I don’t really know how to explain this, so bear with me…
As a non-binary person, I’ve always known that I am neither male nor female. I suppose some might call this agender, but I don’t feel like I exist without a gender, more that my gender is something different to male/female, like a third gender. I also feel that the more comfortable I have become in my skin since getting top surgery and developing secondary sex characteristics from testosterone, the less I connect with the binary gender system.
I suppose I’ve always seen myself as an effeminite male-presenting person. I’ve always abhorred social constructs around masculinity, such as aggression, lack of control, and inability to communicate openly/emotionally. However, it is these exact characteristics that are most present in me when I try to explain my gender identity on a binary spectrum. I have come to believe that my personal experience of gender is too far outside the capabilities of current language for me to explain accurately. So instead, I will explain it by referring to current terms that we use to to talk about gender, in our binary system.
Imagine you are sitting on an island. Across a stretch of water are two other islands, and all three islands are equidistant from each other. This is how I imagine third gender to be. For the binary system, just take away one island. However, my experience of gender is not something that I do, or am; rather it is something that happens to me. When I envisage gender, it is a like an infinity of stars and darkness, and it is, at once, all the colours and the very absence of colour itself. For me, gender is freedom from the social restrictions that our understanding of ‘gender = sex’ places upon us. Gender is the freedom to both go through a second ‘male’ puberty while also embracing femininity. It is the freedom to be both butch and camp. It is seeing social interactions playing out in front of you like an elaborate interactive theatre experience, one in which you cannot help but take part. It is the embracing of masculinity and femininity at the same time, while also rejecting both.
Gender, for me, is not linear or controlled, it is expansive and explosive, it flows like water through cracks and it tears apart the rigid rules within which we constrain ourselves. It is human nature to classify things, to separate into boxes, to divide and conquer. This is what we have done to gender. With the growing trans activist movement, and increasing awareness of the binary system in which we have classified gender, people are slowly starting to become more aware that gender does not have to be restricted, or controlled. Society is starting to colour outside the lines, and with it, I hope, comes a deeper understanding of gender and the complexity of the human condition.
Children, before they become aware of social norms, are unrestricted by gender, in their expression, in their play, in their interaction. This is how I have always felt. I think, somehow, I never lost my naivety when it comes to gender. I think this is partly because my hearing loss led me to miss out on social cues that would have otherwise altered my behaviour. I have always been the token weirdo in the room. I’ve always been the different one amongst much more ‘normal’ people. Partly, I was drawn to this, drawn to being the one who is different, because it made me feel special. But it also made me feel isolated, and alone. Nowadays, I avoid ‘normality’, instead being drawn to others who refuse to conform to social restrictions. These can be many different acts of defiance – refusal to conform to gender ‘norms’, refusal to behave extroverted in social situations, refusal to engage in ‘socially accepted’ ways of socialising – but each act is, intentionally or unintentionally, a demonstration of freedom from social rules and restrictions.
I think that we place too many constraints on ourselves in order to control our lives. I have always embraced the chaos, not because I always chose to, but because it is how I cope with life. I think of it as the difference between being an addict, or being a control-freak. They’re both reactions to the same thing – the sense of panic that we feel whenever we realise how insignificant our lives really are – but one is self-constructive, while the other is self-destructive. And in writing this, I realise that, in my explanation of this, I have done exactly that which I claim to resist, the human drive to classify and divide. So perhaps it’s all far more complicated than I have explained here, but essentially, gender is everything. I don’t think that gender is also nothing, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve never felt gender as an absence of feeling, but as the coming together of all experiences and emotions at the same time. Gender makes me feel full to bursting, and it’s a great feeling. Or maybe this is just what life feels like when you feel good in yourself. Who knows?