Identity, gender and not fitting in the boxes

I recently read this excellent blog post about non-binary people.  There were a lot of lines that really impacted on me, this is one of them “At the end of the day, it’s not up to cisgender people to decide the language non-binary people should use to describe themselves. It is not your experience nor your place.”

I don’t talk about gender identity much, not least because the usual result is being told who I ‘really’ am by the other person. I’ve been ‘reassured’ that there’s nothing wrong with my femininity, for example, when I wasn’t looking for that kind of response at all. It’s only in recent years that I’ve had much scope to talk to anyone about my gender identity. After a mix of being silent, and being told who and what I am, I’m starting to realise just how important it is to me to be able to own, name (and rename as I feel like it) and be in control of my sense of self.

I have a female body. It does all the things – blood, baby, milk, sweat, tears etc. It mostly looks like a female body. There was a time when I was less obviously female to look at and could play more with presenting in ambiguous ways. I felt good doing that. I still do, when the mood is upon me. At different times through my life I have been more and less easy with this female body. There have been times (rare, but important) when I wanted to be male, and far more times when I wanted to be physically sexless and genderless. Some of this is to do with self hatred, and some of that self hatred was to do with not having the space to be myself in the first place.

I don’t think like a girl, or like a woman, or a mum. I reckon I may have it sussed enough to be a crazy Babba Yaga type grandmother in old age. I aspire to being really myself as a crone. I find female-centred social spaces confusing. Socially, I’ve always been happiest when I could be one of the guys – which has tended to involve music. I can’t tell you how much of this is my resistance to the social construct of gender, and how much is something else, because I’ve only ever lived in a culture that was very keen to tell me what my gender identity should be. I’m not sure it matters how much is culture and how much biology.

I’m happiest in situations where I don’t feel like my gender is an issue. I’m happiest with people who primarily see me as a person. When I’ve been able to play genderless – online and with a different, less feminine name – I’ve enjoyed that. If all people have to go on is my writing, I often get identified as male. Apparently I write like a bloke!

I don’t mind how people see me or what they engage with, or which pronouns they use. I don’t have a firm, fixed gender identity ( and this fluidity, I now realise, is my gender identity and not something I need to fix), so I’m not interested in getting anyone to identify me in any specific way. What of me people relate to is their business. But there’s a difference to relating to me in a certain way, and assuming that defines the truth of who I am. The second bit I need to tackle. Not least, I need to stop buying into it, and stop accepting it when other people think they are entitled to define my gender identity.

As a culture we default to equating normal with good. It is not unusual to respond to difference by making reassuring noises about conforming to ‘normal’ standards. You don’t look disabled/mentally ill/trans /queer /poor / mixed race / victimised… as though it would be fair to assume these things, and others like them, would all show on the surface, and that looking normal is the most important thing. These are big, unhelpful assumptions to make. They take something that mattered to the person owning it, and reduce it into whether or not your think the person matches a narrow bandwidth for normality. It treats the difference as worthless, and the conformity as paramount. The odds are if I’m telling you something about me, it’s not to be reassured that I’m normal, it is instead because I really, really want you to see me as I am.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Identity, gender and not fitting in the boxes

  • Redfaery

    This post resonated with me very deeply. I have a nonbinary gender identity, but I often feel like it’s not taken seriously by others because I still use female pronouns and whatnot.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Normal is what is common. Yet each of us is unique, though that uniqueness is usually discouraged and we are told instead to fit in, and be the same, or at least fit into one of the recognized boxes.

  • karenenneagram

    Facebook wouldn’t let me post the following. Wonder why???

    Yes, I grok what you say….. and, there are a large number of cis-gendered people who are starting to feel marginalised or even hated by the non-cis-gendered. We have to be careful not to create us-n-them yet again. What you say about ‘normal’ is completely accurate – the defended frightened ones would have us all fit in the bell curve’s middle as defined by psychologists 50 years ago, and by the suburban don’t-rock-the-boat-ers. Yet increasingly that bell’s being cracked, not least by the many ex-cis-married people who have changed gender once their children are grown.

    Also, the issue’s clouded by confusion between the words ‘gender’ (emotional/cultural) and ‘sex’ (physiological).

    I am of the female sex. There’s never been any doubt about that where I’m concerned, yet there are hundreds of thousands if not millions who are genetically both, and get tortured by an arbitrary assignment at birth followed by surgery to try to fit them to the doctor’s preference. I am so lucky. Then there are those whose body sex does not match their inner psychological sex. Not gender, sex. Again, I’m lucky. Many aren’t.

    As for gender, staying with me as an example, I appear to fit within the bell curve pretty snugly. And yet…. sexually, women turn me on as much as men do (yet when it comes to bodily engagement, I find men much more satisfying). And yet… my spatial awareness is apparently a man’s, I drive like a man, I write in an apparently gender-neutral way. I wonder, Nimue, whether your own writing is gender-neutral but judged as masculine by those who have pre-conceived ideas? You say in your blog ‘I don’t think like a girl, or like a woman, or a mum.’ What memes are you referring to there, what preconceptions of your own? I don’t, either, yet I’m still completely happy to claim womanhood. I am a woman – and I think however the hell I want to think – and if that ‘looks’ masculine, well take a look at your ideas, judging chum!

    As do you, dear heart. You think, feel, and sense as an independent being, working your way through the personal and cultural clutter to a longed-for freedom, as do I. And as I proudly claim cis-genderhood, I passionately want my multi-gendered friends to equally proudly claim that. All any of us wants is freedom and understanding, and love. Let’s smash the bell curve altogether.

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