On being a gender-free feminist.
Becky Bolton // 9 July 2010
I take a deep breath. I’ve been here before. But it wasn’t easy the first time around, and it isn’t this time, either. I turn to her in the car. We’re on the A1, coming back from her place. It feels like as good a time as any.
“I don’t identify as a woman.” There’s a pause as it sinks in. I see her brow knit. I’ve definitely been here before. She looks at me then and asks, horrified, if I’m going to ‘turn into a man’. I explain softly that no, I’m not going to turn into a man, I just don’t identify as a woman. I feel no connection with the gender I was assigned, but I don’t feel drawn to the male gender, either. I just didn’t know what I was.
Uh, no. She says, with an indignant tone – I am a lesbian, I sleep with women, therefore you are a woman. She turns back to the wheel.
This was my second coming out. Admittedly my ex-partner reacted a lot better than my mother did eight years prior when, caught having an argument on the phone with a supposed friend who subsequently outed me to the entire school, I had to own up. I’d asked a girl out at school. I was gay.
How, then, does a person go from being ‘gay’, to gender-free? Isn’t that a contradiction? Because surely a lesbian is a woman who sleeps with other women and it’s as simple as that.
I’d like to say that my coming to terms with my gender identity (or, non-identity?) was the result of me simply awakening one morning, having a sudden epiphany and declaring, ‘This is bullshit.’ But, no.
Honestly, the more I scrutinize my life and childhood, the more obvious it becomes that this was a journey I began as soon as I was able to grasp the fact that there were ‘boys’, and there were ‘girls’. I was fine with that, but I wasn’t interested in being one of them, and it never occurred to me that I had to be until much later. I remember clearly that even as I was just beyond half-way to double digits, I was making friends with all the prettiest girls in the class. I remember the awestruck admiration I’d have for attractive adult females. I befriended boys, too. Wasn’t so important to me that they were pretty.
I resented my mother’s efforts to put me in dresses, but had little interest in sharing my father’s passion for football. In my adult life I’d share his interest in politics. I’d join boxing classes. I’d invest in a sewing machine. I’d grow my hair out. I’d date a lot of girls, and a few boys. And through it all, I’d endure a constant feeling of vague alienation from the people and culture surrounding me.
A big part of my finding my gender queer identity was falling in love with feminism. Although I’ve always called myself feminist, it’s only truly over the last couple of years that I’ve educated myself in feminist issues, and I mostly did this through feminist writing on the internet. And in these writings I found the questions I had asked throughout my childhood and young adulthood both asked and answered. Feminism had the same disdain for this whole gender thing that I did. More importantly, feminism gave me a term for myself.
Over time I’d become more confident in my gender identity, and I would refer to myself less as gay.
The more I learned, however, the more questions I needed to find an answer for. I was born female. I can’t deny my biology, surely. Am I deluding myself? Am I insulting transgender people by essentially identifying as one of their community, while rarely having to face the same discrimination they do because I appear to be a cisgender woman? And if I do not identify as a woman, can I call myself a feminist?
I can’t answer all of these questions. Not yet, anyway. But I know that how I identify has no bearing upon the prejudices of others. No person may choose how they are discriminated against. I am gender free. But this, my breasts do not recognise. Nor my hips, or my hands, or the rounded curve of my face. I have been insulted, patronized, harassed, and assaulted as a woman, because this is what I will always be to the eyes of others. And so this is my place in feminism, that while I remain a genderless mind in a body automatically gendered by society, I am subjected to everything any woman is. I am wronged in all the same ways. This is how I am a gender free feminist.