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.
What 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.