A Day Late for Coming Out / Day of the Girl

(Same topic as / a follow-up to this post from a couple years back!)

In my tweens and teens, in the age of getting onto the Internet via AOL, I discovered that online anonymity meant I could be a girl in cyberspace. So I did, for a while! I had some lady personae I still think fondly of to this day. But the relentless scrutiny this invited burned me out, so I eventually abandoned the thought. It was not until much, much later that I realized this was unusual for a dude to want to do in the first place.

In those same high school years I wrote a poem that, reading it now, sounds like a transgender cry for help. It features a woman trapped in a cage that represents a male identity. But back then I didn’t even know the word “transgender”. If I had, it would have been taboo at best; I was at that point attending Catholic schools and 100% receptive to what they taught on such things.

If the Internet had continued to develop in the direction of anyonymity rather than that of personal exposure, maybe I’d still have the option of such experimentations, and I’d probably go for it! Instead I just roleplay female characters in games with some regularity.

Thing is, I don’t think it fair to consider myself transgender. I have 95% of cis privilege. I don’t experience dysphoria looking at my body. I just… think it’d be awesome to be Ranma Saotome? And would be in girlmode most of the time if I were? If gender transition were easy, I’d seriously consider it.

Is it possible to be “just a little bit transgender”?

Gently, subtly, wistfully genderqueer?

Is there a word for that?

I posted a version of the above first on toot.cat, and an insightful user there suggested “demigirl”. Per the Gender Wiki, the term “can… describe someone assigned male at birth who is transfeminine but not wholly binary-identified, so that they feel more strongly associated with ‘female’ than ‘male,’ socially or physically, but not strongly enough to want to identify as as [sic] a woman.” I’d say I teeter on the edge between that and the male counterpart, “demiboy“, which “can be used to describe someone assigned male at birth who feels barely connected or disconnected to that identification, but does not experience a significant enough dissociation to create real physical discomfort or dysphoria.

As an aside, I used to be one of those bewildered by and a bit skeptical of recent decades’ proliferation of gender terminology. But having gone through this bit of searching, I’ve come to understand the value of it. Genders are weird artificial things to begin with, but it’s comforting–and useful for dialogue–to be able to find a label and say “it me!” Funky genders are nothing more nor less than a quest to find or create a term concisely describing a complicated relationship with one’s body, feelings, and the expectations of society.

So yes! I’m demigender. This… probably doesn’t mean much to anyone but me! I don’t even know what it changes for me, on a day-to-day level. You don’t need to adjust your pronouns. I’m still a dudely-looking person. But if you do happen to refer to me with feminine language (“she,” “sister,” whatever), far from being insulted or offended, I’d actually be rather charmed!


Gender of Choice

Some years back, I heard an NPR segment about students defying gender norms, including such odd approaches as insisting that one’s gender was “truck” and should thus be referred to with pronouns like “it.” I made a few faltering starts at writing a blog post about my thoughts on it, but never quite finished. The topic came back to mind with March 31st’s Transgender Visibility day and this delightful little comic by @papayakitty on Twitter.

What’s my gender?

I mean, I’m a guy, sure; biologically male, wear masculine clothing more often than gender-neutral clothing, and feminine clothing only when cosplaying, etc. But I do rather delight in “crossplay” when the (uncommon) opportunity comes up. I’ve roleplayed female characters with increasing frequency since I was maybe seven or eight years old, and while it’s been a more or less novel thing as time’s gone on, it’s never felt awkward or wrong. When the Internet came into flower and I established online identities on services like AOL, IRC, GameSpy Arcade, and later Furcadia, I frequently presented myself as a girl. People tended not to realize I was playing cross-gender unless the point was specifically mentioned out of character. (I even wrote a poem about the ugly reactions people had to the disconnect when revealed; it reads pretty clearly as an adolescent transgender lament.) I went to an all-boys high school, but I tended to disdain the connotations thereof, amending statements of my gender identity with such qualifiers as “male, low testosterone.” I still feel that having Ranma Saotome’s curse would be pretty awesome. I’ve had people ask me if I’m gay due to my love of romance themes in my entertainment. My all-time favorite movies (The Princess Bride, Magnolia, and 500 Days of Summer) might be called “chick flicks”… I could go on.

Thing is, I don’t think it makes sense to consider me “transgender” in the sense most commonly meant by that. I don’t experience gender dysphoria when looking at myself or presenting as male. I have enjoyed every privilege inherent in cis white maleness, and feel it would be disrespectful to those less privileged to insist otherwise. “Thinking it would be cool to be a woman” is a far cry from even what little I’ve glimpsed into the life experiences of my transgendered friends.

Then again. What even is gender?

Wracking my brain for anything that would qualify as essential to the genders or even the biological sexes, I don’t come up with a lot. It sort of makes sense to have some outward signifiers of “bearing male gametes,” in a world where that’s both of practical concern on a day-to-day basis, and the level of scientific understanding and interpersonal communication is weak enough that you couldn’t just have the conversation, “Can you have children with me, and do you want to?” But we don’t live in such a backward world by now, thank the Primes, and for someone like me who isn’t interested in children in the first place, it’s all rather unnecessary. Everything else we associate with the genders or sexes is contingent, mere statistical truth at best. We can say “as a species, homo sapiens features sexual dimorphism, with such-and-so genital structures and secondary sexual characteristics,” but individuals’ physical characteristics can and do diverge wildly from those baselines. And the various personality traits and aesthetic choices associated with either gender are even fuzzier, ranging from laughably arbitrary (pink used to be a masculine color and blue feminine) to equal parts harmful, offensive, and untrue (“men tend to be physically violent”).

People operate under schemes of categorization for cognitive ease, though, so it’s psychologically practical to think of someone as based on a template with variations. “He’s very much a bro,” “she’s a tomboy,” “he’s a guy but likes sewing,” or whatever. They also help with personal identity; group membership is a powerful human need, and resonance or solidarity with fellow “men” and “women” is of great use and comfort. These labels become problematic, though, when they influence our behavior in discriminatory ways, lead us to jump to unfounded conclusions, or perpetuate stereotypes that shore up unjust systems of power. And when it comes to gender, it’s difficult to use the categories without falling into any of those traps.

Labels like “agender,” “demigirl” etc., as mentioned in the abovelinked comic, then serve a dual purpose: they defy standard assumptions about gender while still providing the psychic value of a group identity to belong to. They seem pretty darn cool to me! Of the ones I’ve poked at, “demiboy” (or “demiguy,” which doesn’t have as nice a sound to it) feels most in tune with my own experiences. If I were to embrace that label, what would it suggest? A greater freedom of choice in fashion and affect, I suppose… I have often envied women their lovely options in clothing.

And/or I could develop a female tulpa to the point where I could switch her into the dominant consciousness… hah!