My Gender is Like a Rose (The Importance of Context from a Linguistic Perspective)

The very first thing I was taught about linguistics is “language is arbitrary” meaning words have no meaning; we give words meaning. Take the word “cat”, for example, there is nothing about the sounds kuh-ah-tuh that suggests anything about a small creature that meows. Then there is the word “mouse”. Is it a “click” mouse or a “squeak” mouse? We can’t know without context. Words are arbitrary and it is only after we understand that language and words are arbitrary that we can attempt to master them.

Writers and poets throughout the ages have always known that words are not without their flaws (arbitrary). Would you shame a poet for saying “love is like a rose”? Would you snap at that poet in anger saying they are “wrong” and that “an intense feeling of deep affection” is nothing like “a prickly bush or shrub that typically bears red, pink, yellow, or white fragrant flowers, native to north temperate regions and are widely grown as ornamentals” or would accept that the poor poet is trying to conceptualize an abstract idea by using a physical and familiar object as a metaphor?

Is love like a rose? What does this even mean? Is the poet trying to capture the beauty of love, the sweetness of love, or the pain of betrayal that is worse than thousand thorns? Perhaps that isn’t it at all and the poet is describing the effort it takes to maintain a healthy relationship. You can’t just stick a rose bush anywhere and expect it to behave accordingly. Rose bushes need to be pruned and maintained and cared for. My point, however, is that we don’t really know for sure what the poet means by “love is like a rose” without context so we can’t say for sure that the poet is “wrong” in their choice of words.

With that in mind why is it “wrong” when I say “I am agender”? Why do people snap judgement at me for using a word we have assigned meaning to when I feel it most accurately describes my experience? Why do people say I am “confused” and spew shameful language at me in an attempt to poke holes in my statement? Am I not like the poet and just trying to put into words, arbitrary words, my abstract feelings and experiences and shape them into a recognizable metaphor? How else am I supposed to describe the detached feelings I have with the gender binary? When people call me by a boy/girl I feel a like there is a great chasm inside me. People tell me I am a gender, I should be a gender, and I would be said gender if there wasn’t a great abyss standing in the way. My mind cannot reconcile itself nor my identity with being a boy or a girl. In my context it just isn’t so.

My coworker said “have a nice day ladies” to a pair of customers and the youngest member of the pair snapped, very affronted, in reply “it’s not ladies plural. I’m a boy!” A seemingly honest mistake on my coworker’s part as the boy was fairly young and long hair, but the young boy was clearly insulted to be misgendered. Something inside of him snarled at the injustice of being labeled the opposite gender. Something inside of him spoke up and said “No, that’s not right!” and everyone understands this feeling. It’s an insult to be seen as anything other than your proper gender. To be a woman mistaken for a man or a man mistaken for a woman inspires instant fury.

It’s considered strange that I don’t feel affinity for one gender or the other. It’s weird that voice in my head says, “No, that’s not right!” to both sides of the spectrum. I feel disgust when I’m called either a man or a woman, either sir or ma’am. These feelings should be easy for people to understand since clearly even a child knows it’s wrong to be labeled the wrong gender, but when I find a word for it, when I try to expresses my abstracts into words people say I am “wrong” and “confused”.

I don’t think the confusion lies with me. I know what words are for and I know how to use them. I am agender because I feel like it is a word that best describes my personal gender experience which is really a lack of a personal gender experience. Thinking back even before knowing the words I don’t recall ever once saying “I am a boy/girl.” I just existed and people gave me the labels they thought were appropriate. This is the first time I’ve chose a gender label for myself. I’ve have a quarter of a century of experience and context for my feelings about gender and gender experience so for someone to make a snap judgement and say I’m “wrong” or “confused” in the span of a few minutes might want to reconsider which of us is really confused.

It’s not like I’m suddenly calling cats a “meofuz” or something and demand this be the new nationally recognized word for a small fuzzy creature that meows. I’m not making up words. The words I need already exist and are in proper use. So, understandably I’m quite affronted when people say I am “wrong” or “confused” about my own gender experience. Their words are just as arbitrary as mine, so now it all comes down to the context and the context is my own personal, subjective experience. It’s my context, my experience so my choice of words should do.


One thought on “My Gender is Like a Rose (The Importance of Context from a Linguistic Perspective)

  1. Pingback: Gender Perspectives, Vol. 15 | Valprehension

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