I think I'm genderqueer / agendered. Now what?
September 17, 2012 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I think I'm genderqueer / agendered. Now what?

I'm engaged to a heterosexual, cis-gendered man, and I'm biologically a woman. I'm 29, he's 34, and we've been together for eight years & living together for six years. I have identified as bisexual for most of my life, with varying degrees of comfort with my sexuality, and I've had long-term relationships with both women and men. I've always had a lot of vaguely dysphoric feelings about my body, but until recently I thought it was just the standard discomfort that everyone (certainly most women) seems to have about their appearances - low self-esteem, some mild weight issues, normal body issue stuff. Only recently have I realized that those feelings are stronger for me than for most people, that it's getting worse instead of better with age, and that there's a lot more to it than just not feeling pretty.

Recently, I realized that I experience unusually intense feelings of self-loathing and erasure when my fiance is attracted to other women, and it finally clicked for me that when he's attracted to other women, it triggers my latent gender dysphoria and it makes me feel like I'm not successfully "passing", like he knows I'm not really a woman at all and has to look elsewhere to satisfy his heterosexuality to some degree. This makes me feel awful, like I'm a fraud and that I'm coercing him into being a relationship with me because if he knew I wasn't "really a real woman" he would leave me for somebody who was prettier and better at being a woman than I am. Obviously this is silly - he's stuck around for eight years and proposed marriage so clearly he finds me attractive enough as a woman - but I guess that's just it, I just feel like it's not entirely honest somehow and that he only finds me sexually attractive insofar as I am able to "pass" as a woman, and I feel like I'm only halfway satisfying him in that way.

This tension and discomfort (really one of the only sources of tension in our whole relationship, which is otherwise great) has made me think a lot harder about my gender identity lately, and I finally realized that I would feel a lot better if I could just accept myself as a non-gendered individual somehow. Fundamentally, I don't feel like a woman or a man at all, though of course I'm more comfortable expressing femininity because that's what I've been socialized to do. My skills and interests are almost all more "masculine" - I'm in a hard science field, I'm great with math and computers, I do all the mechanical/construction/wiring work in our household, etc. I like wearing makeup and dresses sometimes, for special occasions, but it always feels like I'm cross-dressing and like everyone can tell how unconvincing I am, even when I know I look totally normal and all I did was put some lip gloss on or something. Somewhat paradoxically, my body is very feminine, though - broad hips & breasts, voluptuous hourglass figure, long hair (which I want to keep because I like it outside of its gender connotations). This contrast between my hyper-feminine body and my agendered identity seems to heighten my impostor feelings about my gender identity and makes me feel like even more of a fraud.

Are there any good resources out there for people who feel like me? I don't really even know where to start in accepting this about myself, or how to go about finding a more comfortable way for me to "express my gender" (or lack thereof) in a way that doesn't feel inauthentic and false. I've heard about a million different terms for this gender orientation: agendered, genderqueer, gender-agnostic, gender-anonymous, third gender, etc. The proliferation of terminology makes it hard to find other people who have had similar experiences (a forum, some advice, a community, etc).

I also need some advice about how to talk to my fiance about this. He loves me and he's a fantastic, open-minded, big-hearted guy, and our relationship & communication are generally very solid. However, he comes from a very straight background, went to a religious university (though he isn't religious himself anymore), his friend group is fairly conformist and they all follow very traditional gender roles, he has a bunch of lapsed-Catholic sexual guilt & shame issues, and he's pretty uncomfortable talking about sex at all. He's admitted being occasionally bicurious, but has never acted on it and it makes him really uncomfortable when I ask about it. We have a decent sex life, although sex tends to be more infrequent and vanilla than either of us would prefer.

I'm posting this through a sock puppet instead of anonymously so that people can share their thoughts via memail if they're uncomfortable posting. Thanks in advance for any advice and help you might have - I'm profoundly grateful to have access to such a fantastic community here at MeFi and I couldn't ask for a better resource for a question like this.
posted by Vatican Cameos to Human Relations (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check out Genderfork.
posted by kylej at 5:24 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, do you mind sharing your [general] location in case we can point you to some local resources?
posted by kylej at 5:27 PM on September 17, 2012

You might like Kate Bornstein's book "My Gender Workbook."
posted by feets at 5:37 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

My friend Marilyn's site Genderqueer Identities has a wealth of information and resources about nonbinary gender identity which might be useful to you.
posted by capricorn at 5:43 PM on September 17, 2012

I would head over to the genderqueer subreddit on Reddit.

Plenty of friendly advice, resources and community chat.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:37 PM on September 17, 2012

Those damaging feelings might be connected to your being agendered, I would not say being agendered causes those feelings. Have you done work to understand and overcome your self esteem and body issues? You don't mention if you have, and your assumption that people get over it as they get older (which isn't true, a lot of people get worse as things droop and wrinkle) implies you were waiting for it all to work itself out. It is a very common problem, so there are tons of resources out there that others would be better at pointing you towards, but I do think that should go hand in hand with accepting yourself as agendered.

I consider myself agendered, though straight and I don't have low self-esteem or body issues. When I shaved my head I was regularly mistaken for a teenage boy (almost got tossed out of a change room once) and it never bothered me. Back then the men I dated tended to be interested in more masculine women, and tended to be much more confident in their own femininity. I've been finding since I grew my hair out longer that the men who are showing interest in me want me to present more feminine and it's really pissing me off. (They also have a strong aversion to appearing feminine). There's an implication that's I'm being "me" wrong, like I don't wear high heels and fake eyelashes because I'm lazy. If you dealt with that every day of your life, that pressure to be "a lady", it's going to add some heft to your baggage.

It sounds like your fiancé comes from a culture that is deeply invested in the gender binary. People who have never questioned gender and identify as the 100% socially manufactured feminine/masculine and whatever that entails don't always get it, they've never had any urge to question it. If he's been bi-curious, I'd say it's registered in his brain at some point. Start a conversation on what society demands makes a "real" man, and how does it affect him to fit in or not fit into those ideals. Pretty simple to then go into what makes you a "real" woman, and how you've never felt that you mentally fit completely into either mold.
posted by Dynex at 7:16 PM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Not sure how helpful anecdata is, but, um, in many respects you sound a lot like me (hence the "female for practical purposes" note in my mefi profile). I'm in my early 30s, female-assigned-at-birth, and fine with female pronouns and whatnot. But I have never really felt "attached" to the idea of being female and have always had the same weird sense of "passing as" that you describe. It's an incredibly bizarre, jarring feeling to be treated in ways that remind me I come across as female by strangers, etc., and that aspect of my (non)-gender-identity can indeed be a little alienating. I've also had some minor body dysphoria over the development of female secondary characteristics, but at age 33 I'm pretty used to my post-puberty configuration and it doesn't actively bother me to be shaped like I am.

So, overall, in general being agender/nongender is not something I spend a lot of time fretting about, either internally or in ways others might perceive. It's just a part of who I am, like any other inbuilt trait. IMO, your post sounds much more fueled by insecurity in your relationship with your SO than by anything else. I don't claim to be an expert on interpersonal stuff (engineer here!) but I've seen plenty of people with perfectly typical gender identification worry about "not being enough of a man/woman/etc." in their partner's view.

Honestly, I kind of doubt your partner worries about the degree to which you identify with womanhood to the extent that you apparently worry about it. Your feeling like a fraud has nothing to do with what your partner actually thinks/feels (and yes, I've talked to my partner-who-is-a-guy about my lack-of-girly-feelingness, with profoundly anticlimactic results). Which it sounds like you do realize to an extent, but still...I'd be inclined to look at whether insecurity about people not liking/accepting you is a theme for you or whether it really is something bound to this specific issue. Because if you don't do that, you'll probably just end up finding something else to fixate on even if you do come to terms with non-genderosity.
posted by aecorwin at 7:23 PM on September 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

In the 70s and 80s it was basically a given in feminist circles that "being a woman" has little to do with what popular culture sees as "femininity." I know times have changed and people seem to give more credence nowadays to traditional gender stereotypes, but many women before you have said "to hell with that social construction."

Only recently have I realized that those feelings are stronger for me than for most people

I might ask, how do you know this? I think you might be surprised at how common it is to not identify with the gender binary. Again, among feminists of the latter part of the 20th century, compulsory femininity was seen as an outmoded and constraining cultural artifact.

Best of luck in figuring it out!
posted by Wordwoman at 8:17 PM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best of luck and all good wishes to you as you go further in this journey of exploring this aspect of your identity. Seconding Kate Bornstein as a great resource; you might also be interested in the work of S. Bear Bergman, whom I think is absolutely fantastic.

A recent book, Nina Here Nor There by Nick Krieger, followed a man who was assigned a female gender at birth through his quest to understand if he identified as a butch lesbian woman, a genderqueer person, or as a man (the identity he came to realize was his). His thoughtful take on the process was eye-opening for me.

My skills and interests are almost all more "masculine" - I'm in a hard science field, I'm great with math and computers, I do all the mechanical/construction/wiring work in our household, etc.

With all respect, I think this kind of thing is a super red herring, because this kind of "this is for boys, this is for girls" cultural stereotype is strongly socially constructed.

In the USA in 1960, being a doctor was a "masculine" thing and people strongly believed that most women shouldn't be or didn't want to be doctors. In the USSR in 1960, most doctors were women, and being a doctor (except for being a surgeon) was seen as a "feminine" profession. And US writers were all "biotruths" about how being a doctor was masculine and manly and quantitative like only men could do, and USSR writers were all "biotruths" about how being a doctor was like being a mother and caregiving was best done by women and blah blah blah.

So. One of the things that's great about Kate Bornstein's work is her focus on the individual's sense of gender identity, rather than on the cultural baggage and preconceptions. Of course nobody can tune out their metacultural radio entirely, but maybe looking at My Gender Workbook and trying to find the still, small voice within you that says "I am a person whose gender identity is ____" rather than assessing how you meet other people's conceptions of gender might be fruitful?

Wishing you good resources and warm support from everyone in your life around these difficult questions.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:38 PM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Not quite sure what to say. I'm bi, genderqueer, and married. It's only in the past couple years that I've embraced the label of genderqueer. I've been happier with myself as result. No more mental struggles about not being a "real woman".

My husband always knew I wasn't heteronormative. That's one of the reasons he loves me. :)

Good luck in this part of your journey.
posted by luckynerd at 9:47 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know there's a lot of terminology, but "genderqueer" seems to be the broadest and most common term. That's what I would/do use when looking for resources.

YouTube also has a thriving genderqueer and trans community (there's often overlap between the two.) The caliber of the discussion varies (as does the age and life stage of the people making videos), but there's some good stuff out there. I haven't kept up with it in a while but one channel is genderqueerchat.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:59 PM on September 17, 2012

Thanks for all the comments so far! I agree, in retrospect I should have left out the bit about "masculine" interests & skills (though I did put it in quotation marks to signify that I was speaking about the traditional roles, not my personal beliefs about these things being implicitly gendered). I mentioned that to help make it clear that I am already comfortable with the tomboy/not following traditional female roles aspect of things - what I want help with is the genuine dysphoria I feel about being identified as a woman when I don't feel like one inside. I should have given more examples of this instead, like the couple of years I spent wearing super-tight sports bras because I wanted to minimize my big breasts, or the social anxiety I feel about "passing" as a woman in front of his more traditional friends (like at a wedding we attended recently, for example).

I'm in western Oregon, if anyone knows of local resources.

Anyway, thanks to some of the fantastic links in this thread, I have already found the term neutrois, which describes the way I feel about my gender better than almost anything else has so far. Now I just wish I could pronounce it...
posted by Vatican Cameos at 11:27 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

A whole lot of what you say here reminds me of self-perception theory as an explanation of how people form attitudes about themselves. You keep saying "I don't feel like X" and yet "I do Y and Z" such that you infer something about what you must be, gender-wise.

Personally, I infer that I'm a completely and boringly heteronormative male from a long list of behaviors that pretty well nail it, over and over. I realize I'm basically lucky that they're not confusing to me or to others.

But--fun fact--I have no idea what it means to 'feel like' that. There's no such emotion as 'masculinity,' and if I exclude my imagination and get down to brass tacks, I only know what it means to feel like myself.

So one possibility is that you might try to read less into your behaviors. They are what they are. They do express yourself, already, and a significant thing that makes them confusing is that you've internalized the imagined judgments others might make about them.

I'm sure that doesn't address the whole of your situation, which is obviously complicated and not entirely a matter of cognition, but I do think you should lower the stakes on this "what do I feel like" question, because, just speaking from a point of view of someone who really doesn't feel any need to answer that question, it still looks bottomless and unanswerable to me.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:40 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm trans, so a little different but as needs more cowbell says there is some overlap.

For books, +1 on Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook (a new edition is due out shortly, i think by the end of the year) and here's my bookmarks on genderqueer. You may also want to read CN Lester's blog and particularly the trans category.

Feel free to memail me if you think I can help.
posted by Z303 at 5:42 AM on September 18, 2012

Seconding the opinion that it might be helpful to find some local resources and meet up with people who definitely identify as agendered or queergendered.

I also wanted to add to the "you don't have to be feminine to be female" opinion. I am female-born, and very female-bodied, but I'm in a hard science field and my interests and thought patterns are more "masculine" when trying to fit in the traditional gender constructs. I had an ex who repeatedly complained that I was not putting on enough makeup, or wearing fancy dresses or heels. Ultimately, we were incompatible. My current SO doesn't need or want me to wear makeup or dress in a particular way in order to perceive me as "feminine" and we are a much better fit.

I would encourage you to talk with your fiance. Are you putting the pressure on yourself to "pass as a woman" or is this something he perceives as feminine? If it's something he likes, maybe there are alternative ways you can be feminine in his eyes without feeling like you're making yourself do something strange and unnatural.
posted by ethidda at 10:57 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Neutrois = new-tross
posted by empatterson at 11:42 AM on September 18, 2012

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