Jul. 18th, 2013

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The other day I had what felt like a bit of an epiphany.

I've been thinking a lot lately about gender identity and what it means to need to express yourself in certain ways. In that context, I stumbled across a website dealing with androgyny, and found it quite intriguing. In my experience, androgyny has always been primarily a personal style, an external, perhaps even superficial expression of taste - albeit one I have always fancied; it had not occurred to me that it might also be a gender identity, one that encompasses aspects of both masculinity and femininity but has no particular affinity for either.

Well, I thought, perhaps that's me.

There is some evidence in support of this hypothesis - to wit: I have for some time now been dressing in what I can best describe as "pretty men's clothing", because it suits my body and my demeanour, and I feel comfortable that way. As a child, whenever I made up games with my brother or friends, my characters tended to be either male or 'tomboy' girls. I've always felt drawn to ambiguous-looking people, whether physically male or female; my own self-image doesn't seem to me to be particularly gendered, despite knowing that I am biologically female; indeed, there have been times when I've downright resented having girl bits (though what girl getting her first period doesn't, really?) and being admonished to behave in a 'ladylike' manner. Those who have encountered me only in online fora have tended to assume that I am male by virtue of my writing style. This doesn't bother me in the slightest. The first time I cross-dressed for a medieval event (one of the few places a woman can do this effectively, I might add), a friend remarked, "Wow, Sarah - you carry that off so well!" Even when I don a long, flowing gown to go to a feast, it still kind of feels like I'm dressing up as a woman.

So much for that. At this point I inevitably began the self-questioning that for me goes along with any such feeling of sudden enthusiasm - am I just trying to slot myself in to a pre-existing mould? Am I making a big deal out of something that isn't really that significant? I certainly don't want to be that person who's like, "Hey, so many of my friends are genderqueer - gosh darn it, I need to have a thing too!"

So that's kind of where I'm at right now. I'm still intrigued at the idea, still attracted to androgyny as a personal style, but I don't really want to leap in and claim it as an identity just for the sake of having one, of belonging to the growing numbers of people who are realising they don't fit neatly into the gender binary. I don't think I do, really - but why go to the trouble of putting a label on it and then conforming to the label? Isn't that just the same shit in a different bucket?

Part of it is that I don't really understand it when people talk about "feeling like" a woman, or like a man for that matter - but that may well be simply because I've never had to make the comparison - I certainly have no feelings akin to the sense of having the "wrong" body, as reported by some transgender folks. I've had no real issues accepting the fact of my body, even though it's treated me to my fair share of awkwardness and embarrassment - whose body hasn't done that? But do I "feel like" an androgyne? I honestly don't know.

Another, and perhaps more socially important aspect of my reluctance to define myself as a particular gender identity - no matter how attractive it might be - is the fact that I have, in general, never found that my biological sex has been any hindrance to my self-expression. Yes, there are some respects in which I openly reject femininity, but no-one seems to find that particularly troublesome. My experience would undoubtedly have been different had I not been born into a post-second-wave-feminism society, but as it is, if I want to walk down the street in a top hat and tails, or if I reject the nurturing role of mother and homemaker, no-one except religious fundamentalists and right-wing conservatives (often largely indistinguishable demographics) are really going to have a problem with my choices. It comes down to the fact that I have been luckier than a lot of people who, because of social constraints and deeply ingrained assumptions about gender roles, have to fight to achieve a level of self-expression that truly conveys who they feel themselves to be.

And that is why I feel like a pretender.

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October 2013

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