I am Queer: Beyond the Trans/Cis Binary


I do not feel or identify as trans.

I also do not feel or identify as cis.

I am comfortable being male-bodied. I am uncomfortable calling myself “man.” I do not feel that I am a woman. In some ways, I feel like a boy—as if I never went through the cultural transitions of puberty, only the physiological ones (I am an adult, by the way. I do not want my language here to portray the idea that I “never grew up” or something like that).

I feel genderqueer in many ways, but I do not align with typical genderqueer presentation. I keep my head shaved and I keep a beard. I wear jeans and t-shirts most of the time, and just throw on cute cardies to dress it up.

I am swishy. I enjoy camp. Yet, I do not identify with the Stonewall-era nellies, focused on gay sensibilities and sexualities. I am feeling less gay and more androsexual. And as I think about it and try to be honest with myself, it’s an aesthetic attraction to masculinity, not necessarily an attraction to certain kinds of bodies (i.e., not specifically or only to cis-men).

This is a difficult topic for me to find the right language for. I do not feel that there are labels that really encapsulate my identity. “Gay” is too focused on sexual orientation and does not help me to make sense of those aspects of my gender that are variant and non-conforming. “Man” does not really adequately describe me either, and it’s a category and label I have a lot of discomfort with. I do not identify as transgender because I feel that to do so would be appropriative. I also do not care much about recognition (people seeing and identifying me as man) or misrecognition (typically people hearing me and identifying me as a woman, or just randomly calling me “ma’am” or “she/her”) as far as gender is concerned—though I do despise being identified as heterosexual because I am a white male-bodied person (this often happens online, people assume that because I am white and male-bodied that I must therefore be straight as well). I do not identify as cisgender because my gender identity does not match “man,” the gender normatively assigned to my male body. I did come across the term “demiguy,” which vaguely seems to capture my feelings, though I think any association I have with masculinity is because I’m outwardly conforming in appearance in many ways—it’s not because I identify with masculinity in any meaningful way.

This is why I have begun to define myself simply as queer. I have what would be considered a normative male body, but my gender identity is not normative. And it continues changing as I live my life. Part of the impetus for this piece has been the ending of a three-year relationship in which I often felt trapped and judged to the extent that I shaped my behavior to be more conforming than I had previous to the relationship. The sudden, abrupt ending of that relationship turned my world upside down. But it also gave me an opportunity to take stock. In a lot of ways, I was not being true to the self I had finally come to accept before entering that relationship. Now, three years later, I’m re-discovering who I am, what I value, and starting to make sense of my inner dialogue.

I’m starting to re-connect with my swishy femme-ness that I put away in the closet for years. And I’m doing this at a time when I’m eyeballs-deep in sex, gender, and sexuality literature, so it’s all very present in my everyday thoughts and experiences.

So, really, this is all about getting thoughts organized and written down and putting them out there for feedback and discussion. What do you think? How have you dealt with questioning and changing identities? Do you or have you ever had trouble expressing your gender and/or orientation feelings?

I’ll leave with a passage from Speed Levitch, who has an awesome show called “Up to Speed” on Hulu. In the opening scene of the first episode, Speed shares this inspiring story, which I am taking up as my mantra from here on out.

I was walking down the street one day in a rather flamboyant outfit. It was a frock of many colors and frazzled patterns that I had draped over a woman’s blouse. So, there I am, cruising down the street on a symphony of color when suddenly this tough guy steps in front of me and just stands there looking down at me skeptically.

I got that immediate feeling that what was going on here is that he was just too offended by my appearance to allow me to simply pass by. It was clear that he felt the need to do something about it.

The tough guy gestured towards my loud outfit, and he asked me, “Why?”

I was silenced. I couldn’t even answer at first. I was truly just stunned by his question. So the guy felt the need to re-iterate.

Why?” he asked me again angrily.

Within the intonation of his “why” was the question, “Why are you dressed up like that? It’s not Halloween, is it?”

Finally, I caught my breath, and I could speak again.

“It’s amazing that we meet like this. Incredible. Historic! We’re like two ambassadors, you and I. Two different emissaries representing two different halves of the human race. I mean, you come up to me and ask, “why?” Meanwhile, I’ve been walking the streets of this city all day asking, “Why not? Why the fuck not? Every time I’m faced with the status quo, I find myself asking that question.”

I cracked up and shook my head, amazed at the coincidence of he and I meeting. I was even more amazed that the guy didn’t punch me!

It’s my own personal theory that status quo only begets more status quo unless we as a species attack it by way of appreciating the beauty in the unexpected.

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  1. Will, I cannot translate into words the depth with which I relate to this. I’ve discussing my own gender with myself for a while now and this just resonates with me – even the part about a breakup bringing it up. I don’t know that I have anything to add, this has become a reference text for me, words for what I cannot possibly label. Thank you.

  2. Will,
    There are some minor points where our experiences and opinions differ, but I have for some time been meaning to write a post on exactly this topic. There are certain passages where you say things exactly (or almost exactly) as I would.

    To expand a bit though, my basic problems with identifying as a man come from the way masculinity and manliness are defined by our society today. Particularly, the extreme ways they are defined presently, as compared to prior to the 1950’s. A lot of our perception of masculinity today, becomes kind of screwy if one stops to analyze a bit of history. And I’m not just talking about how pink used to be the boys color or how under the age of 6, everyone wore dresses. I mean how affection between two men could be expressed physically with a hug or an arm around the shoulder, and still remain platonic, not sexual or romantic. Or how athleticism/muscularity was not a requirement to be in the mens club. Or how men could cry openly without shame (or at lest in a wider variety of circumstances than they could today).

    Obviously, there were a lot of really screwy things going on in the past and certainly classism plays a role in how muscularity was once frowned upon in men, as it was considered a trait of the working class. And (obviously) gender roles for woman really were much more screwed up than they are today. With men, the case is more complicated.

    Personally, I feel I might have felt more at home identifying as a man in a different era, with different standards of masculinity. One in which one could be cultured or pursue higher education, or artistic or scientific endeavors, and not have those things impinge upon one’s masculinity. Now if one is male and goes to college, one proves one’s maleness through keg stands and athletic prowess. Doing well in school is now something that, from what I can observe, appears to detract from one’s manliness, in ways that weren’t always the case in the past.

    I feel this is hard concept to express in words, as you say, and really it would take a much longer essay (or better yet, a book) to explore how mens’ roles have changed in society. But as I said, I feel I would have been more comfortable in an era in which masculinity was less well defined and/or less constrained than it was today. And today, the code of what it means to be a male, is much more narrow and limited (or at least very different), than it once was.

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