Posted in Weave of Traditions

Language preferences: Genderlessness

A tightly woven grey fabrc with the following quote written over it: "The tight weave of traditions that makes a comfortable hamock for some just as surely maks a noose that strangles others." -Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto
A tightly woven grey fabrc with the following quote written over it: “The tight weave of traditions that makes a comfortable hamock for some just as surely maks a noose that strangles others.” -Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto
This post is part of the Weave of Tradition series.  Please read the introductory post to that series to understand more about this post’s intent and context.  This series deals with traditions, language, and symbols that mean very different things to different people.
When I first tentatively described myself as nongendeered, I did not dream there would be so many words for this in the future that I wouldn’t quite know what to do with them all.  So these word preferences are entirely personal, and should not be taken as telling anyone else to feel about different words or what to call yourselves.
This is mostly one of those posts that’s a little boring to me:  It’s more posted for reference purposes for later posts, than for any other reason.
So here are some of the words for genderlessness and related concepts, and how I feel about them.

Words Specific To Genderlessness

Nongendered

This is the word I came up with for myself, when I first came up with a word.  At the time, I viewed cisgenderedas meaning that you had a gender identity that matched your biological sex, and transgenderedas meaning that you had a gender identity that did not match your biological sex.  So I came up with nongenderedby contrast:  It meant that you simply didn’t havea gender identity.  And therefore it couldn’t possibly match or not match your biological sex, because it just flat-out wasn’t there.
You can say all you want about my understanding of gender at the time, but that’s where it stood, and that’s my first clumsy beginnings at articulating what I was really experiencing.  So it holds some kind of place in my heart regardless of everything I don’t like about it.
But I don’t like it at this point.  Among other things, it’s clunky.  It just isn’t easy to say or to read.  It doesn’t work for me when I have better options.
But I do like that it’s never really caught on.  When words for genderlessness catch on, they have a habit of acquiring gendered qualities.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because they acquire second meanings that basically refer to various nonbinary or androgynous genders (sometimes specific ones, sometimes just in general). This one, at least, never has never done that.

Neutrois

I really don’t like this one.
It seems to be a complicated subculture, at once a gender of its own and no gender at all, sometimes nonbinary and gendered, sometimes genderless, sometimes both, sometimes neither.  And that’s fine for anyone who feels comfortable under that umbrella, but to me it just sounds like a social and linguistic nightmare.
Also, it’s hard to say.  I don’t know if it was originally French and later used by English speakers, or whether it was always just borrowed from French into English.  But it’s a very specific kind of French word that is hard for even someone familiar with French to figure out how to say in an English-speaking context.
So basically, I know exactly how to say neutrois in French.  That’s not hard, there’s only really one way it can be pronounced.
But when a word using those particular French sounds is borrowed into English, it isn’t always pronounced the same way it would be in French.  The French R sound doesn’t exist in English.  So usually a word like this would be approximated by a W sound instead.  So in English, it would sound like: noo-TWAH.  Which sounds, to an English speaker, very close to how it’d be pronounced in French.
Except that it isn’t actually the same, so it’s confusing.

Agender

I don’t like the word itself any more than I like the word nongendered.  I find it clunky and off-putting.  I see that it’s supposed to mirror asexual, and it does a good job in that regard.  I just don’t, personally, like it.
I’ve also gotten to watch the term evolve over time.  And there was a time when it meant roughly what I mean by genderless, and it still does mean that for a lot of people.
But it’s acquired a second meaning that feels like it is a gender in and of itself, even with some unspoken rules about what falls into it.  And there’s a specific kind of androgyny often associated with it.  And that kind of androgyny never fits any kind of aesthetic I could pull off even if I wanted to.
And the second meaning makes it harder for me to use it.  I don’t mind that terms evolve, I just don’t feel comfortable within what this term has evolved into.
Unfortunately for my personal preferences, agender has become the most popular term for genderlessness.  If people know a term for genderless at all, it’s agender.  Sometimes neutrois.

Genderless

Obviously this is what I actually call myself.  I like that it’s a word that can be readily understood and doesn’t look or feel clunky to say.  I like that it just means lack of gender, and has no spoken or unspoken secondary meaning of androgynous, or a specific nonbinary gender with genderless qualities, or something like that.

Other Words

Nonbinary

This is a word that in some cases can technically apply to genderlessness, if by nonbinary you mean any gender or lack of genderother than male or female.
But I don’t actually like using it on myself.  Because nonbinary is a term developed by people with genders, for people with genders, so it doesn’t feel like it fits.  And I am not always comfortable being described this way, although people can use whatever definitions of words they feel ike.

Genderqueer

This is much worse than nonbinary. Because it really is a gendered term created by and for people with nonbinary genders. It’s just not my territory gender-wise. And more so than nonbinary, it implies gender, at least to me. Since I lack a gender, it’s just not a comfortable fit.

Transgender

I definitely feel I have a place in the trans community. Because I believe as long as you’re subject to transphobia, it doesn’t matter what specific category of gender you fall into, you may need the community for survival. And the community has no right to reject anyone who might need it. If parents who throw their trans children into the streets could ever be stopped by “But I’m nonbinary and not going to transition” then I’d take the hair splitting seriously. But as it is, given that membership in the community can mean survival to some people, I find splitting hairs about who belongs there to be a form of extreme and selfish cruelty.
That said, I’m not always comfortable under the transgender umbrella. It comes down to this: All the culture, concepts, words, ideas, etc. in the trans community were created by and for trans people who had genders. So these things all can work wonderfully if you’re in that category, which is most trans people. But I lack any gender identity at all and that means that even when things almost fit they don’t quite.  Like a shirt that fits fine in some places but you can’t wear it because the armholes are so tiny you can’t squeeze the thickest part of your arm through no matter how hard you try.  Except that the “fits fine in some places” part is added to by there being places where it looks like it fits fine the same as on everyone else, but it actually doesn’t fit well at all and may even restrict breathing somewhat, but without anyone being able to see any difference.
So I think genderless people belong having access to the trans community, especially if we want to and are comfortable there.  But I can see why a lot of genderless people would be uncomfortable or not feel like it was the best fit.  It wasn’t made with us in mind, and in some ways was made with experiences in mind that we’re never going to have.  But anyone else saying we don’t belong there has no real standing to do so.  That’s our own call and our own call only, and it can change based on context very easily.
Posted in Weave of Traditions

All of Pride Month I felt like I couldn’t talk about my favorite Pride jewelry.

A tightly woven grey fabrc with the following quote written over it: "The tight weave of traditions that makes a comfortable hamock for some just as surely maks a noose that strangles others." -Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto
A tightly woven grey fabrc with the following quote written over it: “The tight weave of traditions that makes a comfortable hamock for some just as surely maks a noose that strangles others.” -Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto

This post is part of the Weave of Tradition series.  Please read the introductory post to that series to understand more about this post’s intent and context.  This series deals with traditions, language, and symbols that mean very different things to different people.

I mean, I love the rainbow bracelets i managed to get, with “LOVE WINS” and that kind of thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  But that’s my acceptable Pride jewelry, and some of it actually makes me vaguely uncomfortable to wear.  But it doesn’t make anyone else uncomfortable.

Two Pride bracelets. The first one is a leather rainbow with an infinity sign that says "love", another part that says "LOVE WINS," and a heart dangling off the botom. The second one is a bangle with a rainbow heart, another "LOVE WINS," another infinity, and a double-woman symbol.
Two Pride bracelets. The first one is a leather rainbow with an infinity sign that says “love”, another part that says “LOVE WINS,” and a heart dangling off the botom. The second one is a bangle with a rainbow heart, another “LOVE WINS,” another infinity, and a double-woman symbol.
Pride jewelry: A small rainbow chainmail love knot.
Pride jewelry: A small rainbow chainmail love knot.

The part that makes me uncomfortable is the double-woman symbol.  Everyone knows it means lesbian, so it’s convenient.  It’s in no way controversial, so it’s convenient.

But… it demands things of me I’m uncomfortable with.  It reflects back at me a narrow definition of lesbian as a person with a female gender identity attracted exclusively to other people with female gender identities.  A definition that has no room for me in it.  But that has become popular lately and crowded out older, more inclusive, broader definitions of lesbian, ones that still have a place for a person like me, with no innate gender identity and complicated attractions.

I know the double-woman symbol doesn’t mean that to everyone who uses it.  But it feels like that meaning to me, so it feels uncomfortable to wear it.  Even as I do wear it.

Meanwhile I prefer to wear a symbol that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  And they have good reason to be uncomfortable.  I’m not taking that away from them.  As I’ve said — the same word or symbol can make different people feel very different.  Even different people with relatively similar labels, life experiences, etc.  These things can be deeply personal.

I happen to love the labrys.  These are the earrings I wore all Pride and continue to wear now:

A labrys earring on my right ear.
A labrys earring on my right ear.
Mel wearing two earrings on hir left ear, one a redwood cone, the other a labrys.
Mel wearing two earrings on hir left ear, one a redwood cone, the other a labrys.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but for clarity:  I am not a lesbian feminist, a radical feminist, etc.  I believe trans women who are lesbians are lesbians, no questions asked.  I don’t wear the labrys as a statement about anyone else.

The reason I love the labrys is complicated.  But the part that might surprise people:

A labrys has never demanded anything from me when it comes to gender identity.

Yeah, I actually prefer the labrys because it does not impose anything on me with respect to my relationship with gender.  Nothing.  Never has.  People who use the labrys have, sometimes.  But the labrys itself hasn’t.  And contrary to popular belief, the labrys has been popular in many circles that have nothing to do with the ideologies most people associate with it.

So I wore labrys earrings all of Pride Month but I never talked about them.  I was afraid to.  I was afraid people would misunderstand my intent, misunderstand my relationship to the symbol, misunderstand the whole thing.

Especially when you combine it with statements like “I’m a genderless lesbian.”  But my genderlessness is not ideological or political, it’s a hard-won truth about myself.  it just means I lack any innate sense of myself as having a gender, and always have.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Lesbian is complicated and I’ll probably get into that in a different post in this series.

But anyway, things like this are what this post series was made for:  Words and symbols that mean very different things to different people.  And that being okay.

 

Posted in Being human

A request: Please avoid “gender presentation” when describing me.

This hasn’t happened any time recently that I recall. But it’s become pretty common to describe people in image descriptions as male-presenting or female-presenting if you don’t know their gender.

Please don’t do that to me in any context. I don’t have a gender identity and I don’t have a gender presentation. These are terms developed to describe people with a very different experience of gender than I have. They work for most people. They don’t work for people like me. I get that I’m in a tiny tiny minority. But just please don’t do it. No matter what gender you pick (including nonbinary ones), you’re basically tying elements of my appearance to a gender, when that’s not how my appearance works.

And to be described as male-presenting or female-presenting basically feels like being plunged suddenly into ice water with no warning. Combined with the same feelings I get when misgendered. (Which, for me, being gendered is being misgendered, so it happens a lot. I grasp that being gendered — appropriately — is very important to 99% of the population, so I don’t know a social solution to this, but just putting it out there that this is how it works for me. Not speaking for anyone else genderless. Also I’m not talking about pronouns, I actually don’t mind people getting those “wrong”, I’m talking about being forced into gender in social situations.)

A
I don’t have a gender. Neither does my clothing, hair, jewelry, or appearance. Thanks for understanding.

When I say I don’t have a gender presentation, I don’t mean that people don’t judge gender from my appearance. I mean that how I intentionally decorate my body is not tied to gender. I am not female-presenting when I wear a skirt and male-presenting when I wear my dad’s clothes. I’m just me wearing clothes. Wearing what beard I can manage to grow is not about masculinity and wearing my hair long is not about femininity. Wearing my dad’s clothes and copper nail polish is not about being nonbinary or about trying to confuse anyone. Nor is wearing my dad’s clothes including suspenders but with a skirt. These things just happen, they’re not about gender. Presenting implies at least some amount of intent.

So thanks in advance for just not going there with me. Not trying to fit my appearance into a gender box, not splashing me with ice water, not making me feel more like an outsider to every damn thing than I already feel. Nothing like this has happened recently, I just wanted to explain.

Oh also when I say I lack a gender identity, I mean I lack any internal sense that ties me to a gender. This is not a choice, a political view, or a philosophical position. I have no problem with most of the world having a gender. I just don’t. I have no idea why.

If you hear me describing myself in seemingly gendered terms, I’m likely using them in a sociological sense, or because gender-neutral terms can sound clinical and impersonal. (“Sibling” vs. “brother” or “sister”, just not the same.) Or because the world is a complex place, and so is language, and one word can have many meanings, and I have enough word-finding problems as it is to be precise about language all the time, and so many other things.

But I don’t think you’ll ever catch me describing myself as having a gender presentation. For reasons. Thanks for not doing the same.

Also don’t assume all genderless people feel as I do or that all people with genders are comfortable with the idea of gender presentation being applied to them. This request is entirely personal. People are complicated. Categories don’t always dictate preferences in this regard.

Posted in Being human, Developmental disability

Taking care of my hair isn’t as vain or trivial as it could seem.

Growing up, I had a weird relationship with my hair.  I wanted to wear it long, and never cut it unless forced.  But I was taught that the price of this was having my hair brushed in a manner that came close to hair torture.

Brushes stuck in my hair no matter how much detangling spray you stuck in.  My mother did not know how to cope with hair like mine, and did not seem to use any techniques to soften what she was doing to my hair.  She’d just run a brush through it no matter what happened.

Every time the brush went through she hit a huge tangle.  Brushes got stuck.  Brushes sometimes broke.  She was determined to brush and blow-dry my hair into submission.  The best she could get was a straight or wavy outer surface with a bushy rat’s nest underneath.  The rat’s nest seemed to form of its own accord and spread throughout my hair with lightning speed.  Then it would be back to the brush torture.

I screamed.  I cried.  I got in trouble.

“Be quiet, someone will think I’m hurting you!”

“But you are!”

Obviously, that didn’t go over well.

Very occasionally she’d take me to a hairdresser.  I never screamed at the hairdresser.  My mom found this puzzling.  It was because the hairdresser was paid to remember the hair was attached to the head of a human child, and acted accordingly to prevent pain.  But the hairdresser really didn’t know what else to do other than blow-dry it within an inch of its life either.

When you’re in the system, you actually get judged on the state of your hair.

I have actual files that solemnly describe my hair as ‘unkempt’ as if that’s an actual symptom of anything.  I’ve talked to others who have the same thing in their files.  It can even hurt your chances of being taken seriously in an emergency room for a physical problem.

So my hair has actually been described as pathological in a psychiatric context.  My hair.

Anyway, I went a long time shaving my head or keeping my hair very short.

But at some point I wanted to grow it out and was looking at ways to do so.

I found out the secret nobody knew or told me:  Most of my hair is curly.  When properly moisturized and taken care of, it forms ringlets.

Brushing curly hair breaks up the natural curl pattern and makes it bushy and tangled.

I used to think my hair needed so much care there was no way I could take care of it.

It turns out caring for my hair is very simple.

I fill a spray bottle with water and pour in a small amount of oils that penetrate or lock in moisture to your hair.

I shake it up and spray it on my hair a few times a day.

I finger comb.

Then depending on humidity and other factors I get waves and ringlets.

curlyhair
My curly hair more or less as it’s supposed to look.

And virtually no tangles.

It’s that simple.

Hell, in that picture I’d, in a pinch, used a hand lotion with shea butter, olive oil, and coconut oil while my hair was still wet.  It turned out perfect.

For my mom’s part, she’s caught on about the curliness by now and sends me amazing hair oils from time to time.

This, by the way, is what can happen without taking care of it:

Humid hair Photo on 7-5-17 at 7.45 AM
Mel’s hair trying to defy gravity in last summer’s humidity.

Knowing how my hair is supposed to work is part of knowing how my body is supposed to work.  Knowing how my body is supposed to work is something that’s taken away from a lot of disabled people, including me.  I have a congenital neuromuscular condition and nobody’s ever taught me how to live within my own body with this.  I learned to plow through until I drop.  Well nobody’s ever taught me how to take care of my hair, either.  Or even that there was a way to take care of my hair that didn’t involve hair torture.

As a person with a developmental disability, gender expectations are complicated.  In many ways I’m expected to be genderless.  Not genderless as in the word I use to refer to my lack of any gender identity.  No, it’s different than that.  When people say people with developmental disabilites are asexual, they don’t mean the sexual orientation.  When they think we’re genderless, they’re not talking about a lack of gender identity.  What they’re thinking about in each case is that we’re missing something they consider fundamental to being a full human being.  To them, I’m an it, a thing, not a person.

So the expectations I get from my appearance and manner already, get amplified by the fact that I have a developmental disability, and can become dangerous very quickly, including in medical settings.

The psychiatric system outright punishes gender non-conformity in any form.  For anyone presumed to be a girl or woman, that means unkempt hair is a sign of psychopathology.  But they offer no more tips on how to have kempt hair than my family or haidressers had growing up.

My unibrow has been carefully measured and noted by geneticists.  My facial hair is occasion for frequent hormonal testing.  I’ve had doctors pull down my pants with no warning in front of med students in order to remark on the Tanner stage of my pubic hair without saying a word to me.

Everything about every hair on my body has been made out to be a medical or moral problem at some point.  Many things about the hair on my body have been made into a gendered thing, sometimes combined with ableism, sometimes not.  Which for a genderless person is an extra level of aggravating.

Also, because I’m disabled — and fat — and other things — I’m not supposed to give a shit about how I look, because after all I’m just a thing.  And a gross thing at that.  Gross things aren’t supposed to care about our appearance at all.  I’m reminded of Dave Hingsburger’s post about being a disabled fat guy taking his shirt off in public.  Not quite the same, but related.  We’re not supposed to care about our bodies, let alone be okay with our bodies as we are.  It’s just not supposed to happen.

The way my hair grows on my body matters to me.

I am very attached to my unibrow.

my unibrow
My unibrow showing between the top of my glasses and the brim of my hat.

I am very attached to my facial hair.

chin hair
The scraggly dark hair that grows on my chin and upper lip.

And I am very attached to taking care of the hair that grows on top of my head, and seeing it as it’s meant to be all along.

greenstripeshirt
Mel with curly hair showing around the edges of hir hat.

And as trivial as those things sound.  With the amount of crap I’ve gotten all my life for all of those things.  Every single one of them means a great deal more to me than may make sense to most people.  Every single one of them is important.  Every single one of them I’ve had to fight for, sometimes literally, physically.  Every single one of them has been picked apart in terms of disability at some point in my life.  Every single one of them has been affected by how I’m perceived as a disabled person.  Keep in mind doctors once told my parents it didn’t matter (because I was disabled) whether I had teeth, so hair isn’t even on the agenda.

So yeah, I care about my hair.

But not for the reasons you’d think.

Posted in Being human, crochet

My friend can feel her feet.

My friend can feel her feet, and really that’s all that matters.

She spent forty years pretending to be a man.  She has finally come out as a woman and begun transitioning to living in the world as a woman.  Nearly everyone who knows her has reacted similarly — “Oh that makes sense, why didn’t I ever think of that?”

But then there’s the other reactions.

My friend can feel her feet for the first time in her life.  She can feel her body.  She was so disconnected from her body before that she didn’t notice a surgical scar she’d had on her arm in plain sight her entire life.  And now she can feel her feet.

Whenever I automatically feel my feet, it means I’m connected with the world, it means something is going right, I am doing the right thing.  I feel my feet every time I play my grandfather’s violin.

So when she told me she could feel her feet, I knew she was doing the right thing.

Her eyes have changed too.  I didn’t used to really know she had eyes.  Now they are impossible to miss, with tons of emotional depth, range, and complexity.  Strangers compliment her on them.

But some people react to her in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

She’s just trying to live her life, feel her feet, do what she needs to do.

Other people seem bound and determined to explain their theories of gender to her.

They seem to think that her announcing she exists is an invitation to a debate.  (It’s not.  And neither is this post.  If you want to debate gender, do it somewhere else, I will not approve your comments, I will not have a post about respecting my friend turn into a place to disrespect her.)

This is incredibly disrespectful.  She is a human being trying to live her life.  She is trying to live a life where she can feel her feet, have beautiful expressive eyes nobody’s seen before, be happy in her own skin.

Her existence is not an invitation to a debate.

Her existence isn’t the start of a philosophical discussion about whatever you happen to think gender is and how you think it works.

Her existence is not an invitation to explain to her exactly why you think she is how she is.  And what you think is really going on with her.

It doesn’t frigging matter if you understand what’s going on with her or not.

It really doesn’t.

I don’t understand gender.  I understand less about gender than the average human being does.  Because I’m genderless.  Gender identity is a foreign concept to me.  I don’t appear to have one, whatever it is.

But not all the world works like I do.  And not all the world should have to.  And I don’t feel insecure enough about my ignorance that I have to cook up an explanation for everything I don’t understand, and throw it in the face of everybody who experiences something I don’t.

Sometimes you’re not gonna understand.

Sometimes you’re not gonna know why something is so important to someone.

But none of that matters, actually.

I don’t have to understand gender identity to understand that it’s incredibly important to the vast majority of people on the planet.  Including my friend.

I don’t have to know why it’s important.

All I have to know is that when my friend lives her life as a woman, she can feel her feet.  She can feel as if her body is finally a part of her.  She can feel happy and fulfilled and just go about her life without thinking about trying to look male all the time.  She can show the world how deep and expressive her eyes are when she’s not living in hiding and fear.

Those are the only things that are important.

My opinions on gender — if I even have them — mean fuck-all in the scheme of her life.

The ways my experience of gender differ from hers — not important in terms of how she is leading  her life.

I don’t need to insert myself right into the big middle of everything related to her.  In fact the best thing I can possibly do is get out of the way and let her be herself.

If she wants to talk about gender she’ll bring it up.

Her existence is not an invitation to that conversation any more than my existence with a feeding tube is an invitation to a debate on assisted suicide.

Just have some respect.

For my part, I found out that she’s never worn shawls before.  She wanted to try colorful clothing.  She wanted the option to wear things that were feminine.  She’s never had these options before.  (And no, not everything she does and wears is stereotypically feminine.  She just hasn’t had the chance before.)  She loves to wrap herself in blankets, so I told her a shawl is like a socially acceptable usually-triangular blanket you can take anywhere.

So I’m crocheting her shawls.

Every stitch says “I already know you are a woman.”  Just in case she needs a reminder with all the other messages she’s getting.

I’ve made her two so far.  One is purple mohair lace.  The other is a sturdy wool in many bright colors that seem to suit her.  Because that’s the other thing.  Her soul used to be grey and in hiding and kind of reserved.  Ever since she came out, her soul has been all the bright colors you could imagine.  I’m not the only one who has remarked on these changes.

purple mohair shawl 1
The first shawl I crocheted my friend, a lacy purple mohair shawl.
purple mohair shawl 2
Closeup of the lacy purple mohair crocheted shawl with a lighter purple border.
woolshawl01
Mel holding up the full length of a thick wool shawl in bright striped colors of purple, pink, blue, and green.
woolshawl04
Mel modeling the back of the thick wool crocheted shawl in many colors.
woolshawl02
Showing the simple but elegant stitch pattern of the crocheted thick wool shawl in many colors.

You don’t need to make someone shawls to show your respect for her womanhood though.

And you don’t need to understand anything about gender.

All you have to understand is that living as a woman she can feel her feet and everything else.

It really comes down to that.

Not you.  Not your opinions.  Not your ideas about gender politics.  Get out of her way.  This is about her, not you.

Just her.

Living her life.

Which is not an invitation to a debate.

She is who she is.  Grant her the courtesy of treating her like it.

That’s all you need to do, all you need to know.

My friend can feel her feet.

My friend can express great depth of emotion in her eyes for the first time in her life.

Her soul shines in all these beautiful colors that were hidden before.

But look:

My.  Friend.  Can.  Feel.  Her.  Feet.

End of story.  Nothing else matters.