Guest Blogger

What is an androgyne anyway?

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 11, 2008 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: androgyne, bigender, cisgender people, gender queer, gender variant, genderqueer, guest post, neutrois, third gender, transgender, two spirits

Editor's Note: Zythyra is an acoustic musician, writer and activist who lives in rural NH. Zie has had considerable practice over the past few years trying to construct sentences without using any gender pronouns.

Zmando-edited.jpgWhat is an androgyne anyway? If you've been hanging around the transgender community for a while, you've probably noticed some other people near the fringes. This post is an exploration of the non- binary gender space that I and others live in, so you can get to know us a little better.

First, a little background. In 1993 I realized myself as being transgender, and transitioned from male to female. I found a therapist, changed my name, and did what is called the Real Life Test (RLT) for over a year. While I was truly happier living as a woman, I came to the conclusion that although I definitely wasn't a man, this didn't necessarily mean that I was a woman either. I felt somewhere in between.

I made a difficult decision at that point to stop transition and not proceed further with any medical interventions such as hormone therapy (HRT) or sex reassignment surgery (SRS), and to simply try to live in the world as who I am with the body I was born into. Not always an easy choice. Since that time, I have essentially identified as neither of the binary genders. I even used "M2F2?" as an acronym for my gender identity for a while.

For quite a few years I felt as though I must be the only person who feels this way, but in recent years have discovered online transgender communities in which other people also identify as neither, both, in between, or something else entirely. Some of the words that people use to describe themselves include androgyne, bigender, genderqueer, two spirit, neutrois, agender, dual gender, third gender, gender variant, or none of the above. Sorry if I've left any out, this is by no means a complete list, and new terms seem to be surfacing on a daily basis.

There are significant differences between each of these identities; I won't go into those for now. I'm not fond of labels, or the assumptions that seem to always follow along with them; however androgyne is working reasonably well for me at this time. There is often confusion about this term, while androgyny is the physical appearance of being in between genders, not all people who identify as androgynes appear outwardly androgynous. It is more a sense of inner self awareness. I was even confused about the term myself, before identifying as such.

Even among the transgender community, there is considerable misunderstanding of non binary gender variant people. Some people think we're fence sitters, and can't make up our minds as to which genders we are. Others believe we're just in denial of being transsexual. This type of scenario might sound all too familiar to fellow bisexuals. While many in the transgender community are open to a wide range of gender diversity, some others adhere to the binary gender system, and simply don't believe in our existence.

There are various challenges for those of us who identify as other genders outside or between the binary. Perhaps the biggest one for me is external presentation: if I'm wearing clothing typically worn by men, then I'm likely to be perceived as male. Most cisgender people are only aware of and accept binary genders, thus my gender and who I truly am is often invisible, unless I out myself, or wear a neon rainbow sign.

Hmmm, maybe not a bad idea- sounds quite stylish.

The other side of this challenge is if I wear female clothing or dress androgynously, but don't try to "pass" as a woman, I'm more vulnerable to experiencing possible discrimination or violence. I'm not going to even bring up public restrooms, suffice it to say that while I use the one that pertains to my birth sex, I am occasionally told "Ma'am, this is the wrong one".

Another challenge is pronouns. Due to my transsexual history and feelings of gender dysphoria, I truly detest being referred to using male pronouns and being called Mr. or Sir. I'm not a man, regardless of what my body looks like. I'm slightly more comfortable with female pronouns, however since I don't identify as being a woman, Ms. and Ma'am aren't accurate either.

As a non binary gender person, I much prefer gender neutral pronouns such as zie and hir or singular they. Needless to say, while these pronouns are sometimes used in writing among the queer community, almost nobody uses these terms in daily conversation. So I'm rarely referred to in a way that recognizes or honors my gender identity.

While I do my best to deal with this, it isn't easy to be constantly assumed to be something I am not. Imagine if, day in and day out, people referred to you using the wrong gender, and yet if you told them that you weren't the other, you'd get blank stares. I occasionally still experience some levels of gender dysphoria, perhaps not as intense as my transsexual sisters and brothers, but it's not fun on a bad day. Some other non binary gender variant people experience this similarly to me, however not all do. There is considerable diversity among fellow androgynes, so I can only speak for myself.

As we know all too well, the version of ENDA recently passed in the House left out gender identity and expression, only protecting sexual orientation. Current federal hate crime legislation doesn't include gender identity either. While the state in which I reside, New Hampshire, has made significant progress in LGBTQ issues, including civil unions as of Jan 1 2008, gender identity and expression still aren't included in state discrimination laws. Non binary people such as me are left without protection of the law in much of the country.

As difficult as it can be for a transsexual person to transition on the job from one recognized gender to another, and I know this firsthand, having been fired for being transsexual, imagine being a person who is somewhere in between, and whose appearance doesn't always conform to the gender binary. It is a constant dilemma to know how much of myself to show openly and safely. There are long term psychological stresses from hiding, as all LGBTQ people know. I don't like closets, except as a place to keep my wardrobe. I also don't wish to be a hate crime statistic. As someone who might wear jeans and a flannel shirt one day, and wrap skirts and jewelry the next, I seem to be one of the very people that the religious right keeps bringing up.

I've merely scratched the surface here today. There are many unique gender identities within the queer community, some in between and others overlapping with existing LGBTQ categories. Thanks for reading and getting to know a few of us.

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Hi and welcome. Buckle yourself in and get ready for some potentially gender-narrow thinkers to jump up and down. Fortunately, they're not the majority of people who visit here.

I do have a lot of respect for exploring the "in-between," similar to Kate Bornstein's thought -- I do think it takes a lot more courage and self-introspection.

Bil and the rest at TBP also deserve a thanks for having an honest interest and care about learning more about this and other GLBT themes, rather than the "let's have a token tranny" that I've sometimes encountered elsewhere.

Take care;

Hi Zythyra!

In my Taxonomy, you'd be classed as not-male. Meaning not particularly female, but definitely not male.

There's quite a few people like that, it's not that unusual in Intersexed people, and for all I know, non-IS ones too. My taxonomy includes male, female, not-male, not-female, neutrois, 3rd sex, null, androgyne, variable... and "a word means what I says it means".

Of course what *I* classify you as doesn't matter: what matters is how you see yourself.

I fit in very well into the standard binary gender model, and I resent people who insist that I must really be something else. So if someone else doesn't fit in the standard binary model, it must be equally frustrating for them to be told what they should be by others. Or worse, what they are.

You're you, from all appearances a person of talent, and I'm glad to share the planet with you at this point in history, for what that's worth. Thanks for the explanations. All the disadvantages of being TS with an uncommon appearance too. Oh Joy. May I just wish you the very best?

Thanks for your comments and warm welcomes Mercedes and Zoe!

Kate's books were extremely influential to me in understanding that there were other options outside the binary.

Not-male makes sense. The only problem is that most people automatically assume that it means the binary opposite, female.

Ultimately, we each have to find what's right for us. If I could've fit into the binary, it would certainly have been an easier path. But my gender is what it is, and it's made for an interesting journey and perspective.

Bil and the rest at TBP also deserve a thanks for having an honest interest and care about learning more about this and other GLBT themes, rather than the "let's have a token tranny" that I've sometimes encountered elsewhere.

Wait. Mercedes, didn't you mark "Token Tranny" on your application? I could have sworn... *grins*

I can't take credit for this guest post though... Waymon is our weekend editor and he picked the post for today. Alex usually deals with our weekday guest posts.

But I do want to play off your "honest interest and care" bit... I'm a little ashamed to admit that I just don't get it. I'm not trying to be crude or belittling, I seriously don't understand so I'd like some clarification, please.

I've always considered the "zie" type of stuff silly. PC to the max. If it doesn't really matter which gender someone is, why does it matter which gender you refer to that person as? I mean, if you can be male or female depending, why does it matter which pronoun someone uses to describe you? I don't think "zie" is going to make a surge in popularity anytime soon - it just seems like a losing battle. I guess I'm saying I'd vote for "I'm neither so use whatever floats your boat." Does that make sense?

Zythrya, I ID as a crossdresser, but I'm probably closer to your POV than most. I can't escape the fact that I'm built like, well, a polar bear, or perhaps Refrigerator Perry. I also can't escape the fact that I'll tend to one direction when it suits me, and the other when need be, but that when I explore the polar regions of the binary, I don't really fit in or seem comfortable there. I'm expecting to occupy the center region between the two gender poles more often in the years to come.

Tom (Orlando, FL) | May 12, 2008 10:15 AM

I look forward to the day when we can freely be ourselves, with no need for explanation.

I am reminded somewhat of the fabulous poem on Mercedes' site some time ago:

I'll never be the man you want me to be;
I'll never be the woman I hope to be;
I'll just be me.

What that means is that if I expect you to let me be me, I'm going to have to perhaps expand my own comfort zone to let you be you, too.

Make sense? I think so.

While I don't understand fully your situation, Zythrya, that is my issue and not yours. I do support and encourage you to fully be you. You really can't be someone else just to fit other's definitions and expectations.

Wow. Someone actually read the poems? I stopped posting them because no one ever seemed interested. I think my poetry appeals more to a non-poetry audience, and so it rarely reaches them.

Except that one doesn't sound familiar, so it might not have been mine. Then again, most of the poems go back a ways and my memory is short. :)

But I do want to play off your "honest interest and care" bit... I'm a little ashamed to admit that I just don't get it. I'm not trying to be crude or belittling, I seriously don't understand so I'd like some clarification, please.

"Zie and "hir" are a little awkward on my tongue still too, although I try to respect them, because respecting identities is (or should be) the first rule of trans (more on that later; I'm still adamant about "she," myself). The reason tends to be that for someone who does feel outside either gender, "he" or "she" feel very much like being stuffed into a box. It's like being an accomplished writer/director/actor, while everyone keeps introducing you as "the person who had a bit part in 'Space Invaders Ate My Dog.'" It indicates that people either aren't seeing all the facets of you, or else are consciously dismissing them.

Not to worry -- I've had a few people at the local GLB organization level tell me, "We want to help trans, but we don't know what your issues are." You're making the effort, and that counts for a lot. It isn't an easy thing to understand, unless you experience it personally.

Regarding pronouns and PC, I don't believe that they need to be used for everyone, just people who aren't either of the binary choices. If a person tells me she is a woman, I use she, if a person tells me he is a man, I use he.

In Will Roscoe's book, The Zuni Man-Woman, there are quotes describing We-Wha, "Yes, he is a woman" and "She is a man". That works for me.

Non gendered pronouns do take a while to get used to, even for those of us who'd like to use them. He and she are quite ingrained. Also, there isn't consensus on which set of pronouns to use.

There is the little used singular "they" and "their", apparently was common in an earlier century, I can't remember which at the moment.

Another option is to use no pronouns at all. I've tried to do this, it can get quite cumbersome. :)

Victor Violet | May 24, 2008 7:50 PM

Well this fits me quite a bit though I have some differences. One being that I am female born but I plan on going for hormones and surgery, physically transitioning completely to male. Mentally I'll still be an androgyne but I've always seen myself as meant to be born physically male. I have days where I feel like dressing up in feminine clothing though usually I stick with androgynous or masculine clothing. I hate being referred to as "she" and while I'm a bit more comfortable with "he" I still rather gender-neutral pronouns.

My mental androgyny will make getting surgery harder as well as make life in general more difficult but I hate closets as well and refuse to pretend to be something I'm not.

Thank you Zythyra, this may help some people who are confused and don't belong to the gender binary figure themselves out. There is so little mentioned about us, we get lost among the transgender individuals who adhere to the gender binary.

Well that is all that I can think of for now.

Victor Violet

Hi Z.

That was a really well stated blog. Very clear (to me because we've been through this before). I'm voting for 'they' and 'their' for no reason other than that I learned to spell them when I was in school.

To me, the 'zie' / 'hir' words work well in writing, but fall flat from the tongue.

I'll catch you around. I really haven't run away.



Well said, Z. I like 'they' and 'their''s easier than trying to learn new ones (though I'm getting better!).

And thanks for writing about us!!! I appreciate your effort to let people know about the non binary!

you commented on the challenges of getting gender protections enacted into law in new hampshire, and i would encourage you to bring some of this discussion to blue hampshire, who are actually really nice folks.