The power of categories

Gender terms cloudTransgender

Genderqueer

Nonbinary (or Enby / NB)

Gender non-conforming

Transfeminine

MtX

These are all terms I use to describe my gender. There are dozens more already being used and more being created every day to describe and categorize the diversity that we experience in real life. I’ve heard many people criticize identity labels and say things like “why do I need more boxes to fit in” or “I don’t like to label myself”. And while I’m not trying to invalidate their experience, I want to share a bit about why I love labels and categories, especially for gender and sexuality.

I think there is a lot of power in words. Words give us access to intellectual concepts and and language can be incredibly freeing when it is allowed to evolve and grow along with a society. For myself, I didn’t grow up with the concept of gender being anything other than what you were told at birth and it existed as an assumed binary. I didn’t know that trans people even existed until well into my teen years and I didn’t learn about terminology outside the basic LGBT acronym until I joined a highly controversial GSA-style group at my conservative Evangelical university.

Even once I had concepts for transgender and genderqueer, I didn’t really understand that there was diversity within those categories. I knew I didn’t want to be a woman (or at least didn’t think that was something I could access in any way that was meaningful to me but that’s another whole post) but I didn’t think I could be genderqueer either because I thought that meant I had to be androgynous in the sense that I couldn’t have any visible genderedness about my body. So for many years I identified as gender non-conforming for lack of a better way of describing my blurriness.

But as I began to add terminology to my gender toolbox I also began to see places where I might fit. It took until another trans person I was dating suggested that maybe I was genderqueer before I felt like it was something I could dare to explore. And even then it took almost a year before I felt comfortable claiming my place within the genderqueer and trans identities.

Sadly, a large part of that was due to my tendency to self-police my own gender and allow the “not trans enough” feelings to guide me. But I also didn’t understand that not everyone of a particular identity label has to look or feel the same. The key to unlocking my gender was grasping that these are merely categories, useful for finding other people like you but also for pushing the boundaries together of what it means to not be a cisgendered person.

Once I accepted that I didn’t need to desire surgical or hormonal transition above all else and that I didn’t need to lose all of my features that people ascribe to a specific gender (like my beard) I was able to accept that being trans just means not identifying with the (binary) gender you are assigned at birth. I was trans because I was not cis. I am genderqueer because I exist in a blurry space outside of the well-explored binary boxes. I am nonbinary because I don’t want to be a man but I know I’m not a woman. I may have been assigned male at birth but I can transition to be “X”. I can be feminine and have a beard.

So don’t let identity police get you down and tell you what you can or can’t be, especially not based on appearance. And don’t listen to those little shoulder devils whispering doubts in your ear about “being enough.” Claim the categories and terms that work for you now and don’t get hung up on how you might feel about your gender next year. It is OK to evolve and grow. It can be a step in your journey or it can be your final destination but either way it isn’t “just a phase.”

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