Given the response my piece on being genderqueer got from readers, I’ve basically declared open season when it comes to queering things up around here, which means it’s time to probe a little deeper into some of the topics that came up in that post and comments. The awesome thing about being genderqueer, you see, is that every day is coming out day!
Wait, that’s actually not awesome at all.
People don’t really know what to do with genderqueer folks, because we don’t fit into the familiar binary paradigm people use to view gender. Everyone’s a girl or a boy, right? Which means that you can figure out what someone is by looking, and those weird people who do things like asking for your preferred pronouns when they meet you are just being pretentious. I mean, what other pronouns could there be, other than he and she, and why would anyone want to use some “gender-neutral” pronoun anyway? What is this, socialismland?!
When you’re genderqueer, you spend an alarming amount of time making a really tough decision about how to handle social interactions. Either you can constantly talk to people about your gender and ask that people actually respect it, and in the process become a sort of freelance unpaid Gender Educator, or you can just sit quiet while people misgender you. Even though it hurts, a lot.
But it’s also a lot of work to push back, to say, “Hey so actually I’m not a lady.”
Sometimes I think about buying www.sesmithisnotalady.com, seriously. Because it happens a lot. And I understand why people do it; for one thing, I write about things that are commonly considered to be “women’s issues.” For another thing, my profile photo1 is a person with big tits and hips in a blue dress frolicking across a field of flowers. I mean, if it got any more femmey, it would cause a glitter explosion when your browser loaded. So I mean, people see what I write, and they see the picture, and they go, “Ah, a lady!”
I recently wrote over at Tiger Beatdown about the really hateful things that people seem to think it’s OK to say to people they don’t like online, and the immediate result of that post2 was a bunch of people linking it with comments like “s.e. smith talks about the comments women receive online” and “s.e. smith discusses what it’s like to be a female blogger.”
Only the thing is, I don’t actually know what it’s like to be a female blogger, or what it’s like to be the recipient of comments women receive online, because I am not a woman. I am a different creature altogether, someone who is read as a woman. And fortunately, many awesome people spoke up to correct the misgendering and stress the issue that hate speech online isn’t just directed at women, and that it’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed, but if along the way we could not misgender people, that would be awesome.
And many people seemed to find this ... surprising. Shocking. Offensive, even.
This despite the fact that my gender is not at all concealed: I openly discuss it a lot, and in fact I had talked about being genderqueer here only the week before my Tiger Beatdown piece. I joked with friends that I should start prefacing everything I write with “Hey, by the way, I’m not a woman!”
And yet, people got extremely upset when they were asked to correct my pronouns, to not refer to me as a woman. Some folks even said I was misogynist because I “claim” not to be a woman, and clearly genderqueer people with bodies like mine are really just expressing self-hatred or something.
This kind of reactive response to trans people in general is pretty common, the idea that we’re just “being difficult” or making a nuisance of ourselves or expressing self-hatred. The thing is, though, that therapy for self-hatred is actually a lot less expensive and a lot less of a hassle than being trans. Trust me on this one.
This is not something we do for fun, because we think it might be amusing to put on a new identity for a day. It’s something that’s part of us, that’s inside us, that we can’t pull away and separate out because it’s not how we work.
Having to constantly come out to people, even when information about your gender is readily available, even when you discuss gender issues frequently, is a constant reminder that there’s not a lot of awareness of gender issues, and that there’s a certain amount of carelessness, too. People who have followed me for a long time are constantly shocked, simply shocked, to “find out” that I’m not a woman. That their assumptions, based on subject matter and appearance, were just plain wrong.
So yeah. I’m not a lady. Or a woman, a chick, female, girl, or any variation thereof. But I do know what it’s like to go through life as someone who is constantly and persistently read as the wrong gender, as someone who is sometimes deliberately misgendered in acts of hatred by people who should really know better than that, and as someone who will spend the rest of my life coming out over, and over, and over again.
1. Fun fact! My friend Brendan McGuigan took that picture. And kindly suffered through not one but two photo shoots to get it, because I do not perform well in front of the camera. Unless by “perform well” you mean “freezes with a horrified and shocked expression like an army of zombies is visible over the horizon.”
2. I mean, other than a flood of hatemail telling me to die.