Genderfuct, fucked over by the reigning system of gender which divides people into two groups based on biological sex, each group with it’s own roles, psychologies, interests, ideal bodies, behaviors, mannerisms and so forth, with one group, males socialized into men, having more power than females socialized into women. Gender varies a lot, influenced greatly by class and race for example, by what specific cultures or sorts of people a person comes into contact with. It changes by location and over time. It is a system enforced on, among and through people. There are people and cultural institutions that try to set down clear rules of gender and try to get people to follow them but they can only directly control so much. Smaller orders of gender compete with the dominant one, though with far less power, range and social legitimacy. Among queers, there are now systems of gender that contain more than just man or woman, that allow people to make shit up and call themselves any gender they wish. Outside of queer culture though, these genders aren’t taken very seriously and most people in mainstream society have little knowledge or direct experience with people identifying as non-binary, genderqueer or other queer genders. Queers can also be genderfuct within their own communities since there are still plenty of rules governing gender in queer culture.
For a lot of my life, I’ve felt fucked over by the dominant system of gender described above, largely because I’ve felt outside of it. When I’m surrounded by men and women who conform really hard to gender stereotypes, I feel like another species. I felt different from the boys and girls I grew up around and these people often treated me badly because of my difference. I had trouble figuring out what I was. There were two things I was relatively certain of. One was that I was “masculine” in some way. The other was that I was a genderfreak. I didn’t feel like I fit in among men and women, I felt different from both of them. Though I tried to be a man for a while and saw myself as one, I always saw myself as a different kind of man. I could never relate to trans dudes who felt like they were just normal men with a medical condition, I always felt like a freak too. Sometimes I felt more like a man, sometimes I felt more like a mutant that was truly neither male nor female.
After I’d lived and passed as a man and found that that didn’t fit me, I started to feel more strongly like a genderfreak/genderfuct. I have pages and pages of old writing where I try to describe what that felt like and what those words meant to me. A lot of it was about both feeling out of place and not being sure exactly what I was, where to place myself, not being able to fit in socially or clearly name my subjective sense of self. When I was about twenty-two or so, I wrote “I don’t know what fucking gender I am if I am any at all. Maybe all gender is delusion, or maybe it is something you have to make or at least affirm and reaffirm over and over again. Maybe I’m just one of those postmodern fucks who can’t have gender anymore cause they deconstructed it too much. Sometimes I clearly feel like a gender or a few genders, sometimes I have no specific gender at all. I don’t know why I don’t just call myself gender-fluid or something, maybe cuz it sounds dumb. Genderfuct, I’m genderfuct, I like that term better, I don’t fucking know what I am but I don’t give a shit. I’m gonna do what I like.”
I was still resistant to claiming femaleness. I could claim it as one of the things I was, I could say I was part genderqueer man and part butch dyke but being “only” female wasn’t attractive to me. I probably sensed that it would be moving down in status because being a women, even a butch women who breaks gender norms, is not as cool as being trans or genderqueer in queer culture. I’d come to value woman less than genderqueer and still saw woman as “comforming to feminine stereotypes”. I still thought that my rejection of the female role and my inability to see similarities between myself and most women in this society meant that I couldn’t be a woman.
I had some awareness that my inability to place myself was social. I felt that a lot of my confusion was a result of society having a very limited idea of gender. I wasn’t much of a fan of the term “gender identity” because I didn’t have a stable sense of self, I didn’t feel like I had a core essence that never changed. My sense of gender shifted a lot and sometimes I’d be inclined to call the same feelings by different gendered terms. I could see myself as a somewhat faggy, androgynous man, as a butch dyke or as a non-male, non-female oddity. Sometimes felt like I had no internal gender at all, just the genders others judged me to be. I thought, and still think, that I had learned to feel gender because I was raised in a society that cared so much about it. Without this surrounding society and all the meanings, language, myths, symbols, practices, rituals and such that’s evolved over the centuries, I’d be genderless. I could still behave similarly, have the same interests and psychological traits but without a gendered society all that would hold different meanings, grant me a different status. I’m sure I have some predisposed tendencies but I’ve also been taught what those tendencies mean, what they make me. I have a gender because people project gender upon me.
I now see my feelings of being a genderfreak as created by social alienation resulting from living in a world I feel excluded from. I can only feel like a freak genderwise because there’s so many rules surrounding gender, because it’s a system that’s designed to fit everyone into distinct roles. There can’t be misfits without an order that excludes them. A lot of people at least try to be “masculine” men or “feminine” women. Most people displayed in media fit into gender norms or else are the butt of jokes. Without the need to inhabit a clear category to be a person, I’d have nothing to be confused about, nothing to struggle over.
This society often treats people who are gender ambiguous as if they aren’t fully human. People are socialized to see gender from childhood on, so if you don’t clearly fit into what they expect to see, they often have no idea how to treat you. They might become confused, angry or even scared. I recall one incident that occurred after I’d quit t the first time and sometimes passed as a dude, sometimes as a dyke and sometimes as a WTF? It was summer out and I was walking down the street wearing a tank top. You could see I had breasts but the rest of me appeared “masculine” or “androgynous”. This very anxious looking woman was walking towards me and as she got closer, she ran past me in a hurry. I looked behind me to see if maybe she’d been running for a bus or something but no, she’d resumed her walking pace once she got by me. I don’t know what the hell she saw me as but whatever it was apparently terrified her.
After I’d taken t a while and was passing all the time, I also discovered how much casual social interaction I’d been missing when I still looked more ambiguous. Suddenly strangers were more likely to make small talk with me on the street, say when I was waiting for a bus or something, crap like that. I felt like I joined the human race and I hadn’t even realized before how excluded I had been. It was wild. I found that I didn’t like passing because I didn’t see myself as man but it was hard to give up. Looking back over my old writing from years ago, I found that I repeatedly stated that I didn’t want to pass but it made me feel safer and got people to treat me like a person rather than asking “What the hell is that?” Or “That’s a woman? Holy shit!” I think getting the “What is that?” reaction over and over again effected how I saw myself, as did having my femaleness questioned. Of course I feel out of place, this culture has no place for me.
Being a genderfreak is often lonely and frustrating in a lot of ways but it has some advantages too. A lot of my friends think it makes me more interesting. Right now, it’s very fashionable among queers to have an unusual gender. I know you’re not supposed to say that, we’re all supposed to respect people’s right to self-determination. But I’ve seen people judged as “cooler”, more acceptable or more “radical” based on their perceived gender, whether they’re consciously dressing genderqueer or not. Some queers decide whether someone is interesting or not based on what they look like and call themselves. I don’t see a gender liberated culture, I don’t see a place where people can be whatever they want. I see a subculture with a different set of rules than the dominant culture but not always so different either, since, for example, I’ve seen plenty of misogyny in the queer scene. It’s the same stupid popularity contests only dressed up in drag. A lot of queer culture is reactionary, so anything the dominant culture shuns is automatically cool and anyone seen as resembling the dominant culture can be attacked for not being “queer enough”. In an environment where some expressions are valued more highly than others, where certain labels are seen as more radical than others, how much self-determination can there really be?
In such a context, moving from identifying primarily as a genderfreak to seeing that as a just a part of my experience of being a woman scares me. I feel like I’m losing some sort of special status, like I’m going to drop in some people’s eyes. It’s totally absurd. Who I am and my life history isn’t changing. I’m not becoming a whole other person, my understanding of myself is changing. I don’t suddenly become “normal” just because I’m a woman now. But “woman” is often treated in queer culture as if it’s one of the “normal” genders, not one of the cool queer ones. I’m still untangling all these associations in my head that lead me to think “woman” automatically means “chick in a short skirt who reads fashion magazines” or “housewife in the suburbs” instead being able to mean all sorts of things including “cynical intellectual who writes and gardens and get mistaken for a man sometimes.”
Since I see my genderweirdness as being intimately linked to a system of power that fucks me and other people over, I’m wary of becoming too attached to it. I’ll call myself genderweird or genderfreaky still because it continues to describe my experience living in this society and it also helps me connect with others who share a similar experience but I don’t want to be defined by it. In order for me to be a freak other people have to be normal and I want to get rid of the whole idea of normal and abnormal genders, get rid of gender itself. I want to live in a world where being a female like me is no big deal, not something people run away from.
At the same time, with the world as it currently is, I don’t mind being outside of it so much. I don’t want to get so comfortable in my alienation that I end up getting trapped in it and work to perpetuate it instead of working to transform the social conditions that created it. I also don’t think trying to keep some distance between myself and a culture I find fucked up and oppressive is either unreasonable or unhealthy. I want to separate some from the reigning culture in order to help generate a new one that does not exclude me. I want to do more than just create a subculture I feel comfortable in, I want to do what I can to build a larger radical cultural movement. I’m fairly cynical about how successful such a project could be at this particular moment in history but I still feel like I should at least try. Maybe I could keep some ideas alive that people in the future will be more able to actively realize.
Currently in this society, there are many strategies and options for dealing with being some sort of gender misfit, ranging from trying to conform to one’s assigned gender, taking on a queer or non-binary gender, transitioning, trying to redefine gender and so forth. I tried transitioning and living as a man and living as a genderqueer freak. Now I think I wrongly rejected life as a woman because I mistakenly thought that I couldn’t be who I am and simultaneously be a woman and that being a woman was undesirable anyways. I felt that what I was put me outside of “woman”. That’s how I’d been treated and told over and over again.
Over the years since trying out hormones and living as various genders, I started to questions my assumptions and ideas of what a woman is and decided that a lot of my former ideas didn’t make sense and were bound up with a lot of sexist bullshit. I decided that my desire to dissociate from being a woman wasn’t because I wasn’t one but because I was terrified of being one. It was easier for me to accept myself as mutant who was neither female or male, than “just” a female, “just” a woman. Deciding I was totally outside of man or woman helped me get away from being part of a group I’d come to look down upon and wanted no part of. It gave me territory to inhabit that was stigmatized but also new and not fully charted, that didn’t have the whole history of degradation that’s attached to “woman”.
Now I’m working through my own ingrained sexism, unlearning all this bullshit about what women can and can’t be. It’s frustrating and saddening to realize the depths of my own misogyny, the level of disgust I still feel towards women as a group and parts of myself. I’m still killing the myth of “what a woman is” that’s taken root in my own mind. I’m still teaching myself that I don’t have to sacrifice any part of myself to be a woman because a woman can be anything. I’m expanding my own idea of what women can be, learning how to accept what I’d previously denied and feared.
I am no longer interested in persuading people to recognize me as a gender other than woman or man even though I still don’t feel like I fit inside either of those gender categories. I want to get rid of the whole classification system that renders me a freak. I do more to break down current understandings of gender by claiming my femaleness rather than repudiating it. I no longer think feeling alienated from patriarchal ideas of what a woman is or being a gender misfit makes me less of a woman. In some ways it makes my experience of sexism different from a lot of women but in other ways it unites me with them since pretty much every woman struggles with the concept of “Real Woman” because it’s bullshit made up to control us and fuck us over. Everyone born female and not a few people born male are genderfuct, fucked over by the patriarchy and the gender system it uses to maintain itself.
Calling myself a women is refusing to accept the myths about what a woman can and can’t be. It means not accepting what the world has been telling me about gender and sex for most of my life, that being what I am means I’m not female, not a woman, that I’m a man in a female body or a third sex. There’s no reason why a woman can’t feel totally out of touch with how gender is split in two, feel deeply alienated by the present sex and gender system, why she can’t feel like an outsider looking in. I see now that my experience of being treated like a genderfreak is just another way a woman can exist under the present patriarchy.