Sooo, about being Agender

This post has literally been sitting in my drafts since last June. For months I’ve been trying to think about how to explain what it’s like to be agender. I understand that not feeling romantic or sexual attraction is a tough concept for people to wrap their heads around and I understand that genders outside the binary are basically a totally alien idea to most people, but not having a gender at all? This obviously took some thinking.

I first realized I might not be connecting all the dots when I had to take a diversity training for work. The topic of two-spirit genders came up and I was very confused because the phrasing they used suggested that two-spirit wasn’t an assigned gender. Wait, what? Up until that point I assumed that all genders were assigned. I assumed gender was a cultural construct and so logically different cultures had different gender roles and gender types. I was very confused and kept thinking, “….wait… how do you feel two-spirited???” I was a “girl” because people in my Western culture told me I was, so I couldn’t understand how people “just knew” they were two-spirit. I didn’t want to embarrass myself any more than I already had and ask the seminar presenters more questions when the odds of it being relevant for my job were very slim, so I just let the matter go unanswered for about three years.

It wasn’t until I was able to talk to transgender aces in online chats that I was able to figure out that I didn’t have a gender. I’m not fully comfortable using “transgender” as a label and prefer “Nonbinary” when I’m not being specific. I also prefer to use “PFaB” (presumed female at birth) instead of AFaB (assumed/assigned female at birth).

So… what’s it like not having a gender? I’m not sure actuality since it’s not like I actually have a gender to compare it to. My gender dysphoria is (thankfully) fairly minor and I only get an occasional “WTF?”-out-of-body-experience feeling when I look in the mirror or my skin crawls when people call me a “girl” or “lady”. I’ve actually had dysphoria since I was a teenager, but I thought it was “normal” to have body dysphoria during puberty and I just ignored it until I realized I never “grew out of it” like I thought I would. It gets worse if I’m suffering from fatigue so it was easy for me to write it off for a long time. It wasn’t until I started reading about gender dysphoria and my reaction was, “oooooh, that’s what that is.”

My dysphoria basically feels like there’s a delay in my brain; when I look in the mirror it takes my brain longer to process that it’s my reflection that it’s looking at, which is trippy as hell and why I thought it was just a symptom of fatigue for a long time. Wearing my hair in my favorite hair style, making funny faces to distort the image, or wearing particular clothing styles or my unisex work uniform helps my brain to click faster that it’s “me” I’m looking at. 

I really don’t feel comfortable being called a “girl” anymore, but that might actually have more to do with me being 29 years old than my gender experience. My body type doesn’t really allow for me to look androgynous and looking more masculine wouldn’t really make me feel any better. 

There’s a lot of support for transitioning in the non-binary and transgender online communities as the best treatment for dysphoria, but what do I transition to? I hate that androgyny has such a skinny stereotype because I’m not going to be able to lose any weight anytime soon and my genetics really doesn’t allow for skinny. As my mom likes to put it, “We’re famine ready” Actually, the idea of being skinny freaks me out more than having a feminine body. I look at pictures of myself as a kid and my brain goes, “Jeepers, that kid needs a cheeseburger.”

So, if transitioning isn’t an effective treatment, what’s my next best option? For me it’s accepting that, yes, I’m going to feel uncomfortable about my body because of my perceived gender. People are still going to presume I’m a woman even though that’s definitely not the case. What’s really cool though is seeing how every so slowly people around me are becoming more and more aware of gender nuances and it’s totally possible that one day I’ll be able to put “nonbinary” or even “agender” on my DL and medical forms. Someday my coworkers will be comfortable calling me “Mx. Lib” instead of “Miss Lib.” Thinking about a hopeful future like that is what helps me get through the rough parts of looking in the mirror and knowing something just isn’t quite right. Basically, I’ve accepted that my dysphoria has very little to actually do with me and it’s mostly western culture’s fault for presuming I was a “girl” in the first place. 

3 thoughts on “Sooo, about being Agender

  1. Thanks for writing this post. I think I’m actually in a very different position from your imagined reader. For me, the problem is not wondering what not having a gender would be like. The problem is that I don’t understand the concept of gender at all!

    Maybe that means we’re alike. I can certainly relate to your experience of thinking:

    “‘….wait… how do you feel two-spirited???’ I was a ‘girl’ because people in my Western culture told me I was, so I couldn’t understand how people ‘just knew’ they were two-spirit.”

    On the other hand, the word I would use for myself is “quoigender” rather than “agender”. Because I don’t understand what gender is, it doesn’t make sense for me to adopt a gender label – even a neutral one. It would be like asking a person who’s never read the Harry Potter books to identify with one of the four Hogwarts houses. None of the names is going to mean anything to them, and even if you said, “Oh, you’re basically a Hufflepuff!”, it’s still, at best, a term someone else has chosen for them.

    Actually, based on your previous posts, I thought our attitudes to gender were very different. Remember when you wrote “Agender, Dysphoria, Philosophy”? I actually really appreciated that post (and I’m sorry I didn’t thank you for it at the time) because it was my first time reading an explanation of gender identity that I understood. “Aha!” I thought, “so this is what people mean when they talk about having a gender identity! They mean some kind of connect or disconnect between their physical body and their internal sense of self!”

    I found the post instructive because of how different it was from my own experience. I don’t experience any dysphoria when I look at myself in the mirror. But I don’t really have a sense of being in the “right” body, either. My body is just something I happen to have. There are things I like and things I dislike about it, including things related to my physical sex. But, as you say, my body falls into the category of things I can’t change. So I may as well make the best of it, right?

    So, yeah, I don’t know if we’re coming from the same place but just conceptualise our experiences differently, or if we’re coming from very different places but still have many similar experiences. But I’m glad you wrote this, anyway. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your explanation was very good. I liked the Twilight metaphor. For me it’s like someone assigned me Team Edward because I like the Victorian (well, technically Edwardian, but that’s a whole other rant right there) aesthetic and silhouette, so I’m constantly worried random people are going to just assume I like vampires (yuck). But presenting as team Jacob wouldn’t solve the problem because that’s not me either. If that makes any sense.

      I like and am drawn to a lot of what are considered feminine aesthetics (glittery makeup, curvy silhouettes, floral patterns, soft colors) but don’t want people to label me as a “woman” because when I ping my brain for a gender identity I just get an error message that says “not this, not that, and none of those” and being gendered triggers my dysphoria which to me feels almost like an out of body experience, like some else is going through the motions and I’m just along for the ride. I’ve had that feeling of being a ghost in a body periodically since puberty and it wasn’t until I started talking to trans aces and was finally exposed to that community that it clicked “oooooh, that’s what that is”

      Liked by 1 person

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