What if I don't want something that applies to me?
October 11, 2018 6:08 PM   Subscribe

I had a gender-questioning phase. Now I have an answer. And I don't like it. How to stop being childish about that?

Like you sometimes do in a midlife crisis, I realized I don't like performing femininity. So I did some reading -- specifically one of the most recommended books on gender identity, My New Gender Workbook.

And wow, I really do not fit that profile. Besides being middle-aged, I am super duper boring. Definitely not an awesome sparkly unicorn of fuck-the-Man chaos. I am the Order Muppet of Order Muppets. Plus various other things -- I am monogamously married to a cis dude, I'm not into leather which is a huge deal according to the book, and... basically I'm boring as hell, enough said. There's another book out there, Whipping Girl, but from the title... um... I'm guessing leather/kink is still super important. That's great, but it's not my thing.

Trouble is, I'm having trouble getting back to performing femininity. I still don't like it! Even though I know it's true to myself, in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady. It doesn't matter whether I like it. I believe that gender identity is real in an objective sense -- there's that study that showed inherent differences in cis vs. trans brains. So my feelings on it are irrelevant; I have a cis brain, or I would have fit the profile. If the book that described the profile weren't accurate, hundreds of people wouldn't have recommended it.

I get through the day by leaning on an internal concept of myself that's nonbinary-ish, but I know that's not true and I'm being a really shitty ally. I'm in treatment for mild depression, and it's kind of hit a wall because I keep winding back around to this mess. I feel like I'm lying on the floor flailing, yelling BUT I DON'T WANNA! which is no way for an adult to act.

I guess what I'm looking for is:
- the correct term(s) for whatever this is. What do you call a dysphoric cis person? The internal image of myself that makes me happiest / calmest / most confident just isn't true, based on the literature. "Wannabe" sounds mean.

- Inspiration? I've found that some women find their "I'm glad to be a woman" moment in motherhood or female friendships or faith, but none of those resonate with me. (Female friends are great, I just don't make friends of any gender easily.) Essays that get at different angles of the experience, or that deal with getting over disappointment, are appreciated. I am a feminist, and I do not believe that feminine-coded things are inferior. I like plenty of feminine-coded things! Just not the whole package, all the time. And I like some masculine-coded things, too. Therein lies the problem.

- It would be nice to have a relatable way to explain this to my support network, which is all on the "but you're not happy!" train. There's a lot of children's entertainment about The Importance of Being Yourself, for instance. Is there an example where Yourself isn't a thing you want to be, but you have to do it anyway because it's what's true? Like the opposite of a coming-out story, where you realize you were just a cog like everyone else all along? (Maybe that doesn't exist because it's depressing...)

- Is there some kind of science-based test I can take? There was that study about brain structure, but you apparently have to slice your brain up for it, so uh, that's a non-starter. I cannot stress how much MNGW does not resonate with me, but due to its adolescent-targeted tone, my support network -- including my therapist! -- is not taking that seriously. It's frustrating. I want to be like, look, science AND other people's cumulative decades of lived experience say knock it off. Here are some charts, here is a graph, voila.

That was a lot of words, but thank you for your time.
posted by cage and aquarium to Society & Culture (108 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
What do you mean by femininity, exactly? What does act like a lady entail? Because I’m definitely a cis woman and fuck that performative noise. If you feel like being feminine, hooray! If you don’t, also hooray! It doesn’t affect your gender at all.
posted by lydhre at 6:16 PM on October 11, 2018 [102 favorites]

You don't need to fit into a box from a book to be whoever you are.

You say that you believe gender identity is objective, but I know of many who say through their own experienced life that gender is certainly fluid over time or presentation.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:19 PM on October 11, 2018 [19 favorites]

And actually upon further reflection, I am wondering if you are conflating gender identity with gender expression? Because you can be cis and present with other-gender markers to a greater or lesser extent. Like a "tomboy" or butch cis woman or a cis man who gets pedicures (or whatever other thing is a non-male marker).
posted by Stewriffic at 6:24 PM on October 11, 2018 [23 favorites]

I kind of went through the same thing and realized I just don't care that much about being a woman? It's kind of just one fact about me of many, like the fact that I have freckles. I don't care that much about them one way or the other, they are there, I make sure none of them are mutating and that's pretty much all there is to it. I can't deny that they're there, and I'm not interested in doing anything to change their appearance.

This other fact about me about being a woman also doesn't mean anything. We are blessed to live in a time & place where it doesn't mean we have to do anything we don't want to do. We can enjoy whatever we want to enjoy and nobody is supposed to have anything to say about it. If you have people in your life who get on your case about the things you enjoy, that's another question. Those people are just being assholes and you should deal with them accordingly.

To be honest I think that we're just living in stressful times where stuff relating to femininity & masculinity is getting pedaled at us hard because people like re-assuring, comforting things. I'd be surprised if most people didn't enjoy a mix of feminine & masculine coded things at different times.
posted by bleep at 6:25 PM on October 11, 2018 [34 favorites]

I don’t think I have standing to tackle the “can you be a dysphoric cis person” question as a non-dysphoric cis person.

But I did want to say two things about other things you mention. First: if you do settle for sure on “yup, I’m cis,” that doesn’t automatically mean you have to be “glad” about it, or to eschew masculine coded things and lean hard on performing femininity in a way you don’t feel comfortable with! Identify and expression don’t have to be the same thing, and maybe you could spend a while exploring whether it might be a more comfortable fit to be a cisgender woman whose gender expression is androgynous or masculine or fluid or just not-femme.

And then more generally you were looking for essays about disappointment. I wanted to point you at this essay by Rebecca Solnit. While the essay is on its surface about not having children, it’s really much more broadly about the different ways we measure and define a good life. I’ve found it really helpful to go back to at times when I struggle with the fact that some of my life circumstances do not perhaps make me “happy” in the way that the popular narrative of a fulfilling life suggests I should be. Maybe you would also find it applicable to some of the ways you’re working on making peace with aspects of your life that sit uneasily right now.
posted by Stacey at 6:28 PM on October 11, 2018 [14 favorites]

You need to stop reading books and go volunteer at your local animal shelter. Walk some dogs. Brush some kitties. Definitely stop reading books though.
posted by phunniemee at 6:28 PM on October 11, 2018 [30 favorites]

Trust yourself more than this book. Really.
posted by mkuhnell at 6:35 PM on October 11, 2018 [85 favorites]

I'm a cis het woman who is most comfortable with a default masculine. Once I accepted this is who I am and that preforming feminity was for the sake of vothers, not myself, life got easier in that I felt more at ease with myself. (Though having a kid was really stressfull but I got through it and discovered the joys of pants with actual pockets aka from the men's department.)

I haven't found much out there that addresses this level of gender nonconformity. I agree that it might be best to take a break from reading books for a bit and reflect more. Maybe focus on blogs or long form pieces? I think eschewing the feminine but still identifying as a woman is possible but it requires untangling a lot of societal pressure, expectations, and bullshit.
posted by kendrak at 6:41 PM on October 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Trouble is, I'm having trouble getting back to performing femininity. I still don't like it!

You don’t owe ANYONE lipstick and dresses. Being a woman and being feminine are absolutely different things. You could be a trans woman and still prefer suits or overalls. You can absolutely be a cis-woman and not feel like falling in line with what the media portrays as how a woman acts or dresses. Fuck every and all gender norms. YOU get dress yourself. Even if there was some test that “proves” you have a partly male brain, it wouldn’t matter. Because the gender police don’t have a leg to stand on. YOUR BODY. YOUR CHOICES. Wearing feminine clothes as a cis-woman is not how you be an ally to trans people. You’re not obligated to perform feminity for anyone. For any reason.

Free yourself of all this crap you’re putting on yourself. It’s not true. You’re fine. Wear what you like. The end.
posted by greermahoney at 6:42 PM on October 11, 2018 [82 favorites]

Even though I know it's true to myself, in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady.

Whoever told you that is a goddamned liar.

You can be a woman any way you feel like being a woman. I'm not saying that there aren't some realistic or practical constraints on that. There are. But thinking you're a woman doesn't mean you're chained to some 24/7 femme nonsense that you don't actually feel. It's your job to be you.
posted by praemunire at 6:43 PM on October 11, 2018 [80 favorites]

It sounds like your depression brain is being really hard on you. The things you're saying are hella black and white. Your feelings do matter, and you don't have to perform femininity if you don't want to, and you can hang with the genderqueer and nonbinary folks even if leather boots don't get you hot. There's a whole nebulous starfield between cis and trans which is where many of us live -- hello, come visit, it's nice here!

Also, that thing about male vs female brains? Probably false. Check out Cordelia Fine's book "Delusions of Gender" which debunks these myths.
posted by fritillary at 6:44 PM on October 11, 2018 [21 favorites]

What part of performing femininity do you not like? Wearing dresses? Wear trousers. Reading Jane Austen? Pick up some Faulkner. Putting on makeup? Don't put on makeup. Performing emotional labor for all the men in your life? Tell them to deal. There's a big gulf between not wanting to be a super feminine fairy princess and wishing you were a man.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:50 PM on October 11, 2018 [24 favorites]

Speaking as someone who's spent a lot of time recently contemplating gender (and coming to a happier, clearer place regarding it), I think maybe reading some other books and writers would be helpful. I'm also not "an awesome sparkly unicorn of fuck-the-Man chaos" (sounds exhausting and as strongly not-me as heels and full makeup did).

I like the book How to Understand Your Gender: A Practical Guide for Exploring Who You Are by Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker. I haven't read My New Gender, but How to Understand comes from a very gentle, accepting, affirming place. One of the things I like about it is the way that it's not "full speed ahead!" but is instead consciously about going at a pace one can deal with. For example, the inter-chapter note at the end of Section 1:
Take a breath. What do you notice in this moment? Can you feel the contact between your body and the surface you were sitting or lying on? What do you sense around you? Keep breathing. Talking about gender might activate all sorts of sensations, emotions, and reactions in us. That's OK. If you find yourself feeling floaty, wound up, or losing interest, it's OK to take a break. In fact, we actively encourage you to take as many breaks as you need and want while reading this book! You could write down your thoughts and feelings, talk to a trusted friend, draw or paint, or just move your body to reconnect with yourself, and always come back to your breath. When you're ready, come back for Section 2…
posted by Lexica at 6:53 PM on October 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

That book sounds weird and not useful. Leather is not at all important to me in any way. Can only cis people be vegans? Yeah, that book sounds like it is just pushing its own version of "normative" which is still constricting.

I do not identify with any of the stuff you describe from the book, but everything you describe about yourself sounds very familiar to me. I do not really perform femininity, feminine stuff makes me feel weird and uncomfortable, I don't think I'm trans, I just... gender is an irritating clusterfuck that makes life harder. That's how I feel about it. I often wish I were a dude, I often very specifically hate and do not identify with being in a female body, but I present like a woman. I don't perform femininity, but I look like a girl.

It is not always easy to not perform femininity. If you are not white you probably feel more pressure to perform femininity. Some occasions force me to perform femininity. I get by with the bare minimum. Mostly I wear baggy clothes, boots, I do not wear makeup or brush my hair. This works OK for me.

I think gender is really a continuum or a multifarious spectrum. I also think my feelings about it and relationship with it changes over time. It's OK to feel different ways about it at different times without slapping the label "cis" or "trans" on -- you can just be you. It's ok. If we were proximal I'd take you out for coffee and we could wear flannel shirts and boots and spend the entire time not talking about boys and/or makeup and/or fashion. It is OK to just be you.
posted by sockermom at 6:57 PM on October 11, 2018 [14 favorites]

If the book that described the profile weren't accurate, hundreds of people wouldn't have recommended it.

I just want to say this is rubbish. Plenty of books that are inaccurate get good recommendations from people. This analogy might not work if you are Christian, but if not, notice that the Holy Bible gets more stars on Amazon than this book and a ton of recommendations, and yet many of us do not believe it to be accurate.

Even people who recommend it may be doing so because it reflects their experience, not because it is the truth for all people for all time. I looked Bornstein up on Wikipedia, and sure they have significant personal experiences relevant to this book, but I'm not sure what other qualifications they have in terms of understanding what gender experiences are like for people more generally rather than just for themselves and people in their networks. Bornstein is clearly not infallible (they were apparently in the church of Scientology for a while!) so I don't understand why you are taking everything they say as gospel.

I don't think you should let any book tell you what you should or shouldn't conclude about your gender. And even if you do decide you are cis, I agree with others here that this in no way obliges you to perform femininity. One of the nice things about being a woman is that by definition, this makes what you wear "women's clothes". It makes the way you act "women's behaviour", and it makes the way you live in the world "being a woman". Same goes for any other gender you end up defining yourself as.

Your gender doesn't have to define you; you can define your gender.
posted by lollusc at 6:58 PM on October 11, 2018 [20 favorites]

I like plenty of feminine-coded things! Just not the whole package, all the time. And I like some masculine-coded things, too. Therein lies the problem.

Isn't this how ... everyone feels? The problem is not with you and your likes or dislikes. The problem is with the rigid enforcement of gender expression.

(Also, gentle pushback on your characterization of your age and marriage and dislike of leather as "boring.")
posted by basalganglia at 7:00 PM on October 11, 2018 [40 favorites]

Are you waiting for someone to give you permission to disregard what one book says about gender identity and just be yourself? Don't take all of this so literally! If you don't want to perform femininity, stop doing it! You don't need permission from any person, or book, or whatever. There is no magic book that grants you permission to be yourself. You have to do that.
posted by cakelite at 7:11 PM on October 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I get that midlife is famously a time to question and rework your identity. And it's also true that for some people, gender identity (of whatever nature) is really the topmost or most-critical part of how they see themselves as individuals. But there are many, many axes along which people define themselves to themselves-- there's class identity, for instance. Ethnic heritage. Personality type. Skill. Type of creative passion. Thinking style. Religious conviction. Local background. Profession. Family structure. If somebody told a child of mine that she had to exhaustively explore and accurately perform exactly what kind of a woman she was (or just how much of a wo/man she was) before she could truly know herself or be happy with herself as a person, I would tell them to sod right off. Why should that intimate self have to be a woman/man/genderfluid/whatever first, and not, say, an engineer or an ISTP?

If thinking about gender identity makes you unhappy right now, then one approach, rather than worrying about your degree of performance of whatever essentialist stereotype, might be to take a short vacation from actively thinking about your gender at all, and using that time to cultivate other types of self-identitification and affiliation. What other aspects of yourself would you say feel the most intimately and comfortably "you" right now? Could you go out of your way to cultivate and honor those-- say, by reading biographies of cool people who share this aspect? Or by doing something extra to perform that part of your identity?
posted by Bardolph at 7:12 PM on October 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

Lexica has already posted a reply. But I would like to link to a comment they made previously which made me have an A-HA! moment regarding my own gender expression or lack thereof. Reading that comment also made me feel less burdened (favourited forever).
posted by mephisjo at 7:23 PM on October 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think you might want to try and put this issue on the back burner while you treat your depression. You're being really harsh on yourself.

I feel like I could write a whole essay here, but I'll try to limit myself.

I get through the day by leaning on an internal concept of myself that's nonbinary-ish, but I know that's not true and I'm being a really shitty ally.

Why isn't it true? Because a book from one person's perspective told you it wasn't? Because it hasn't been "proven" by some scientific test? Regardless of whether it's true, how does it hurt anyone if it provides you comfort?

The truth is there is no scientific test, and there likely will never be. Even if there was, I firmly believe that anyone should be able to pick and choose which parts of femininity and masculinity they want to perform. A man should be able to wear nail polish and makeup if he wants to. It harms nobody.

I think the best way to be a good ally is to do your part to make the world a place where anyone can express their identity in a way they're comfortable with. Performing femininity solely because you're not a trans man does not make you a better ally than if you express yourself however the hell you want and show other people they can do the same. Would you think that a trans woman failing to perform "femininity" by wearing a pant suit was being a shitty trans person? That attitude's toxic.

it's my job to lady up and be a lady

To be honest, I'm offended by this statement. I'm not failing to do my "job" when I don't act like a "lady". I get that the statement's directed at yourself, though - which is why I'm suggesting you prioritize treating your depression instead of (I'm making assumptions here) prioritizing resolving this issue in the hopes that it will help your depression. I'd bet that you wouldn't accuse another woman of failing to do her job by not being a lady, and I kindly request that you don't do it to yourself.
posted by ersatzhuman at 7:25 PM on October 11, 2018 [32 favorites]

The internal image of myself that makes me happiest / calmest / most confident just isn't true

Focus on what makes you happy, calm and confident. Explore that. Follow that path.

Forget the book and whatever it says is or isn't true. A quick google tells me the writer is a performance artist, playwright, author and theorist. It sounds like she's an expert on her experience but perhaps not everyone else's.

You know more about your self and what makes you happy than anyone else does. Other people can have insights and be helpful, but when they aren't helpful there's no need to commit yourself to their vision.
posted by bunderful at 7:26 PM on October 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Trouble is, I'm having trouble getting back to performing femininity. I still don't like it!

You and hundreds of millions of women over human history! Because the expectation to ‘be feminine’ is very often a harmful construct that reinforces our place in a power hierarchy.

Look, you can understand yourself however you like in terms of a gender identity framework. But if the result you end up with is “I guess I need to perform femininity even though I dislike it because otherwise I’m not being a good ally”, that’s not being progressive or helpful to yourself in any way, that’s the flipside of “I guess I need to perform femininity even though I dislike it because God/my husband/the repressive religious state I live in says I have to.”

You don’t have to perform femininity for anybody. Tell your depression voice it’s a liar.
posted by Catseye at 7:36 PM on October 11, 2018 [18 favorites]

Anecdata but I read My New Gender Workbook, I did not identify with much in it or find it particularly helpful, and yet I am still nonbinary and agender. If you feel most yourself when conceiving of yourself as nonbinary, maybe spend some time with that. One book by one person who isn't you can't tell you who you are, no matter how many recommendations it has.
posted by darchildre at 7:36 PM on October 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm writing as who spent the first 41 years of life thinking I was a cis-straight man. Right now, I'm going with non-binary, but here's the thing, I don't have to be right. This doesn't have to be forever. Maybe I'll discover that I really am a trans woman. Maybe I'll keep on the non-binary plan. I suppose it's possible that I'll go back to a more cis-man path. Give yourself as much leeway as I do. You see, maybe you'll feel like non-binary fits. Maybe you'll ready about how some agender folks feel and think that works. Maybe demi-girl or demi-boy fit. Maybe you'll find a way to feel comfortable in being a woman who just doesn't care for the femine side of things. That's all fine. There's really only one rule. Try not to gatekeep. That is, don't try to tell people they can't be something unless they meet this or that criteria.

I should acknowledge that a lot of this is easier for me because I live in a liberal community and have an amazingly supportive group of people around me and I feel safe. If that's not true for you, and you just can't right now, know that it's OK.
posted by advicepig at 7:39 PM on October 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Arrrgh! You don't have to belong to a group!
posted by amtho at 7:39 PM on October 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

Wait, why did someone recommend Whipping Girl? It's a great book and it's certainly about gender, but it's not really particularly useful from a "thinking about my gender feelings as an AFAB person" standpoint. It's not especially about BDSM, though.

It's okay to be queer and/or gender non-conforming and not fit into the highly visible cultural stuff associated with those identities. (In my heart of hearts I think it's cool, actually, because it's a bit like a secret identity or a superpower or like you're the seemingly boring contract lawyer who is actually a nationally ranked surfer or something.)

As a visibly queer, transmasculine person I will tell you a secret: I do not like BDSM. I don't dislike it, but it's not my thing at all. I sit around chatting idly with all these young people who are like "the finer points of flogging!" and "I am going to a play party" and "let me tell you about my unusual piercings" and TBH they might as well be speaking another language. It totally doesn't resonate with me. I have some leather...boots, very nice English walking ones that I wear in the snow.

I know what you mean about the whole "sparkly magical unicorn" thing, because I am not sparkly or magical or especially fun. Consider this, though: queer and non-binary and GNC people are reviled a lot in our culture, and there's a corresponding pressure to be all "we are all beautiful special rainbow souls who do cool stuff all the time, plus unicorns" just to deal with the hatred/discrimination/minority stress. A lot of the "look at me with my amazing sparkles" stuff is really about pain, working through situations that are scary and unfriendly and controlling how you present to a world that actually kind of holds you in contempt. Even if it functions as a "you must be this sparkly to be gender non-conforming" barrier, that's not how it's meant.

You know how, with a lot of mental health stuff, a defining aspect is "this causes distress in your daily life"? Assuming a gender-normative identity is causing you distress in your daily life. You care about it enough to try to work through it and figure it out. If you didn't have something going on gender-wise, you wouldn't have gone to this effort. Cis-normative people don't; that's part of what makes them cis-normative.

Worrying about being "trans enough" is so common that I'm sure there are literally stand up comedy routines about it. I would be astonished if being "non-binary enough" weren't the same. Do you have access to a gender-competent therapist? If by chance you're in the Twin Cities area I can dig up some recommendations. It's likely - to totally armchair diagnose! - that your depression and your gender stuff are entwined, and talking one through will entail talking about the other.

Do you have any access, online or otherwise, to any non-binary community? Knowing actual people will help debunk some of this stuff for you - even the sparkliest among us is not actually that sparkly on the day to day.

Gender stuff can take a long time. What you're going through, where you read some stuff and feel uncertain/inadequate, is incredibly common and does not mean that you are wasting everyone's time and should go back to the cis-normative status quo.

You sound scared, isolated and angry. Those are normal feelings to have in this situation. They don't mean you should give up or lady up or whatever. If you are someone with a minority gender identity, it is normal to have a lot of ups and downs and anxieties and uncertainties as you try to figure things out. This isn't a world which is super kind to (well, to anyone) GNC people and part of that is that we're taught all these habits of thinking that just hurt us more when we try to sort ourselves out.
posted by Frowner at 7:42 PM on October 11, 2018 [39 favorites]

You do you.

Fuck any book that makes you feel like your you is "wrong."
Fuck any person who makes you feel like you're "failing."
Fuck anything that appears into your life that makes you feel like you have to act or feel or present a specific way.

I am a female person, biologically and mostly identity-wise. I'm a big ol' tomboy, and have been my entire life. I have birthed two children. My grandmother told me when I was 12 that I should stop lifting weights, or else I wouldn't fit into any pretty dresses. I've been a Mary Kay consultant for 14 years.

But I also shave my head. And don't shave my legs, armpits, or anything else. I last wore a skirt probably 5 years ago. I like football, shooting pool, entrepreneurship, and playing cards with my kids.

Take some time to unpack where your "shoulds" are coming from. The word "should" is one of the worst words in the English language. It looms over you like a gargantuan Jabberwocky with its jaws that bite and claws that catch, ready to consume you at any sign of weakness. Should is the world on Atlas' shoulders. Whatever you can do, get rid of your shoulds.

Figure out who you want to be. Who you're happiest being. How you're happy existing in the world. And do that. Be you. Be the best goddamned you there is.

And fuck anybody who doesn't like it.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 7:43 PM on October 11, 2018 [19 favorites]

in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady.

Dude, what? I don’t know what this means. What does those mean to you? Do you believe what trans women can’t or don’t lady up? Why? In what way do they cannot or do not that you can or do, just because you are cis and they are trans? Think about this.

I am a masculine-presenting cis butch woman. And what I am performing is femininity because I am a woman and that is therefore what I “do”.

I don’t know why or how you read this one book and came to this conclusion. Maybe try some different books. Or not. Maye at least the people here telling you not to sweat it. None of us fits neatly into any of the boxes. Stop worrying about how you don’t fit. No one else does either.

Also. Nthing getting your depression treated.

Also also, that’s really not what Whipping Girl Is about but I think you should just skip it for now.
posted by rtha at 7:51 PM on October 11, 2018 [19 favorites]

I’m an academic. And I’ve had dozens of professional colleagues and bosses that don’t do much in the way of performative femininities, despite being cis het women.

As for terminology and what I call them: usually “doctor [lastname]”, except in private familiar conversation, where I call them [firstname].

In case it may help: my point is mainly that you may not notice it, but there’s lots of smart successful women out there who also don’t have time for that shit, but it can be easy to miss that notion, due to media, local exposure and social groups, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:52 PM on October 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

Also, don't confuse what you like to do sexually with your sexual or gender identity. There are a lot of reasons why there's some crossover between GNC/trans/queer people and non-vanilla sexual stuff, but that doesn't mean that you know you're queer/trans/GNC because you are into leather or dominance or whatever. You can be an exceedingly vanilla person or not very sexual at all and still be gender non-conforming or queer or trans.

One of the ways that patriarchy/heteronormativity/cis-normativity works is to flatten our identities so that there's One Way Of Being Trans/One Way of Being GNC/etc, which has the effect of weakening us as a community, isolating people and pushing people apart.
posted by Frowner at 7:54 PM on October 11, 2018 [12 favorites]

It's my job to lady up and be a lady

I believe the technical term for that is "crazy talk."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:55 PM on October 11, 2018 [28 favorites]

Trouble is, I'm having trouble getting back to performing femininity. I still don't like it! Even though I know it's true to myself, in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady. It doesn't matter whether I like it. I believe that gender identity is real in an objective sense -- there's that study that showed inherent differences in cis vs. trans brains. So my feelings on it are irrelevant; I have a cis brain, or I would have fit the profile. If the book that described the profile weren't accurate, hundreds of people wouldn't have recommended it.

I'm just so...perplexed by this. Why do you think you have to perform femininity and not just perform it but like it if you're cis? And I'm also confused as to why you're so certain you're cis after reading one book? Because you don't like leather and think you're boring? It just...doesn't compute.

In terms of having to perform and not just perform but like and enjoy femininity because you're cis, there have been probably billions of women in human history who have despised performing femininity and I really doubt that all of them were trans or dysphoric. I think you're really misinterpreting some of the ideology around non-binary and trans issues and using them to imprison yourself and force yourself to enact and embrace gender stereotypes which are unnatural for you. That's not what any of this is about. That's not what any of this should be used for. The world isn't divided into legit trans/non-binary people who have different brains and therefore, have a free pass on feeling conflict about the genders they were assigned at birth and cis people who absolutely love being stereotypically feminine/masculine all the time and exult in gender stereotypes.
posted by armadillo1224 at 7:59 PM on October 11, 2018 [14 favorites]

it's my job to lady up and be a lady

It's really, really not. I suck at, do not enjoy, and long ago gave up on performing what I guess most people think of as "femininity" the vast majority of the time. Or really performing a particular gender at all. I'm in a het marriage, I had a baby, and none of that made me feel any more like wearing makeup or shaving anything, or performing emotional labor, or cultivating certain "woman-approved" hobbies because those aren't things I enjoy at all, and why would I do them if I didn't enjoy them? No one has to do any of this stuff, not cis women, not trans women, no one.

I think you should stop reading books and start talking to your therapist about getting into better touch with who you are, without even thinking about labels.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:01 PM on October 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

There is a saying in the more inclusive trans circles: If you're asking if you're trans, you're trans. Really, all it takes to be trans is to feel like the label "cisgender" doesn't quite fit you. Trans is a very broad spectrum and there are no "wannabes". Just by asking the question, you're fully entitled to call yourself trans.

I've never read that book but if it does have such specific definitions of what you need to be trans, it's not a useful book. You certainly don't need to be 22 or into leather to be trans! If "performing femininity" feels wrong to you, please don't do that. Figure out how you actually want to be, what feels right to you, and embrace that. There are trans women with big bushy beards and trans men with pink hair and cleavage. You are trans. Welcome!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:07 PM on October 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

Woman is a big place. There is room in the world of being a woman for you to be you.

Dresses/makeup/performative femininity are for women and men who enjoy that kind of thing. Dresses/makeup/performative femininity are not a prerequisite to or logical outcome of being a straight woman, a gay man, a trans person, a cis person, a nonbinary person, and so on.
posted by cnidaria at 8:11 PM on October 11, 2018 [22 favorites]

I am super duper boring. Definitely not an awesome sparkly unicorn of fuck-the-Man chaos. [...] I get through the day by leaning on an internal concept of myself that's nonbinary-ish, but I know that's not true and I'm being a really shitty ally.

Yeah, so, it sounds like you're reading a lot of lit that is conflating queerness with radical queerness or queer radicalism. That's not uncommon especially if you spend a lot of time in queerish social media spaces. You can be nonbinary but be conventional and traditional in other respects. You can also just be a woman whose gender presentation is masculine or androgynous. I think the negative self-talk you're describing here ("being a really shitty ally") could be related to your depression; it is worse in the internet echo chambers where we're all beating ourselves and each other up for not being radical enough. Listen to what the voice deeper inside you is telling you, the one that tells you what you need to be happy.

(I am not sure if it's possible to be cis and have gender dysphoria, but I think the question might be above my pay grade.)
posted by capricorn at 8:21 PM on October 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

"Dysphoric cis women" is exactly the phrasing i've been seeing people discuss this with lately, although I think you may need to be careful you're not finding things from TERFs, who will not help you at all with feeling better about being a woman along with everything else wrong with TERFs. Also, tomboys, butch women, gender nonconforming/gnc women, etc

This is about orientation and not gender but might be relatable if you were really, really hoping for a different answer when you read that book.

Also, even if you are 100% scientifically proven at death cis, you are taking absolutely nothing from trans and nb people by exploring your gender role or presentation or physically transitioning or whatever makes you more comfortable and happy in your life. You wouldn't be hurting that community in any way and would be in fact be contributing to the curb cutter effect of trans acceptance. I don't even think it would hurt you to maybe try iding as trans in whatever way you maybe keep thinking about? You can literally always go back and that never has to mean that you go back to Ultra Femininity.
posted by gaybobbie at 8:22 PM on October 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

On preview, I also saw Ursula Hitler's comment and would also say that you don't have to identify as trans if that label doesn't feel like it fits you. That's one I've grappled with a lot personally and I don't feel entirely comfortable calling myself trans.
posted by capricorn at 8:22 PM on October 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am a masculine-presenting cis butch woman. And what I am performing is femininity because I am a woman and that is therefore what I “do”.

Sorry for triple-posting; I will knock it off after this. What rtha says is right on, and it points to something that you're getting at: the language and ideas that we have for gender stuff are tricky and inconsistent. Rtha is performing womanhood/femininity in that sense because she's a woman doing stuff while being a woman. That's not the same as performing "traditionally feminine things", which are culturally defined. Feeling good about (or just not thinking about) being a woman isn't the same as feeling good about wearing high heels and being good at listening, for instance.

But then we're left with gender identity as this thing that's not the same as "things our culture says are masculine or feminine" but that is still kind of hard to define. Is it in our brains? Is it because we're chimeras? Is it cultural in some way that's much subtler and harder to define than what we wear or how we speak? (Actually, I bet that feminist philosophy journals would be very helpful on this point!) You're saying "I believe that gender identity is a real thing" but it seems like you're conflating this slippery, mysterious gender-identity thing with the cultural pieces. (Also, science is great but science is just a series of approximations - while the research about transness and the brain is interesting, it is extremely unlikely to be an exhaustive explanation.)

I think that moar therapy is in order, but also why not try to express your "in your head" gender identity more? What can you enact in the world that aligns your in-your-head gender with how you act or speak, with what you wear, with what you do? A long time ago now, starting to wear my shirts tucked in was a big deal for me. That was what started it all - tucking my shirts in made me feel more masculine. Not a big deal to anyone but me, but it made a big difference in how I felt about myself!

And I stress that this was literally seven years ago, and I'm still dealing with personal gender stuff and with life/employment constraints. It's not like I was all "whoops, transmascline person here, now everything is resolved and my path is clear!" But I'm a lot happier now.
posted by Frowner at 8:23 PM on October 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

I am an afab person who has never really felt female and I fucking hate performing femininity with a fiery passion. But I think of myself as somewhere between cis and trans because, while I wish I did not have a ‘female’ body, I have no desire to do anything to change it and I just accept that most people will always identify me as female even though I hate it.

Anyway. That’s all to say that there are so many variations of gender identity and expression. FWIW I also had that same book recommended to me and I did not find it terribly useful. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling like that book isn’t speaking to you. You’re allowed to identify and present however you fucking feel like.
posted by a strong female character at 8:37 PM on October 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

I mean, I have an old friend who's one of the most hot-damn-do-i-love-sleeping-with-men-and-having-babies women I know. She's also worn a dress and makeup a grand total of once in her life, gets her hair cut at a barber shop, plays bass in a blues band, and goes by her initials because she thinks her first name is "sissy."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:38 PM on October 11, 2018 [12 favorites]

I'm a straight, boring cis woman and I totally pick and chose what aspects of femininity I will accept, and borrow from aspects of masculinity. I freaking hate spending a ton of time on my hair, so I don't. I'm okay with lipstick sometimes, so sometimes I wear it. I like hiking. Am never ever going to get waxed EVER. Never going to have kids, the most womanly thing a woman could woman. Suck at relationships with men. Hate nail polish and long fingernails. Enjoy crafting. Etc.

I probably don't fit any book's definition of a cis-het woman but it's still what I am.
posted by bunderful at 8:56 PM on October 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

" I've found that some women find their "I'm glad to be a woman" moment in motherhood or female friendships or faith,..."

That's just it though. Those are just moments. Their not the whole of their lives. I don't think anyone who is honest is ever glad to be their gender all the time. After all- society puts pressures on both genders at different times of life.

The irony of the whole gender debate that has run amok in the past few years is that it tends to reinforce the very biases that causes gender issues in the first place. The idea that girls are 'supposed' to be one way and boys are 'supposed' to be another is hogwash. Every individual is just that individual. And yet people now somehow try to combat these ideas by reinforcing them. I have a male body, but I feel like wearing long hair and glitter so I guess I must really be a "woman" trapped in a man's body because society says that only women do those things.' ... Ok.. Or maybe you're just YOU. (I know not all trans people fall in that simple category) I believe everyone should do what they feel is right for them, but I know some trans people who literally train themselves over time to move a certain way and speak a certain way because they feel it will make them more of what society says their chosen gender is "supposed" to be. That to me is different from people who are trans and simply speak the way they speak and walk the way they walk- for real. It's about being true to yourself and don't let society or some workbook fool you into thinking there are all these rules you're 'supposed' to follow.
posted by fantasticness at 9:06 PM on October 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

The more I think and read about this over the years, the more I’m convinced that a big part of the problem with oppression of women is a (fairly successful) campaign to convince people there are only a small few ways to be good and proper women.

Fuck that narrowly normative nonsense. If I want to get advice on how to fix a bike or a car or care for a horse, I’m likely to be calling a woman I know, and she may well be cis het or maybe not, but she definitely almost never wears makeup or dresses and she’s still a
Woman who is feminine in her own way.

This is often about societal control and pushing of certain roles, but womanhood is so much more than that!
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:12 PM on October 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

I tell people sometimes that I recognize it isn't this way for everybody, but that for me, gender is a thing that happened to me, not a thing I am.

I've seen people use the word "low-gender" to describe when you don't have a particularly strong attachment to it; I have none at all, but for me personally it feels incorrect to identify as something other than a woman when I exist in particular situations where it means something beyond my personal experiences with my body and my personal tastes. Gender identity can be a real thing and it can still be a spectrum not just of identity but of degree of identity. If you were reading books trying to figure it out, maybe you're not really that much anything, and at that point it's totally up to you whether that means nonbinary... or whether it means you just kind of default to being a woman and using those pronouns and only adopt the bits of it that actually feel good to you. Clearly, even if you identify very strongly as being female, that means precisely nothing about what you have to like, do, or be, but it's also fine to not have that deep sense of it. Not having a strong sense of your gender feelings or a strong interest in femininity doesn't mean anything about the validity of trans people any more than not having a strong sex drive means anything about the validity of people whose sex lives are very important to them.
posted by Sequence at 9:17 PM on October 11, 2018 [15 favorites]

no woman has to act like a lady because it's her job. I am not asking what you mean by that because I don't care and it doesn't matter. I also don't know why you think most women are glad to be women. we mostly get used to it.

the whole idea of sexism being bad is not compatible with the idea that femininity is compulsory for straight cis women and optional for everyone else. explore transitioning to whatever degree seems right to you, have as many changes of mind as you need. but understand that nobody has the right to dictate your gender obligations, whatever identity you claim. you don't have gender obligations.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:17 PM on October 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

I tell people sometimes that I recognize it isn't this way for everybody, but that for me, gender is a thing that happened to me, not a thing I am.

I like that. Given my life experiences, I have no desire to dissociate myself from womanhood now, but if someone pressed a button and we were all reborn in a world where there'd never been any such concept as gender, I really doubt I'd miss it.
posted by praemunire at 9:26 PM on October 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

Even though I know it's true to myself, in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady.

No offense but that's the dumbest thing I've read all day. The options are not trans man or Kardashian. The vast majority of women in the world just go around doing person stuff and not worrying about being "a lady". Like, being feminine is number 482 on the list of shit I need to do tomorrow.

This all seems like a big distraction from the actual problems in your life. It's also a little insulting to other women which explains some of the answers here.

Maybe read some 1970s feminist works, they come more from a place of be a lady/ fail at being a woman than today's works.
posted by fshgrl at 10:14 PM on October 11, 2018 [13 favorites]

You might be non-binary. You might be a cis woman who doesn't like expressing her gender in normatively feminine ways (or any feminine ways at all). You might still be in the process of questioning and exploring your gender identity and expression. You might come up with different answers later.

All of that is okay. You can be any gender and be okay. You can express your gender in any way and be okay. You can change your gender expressions infinite times and be okay. You can question and be confused and try things out and not be certain and be okay.

Your gender identity isn't hurting anyone--and isn't about anyone else. Your gender expression isn't hurting anyone--and isn't about anyone else. Your gender questioning and exploration process isn't hurting anyone--and isn't about anyone else.

You don't have to be sparkly or chaotic or non-monogamous or kinky to be non-binary. Non-binary people come from all walks of life and all personality types--just like any other gender.
posted by overglow at 10:19 PM on October 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

Trouble is, I'm having trouble getting back to performing femininity. I still don't like it!

Don't like, don't do. You are not appropriating transness by pursuing the elements of gender expression which resonate honestly with you, or rejecting the ones which harm you.

Even though I know it's true to myself, in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady

the fuck? For whom?


Why are you proposing to betray yourself for absolutely nobody's benefit?

I get through the day by leaning on an internal concept of myself that's nonbinary-ish

You know, there are enough people in the world who are made miserable by what some people tell them their idea of what a book says about how they and the rest of the world deserve to live and love; you don't have to be one of them.

but I know that's not true and I'm being a really shitty ally.

You sound like a perfectly good ally to everyone but yourself, here.

I feel like I'm lying on the floor flailing, yelling BUT I DON'T WANNA! which is no way for an adult to act.

To borrow from xkcd, you are a grown-up and you get to decide what that means.
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:33 PM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

nthing everyone else that "My New Gender Workbook" is just not for everyone, and that being kinky is not required to question your gender. (Whipping Girl is not about BDSM at all, despite the title!)

It would be nice to have a relatable way to explain this to my support network

I found explaining my gender confusion to people pretty challenging, especially because I didn't have anything clear cut to say like "I'm trans" or "I'm nonbinary", just "I'm struggling with figuring out some things, I don't know, we'll see I guess". My experience has been that my friends were supportive of me experimenting and trying things out, even if they didn't always understand. I landed somewhere around "I'm a cis-ish woman but absolutely will not ever wear makeup/dresses/anything feminine" and nobody has ever suggested that that's not allowed because I'm not "trans enough" :)

I think figuring out gender is just a hard thing and it sometimes takes a lot of time and experimentation to find somewhere where you're comfortable!
posted by oranger at 10:38 PM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also saw Ursula Hitler's comment and would also say that you don't have to identify as trans if that label doesn't feel like it fits you.

Perhaps I overreached, and if so I apologize, but I saw the OP talking about being a "dysphoric cisgender person" and to me that really, really sounds like somebody on the trans spectrum. Of course nobody has to identify as trans if they don't want to, but I got the feeling that the OP wanted to but felt like they fell short by not conforming to transness as it was portrayed in one particular book. I wasn't trying to take anything away from non-femme people who identify as cisgender women. I was trying to let the OP know that if they feel like they may be trans, they're free to identify as trans and they're not a "wannabe" anything.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:48 PM on October 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

The internal image of myself that makes me happiest / calmest / most confident just isn't true, based on the literature.

I could be very VERY wrong here but the way you mention your age and the way you sound so desperate but so stuck in this misconceived idea of inviolable rigor surrounding gender -- it sounds like you want to change and you feel like that somehow isn't allowed or is an illicit desire, because time was people used to talk about sex or gender "change" and now people generally say "confirmation." for philosophical reasons and precision of language. but underlying all these good reasons is, this is a way of talking. it is the current way. there have been other ways.

I get the feeling from what I quoted and other lines you wrote that you read some simplified description of how trans people feel that included absolute certainty from a very early age, you don't feel that way, case closed. and yet you feel something, very strongly. if what you feel is the desire to change, to be different, and you think that is illegitimate because to be legitimate it has to just be affirmation of something you always knew, and besides, brain studies, etc etc, stop. you do not have to have the same personal history as every other person who shares your gender. whatever that is, and whatever it becomes. you do not have to submit yourself for a fuckin brain scan of all things. what if your brain doesn't have whatever markers you're convinced it needs to have? why would that mean you aren't allowed to live up to the internal image that makes you happy?

simplified streamlined mainstream language is never going to cover absolutely everybody, it doesn't purport to, and it doesn't need to. suppose you "are," as you fear, a dysphoric woman who doesn't want to accept it. so ok, don't accept it, then. it is honestly up to you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:04 PM on October 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

A lot of people here have said "you do you" better than I can, so I want to make a comment about books & articles that cite studies as "proof". Of gender-related stuff specifically, but really of anything.

You know how when somebody says "men are taller than women" you never think they're saying "all men are taller than all women?" Because you can see for yourself that that's not true; there are ranges, there's a lot of overlap, and most people are in that overlap. The intra-group variation is a lot bigger than the inter-group variation.

Biological differences between groups of people? ...are mostly like that. If a book is full of "studies show" kind of language and doesn't show you the numbers, show you the intra-group variation as well as the inter-group variation, and tell you really clearly how to find the papers yourself, that is not a science book. It's a book of just-so stories. It sells. The studies might not even say what the book claims they do!

For a great breakdown of a popular book on gender completely misrepresenting a study, check out this Language Log post from 2006. (In fact, all their stuff on Brizendine is great.)

So, like, don't believe everything you read. Some average trans brain is different from some average cis brain in some measurable way among some group of people? Even if true, what's that got to do with you?
posted by inexorably_forward at 11:26 PM on October 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

My mom is cis female heterosexual married to a cis man in the ‘burbs with three kids. She likes to get her nails done, shaves her legs, and bakes casseroles for sick relatives.

She also drives a red pick up truck with a variety of profane bumper stickers, has a short haircut, solo hikes the Appalachian trail, is a metal welder, and spends a lot of her time on construction sites. If you told her to lady up and be a lady she’d laugh (or more likely, curse) in your face.

On behalf of my mother, I give you permission to contain multitudes.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 11:55 PM on October 11, 2018 [12 favorites]

Just because you don’t feel comfortable with the “traditional” version of being a woman doesn’t mean you can’t be one! There are so many amazing and cool and boring and dorky ways to be a woman. I love all of us. I agree with the comment above that “woman is a big place” and there is room for you here however you want to be.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:29 AM on October 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, first of all that book has 21% 1-star reviews. Many of those specifically found the content to be patronizing and inaccurate. I don't think you should base your identity around any one book, let alone one that has bad review similar to what people are telling you here.

It's your job to be and present however you want. There are really no rules. Fuck "boxes." I literally don't even understand what "performing femininity" would mean in that you think it means you can't just be yourself. If you identify as feminine and exist, congrats. You've done it.

The best example I can give with my own life is with fashion expression - which of course gender identity and fashion expression sometimes go together, but not always.

I identify as a cis-woman. My style is all over the place. There are people out there who define style expression into strict boxes and don't cross outside or over those boxes. I generally say my style is "eclectic." It's all over the place. It ranges from casual to dressy, from blacks to brights and pastels, from feminine to masculine or androgynous. Wearing pastels doesn't make me feel less "goth". It's just another part of my personality. It took me a while to realize I could pick and choose what I wanted with style - as you can do with gender expression. My hobbies and interests span the range from feminine coded (makeup) to masculine coded (video games)*.

You can also feel fully cis and say "hey, dresses and makeup aren't for me" or whatever it is you think defines that gender. Which, again... there are millions to billions of each gender identity. It's astonishing in its variety.

*In case you were wondering, the masculine coding of video games is bullshit. Approximately 50% of gamers identity as women, because approximately 50% of humans identify as women. But it still gets coded as masculine even though it's literally wrong. Fascinating huh.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:26 AM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not super helpful but mostly about me for perspective: I'm cis, I the sense I don't want to change my gender and I'm fine being female and being called she (I preference they/them, buuut I never tell anyone that IRL so no one does). BUT I Also would love top surgery and would be extremely happy to have a male looking chest.

I wouldn't qualify under any health program and am too poor for this modification, but I still fantasize about it regularly.

I also have long pretty feminine hair, but don't wear make up and an happiest in warm pants and a college sweatshirt. But I'm at work in a dress I love ATM. So, all over the place.

Everyone is a constillation of preferences on gender expression. I kind of bounce all over. You may too, and that's OK.

I suggest you go to basics, what do you like when there is just you? Do that, it's the best I promise.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:47 AM on October 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Firstly, you should just burn that book because its given you some very funny ideas. Leather and whips or whatever else anyone wants to do in the bedroom has nothing to do with gender identity.
I'm not even sure what you mean about "performing femininity"? If you mean shaving your legs, wearing makeup, heels and dresses - a lot of us hate that shit. Doesn't mean we're not women, it just means fuck the patriarchy lol. None of those things are fundamentally female, its window dressing coming from decades of social expectations. In the grand scheme of things, its not that long ago that men had long hair and wore heels and pink was for boys and blue for girls. These things aren't hard coded into our brains or DNA, its all made up.

You do you and stop trying to find a box to fit into. Its the 21st century, there are no rules to being a woman. IMHO, if you're OK with having breasts and female pronouns, you are a woman, everything else is personal choice.

I play sports and lift weights, I have a steroetypically male job, I'm into sci fi and superheroes, I have a pretentious lesbian haircut (not a lesbian but the undershave is so practical when you spend a lot of time working out), I only do the makeup, dresses, shoes etc thing about 5% or less of the time but I am still a woman. And none of that has anything to do with my preferences in bed.
posted by missmagenta at 1:56 AM on October 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hello! I'm similar to you in a number of ways. I asked a question on here that has a certain overlap with yours. The answers I got may be interesting to you. They were certainly interesting and helpful to me.

In case it matters, and referring to your profile: you sound pretty cool to me. If I had a chance to go and have tea with you, I'd jump at the chance. I'm sure we'd have plenty to talk about.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:17 AM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm going to repeat what Frowner said above and tell you not to read Whipping Girl right now. No, it's not about BDSM, but it's not particularly useful to AFAB people. (It is apparently a worthwhile read for many AMAB people questioning their genders, which is why it comes up all the time. Beyond that, it's a hugely important book, but it's not going help you right now.)

My New Gender Workbook (I've only read the original, and it was a while ago) isn't meant to tell you what your gender is, it's meant to get you thinking about things that might be related to your gender. Which is more or less what the Iantaffi and Barker book is, to my understanding (disclaimer: haven't read it; I used to be acquainted with Alex Iantaffi), just with a different tone, written by different people. It feels like you want answers and, unfortunately, there isn't an answer besides time and sitting with things.

I'm loathe to say this because it feels like it has echos of my mother telling me I'm wasn't trans, but labels don't really matter. We've moved into a mode of talking about gender that is very focused on identity and classification and the further removed I am from the active stage of transitioning, the less this works for me. My gender is my own unique gender. Society lumps it into this bucket called "man" and by that measure I "am" a man. But do I identify as a man? shrug I guess I'm trying to encourage you to find ways to nourish your own, individual gender and understanding whether it lives in a bucket called "woman" or a bucket called "man" or fits in no bucket that exists in our culture will follow (eventually, hopefully).

My own gender doesn't look particularly "sparkly". Sometimes I wish it did, but it doesn't. I'm a software engineer who can wear jeans and T-shirt to work. I'll either wear jeans and a T-shirt or jeans and a polo shirt today. Which is exactly what I wore to school twenty-odd years ago. But I can still conceive of myself as having my own individual gender, even if it outwardly looks like a quite conservative notion of masculinity.

Anyway, I'm happy to chat over me-mail if you'd like.
posted by hoyland at 4:15 AM on October 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

I still don't like it! Even though I know it's true to myself, in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady.

Who the ever loving fuck sold you that epic load of bullshit? I am a cis woman married to a cis man and I do not read women's magazines, own a scale, wear makeup, diet, wear skirts, wear shoes with a heel, and only shave my legs and armpits once at the start of summer when shit starts blowing in the breeze.

I do like glitter. I also dye my hair.

You do not need to lady up, at all, ever. I mean, maybe you are non-binary or trans or gender fluid but the above in no way determines that. How you decorate the outside may or may not match how you feel on the inside, but the external decoration is a choice and not a social mandate.

Choose for you and not for other people.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:14 AM on October 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

I'm having trouble getting back to performing femininity. I still don't like it! Even though I know it's true to myself, in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady.

No it's not. It's really, really not.

Your job is to you up and be you. If somebody else looks at you being you and decides that you're doing you wrong, then that's their error, not yours.

Knowing your gender is about recognizing your people, not forcing yourself to conform to some predefined set of norms.
posted by flabdablet at 5:43 AM on October 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Phew this is a lot.

A single book doesn’t have to resonate with you in order to have a particular gender identity. (I liked My Gender Workbook because it made gender feel like a toybox and not like something I needed to have a relationship of Full Objective Truth with, but I can see how a different headspace would make me feel the opposite.)

No one is going to scan your brain to check if certain pronouns make you feel good. You get to pick.

You can choose to have literally any gender identity combined with literally any outward presentation.

All that said: your gender identity sounds similar to mine, and I am also living a pretty straight vanilla life. These are the answers I have found for your questions, though they may not be your answers. I ID as a cis woman, or cis-ish depending on if I’m in a group that understands some gender shades of gray, or I talk about how I see myself in a few sentences if it’s a real gender-talky environment. I don’t feel comfortable identifying as trans, but if I grew up in a different time I might have either done so or been totally comfortable with being a weird cis female. Small children sometimes ask if I am a boy or girl; I get sir’ed (or um’ed) regularly. If I’m in the mood for that, fine. If I feel like being more consistently ma’am’ed (whether because it more closely conforms with how I feel or because I Just Can’t With People that day), I find that I need to make one visible concession to femininity to make that happen. Earrings are easiest for me, though I am wearing them less often now because I am growing out my hair. Anyone who said I needed to lady up would get laughed out of the room.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:45 AM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Even though I know it's true to myself, in the sense that I am not trans or nonbinary, so it's my job to lady up and be a lady. It doesn't matter whether I like it.

Wait, what? No it isn't. You can be any kind of woman you want. You can be any kind of person you want. There are all kinds of ways to be a woman, and furthermore, if you'd rather present as a man, or dress in men's clothing or do men things (I don't know what those things look like to you; I'm not clear on the specifics) you don't need anyone's permission to do them.

You can just live your life and be yourself as yourself. You own your life.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:41 AM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just chiming in to agree as a trans woman. You can be androgynous, you can have any gender's interest or hobbies or even wardrobe. That doesn't necessarily make you not cis. Those things are often brought up by trans people in themselves as a way to try to convey their own identity, because it's really hard to explain gender dysphoria and euphoria to people who don't think about that stuff too much. For example, while I joke about crocheting as a guy being a sign, I always feel bad, because a guy should be allowed to crochet. It's a great hobby for anyone.

And I've never read that book. The leather perplexes me, and I'm not sure if it's kink or fashion but either way, it's not at all a good gender litmus test.

I suggest you try weighing whether you're cis or agender. If you really were trans masculine, the option would probably feel more tantalizing. You'd want to prove to yourself that you're a trans guy no matter the evidence. That could be the case, but I doubt it, although you might just need time to digest. But your gender expression is not an obligation, but rather an expression of what feels true and right to you. I don't wear dresses out of obligation, I wear them because I like them and how I look in them. And if I was a butch trans woman, I'd hopefully not think I owe anyone a more femme version of myself. If lipstick doesn't feel right, don't wear it. Same with any of the masc stuff it sounds like you were debating.

And maybe consider raising this in therapy. I think you might be ruminating on this in an unhealthy way.
posted by ikea_femme at 6:41 AM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's another book out there, Whipping Girl, but from the title... um... I'm guessing leather/kink is still super important. That's great, but it's not my thing.

Julia Serano's Whipping Girl is not about leather at all. It's about feminism, the stigma of femininity in women's and feminist spaces, trans feminism, and her experience as a bisexual trans woman who is not super super femme. I highly recommend this, and from your post it sounds like something you might enjoy and find useful.

As far as your situation, you do not need to perform femininity. It is not a rent that you owe the world for existing and taking up space. Your partner's identity doesn't mean you have to fit into a certain identity box or set of boxes. You don't have to want to transition to be non-binary - if you feel that a non-binary identity is more comfortable for you, that's fine. If you are comfortable as a not totally feminine cis woman, that's fine. If you need some time to occupy an ambiguous space, also 100% fine. Wherever you are is valid, and no one but you can determine your identity. Stop pushing yourself to fill this role when you clearly don't want to, and instead look at things in terms of what you like and what makes you comfortable and happy.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:54 AM on October 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

I grew up in the 70s with Free to Be You and Me as a very important touchstone, and so my concept of womanhood is very much a big tent. To this I would add, that outward/performative gender is highly culturally malleable/historically specific! So just because you feel like maybe "woman" is the category that best fits you, that doesn't mean you need to/ought to perform what our culture specifies as "feminine," and certainly not all of it. I think it's also possible to be dysphoric about certain aspects of one's sex/gender--there are plenty of physical and social aspects of any gender/sex identity that are shitty. I hate my gigantic womanly ass, for example, and my ideal vision of myself is a much leaner/muscular boyish sort of figure. But that doesn't mean I want to be a boy. I just wish I were a more boyish woman.

I am a feminist, and I do not believe that feminine-coded things are inferior. I like plenty of feminine-coded things! Just not the whole package, all the time. And I like some masculine-coded things, too. Therein lies the problem.

This is SO not a problem, hon. It is so clear from the outside that this is your depression trying to make it a problem.
posted by drlith at 7:09 AM on October 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

basically I'm boring as hell, enough said.

Let me tell you a secret: I'm very, very queer and very into doing "fuck-the-man" type activities and I'm boring as hell too.

You don't sound cis to me-- this level of distress over gender is not really something cis people feel.

There are a lot of people in the queer community who are into performative radicalism, all-leather everything, veganism, polyamory, piercings, etc, etc, and let me promise you, those people are not more queer than you. That is not what it means to be "really queer" any more than having ten children Duggar-style makes you "more heterosexual" than the other heterosexuals.

Just my two cents. Nthing everyone who is saying it sounds like your depression brain is trying to mess things up for you right now.
posted by coffeeand at 7:21 AM on October 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Everyone's said what I'm going to say, this just seems like the kind of question where piling on with the affirmation might help. Cis straight woman here, socially presenting as exactly that (these days. College, when I was skinnier and more boyish, people were frequently confused about my gender), and very large parts of social-coded femininity are completely not for me: makeup only at very long intervals (like, less than once a year), high heels pretty much never these days (down from once or twice a year in my twenties), and so on. And that's fine! Not being into all the aspects of socially constructed femininity is entirely your choice, whatever your gender identity!

(I have in the past felt bad about my dislike of a lot of feminine stuff as reflecting internalized misogyny, but while there's probably not none of that going on in my head, there doesn't have to be. Makeup is great on people who like it, it's just not for me. )

Whatever's making you feel bad about how you're choosing to express your gender, stop taking that as an authority and read something else.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2018

Decades ago I was given a book on how to be a good wife. I knew it was a shitty book. And yet, for years it haunted me. After some therapy, I realized that it wasn't the answers to "how to be a good wife" that were haunting me, it was the questions, because I wanted to have a good and happy marriage, and did not know how to achieve that.

So...I highly recommend that you start journaling every day for things that made you feel good, and things that made you feel bad. Don't start circling them for male or female qualities, just human things. I like my thick fuzzy socks. I hated the feeling of my taupe skirt riding up all day but I did like the look I caught in the washrooms at lunch. Just like that. Just go with your own thoughts and feelings and see where you get to.

Feel free to experiment. When I was growing up, there was only Seventeen directing me on how to apply powder blue eyeshadow and purple mascara. But now there are a zillion YouTube videos. So when in your journalling, you find something, anything you like, see what you can find like that to play with.

Play. Play every day. Play dress up, play dress down, play manspreading your legs on your own couch. Whatever you want to try, try it.

Go to thrift stores and flea markets, don't feel you have to buy anything...just explore what you like. No judgement. You want to browse in 70s polyester men's suits, GO FOR IT. You want to try on 90s wedding dresses, GO FOR IT. Have fun.

Go for walks with yourself.

Journal everything.

To round this up, in my head there will never, ever be a singular way to present myself...ever. That's okay. It's not my job to pick a lane and stay in it. It is my job to be human in the world, and for me, human on Friday is essentially a different person than on Sunday. I have actual segregated areas of my closet for the hippy, the trendy, the masculine, the practical, the work-friendly, the sparkly princess dresses. I have vaccuumed the house in my 90s wedding dress because I felt like it. I have put on fake eyelashes and an Audrey Hepburn dress to go to the drugstore to get cold medicine. I have worn a men's suit to a new age seminar. It is all okay.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:44 AM on October 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

People have covered really well the performing femininity bit (fuck that noise, except when it's fun, in which case do it, but fuck it again as soon as it stops being fun). I wanted to address this:

"I am super duper boring. Definitely not an awesome sparkly unicorn of fuck-the-Man chaos."

So, me either. I have a pretty boring, conventional life and I'm relatively uptight and straitlaced. And I've always been involved in circles pushing boundaries and fucking the Man, and I love that shit ... when other people are doing it. And I used to worry that I wasn't weird enough, that when I flew my freak flag it was too dull a flag, etc.

Over time I realized a couple of things. First, that while I choose to life my life in a pretty conventional way and am comfortable and happy like that, my ideas are still plenty interesting, and my less-conventional friends and colleagues get that! They don't mind that my life is conventional; it's the shared intellectual interests that matter. The people who get in my face about my life being "too conventional" for me $DoSomeThing are generally really insecure about how they're living their own lives, and need everyone they associate with to live the same way they do so they feel validated in it -- which is frankly the same reason insecure conventional people get all up in the faces of the unconventional! In both cases, they feel threatened by different choices.

Second, there are times when the best way you can be an ally is to be extremely conventional and straitlaced. I'm a cis het woman, but I volunteered for years with Lambda Legal (in a smaller, less-progressive city) doing wills and powers of attorney and so on for LGBTQ people before they had access to marriage equality. You know what you need for that? A very conventional lawyer in a skirt suit and pearls. I've been a lawyer-observer for protests (you go watch the BLM protest, for example, and if the cops start oppressing people you have a be-suited white lawyer observer sitting there with a camera recording the civil rights violations) and for elections. This is boring and unsexy work! But it's necessary work that helps people who are being hurt, that I have the skills to do. Now I'm volunteering with immigration groups to help fuck the man with legal filings. My very conventional sister-in-law does marketing for Fortune 500 companies ... and in her off hours, does amazing work for small woman-owned businesses or puts together marketing blitzes for community activism projects. Your skills and interests may be boring or conventional, but you can certainly use them to be an ally. I'm never Napoleon leading the charge or commanding the army, but I'm the super-crucial logistics staff who keep the food moving to the front lines so others can be heroes. My freak flag is a logistics flag, and that's okay!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2018 [18 favorites]

I agree with the people saying that you should definitely get help treating your depression, but also: the questions you are grappling with about performing gender/gender norms and expectations are things we discuss in detail in the intro to women's studies course I'm teaching right now. Do you live near a place that offers Women's Studies 101? You might find it helpful for challenging some of your ideas around gender.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:07 AM on October 12, 2018

"Whipping girl" is a play on the term "whipping boy." The probably apocryphal whipping boy was a surrogate and scapegoat who took the punishment from tutors in the place of royal princes. If I remember, Whipping Girl a central thesis is on how transmisogyny holds trans women to stricter standards of performative femininity while blaming them for promoting those stereotypes.

While I love Bornstein, I wouldn't consider her the last word on what being trans or nonbinary really means. I'm largely in the same boat as a vanilla person who passes (uncomfortably) for professional reasons, and have largely came to the conclusion that attempting to reconcile me to the gender assigned at birth is harmful. I like Soloway's definition “I identify as trans, which means that I am not seeking to synthesise my appearance with the label assigned to me at birth and instead am opting to live in a space where a label other than male or female is used to define me.”
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:16 AM on October 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Of course nobody has to identify as trans if they don't want to, but I got the feeling that the OP wanted to but felt like they fell short by not conforming to transness as it was portrayed in one particular book.

Oh I totally agree! I think the language of your comment came across as a little "if you think you might be trans, you are trans, we have decided for you" but I got your intention. I also realized the two comments I posted implied that I am not cis AND not trans, which weirdly...seems right? (is genderqueer the thing between cis and trans?) so what I am saying is that it's complicated! It's definitely an option, and it's optional.
posted by capricorn at 9:23 AM on October 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some books that helped me with this stuff included Bear Bergman's Butch is a Noun and The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You. Also both Gender Outlaws essay collections, though the older one was mostly useful for historical context.

I tend to consider genderqueer and non-binary to fit under the trans umbrella, but I also visualize the Venn diagram trans, transgender, and transsexual as concentric circles. That said, everyone is welcome to identify as cis or not-trans for as long as they want, it's cool, we're not going anywhere.

Transition is not a limited time offer, and you don't have to act now. If you do feel like doing things, and you've had enough books about theory for now, do what makes you feel more comfortable. Maybe that's binders, maybe it's shorter hair, maybe it's soft leggings and cute skirts. it's your body.
posted by bagel at 9:58 AM on October 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

You don’t have to wear skirts and dresses to be a woman.
You don’t have to wear makeup and shave your legs to be a woman.
You don’t have to sleep with men to be a woman.
You don’t have to have kids to be a woman.
You don’t have to raise kids to be a woman.
You don’t even have to LIKE kids to be a woman.
You don’t have to cook and bake to be a woman.
You don’t have to knit and sew to be a woman.

You can wear men’s clothes and still be a woman.
You can cut your hair short and still be a woman.
You can be totally career-focused and still be a woman.
You can be blunt and/or socially inept and still be a woman.

You don’t have to be a sparkly ANYTHING to be ANY gender. I’m a completely boring cis-woman. I teach college classes and sing in a church choir. I know a trans woman who is a physicist. She likes to drone on about science and watch dumb TV shows. Neither of us are sparkly unicorns, but she is trans and we are both women. Meh.

This has been brought to you by the Gender Normative Presentation Council, which is stuck in a sitcom and has never met a real person with all the traits I listed above.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:19 AM on October 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

I like plenty of feminine-coded things! Just not the whole package, all the time. And I like some masculine-coded things, too. Therein lies the problem.

I...don't...what? Just adding the 78th comment to note that this is a wildly distorted statement that sounds like Depression Brain for sure. Depression Brain likes to invent truly bizarre nonexistent world rules that very conveniently maximize your feelings of panic and misery.*

I am struggling to think of a single person I have ever known in my life who liked exclusively things coded for their own gender. And I don't generally travel in, like, very radical queer circles. I grew up in the midwestern suburbs, for crying out loud. Liking all sorts of things in the world doesn't make you anything except a person.

*My Depression Brain convinced me that nobody would ever date a divorced person, a rule that flies in the face of literally every reality everywhere for basically all of time, and indeed, my actual reality, as I was at the time a divorced person dating someone. It's not real.

posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:20 AM on October 12, 2018 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I'm pretty sure the only person who ever fit the whole package all the time was Gaston, and he's a cartoon who's roughly the size of a barge
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:31 AM on October 12, 2018 [15 favorites]

Something that might be worth processing here too is that you sound exasperated and frustrated and that might be in part the normal brain-growing-pains of developing new conceptual frameworks. It's really common for people to hit the "throw the book across the room" stage when learning a new language/math/programming/procedure/concept, often just before a new level of understanding blooms, but it feels pretty awful before you get there.

And I also understand the frustration phase of thinking about All This and feeling like it was clearly much easier for everyone else, and that this would be easier if it was more clearcut, and since it's not then OBVIOUSLY I have to go over here and be this boring standard thing that DOESN'T REALLY SUIT but everything is TERRIBLE GAH.

There is an entire multi-axis 3d universe of personal gender presentation, and it is available to you regardless of label. It is not appropriation to be a straight cis somewhat-masculine-skewing woman, and you don't have to pass a certification exam to unlock that presentation. You are who you are whether you have discovered exactly the right word for it, and even if you used to be something else and decide you are are something else in the future, and none of that means you have to go get into a single box that all women in the world are obviously in because none of us have any other presentation (and I know that sentiment is driven by frustration but it's not true and it would be better for both you and us to not encourage the sentiment).

You may find it much more freeing to look for conversation going on around the internet - up-to-date conversation, not packaged to sell you something - about gender and identity and listen to people talk about their own paths and avenues of discovery. Watch out for TERFing obviously, be on high alert for gatekeeping behavior, but there are amazing smart kind people out there talking and creating resources and supporting each other and making it very obvious that there's no One True Way, there are a billion ways, and you might just stumble on some of them that get you closer to contentment with who you are.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:01 PM on October 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

You meet all the criteria necessary to identify as a non-binary person. If you want it, it can be yours. There is no test. You don’t have to be sparklier, or more visibly queer, or cooler. It is here for you, right now. There are no gatekeepers, no brain scans. Do you want to think of yourself as non-binary? Does it make you happier? That is all it takes. You are allowed to think of yourself this way, if it feels right and good.

I love Kate Bornstein, but she is not the only way to be trans. (I also do not find her gender-related books especially useful for me, a trans person, but she gave a talk that pretty much saved my life several years ago.) I suspect that she would tell you herself that My Gender Workbook isn’t meant to define who is and is not trans.

You don’t have to be non-binary. You might be cis, I don’t know. As you can see, plenty of cis women hate performing feminity. They are valid too. If their examples feel right to you, go for it! I’d they don’t, you can find your own way to be cis, or your own way to be trans.
posted by catalytics at 12:55 PM on October 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

A lot of good things have already been said, but I'll put my drop into the ocean because this sort of discussion means a lot to me: if you feel "well I'm a woman" then that's all that's required, live the life you enjoy, perform for no one.
That also means if you feel "I think I'm... not a woman" then that's also all that's required. You don't have to be chaos or a unicorn or anything. You can be boring, monogamous, not into leather, and still be NOT cis. Perform for no one!
posted by wellifyouinsist at 1:09 PM on October 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

I get through the day by leaning on an internal concept of myself that's nonbinary-ish, but I know that's not true and I'm being a really shitty ally. . . . The internal image of myself that makes me happiest / calmest / most confident just isn't true . . . [emphasis added]
This sounds so much like what my own depression and dysphoria and internalized transphobia tell me, but look at the words in bold again. You deserve to get through the day. You deserve to look at yourself in a way that makes you happy and calm and confident. And if the idea of being nonbinary-ish helps you do that, then (in my professional opinion as an Official Nonbinary Trans Person) you're not being a bad ally by misusing the label; you're using the label exactly for its intended purpose. It's yours if (and only if) you want it, and anyone who sees the distress you're in and tries to tell you "it just isn't true according to the literature" is no ally to you.

My New Gender Workbook was worse than useless for me too, because I didn't want to be a gender pirate, I just wanted to be comfortable in my own skin! Eventually I had to force myself to give up on trying to pinpoint exactly what I was, because it was getting me nowhere and making me feel terrible about myself.

Dara Hoffman-Fox's You and Your Gender Identity was much more helpful; it's full of writing prompts that helped me find more clarity about the specific kinds of things I wanted from my gender—whatever my "real" gender ended up being—and words of encouragement that helped me go out into the world and start looking for them. And after a year or so of collecting different ways-of-being-a-person, I found myself mysteriously growing more comfortable with the idea of shopping for identity labels.

One script that worked for me in the meantime, when the trans people in my support network were already chanting "one of us, one of us," and the cis people were falling all over themselves to be Supportive Allies, and it felt like everyone thought they knew me better than myself, was "I dunno, I've definitely got something gender-related going on, and I'm just trying to take my time and figure it out as I go along. Same name and pronouns for now; I'll let you know if that changes."

I'm afraid you won't find the definitive test you're looking for, given that the formal diagnostic criteria boil down to "Are you uncomfortable with your assigned gender? Do you wish you had a different one? Is it causing problems in your daily life?" and all the questionnaires I've seen are really just those same questions in multiple-choice format, but there's a short quiz at aminonbinary.com [disclosure: self-link] that a few other people have found helpful.

In conclusion, gender is a land of contrasts. You don't have to be cis if you don't want to. You don't have to be trans if you don't want to. And you don't have to pick one and have that be The Truth forever. There are billions of valid ways to be a woman, and billions of valid ways to be not-a-woman, and a huge and beautiful overlap between them. The important thing is finding one that feels right for you, wherever you are in your life right now.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 8:20 PM on October 12, 2018 [15 favorites]

I spent my teen years growing up living in a lesbian commune. Everyone in that household was female, including each one of the up to five cats. Everyone in that household was also strongly feminist because this was during the seventies, and feminism and Ms magazine was a big thing for women. The uniform of the era was jeans and army surplus. We did house renovations - roofing, plumbing, glazing, lifting the annex on jacks and digging out a cellar. Some of the people in the commune were gay and some were not. Some of the people in the commune played softball and were jocks. The one thing they all had about them was that they were cis gender and they really loved women and admired them and enjoyed them.

But none of us were frilly. There were army boots, not make-up. There was an artistic group that drew or painted portraits of the others in the group. There was a strong appreciation and acceptance of women's bodies. But none of us fit the society mold as feminine. We were just women and girls being women and girls.

So women who wear make up and dress in the latest female fashions and wear shoes that cripple themselves always struck me as women who didn't like women. I met them and interacted with them outside of my home. They tended to be competitive in the mean girl sort of way, and they tended to do things to make themselves look unlike what they were naturally. It was kind of like they didn't want to be women and wanted to be Barbie dolls instead.

I remember once seeing for the first time a shaved armpit after some years of seeing women's unshaved armpits and thinking what in the world and why on earth would she do that and make her armpit look like plucked chicken and court rashes and prickly heat.

My point of all this is that you need to define feminine by you, not be what someone else tells you is feminine. The definition of feminine is "like a woman". Okay, you are a woman, so what YOU are and do is feminine. Full stop. It doesn't matter in the least what other people are or do. If you are a cis woman and believe you are a woman that whatever you do is the highest definition of feminine. If you play chess and race cars, then playing chess and racing cars is feminine. You don't need to code it pink. If you love cats and like baking, that loving cats and liking baking is feminine. If you read books then reading books is feminine. You are absolutely perfect that way. You say you are boring? Then boring is feminine. You say you are orderly? Then orderly is feminine.

Some cultures in Africa say that men are talkative and women struggle to find words. Some cultures in America say that women are talkative and men struggle to find words. Some cultures say that women are the ones who dress up and wear necklaces. Other cultures put all the bling on the men and the women dress like quiet little birds. It's all cultural. The Medievals thought that women were insatiably sexual, while the Victorians thought that women were and should be frigid, but men were always prone to lust.

I suggest you look for other women who are like you - Orderly, boring, monogamous, het. I suggest you look at other women who have your style, whatever that is. And define them as feminine. If their shoes are different than those shoes are not as feminine as the type of shoes you wear. It doesn't matter if your shoes are heels or flats, army boots or sneakers, pumps or Mary Janes or boots. Any of those. And all of those if that's what you like. Feminine is ALWAYS objective. So don't do what you don't wanna. Don't let your spouse or the media or marketing or your neighbours define feminine for you. Be truly feminine - exactly what you want to be at any given minute.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:15 PM on October 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

One of the things that sometimes makes it hard for me as an AFAB person is the way that cis women very frequently have responded to me by saying, "oh, I have had to fight against my internalized misogyny too, it's okay to like dresses and you can just be a butch woman, that's cool".

Very often the things that make you ill at ease with identifying as a cis woman aren't the same as not liking dresses or make-up. Like, when people referred to me as "she", that felt weird and bad. Using a name that is coded as a woman's name makes me feel weird and bad. That's not because I think that showing emotion and liking to embroider are weak or wrong, or because I think that I need to wear heels when I hate heels.

It's great if you look around and think, "I am happy being a less traditionally feminine woman, I really appreciate all these role models". But it's very, very much worthwhile seeking out communities of gender non-conforming, non-binary and trans people (even if just online) because not feeling like you are a she/her person isn't the same as not feeling good about enforced femininity. I spent some years being all "I guess I am a butch bisexual woman" and not feeling super great about it because I was not spending much time around GNC/non-binary/trans people and I was hearing a lot of "remember how diverse women's experience is, it's okay to be a woman who doesn't wear dresses, fight that internalized misogyny".

Cis women who have worked to get to a place of healthy comfort with their own experience of gender and gender presentation understandably very often read your experience through the lens of their own. And sometimes that's great, because your experience is like theirs! But not always.
posted by Frowner at 10:00 AM on October 13, 2018 [14 favorites]

Yeah, this is a hard question not to read from one's own perspective. I can read it equally well as "After thinking deeply about the question, I am convinced that I am a cis woman, rather than any variety of trans, but I'm unhappy because I think that imposes obligations on me to perform femininity in a way that's proper for a cis woman" (which is the reading of the question I responded to above) or "I feel that my gender identity is something other than simply cis woman, but the reading I've done convinces me that I'm not allowed to claim a non-cis identity, and that makes me unhappy."

I think the poster got good answers to both of those possible questions, but should probably think hard about which one feels more like the question they meant to ask. I mean, both sets of answers boil down to 'do what you want to, and think about your gender the way you want to,' but if one of the questions feels righter, that should be illuminating.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:30 AM on October 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

hey there i am a afab trans person with a kind of funky gender. i am also a monogamous bureaucrat who hates fun. we're out there. you don't have to be anything in particular. i am inclined to suggest examining your gender a little further just because the "i guess i have to go be a woman now": lol: same

the "let's be cool gender pirates" tack did not work for me and i spent several years just straight up flailing about it. i have found that the internet trans/NB community because of the nature of internet text-based stuff can get really heavy into categorization and self-reflection in a way that i have felt pinned to a wall by. i found that finding people i could relate to that i could talk to, even if we were just hitting each other over DM on the twitter machine or whatever, really helped me figure my shit out. and that figuring my shit out looked kind of boring and was not a thrilling adventure into being a glittery fun person™ although i do have some incredibly gaudy floral mens' shirts now. its a process.

on the science tip, so little research has been done on trans stuff that a lot of gender/transgender matters are somewhat mysterious. i spent a year complaining to a psychologist about that and it was a relief for me to be paying someone with several degrees good money to hear them say: the field is young. we don't know. it's okay for you to fuck around with this stuff.

also tbh so much about gender is socially and temporally mediated that locating a gender gland or whatever would, imo, not resolve many of the questions you ask up there. because i am reading you asking questions about like, how do i be a me i am ok with here - this is socially mediated

anyway please be kind to yourself, internet stranger, and please consider moving toward that which feels freeing and that which permits you to feel joy and ease in yourself. i know for myself i had spent my whole life so fucked up about my body and my inner natures that it was actually extremely disorienting for me to work on my gender stuff because i had to make space for the idea that people werent' going around low-key fucked up about this stuff on the constant. it was so new.

hmu if you have any questions or whatever. boring genderlord to boring gender explorer
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 8:41 PM on October 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hey, I don't want to threadsit, but I want to a) thank everyone for their insight and b) apologize for my terrible wording. I don't think anyone is obligated to be femme (high femme? I don't understand all the subtleties of the terms) if they don't want to. What I meant, and did NOT communicate well at all, is that because I do not have justification to adopt a new template/filter for understanding and shaping my thoughts/words/actions, I am stuck with this one I dislike.

I may have also buried the lede, by not mentioning that I did not announce any gender-confirming stuff as a toddler -- I did not refuse to wear dresses [because of sensory reasons, but still], I didn't care about trucks or war games, etc. I wasn't one of those brave kids who stands up despite familial rejection. I didn't have any sense of myself except what would get my parents to stop mocking me. So, that's pretty open and shut, I thought. The adorable toddler coming-out story is a staple.

On the other hand, people are talking as though the "born this way" model has been disproven? I missed that along the way. Will have to look for that research.

I worry that "well, I have ~feelings~, and no concrete evidence, but you must listen to me anyway" plays right into the hands of the "it's just a choice" 'phobes. Edge cases are dangerous; they can make everyone else look bad. That's what I mean by being a good ally: gatekeep myself unless I am a model example, with no rough edges or exceptions to the rule.

>>or "I feel that my gender identity is something other than simply cis woman, but the reading I've done convinces me that I'm not allowed to claim a non-cis identity, and that makes me unhappy.">>

Exactly this. Exactly. Because if you don't fit the definition (have the same life history / cute toddler story as everyone else, fit the mold, etc.) then how can you claim that identity? It's a definition. The guide book says that Blue Morpho butterflies are blue. If you found a yellow butterfly, it is not a Blue Morpho. It seems pretty simple.

I guess my definition is out of date, so I should search for the new one.

Thanks, all.
posted by cage and aquarium at 5:00 AM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I worry that "well, I have ~feelings~, and no concrete evidence, but you must listen to me anyway" plays right into the hands of the "it's just a choice" 'phobes. Edge cases are dangerous; they can make everyone else look bad.

That's not on you. Phobes gonna phobe, and that's on them.

You will almost certainly find that anybody who gives you grief about this will be fully convinced that gender is both identical to "biological sex" and exists as a strict binary, will be hanging on grimly to that belief for religious and/or ideological reasons, will flat refuse even to look at any evidence to the contrary, and will view anybody who suggests that perhaps they should as some kind of enemy of civilization as we know it.

You have no hope at all of reducing the harm that people like this do to the trans community, and pandering to them does not make you a better ally.

The guide book says that Blue Morpho butterflies are blue. If you found a yellow butterfly, it is not a Blue Morpho. It seems pretty simple.

If the guide book says Blue Morpho butterflies have nine legs, you need a better guide book.
posted by flabdablet at 9:03 AM on October 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

We're not talking about biological species, we're talking about messy and complex human beings coming to understand ourselves through complex and messy social systems mediated by complex and messy experience. While the experiences of trans youth are important, so are those of people who figure things out in middle age and beyond.

Maybe it's because I'm bi, but "edge cases are dangerous" sounds like hetero-patriarchal gatekeeping. And even if you're not the avatar of trans-masculinity you still deserve supportive community, care, and safety.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:01 AM on October 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

>gatekeep myself unless I am a model example, with no rough edges or exceptions to the rule

this is not necessary. this causes harm.

>Because if you don't fit the definition (have the same life history / cute toddler story as everyone else, fit the mold, etc.) then how can you claim that identity? It's a definition.

so, part of the reason why a lot of people point toward youth/toddler coming out was in response to is that until recently and in some states, trans people need present particular kinds of proof in order to receive medical care. so there was a definition of transness that did not include everybody whose dysphoria would be alleviated by medical care that included particular story elements, and trans people learned to present those elements in order to receive the care they needed.

there is a history of the medical community engaging with trans people in bad faith that problematizes some of the information we would use to make decisions. this really sucks.

and in general: the definitions and explanations of transness presented to us by society at large are, by and large, not dispassionate observed morphological or behavioral data in the same way that like, bird books let us identify birds by their morphological or behavioral data: the definitions of trans people presented by society include a tremendous amount of bias that can make those definitions' utility in exploration of one's own self limited and even harmful. please do not think that the category "transgender" is articulated in a similar way as the category "blue morpho".

lol i wish i could give you a trans pass or something so you could feel okay exploring. it's ok to explore and also end up cis! seriously, again, i'm around if you want to talk.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 10:05 AM on October 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

You talk a lot about labels but only passingly mention relying on your internal imagine of yourself which is nonbinary. What IS that internal image? Is it really a lie, or is it something you can wear on the outside? What changes in your life would it require? Do they make you scared, excited, both?

I’d spend some time suspending judgment and thinking about what exactly you’re envisioning for yourself, getting more comfortable with it.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:07 AM on October 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Your feelings are concrete evidence; in fact, they're both necessary and sufficient for you to determine whether you meet the definition. Granted, that idea is a pretty hard sell; when I first started questioning my gender at age 28 (so much for coming out as a toddler!) I didn't really believe it either. And not feeling "trans enough" to claim the identity is such a common experience that it has its own genre of affirming blog posts on the Trans Internet. I still have a lot of respect and compassion for my own internal gatekeeper -- after all, it was just trying to protect me from turning my life upside down on a whim -- but it ended up being less than helpful when it kept me from seeking out new experiences and examining how they made me feel.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 1:49 PM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Okay, but I need the line between "I thought I wasn't trans enough but yay, I am" and a colonizing/appropriating cis person. That's how I keep from being evil.

Like... if I don't belong to this oppressed group but I try on their culture because I like it, that's Rachel Dolezal-bad. That's why I stopped doing/thinking all the things that made me happy to be me / defused my depression for the first time ever (like gender euphoria but not really, bc that's a trans culture thing). It did not belong to me, unless I proved first that I belonged, that it was mine to take.

tl;dr It's a culture not a costume.
posted by cage and aquarium at 2:08 PM on October 15, 2018

Feel free to discount this if it doesn't resonate with you, but sometimes these "I am not [blah] enough" feelings are things our brains cook up to protect us from scary changes.

If you're not "nonbinary enough", you know what that looks like - you muddle along in the same uncomfortable and vaguely unhappy way as always. If you are nonbinary enough, you have a whole range of new choices to make and you're going to find yourself testing your existing life and relationships - who in your current life will be supportive if you ask them to [use they/them pronouns or call you by a different name or tell their family that you're nonbinary or...]? Who will be angry or uncomfortable or give you a lot of pushback? How will you experience the world differently if you [change your gender presentation in some way]?

Focusing on bad, gatekeeping logic about gender and on your duty to Women-As-A-Class keeps you from needing to make scary changes. (Also, what about Women-As-A-Class's duty to you?)

Also, if you do decide to make changes in your life, it's okay to make small, manageable ones. You don't need to go from "Average Cis-appearing Person" to "Heroic Non-Binary Warrior Who Calls Out Oppression Six Times Before Breakfast" just to be allowed to change your gender presentation or use a different gender identity.
posted by Frowner at 2:11 PM on October 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

Ah, but queerness and transness are fundamentally different from race or ethnicity. For one thing, almost all of us have had to seek out the community instead of being born and raised in it. For another, our whole shared identity is built around having found a way of living that works better for us than what allocishet society has to offer. The only way to falsely claim that identity is to do so while knowing in your heart that it doesn't do anything for you, and it does no one any harm to try it on and find out that it doesn't fit comfortably.

Here's one place to draw the line: Accepting an Emmy for playing a trans woman while self-identifying as a cis man is colonizing. Throwing around the t-slur while getting rich off of your reality TV show is appropriating. Rolling the words "I think I might be nonbinary" around in your mouth for a while, just to gauge your own reaction, is ... normal and healthy. (To be honest, even most cis people would benefit from a closer look at what their own gender identity means to them!) And good allyship is about lowering, not raising, the barriers to that kind of self-exploration.

I'm yet another person who'll be around if you want to talk.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 3:34 PM on October 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

I read a philosophy essay a couple of years ago that talked about why transracialism is not a thing and why "it's a culture not a costume" logic doesn't work for queer and trans identities the way it does for racial, ethnic and national ones. The short form is that race and transness arise through very different material and historical processes - for instance, you are assigned/inherit race through kinship (even though that happens in complicated or white supremacist ways) but transness does not come directly from family and kinship (even though the way you experience queerness or transness is contoured by your family, culture, racial background, experience of diaspora, etc) - you would not say to someone, "oh, I'm trans on my mother's side, and my dad's side is pansexual". And you don't look within yourself to see if you "feel" white, but the only way to know if you're queer or trans is to look within yourself to assess how you feel.

It would be offensive nonsense to say "I am going to go live in Beijing to see if I'm Chinese", but it would make total sense to say "I am going to try wearing this binder because I think I might have some dysphoric feelings" or "I think I am attracted to people of my gender, I think I will go to this queer dance night and see how my feelings are".

Look, I will level with you - I feel like you're....enjoying punishing yourself. I say this because I do the same thing. "Oh, I can't have this harmless thing that makes me happy because that would be WRONG because it would hurt someone's feelings on tumblr". Now, enjoying punishing yourself is totally compatible with being depressed and with suffering; if anything, it's a compensatory mechanism. For me, I "enjoy" denying myself things in this way because feeling bad feels familiar, because it's emotional drama that distracts me from feeling bad, because it gives me a sense of purpose when I feel deprived of what I actually want...Because being a villain (being the bad person who selfishly wants to pretend to be trans) chimes with how I grew up, seeing myself as a selfish person who was always already bad and wrong.

Did you experience a lot of invalidation in childhood, a lot of denial of your feelings or needs? Did people make you feel bad for showing anger or being inconvenient in some way? Were you a chronic outsider? Did you experience an incident of unusually traumatic rejection?

I think it's really hard for chronic outsiders to do something, like claim an identity, which requires us to affirmatively say that we belong on the inside. It's really hard and scary and pulls up a lot of fear of rejection. We have a long-term experience of not belonging, being excluded, etc, so it seems more natural to assume that we are always-already permanent outsiders who could not possibly be part of a particular group, especially one that seems desirable.

I also urge you to think concretely about where you think the "harm" comes from in calling yourself nonbinary even if you don't have, like, nonbinary genes or whatever the gold standard is. Are you planning to make a bunch of money off being nonbinary? Are you planning to become a nonbinary celebrity? Are you planning to gate-keep other people through your power in the non-binary community? Is there a fixed number of non-binary people allowed in your county, and if you get one of those coveted slots, you'll be excluding someone? "Someone might feel that I am doing non-binary wrong and that might make them upset" is not a harm. Even "because I am partnered and housed and many nonbinary people face much greater precarity" is not a harm, because frankly you're partnered and housed either way.

In terms of "my messy identity will be used against others"...look, the Guardian just ran this horrible clickbaity set of articles about a trans woman who sexually assaulted other women (it was super gross and I am never giving them clicks again). The Guardian, a nominally left wing paper, affirmatively chose to do this because they are creepy trans-obsessed bigots. Trans people are not responsible for being Very Upstanding So That The Guardian Doesn't Have Grounds. Trans people are not responsible for this woman just because she is trans. The existence of this woman does not undercut other trans people. What I'm saying is that bigots find things to bigot about because they are full of hate and gross creepy fetishization. They will always find something, and if they can't find something they'll lie. They will never say "trans people are wonderful citizens who never put a foot wrong, we should all support them" no matter how perfect we are, and even if we're perfect they'll make things up.

We are all better off if we stand up and say, "yes, identities are messy, fuck you" rather than cowering sadly in a corner.
posted by Frowner at 3:43 PM on October 15, 2018 [19 favorites]

Hey cage, I came here from another recent gender thread. I do not think you are the one who sucks. I don’t think people are coming here to laugh at you. I do think that you’re cherry picking trans* resources to find reasons to deny yourself the identity you are “leaning on to get through the day.” That experience, more than participating in the leather scene, or brain studies that we really don’t have the science for yet, is one of the most classic trans experiences I know of, even more than the “I knew as a toddler” narrative. It sounds like you are really searching for reasons to punish yourself and to insist that your lived experiences aren’t “real”— that your gender euphoria is something else, that you’re being a Rachel Dolezal, that going through the incredibly common trans* experience of “am I trans enough” means you’re making it all up. I would really encourage you to talk to trans (or nonbinary) people or to find communities to browse through, because it sounds to me like you’re putting yourself through unnecessary agony with outdated or limited resources. You deserve to make it through the day; you aren’t a fake, wherever on the gender spectrum you fall; you aren’t a bad person, you don’t suck. PM me if you want.

Just a side note about the books you bring up: “Whipping Girl” is not about BDSM, it’s a book about misogyny and the social scapegoating of femininity written by a trans woman. Brilliant writing but maybe not the right thing at this time for an AFAB nonbinary person who’s questioning their identity. My Gender Workbook is iirc about 15 years out of date; it’s targeted towards an extroverted YA audience and also tends towards exploring transfemininity. It’s also very much a product of the sex positive SF Bay and NYC radical queer party scene of the 90-00s, and I can see it being incredibly alienating to people who aren’t from that extremely specific subculture.
Hugs to you— these are tough things to work out, and I promise you aren’t a bad person.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:05 PM on October 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

>Okay, but I need the line between "I thought I wasn't trans enough but yay, I am" and a colonizing/appropriating cis person. That's how I keep from being evil.

i would second frowner's and haltingproblemsolved's comments in response to your request for a line. and moonlight on vermont's. like the whole "i cannot possibly be trans enough to do the thing that makes me happy" is ime such a trans thing. talk to some of us who have made the offer. i spent years tied up in knots because i had absorbed bizarre ideas from books and the internet about how i was supposed to be, and i strongly suggest not doing that because it was miserable
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 4:15 PM on October 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

Would it help if you knew that even a lot of people who seem to fit the mold of the Definition Of Trans Person play up those traits to be accepted more easily? Like, people expect a certain narrative or a really narrow sort of Gender Performance, so you go along with what they expect to avoid the friction of convincing them that you count, too, even though you're trans in a different way than the stereotype. If you're not around other trans or nb people, you never hear the actual/rest of the experience, so it seems like that really narrow experience is all there is. But obviously, it isn't, and I feel like that becomes extremely obvious with a nonbinary identity, because there is no single way of not being [gender]. It's extremely subjective, and it really just comes down to your internal experience and whether you say you are or not.

I really wish you would believe that gender euphoria is plenty - an abundance - of reason to justify allowing yourself to entertain the possibility that you deserve to respect your feelings and identity, because it extremely seems like you're punishing yourself by denying yourself this and you can just ... not. You can just do and be the things that made you happy.
posted by gaybobbie at 4:25 PM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

You are appropriating/colonizing if your ideation is specifically something like:
- I will say I am trans because of all the fame and fortune that will definitely immediately follow!
- I don't have any real discomfort with my gender but it will make me important/special/give me attention to pretend I do*
- Aligning myself more closely to trans people will better allow me to exploit them for money/sex/power/emotional resources/"my art"/turning their lives and stories into some kind of profitable endeavor for me instead of them

*People worry about doing/being accused of this, in part because people who have experienced social discomfort of just about any kind are frequently accused of doing it "for the attention" as if that is a bad thing because we want to be noticed and accepted and seen as we really are by the people we identify with. That is a normal thing that humans ache for and many humans suffer and wither for lack of it, and accusations of "for the attention" are a way of putting someone down and keeping them in their place.

All you have to do is not do it for personal profit or predation. (Not that there's anything wrong with being trans and having that be part of your commercially viable identity, if that's done in good faith.) It would help if you wouldn't be so gender-police-y and just let everyone get on with it, you are probably only doing it to yourself and not other people but you don't deserve it any more than the rest of us do, and you are probably hoping there is a magic place you can be in which you will never draw any criticism for your current gender identity at any moment, just like women sometimes come here asking how to magically stop people from being sexist at them, and there is no magic place. It will likely happen if you do not toe the exact lines drawn by white male supremacy, but that's gonna happen even if you do it perfectly 23.9 hours a day or exist over the age of 26 ever, so why not just go ahead and at least take shit for being your approximately authentic self instead of taking shit for an identity you don't like and don't want to be?

Right now, you really seem to be hoping a gatekeeper will disqualify you, which is a stage of identity development most identities go through. But there's a lot of truth in the saying that cis people don't agonize this much over their gender, or suffer so much longing to qualify to be a thing they feel they're not allowed to be and it is clearly eating them alive.

If you are in some kind of area big enough to have in-person gender resources, like in LA we have the LGBT Center that has a Trans Wellness Center, you can go talk to someone and get some referrals to educated trans-friendly educators, doctors, and therapists. If it turns out you're just a big ol' impostor, you can always donate some time and/or money to pay back for the resources you used (obviously you can do that if you're not cis after all, too), but you're walking so close to falling into a pit of terfs that I think it might be to your advantage to seek some true allies with libraries and science and data and radical acceptance, and that you would feel better if you did. (There are online resources, but in-person is really valuable if you can get to someone.)
posted by Lyn Never at 4:47 PM on October 15, 2018 [9 favorites]

Just another thing about the appropriating/Dolezaling— this is an accusation I have never seen from inside the trans community after a certain age cutoff point when the older (boomer+) generation had it drilled into them that you needed a full binary medical transition to count. I’ve seen it from TERFs, from people concern trolling to deny trans kids medical care, from bigots in general. There’s literally an entire cottage industry/gofundme scam in the comics industry right now being run out of the basement of a transphobic asshole who’s pushing the lie that a high profile trans pro comics writer he’s insanely jealous of is just pretending to be transgender to get affirmative action gigs with Marvel and DC. But, of course, he respects “real” trans people. 🙄 The anxiety of appropriating or colonizing other people’s valid experiences of gender is something so many trans and nb folks turn on THEMSELVES— but I have never seen the larger trans community point the finger and say that someone is faking their gender issues for attention. I worry you’ll think I’m accusing you of being transphobic because you’re being so hard on yourself in this thread— I’m not! But I do think you’ve let transphobic lies and propaganda affect and harm you, and want to reassure you that the actual community you’re worried about offending or colonizing will not see your exploration of your identity in that way.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:27 PM on October 15, 2018 [9 favorites]

I struggle with knowing if this story is helpful, but I'm going to tell it because I think it might be. (And apparently I like talking about myself on the internet.) I'm the proverbial trans person who "knew when they were three". I transitioned at a fairly stodgy clinic and one of few things I remember from the intake appointment is me making some comment about not conforming to The Narrative (with capital letters) and my therapist saying "No, what you're telling me is textbook."

I tell you this for two reasons. One is to demonstrate the pervasiveness and insidiousness of this idea that "real" trans people have been aware of their transness every day of their lives--if I'm apparently textbook, then what textbook says you have to have known forever and always? The other is as context for talking about what a "knew when they were three" experience is like.* There are plenty of things I can look back on in childhood that happened because I was trans, but they're not proof--you can surely find cis women out there with similar childhood experiences. In retrospect, the baseball obsession was surely a means of inscribing myself into a specifically American masculinity, but that's something that only occurred to me after, I don't know, a decade of identifying as trans. There's a lot of "Oh shit, that's what that was about." Seriously, that's like half of what I talk about with my therapist.

It's also not like I figured out I was trans one day and knew what shape my transition would take, or even that it would happen at all. I knew I wanted top surgery, that felt self-evident. After about six months of "I'm not *really" trans", I was hurtling towards a social transition, and then the wheels came off. That intake appointment at the start of this answer? Four years later. There were maybe two years of "I'll transition, but only if the situation becomes untenable", then a year of working up the nerve and slowly realising that "untenable" probably wasn't going to happen and a year of therapist disasters. And then I was at the point of "This transition thing is going to happen, but I'm not ready." (That's another thing I remember from the intake! Being asked if I wanted to get the ball rolling towards starting T. I think I laughed.) T was still an open question, but slowly moved into "I think I'm going to give this a go."

Everyone's story is different and, remember, we usually only ever hear about someone's gender when it's ready for public release, as it were. Maybe they had a moment of revelation, maybe they've been chewing on it for a decade without anyone knowing. Saying to yourself, your spouse, your best friend, your therapist, your journal or whatever "I've been wondering if I'm trans" is as scary as all hell, but it's absolutely not going to hurt trans people. Start small. You don't need one answer now and forever by tomorrow morning.

Hopefully some of this is useful.

*Whether I am "binary" is a whole can of worms, since there seems to be some disagreement about what the definition is. I mention this because I think that is presumed to be part and parcel of the "knew when they were three" thing.
posted by hoyland at 6:30 PM on October 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

there's a logical fallacy you are insisting on, I am uninclined to know the name of it but it has something with mistaking description for prescription. you are not wrong to observe that there is a generally accepted and scientifically supported belief that gender identity is inborn and involuntary for many people. but you are wrong to take this piece of information and decide it means that since making a choice isn't often necessary, it's therefore wrong. that not only makes no sense and is false on its face, it isn't logically connected at all. Most people don't make a choice about their gender, not because it's colonialist or whatever, but because they don't have to: they just know.

but what if you don't know? what if you look in your heart and don't find the secret answer key? well, you can continue to not know and wonder indefinitely. you can decide not to care because gender is a bore. but if it is important to you for whatever reason to say "I am ___" and have it feel true, and the answer isn't just hiding in a corner of your heart but really isn't there, you are just going to have to review the various options and make a choice. like the fellow says to lawrence of arabia in the film, for some people, nothing is written unless they write it.

you can take all the time you need to settle on whether a trans identity and the language around it fits you. but to the vexed question of appropriation: appropriation is taking something that doesn't belong to you. reclamation is taking something back that was stolen from you. call it what you like, masculinity is always ok for anyone to appropriate. especially for women, but for everyone else too -- you don't have to be a woman to have the fun of stealing as much masculinity as you can stuff in your pockets and run away with. that's the price the dominant culture has to pay for setting itself up as superior. that, of all things, you do not have to earn or justify. you can just take it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:24 PM on October 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

It's also reasonable to self describe as "questioning," and maybe that's a short-term thing, and maybe that's long term.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:35 AM on October 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

No cis person works this hard to not be cis. Maybe you’re trans*, maybe not but whatever you fear you might be appropriating, you are displaying way too much anxiety to be appropriating. Maybe it’s the trans* community I’m most familiar with, but so many of the folks I know identify as non-binary as well, even if they generally present pretty clearly as one gender or the other. Stop making up reasons why you’re not even allowed to consider this for yourself and go do this in therapy b
posted by rtha at 9:04 AM on October 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

I jumped back in firstly to apologize for so thoroughly misunderstanding your original question and speaking so much on a topic that it turns out I didn't understand at all.

And secondly to say basically this:

It's also reasonable to self describe as "questioning," and maybe that's a short-term thing, and maybe that's long term.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to not have an answer to a question that it seems like so many people don't even really have to ask in the first place. But maybe you've got more time than you think to just live with the question, look it over from every angle, and let the answers come to you as they will.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:15 PM on October 16, 2018

I'm also jumping back in to apologize for misunderstanding your question.

What I said was framed to answer the wrong question, but I stand by the general ideas. People should be able to pick and choose which parts of "masculinity" and "femininity" feel right to them. This includes pronouns, clothing, ways of carrying yourself, hobbies, etc. etc. If identifying as non-binary makes you feel more like yourself, you're finding your identity - you're not appropriating it. (The issue of why "appropriation" of gender/sexual identities is completely different from cultural appropriation is a complicated topic that I don't feel qualified to explain - other people have done a better job upthread than I could).

The reason I suggested putting the issue on the back burner is that you don't need to solve it overnight. Most people go through a long process of questioning and transitioning (socially and/or physically), even if it doesn't look it from the outside. Based on your follow-ups, though, I'm sorry for assuming your depression could be improved without also working through your struggle with gender identity.

I'm revising my suggestion to this: don't worry about labelling yourself for now. If the label makes you feel more like yourself, then yes, go for it (and to be honest it sounds like it's only fear that's holding you back). But there's no rush. Experiment with different aspects of being more masculine or non-binary that entice you, and just try to figure out who you are without the pressure of it meaning you have a certain identity and all that stereotypically comes with it. I'll emphasize that these aspects can include pronouns - you're allowed to try using "they" even if you don't make a 100% declarative statement that you are now and have always been non-binary. Take off the pressure of labelling yourself first - the label can come later, I promise.

I don't have any personal experience with gender dysphoria, so maybe I shouldn't be speaking so authoritatively. I'm making an analogy in my mind, though, to my own struggles with my sexual identity. For years I was doing my own gatekeeping. First, telling myself that I would be undercutting gay people by identifying as bi. Then, later, that I couldn't identify as lesbian because I'd *gasp* dated men in the past and therefore wasn't a "real" lesbian who'd known since puberty or earlier. Eventually I decided "screw this labelling thing - I'm just going to be me and do whatever makes me happy". My therapist strongly agreed with this plan, for what it's worth.

Now, on the other side of things, I'll happily identify as gay, and in fact I recognize in retrospect that I really did have clues from an early age that I wasn't attracted to men - I'd just deliberately ignored them. In part, this might be what some people mean when they say they've "always known" about their gender or sexual identity. They knew, but they weren't aware of it. This might be the case for you.

One further comment, on the issue of "it's just a choice"-phobes. It used to really annoy me that straight girls would make out in bars, or have lesbian flings in college, because I felt like it diluted my credibility to be able to say "no, really, my identity is real and not just a phase". My current attitude is more: let them experiment. I'm not going to police other people any more than I would want them to police me. Truly, how does it hurt anyone? Misguided people will use it to support their misguided opinions? Anyone who uses such behaviour as fodder for homophobia was probably going to be homophobic anyways.
posted by ersatzhuman at 9:57 PM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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