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.