, should allow you to dial out for the emergency services but not get distracted.
    I think that covers everything...

  55. @UL, from way up the thread: I was aware it wasn't quite that simple, and I was wondering whether to mention it, but eventually I decided it was too much in detail and some trans person is probably going to make the correction anyway.

    So, uh, thank you for making the correction, but I don't think you can say universally across all trans people that (biological) gender doesn't have anything to do with how comfortable you are with your penis (/vagina).

  56. Oh, missed this:

    @perversecowgirl: See an expert, I have no idea.

  57. My sister went a year without declaring her gender online - you know, for stuff you sign up for. There was a lot she couldn't do.

  58. As for #2, I have kind of pondered the same thing. I pretty much decided my definition of "woman" includes everything I am, including when I am masculine or in drag or whatever. A lot of the time I guess you could say I'm a butch woman, and sometimes I'm more of a femme woman, but I always identify with "woman". "Man" or "genderqueer" or what have you are just not terms I feel describe me. But gender is such a personal thing. I feel like in the end it is just what ever term you're most comfortable with.

    Also, I feel like I should mention that it's clear not everyone here is as educated on gender issues as everyone else, and I am kind of being put off by the way those people are being treated. I don't think anyone here has said "gender SHOULD BE THIS WAY FOR EVERYONE", just "this is what gender is to me", and have mostly been well-meaning, so lashing out and telling them to shut up is kind of uncalled for.

  59. Probably it does come down to what you say, Fizz--a change more in self-perception than in presentation.

    Well, yeah! If you have to change yourself to match some arbitrary definition of a gender, the hell good is it? As my mom likes to say, they make the clothes to fit the person, not the person to fit the clothes; if one of them is wrong, it ain't you. :)

  60. You could always fall back on "I used to be a woman, and I learned a lot. Let me tell you . . . "

  61. If your primary problem is that you can't consciously justify identifying as female, that doesn't necessarily mean you aren't emotionally more comfortable identifying as female. I have a friend who experimented with identifying as trans for a little while, and decided she was a cis butch lesbian after all. Mentally experimenting can work up to a point, but I really believe in using experiences. As a trans person, there is no mistaking the feeling of going from a gender identity that doesn't fit you to one that does. It feels like you've been forced to wear clothes too small or too large all your life, and suddenly you're wearing clothes that actually fit. I can't pretend that I can consciously identify what makes up gender, but when you've hit on a gender that fits you, you know. So I'd suggest asking Rowdy and Sprite to use ungendered language for you, like gender neutral pronouns and exclusively use "person" instead of "girl." Compare how that feels to how being called "she" and "girl" feels. If you decide there isn't enough of a difference to officially identify as genderless, thats fine. You did an experiment and got some results.

  62. BlackHumor: Ignore all the cultural bullshit about pinkness and dresses and just concentrate on whether you like your vagina or not. If you do like it, you're a woman.

    Many people commented on this already, but I want to add that I like my vagina, and I am definitely a man.

    I don't think you can say universally across all trans people that (biological) gender doesn't have anything to do with how comfortable you are with your penis (/vagina).

    Nobody said this. Instead, people said gender cannot be reduced to how one feels about one's body. Trans people might feel body dysphoria more often than others, yes, but all trans people do not want to change all their sex characteristics, nor are all people who want to change theirs trans.

  63. I'm unnerved by how many commenters are suggesting rules of thumb for *discovering* what gender you are, as though there's definitely one right answer.

    Which I know is how some people work, and that for a lot of trans people, the idea that there might be a Definite True Answer about their gender other than the externally-imposed one is a huge fucking deal.

    But for some people it's more changeable!

    I think of myself as bisexual, but it's always felt like being both straight and queer-- not 50/50, just "both". I also think of myself as genderqueer, but for a long time that felt like "neither" and I didn't know what to do with it. Trying on a "both" style of gender means being different in different settings AND THAT'S FINE.

    So I dunno, I think you should take your idea #2 seriously, but that doesn't mean "taking the plunge". Just try it out.

  64. I feel the same way about my gender. I'm (mostly) okay with my lady-body, but in terms of my gender psychology, I primarily identify as just plain ole "human."

    My gender is fluid, and it changes with context. When I'm affixing cabinets to the wall, I identify as a man. When I'm talking about my feelings, I identify as a woman. And sometimes I identify as a dyke or a fag too, which further complicates things. It's just a way of talking about the fact that we are all multidimensional, blends of different proportions of gender.

    My advice is that you don't overthink it. If they've defined gender so rigidly that ACTUAL, REAL-LIFE humans can't be women anymore, that's their problem. Let's storm their lady clubhouse, screaming, I got a pair of tits, motherfuckers, now let me into your shitty club.

  65. which is not to say that titless folks can't also be women... god DAMN this is complicated, ain't it?

  66. Just want to say that you're second point is so comforting to me. I too have been having issues with defining what a woman is, but I can't decide on declaring myself something else.

    For me there's a really weird feeling that somehow by doing that I'd be diminishing the struggles of people who are very sure in their genderlessness. I'd feel like a fake. But maybe that's just because I'm at such a stage of uncertainty.

  67. Who other than sexists is saying that you need more than a female/male body and comfort with it to be a woman/man? You sound simply like a woman who doesn't fit completely into her society's gender role, as many people don't. I bet it's normal not to "feel womanly/manly" most of the time, since most of the time your sex isn't directly relevant to what you're doing.

  68. @Sneaker: Again, deliberate simplification. Focus more on the things I said gender isn't than the things I said gender is.

  69. #2: I went through a whole gender-identity questioning thing a half-dozen years ago, when I started giving in to my desire to wear skirts and other "feminine" wear.

    What I settled on:

    a. I consider myself a man, because I have a rather obviously male body, but that's all that "being a man" means to me.

    b. As for the rest of the crap that "being a man" is supposed to mean, I'm not going to worry about it. If I want to do something, and it doesn't hurt anyone (or get me into real trouble), I do it, and I don't worry (or try not to, anyway) about whether it's "for men" or "for women." I _do_ worry about being a Decent Human Being (DHB)

    c. I try not to worry about what other people think about gender (mine or anyone else's.) You can't really change other people's minds (any more than they can change mine), so as long as they're not actively interfering with me living my life, I don't argue with them.

    d. Most people don't want to know about your inner issues, anyway. All they really want to know is which pronouns and which social rules to use with you, and that you're not going to go wacko on them; any more is just TMI.

  70. I realize I'm late , but I've been thinking about it since you posted, and wanted to comment again.

    I think that what makes gender so hard to pin down is that we treat it like it's something we are, but it's actually something we do. You wrote about this with that amazing "dressing up your dog like a dog" post. Gender is dressing up, but the context of that outfit is everyone's belief that it's like a disguise or a uniform, not like a halloween costume - bystanders believe it expresses something about you, unlike when you dress up as batman for fun. Obviously a lot of people are communicating something important about themselves by identifying as a gender. But it's still an act of communication that you shape, not a transparent baring of one's soul. So don't worry about "being" a gender. Do whatever gender you want.


  71. Hershele OstropolerJuly 11, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    I don't feel male, but nor do I feel not-male; since I present as male it's hard for me to say I'm not. But as was said in the "person" post, it really doesn't matter.

    I think of the gender binary as like Newtonian physics: not really how reality works, but seems to give the right answer often enough to be useful.

    Similarly, "heterosexual" is the least-bad fit for my sexual orientation. I insist on PIV being part of my relationships*. It's not the only thing, or even the only most important thing (not a typo), but if someone doesn't have a V or doesn't want a P in it, that's it.

    So that means I want a woman, right?

    Well, in practice, yes, but in an ideal world, we wouldn't assume that someone's genitalia or what they do with them determines their gender**. If my girlfriend told me she was a man, and nothing else about our relationship changed, I wouldn't suddenly break up with him.

    *That's me; I'm not saying all or only heterosexuals insist on or even want PIV.

    **Q: What is the gender of someone who has a vagina, drinks cosmos, and knits? A: Jungrire gurl fnl vg vf.

  72. Fizz: There are some philosophical theories that say we are never the same person from one moment to the next. Every few years are so, our bodies do replace all of their cells. So I think embracing who are in this moment is perfectly acceptable both mentally and biologically - as is embracing who you might be ten years or five hours from now - it could be totally different from one moment to the next.

    AaronEm: I'm not saying there are no distractions in a forest - but you will make distractions no matter where you are. This is just my nosy two cents as someone who feels least distracted in isolated nature where there are no artificial lights, no electric noises, no people sounds, no traffic....just you and your surroundings. :P

  73. Holly said,

    The other thing I worry about is that sometimes I do things that are quite stereotypically feminine--I wear skirts and I get fussy with my nails and hair--and I don't want to be subject to "ah hah! you're a woman after all!"

    And then you do things that would be considered manly like build your own harness, grunt and fart in front of a TV and scan sexy women (I’m just guessing here). Right? Wouldn’t renouncing gender, or choosing to be agendered, free you from these bonds?

    I, myself, am more of a morphing gender shopper. I used to be really masculine and my wardrobe was filled with men’s suits and ties. I acted all gender neutral, maybe on the aggressive side. Now, I’m playing the woman part, which is also really fun. I’ve incorporated a lot of the old me like acting assertive and kind of aggressively in conversations. I lift heavy loads for people and open doors for them, I’m usually the one to buy someone a drink or to offer a light; I sew clothes and bake cakes for people I like, I use high heels and dresses and wear my hair long.

    I see it as a performance. The things I choose to wear are different from the ways I choose to act and how I feel about myself. Performing femininity in only my looks has given me a lot allowance to start just being me under it. But I think it’s because I chose it after trying to be really adrogynous and butch first. This is just the way I incorporated everything I am to who I perform as in a gendered world. I feel good about myself now, not so self-conscious all the time. I identify as female, not only because of the performance, but because of the possibilities of my body and the way my mind is wired around that. That's pretty new to me though, and I know the same feelings could spring in other configurations as well.

    Your way might be different, opposite almost, but I think choosing whatever you want, whatever you are for your "gender" is the same for both of us.

    Rogue Bambi

  74. It's hard to tell this in the right way and without offending those who have problems with being a woman more serious than this, but in places where being a woman means being weak, stupid, without owning a sexuality etc, telling that "I'm not weak, because I'm not a woman!" is so much easier to tell than "i am strong AND a woman", so in your place I'd only tell the first one when I had reasonably ruled out the second one. This line of reasoning reminds me of what Virginia Woolf tried to use, when talking about an androgynous mind with male and female parts in it that let us write - I'm intelligent because my mind has a bit of manliness i it, you see, not because women can write too.

    "I'm too intelligent to be a woman"? "I'm not actually a woman, because all women like to knit and babieeees and cook, so I can't be a woman-woman, you know, even if I have no problem with the body or the pronouns or such"? You only have to be a vaguely feminist cis woman to have big problems with what being a woman means, thanks; you can be something else, but it certainly is not a sign in itself.

    On the other hand, if you are really trans or genderqueer, I won't force you to stay in my category just out of solidarity, of course.

  75. I really never meant "I'm not a woman, because women suck and I don't suck." It's not some attempt to "escape" gender stereotypes or impose them on people who do identify as women.

    I only meant something more like "I'm not a woman, because I don't know what 'being a woman' feels like and don't think it's part of my identity."

  76. @Holly,

    I'm going to make a crude analogy here that might be helpful.

    It's based on a blog post by a transchick who goes by the handle GenderBitch. I don't know if her name is a buzzword around these parts, but the post can be found here:

    Now, maybe I'm drastically misinterpreting her post, but it seems to me that sexuality is PERSONAL: that people are attracted to different things based on their genes, their hormones, their life experiences, their nutrition (it's hard to grow without raw materials), etc.

    Take me, for example: I'm attracted to anatomically female people who happen to enjoy their bodies, and who have a certain waist-to-hip ratio.

    But that's MY personal sexuality, and though other people might share some aspects of it, nowhere is it written that mine is "correct" in any way.

    So, my analogy: if sexuality is personal, if there's no such thing as a "correct" sexuality, doesn't that imply that there's also no such thing as a "correct" way of living our bodies?

    In other words, do you have to have to have a certain relationship with your body to qualify as a "woman" or a "man?"

    I hope not. If so, I probably don't qualify as a "man," then, since I don't have the textbook relationship with my anatomically male body that some men do!

    As far as I'm concerned, you're not a man or a woman, you're a Holly -- Homo Sapiens Holly Pervocracy -- with your own relationship with your body and your own suite of things to which you're attracted.


  77. *shrugs* I feel, personally, that I don't have a gender, that the spot where gender goes is just empty. Blank. It complicates things because I still refer to myself as a lesbian because I am attracted to female bodies but not genders, so the best advice I can give you is to give yourself some serious space to think about it. Maybe during the closet thing?

  78. I'm glad to hear your thought number two. I am also happily/unquestioningly biologically female. But as far as gender goes, I don't identify with terms like "girl" or "woman" at all, and never have.

    I'm also not at all transgender. I don't terribly mind being perceived by the world as a woman (most of the time, and depending on how they react to their perception). And I'm happy doing activities and acting in ways that lie on all different points of the gender cline, as it were. But even so: I don't identify as a "girl" or "woman".

    It's interesting to read so many comments from people who do identify as a certain gender, in fact, simply because it is so different than me.

  79. Even though I'm grown up, I always see myself as a girl, not a woman, and I call myself a girl. Even that is hard to understand for most people.
    I act like a grown-up, I look like a grown-up, I smoke and fuck and drink and do all sorts of grown-up stuff, but I just don't feel like calling myself a woman. It's like there's jsut something missing, or like 22 just doesn't really count as the right age.
    Words may not change the way I act, but it changes how I feel about others. I don't feel that serious and self-reliant I thought of adults when I was a kid.I hate it when I call myself a girl and people correct me saying I'm a woman now.
    The same way I hate it when people tell me I'm acting like a man. I always act like myself, even when I wear some social masks, even when I'm not myself, and I don't want to be described in stereotypes.
    Even though my body is that of a woman, it doesn't feel right to be one. Like being called a smoker, it's just a habit, not my very being.My body is my appearance, not my soul, my character.I feel like a child in a giant, frightening world I need to explore, I am not grown up yet, and at best I would like to be described with my name alone.
    A dragon is a dragon is a dragon.It's his nature.
    Maybe it would be best if people told each other what they think they are when they meet. What they actually feel like.
    So maybe the words do change how we act. Depending on who uses them.
    I should stop ranting now, I had an important point, but I lost it.