About a year ago, I wrote an article called Delusions of Gender, commissioned by Megan Cartellone for the Salon Zine (a piece of Athens history!), and later picked up by Jettison co-founder Mad Penny (a living legend!). The article is a stream of consciousness inspired by my then-recent revelation that gender was something that I think about every day. Gender has haunted, vexed, surprised, and delighted me for as long as I can remember. I was an effeminate child, had a brief stint as a gay man, rediscovered myself through the lens of radical queer politics, and have come to terms with my own existence outside of the binary (and my relationship to the binary genders—a tumultuous and steamy romance?). I’ve lived many lives already (even at 23! Even in my renaissance!) and wear many pieces of my past selves as a badge of honor and always, always find myself coming back to gender. It feels like a nonsense word after so much meditation—my thoughts coming back to my own presentation and expression at any given moment, even (or maybe especially) alone in my room, even naked—especially naked.
If I think about it so much, why then, when my therapist asked me recently to describe my gender in order to help her understand where I’m coming from, did I freeze up? I couldn’t find the words because all I had was my ideas. I had abstract concepts that, in the moment, seemed far out in space, floating above us. It felt impossible to try to grasp them and bind them to an easy-to-consume box and tie it with a neat knot and present it this new person in my life who is supposed to be helping me make sense of it, when I can’t make sense of something that is fundamental to my existence—being a gender theorist and performer is an entire facet of my identity that’s separate still from my gender itself.
“I don’t want to be referred to or viewed as a man or a woman,” is really all I could muster up to answer.
Talking about non-binary gender (in the western world) is relatively new territory. For that reason, many of us who are trans/non-binary experiment with new ways of understanding our own genders, which are specific and often political (existing outside of the binary is a political act, whether you want it to be or not). I take great pleasure in chasing my gender around in circles, because I enjoy the thrill of the chase, because gender is paradoxical. This is cathartic for me, but it doesn’t always make a lot of sense to someone who has never really delved into this whole “gender discovery process” that many of us have ongoing. There are people who want to understand, and want to be accommodating, but don’t know where to start (or fear that they might sound ignorant), and I’m throwing them into the deep end.
There are also people who want so badly to be seen as caught up or woke that they don’t ask the questions, or think critically about their actions, or what information they’re spreading. There are people who don’t have a clear understanding of why we ask for pronouns, or they seem caught off guard when the question comes to them. There is nothing inherently radical or revolutionary about the basics—asking pronouns, being respectful, designating gender-neutral bathrooms, normalizing transness, not murdering trans people. These things, while helpful and important, should be the bare minimum. These things are not hard work. There seems to be a fundamental break in understanding what it means to challenge the gender binary, and this leads to Gigi Hadid saying, “It’s not about gender. It’s about, like, shapes,” in her interview with Vogue about “A New Generation Who Don’t See Fashion as Gendered,” and this is somehow revolutionary. If another trans person said this to me, I’d probably agree. It’s definitely about shapes.
Earlier this year, Katie Couric interviewed trans people for a documentary with National Geographic titled “The Gender Revolution.” The title is striking, and perhaps more provocative than the content itself. Gender is at the forefront of national dialogue. It’s in casual conversation and it’s a trending topic. It feels like something is happening, but is that a revolution? If thinking about gender is enough, I’m well prepared, but is it really enough?
If we’re in the midst of a gender revolution, what does that revolution look like? What does it entail? Why have 17 trans people been murdered this year? Where is it taking place? Who is it for? Who is the enemy? Who doesn’t make it? How far does it go? Where, in the timeline of the revolution, is Donald Tr*mp’s ban on trans people serving in the military—a murderous institution? What is the strategy? What is the place of being able to change your pronouns on Facebook? Do you think your gender is a political act? Do you want to be among the patriarchy, but keep your identity? Is your clothing revolutionary? Where is Gigi Hadid in the revolution? Why is there a need for revolution? Why ask my pronouns if you’re not going to use them? Do you still want a revolution when a trans person makes you uncomfortable, or doesn’t look the way you want them to look? Where is love in the revolution? Where is hate? Who do you love? Who do you hate? What are you doing that’s revolutionary? I have no answers.