Hello, I have a few questions to ask.. Recently my partner of nearly three years has come out to me as genderqueer.. I am a very supportive partner, and this would normally have done nothing but encourage me to help them and make them as comfortable as possible. But befre, he/she had considered themselves ftm for months before that. I feel confused and upset. What do I do? I have spent months dating and loving them as a man, and now they are suddenly both. I still love them, but I'm confused.
I wish that tumblr would stop hating us and allow you to put more into an ask, because I’d love to help you, but I’m confused about what the trouble is.
I get that this is a time of transition for both of you. I’m sure that your partner spent a lot of time with doubt and questioning, especially given the pressure we’re all under to “just pick a gender and stick with it.” It may help the both of you to talk about what that time was like for them, why they felt they couldn’t talk to you about their questioning as it was happening, and any changes they expect in your treatment of them (maybe none at all, maybe just pronouns, maybe a whole list of things). It’s important to ask these questions in ways that remind your partner that they can be approached on their own terms; you don’t want to act as though you had some sort of right to this information before they were ready to give it to you, or that now that you’ve shown that you’re supportive they must necessarily keep you in the loop about every little shift they’re feeling. People process things differently and going from a binary gender identification to a non-binary one is scary, particularly when your binary gender was already expressed in a trans way. It may be that they needed to get it all together in their head before they could talk about it. I think that this happens especially frequently with non-binary genders because most of the world doesn’t know they exist, and there aren’t a lot of really nice, comfortable, descriptive ways to talk about non-binary identities. Also, I know a lot of trans people who feel bad about “inconveniencing” people with the shifts in their identities, so they’d rather feel certain before they come out. Yes, this even happens with people they trust and people who have explicitly said to them that whatever they need gender-wise is totally doable and important.
Which brings me to something that I think it’s really major that you do. You say you’re feeling hurt and confused; I think that you should explore what exactly about this situation is hurting you. This is a place where your feelings will be valid, but they may not be feelings that I would recommend you express to your partner. I’m in the habit of dealing with some of my more hurtful-towards-others’ emotions on my own, and, depending on what your pain stems from, you may want to consider doing the same. For instance, if you feel betrayed or lied to, it might help to remind yourself that gender is wildly personal and that no matter what type of bond exists between two people it can be very difficult to talk about for a number of reasons. I’m sure that your partner told you about it the moment they were ready to talk, and that they were not trying to lie to you. This has not been dishonesty on the part of your partner.
On the other hand, if something else is hurting you (I can’t really imagine anything right now, but it’s possible that there’s valid pain that could stem from another person’s coming out), you should talk to your partner about that. As much as gender is personal, efforts towards affirming gender expression, particularly ones that involve transition (I don’t know what your partner’s plans are), can take their toll on a wide circle of people. Make sure that your partner is not using their transition to wield power over you or centralize themself in areas of your relationship that don’t pertain to this issue.
It’s a delicate balance for some people to find. If this just happened, I’m sure that there’s an adjustment period, but it sounds like you’ve done that once before. I hope you and your partner use this as an opportunity to get to know each other better. Besides I’m sure that after a while you’ll find that aside from a few things here and there, there’s not so much difference among genders anyway. Presumably your partner is the same person they always were, but hopefully a little more comfortable with who they are now.
I hope this was helpful to anything that’s going on in your situation. Please feel free to get in touch with me about more specific questions or circumstance.
I think another fun and scary question to ask yourself is, “Why is that gender?” You know, whatever feels like it contributes to your gender, why is that gender? And I think it goes back to this constructionist understanding that if society didn’t invest it with meaning (and if we didn’t invest it with our individual meanings in reaction to society’s prescribed meanings, because honestly, even when you’re saying it means the opposite of what society says, that’s directly influenced by society’s perceptions. There’s no escape) it wouldn’t really have meaning. But it does.
I deal with this question a lot, particularly from people who don’t really know me, around the makeup-wearing and passion for facial hair and women’s shoes aspects of my gender identity. After all, those are just things, how can they be part of gender? Isn’t that a little shallow?
It’s not. Those are tools that give me a lot of power to subvert people’s assumptions about me. They are, in fact, some of the most important parts of my gender identity because they are the parts over which I have the most control. While I do not have the energy or space to use my preferred presentation all the time, I always think of myself in terms of these presentational tools, and I always wish that I could be using them. And that’s a big deal to me. Without them, I am compromising on people’s understanding of my gender and on my own ability to see myself as whole. I don’t care if that feels shallow to people; it feels safe to me.
I think I spend a lot of time thinking that gender isn’t a real thing and is totally unimportant and doesn’t exist and is entirely meaningless and then I remember that it’s actually the love of my life and that it’s really important to me and a lot of people.
Is it wrong to say gender identity is a social construct? Like... the actual feeling inside of you that is your gender is innate, BUT how you perceive yourself is socially constructed? Thus, how you identify your gender is socially constructed? I ask this because in my over-simplified Intro to Sociology class... my prof and my textbook says gender is a social construct, and I'm just like: No, it's not. Blah, I hate that class
Ok, this ended up being really long, but I hope you’ll bear with me, and that what I’ve written is actually helpful to you:
No, it’s not wrong, it’s just complicated. For me, social constructionism is a good way of getting people over the sex=gender hump; it helps them to understand that whatever traits, mannerisms or identities are associated with specific types of bodies come from essentially arbitrary designations built up by society, and that the idea of there being categories of people whose bodies, lives, and characteristics are diametrically opposed doesn’t actually make a lot of sense. In this way social constructionism is useful because once people have internalized it, they stop saying that the shape of my genitals or the configuration of my chromosomes (that I guess they know even though I don’t?) or whatever else they wanna pull with me means that I have to be a woman or act a certain way. So I think there is a lot of validity to the idea that gender identity is a social construct. In fact, all identities are socially constructed. If the values of our society were different, we’d all have very different identities because we’d think about the things that are true of us very differently; if we lived in a society that didn’t entrench differences, we wouldn’t need to work so hard to claim places for ourselves that made sense to us.
I don’t even know if I would say gender is innate. Sure, some of the things we do come naturally to us, but I would never tell anyone that their gender wasn’t real if they had intentionally cultivated a particular part of it for whatever reason. Sometimes parts of your gender will feel really great and comfortable for you because of what they signal to other people, and that’s ok. It’s cool to ask yourself what you would stop doing if it didn’t mean anything to anyone; so much of what feels important to me about my gender now would probably be significantly less interesting to me if gender ceased to be a thing people cared about and categorized. I’ve come to terms with that. Gender isn’t just one thing, and it’s important to keep that in mind.
The truth of social constructionism can be seen here: try to think about your gender as something completely separate from your interactions with others. This includes strangers’ reactions to you, lovers’ treatment of your body, how good looking you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror, all of that. Try sitting around alone in your room doing nothing and wearing as neutral clothing as you can without triggering dysphoria (and by neutral I mean, like, sweat pants, not high-andro gear), and see if you feel your gender as acutely as you do when you’re doing absolutely anything else. It’s pretty difficult, I find.
Where constructionism is dangerous is when it is oversimplified or taken to extremes. I have heard people use social constructionism as a way to dismiss the gender identities of individuals and groups. Their argument is that if gender is socially constructed, it doesn’t matter. People who make these arguments come from two (usually linked) categories: gender-privileged people and gender idealists.
Gender-privileged people are able to dismiss gender because in their day-to-day lives they do not experience how onerous the social construction of their gender is. They’re receiving as many oppressive messages about gender as the rest of us, but those messages praise and reinforce what they’re already doing, whereas the rest of us experience those messages as shaming and invalidating or even erasing. For gender privileged people, there’s much less need to think, talk, or organize around gender because the status quo doesn’t bother them. Usually they haven’t actually managed to internalize social constructionism, so they’re still experiencing their genders as natural and perceiving any gender that isn’t expressed in a cis way as perpetuating a false idea that gender is “important” or “something real.” People who are not cis usually have to put in more effort towards being read properly, and gender-privileged people read this effort as problematic when they can’t acknowledge that for them the work was already done.
The second group of people is gender idealists. I personally find these folks a lot more difficult to explain the importance of gender to because at least gender-privileged non-idealists usually have a pretty concrete sense of having a specific gender, even if they couldn’t tell you what that means. Most of the gender idealists I know don’t experience gender as important in their own lives, so they figure I should find it equally unimportant. After all, it’s just a social construct, so, like, it’s no big deal how people perceive you, right? The problem with this approach is that as much as identifying as a human being might work for some people (cis and trans alike, frankly, though I see it a lot more in people whose presentations aren’t so androgynous as to attract negative attention and usually get them read one way or another that doesn’t bother them. When I try to point out the privilege in this, they are usually quick to tell me a story about a time when this was not the case. And that’s fine, I need to be checking my assumptions, but I’ve been there; I know how quickly one can get comfortable again once gender becomes easy.), and as much as that might lead them to understand that it’s possible to live unconcerned with gender, I have to live in a world that is not populated entirely by idealists, and I have specific ways that I like to be read, and I’ve had to spend a lot of time thinking about why that is, what oppressions are involved, and how I can make it most likely that I get the validation I need. So while it’s pretty awesome that there are people who can use social constructionism to avoid thinking about their own genders, I used it as a jumping-off point to really get at the heart of what was important to me, and then I had to abandon it in favor of a practical approach to the real world in which my emotional health was more important to adhering to a theory.
Idealism is where the usefulness of social constructionism is stopped in its tracks. It perverts an idea that these distinctions are not natural into one that says that these distinctions should not be important. In fact, the opposite is true: things that are socially constructed are things that society decides are so important they need to be forced into the lives of every single person. When that happens, they become real. Not natural, but very, very real. Gender is an entrenched, hierarchical system of oppression, and idealists forget that simply telling everyone that it’s not natural (or worse, acting like everyone already knows it’s not natural) is not going to uproot it or make it less important. We grow up with these ideas planted firmly in our consciousnesses and sometimes it takes more than theorizing to get them out.
When you’re faced with a system of oppression that you’d like to dismantle, in my opinion, the first thing you can do for yourself and others is to get free. The way I see it, you can’t help anyone if you haven’t helped yourself first, so you get as free as you can within the confines of the system, and then you support other people in that process so that when it comes time to be fighting the systematic roots of it, you’re not all sucked back into the spiral. For some people getting free means reading theory and teaching themselves that it doesn’t matter, for others (me) that means switching pronouns and presentations until you find one that makes you feel seen, for others that means accessing medical interventions to bring their bodies more in line with their sense of themselves, and there are millions of other ways that individuals can get free. What’s important is to remember that your way is not the only way or the best way. Don’t let idealists or anyone else tell you how to get free.
Ahhh I thought you did really well in Mr Transman. Your hair looks rad. I'm painfully shy so I didn't say hello, but I was standing behind your parents the whole time. *waves* Also I know some people who go to your school! Toni-Anne Stewart and Bryce Livingston? Went to high school with Toni; she is HILARIOUS.
Thanks, Mollie! I’m glad you enjoyed it. You should totally have said hi. I’m sure I would have been awkward too, but it would have been so cool.
I know both of those people, and they both rock a lot.
hahahaha, no. I mean, whenever we’re out together, people think that, but that’s because we are deep in friend love. She’s my best friend, and my inspiration in so many things. She’s pretty much the reason I know all the things that I know. She’s in a long term, monogamous relationship with newshoesoldhat. Besides, I don’t really ever use the term girlfriend or boyfriend or boifriend and am non-monogamous.
Am I not the luckiest makeup-wearing, hyper-feminine, female-assigned, male-centered, genderfucked androgyne with a passion for facial hair and women’s shoes in the whole damn world that I get to actually spend time with and be loved by this super hottie?
That awkward moment when you're pretty sure you're getting packing bruises
I’m packing today for the first time actually ever. I’ve packed for an hour here and there, with socks or other tube-shaped things, but finally I made myself a hair gel packer and then it’s taken me months to get into the headspace of using it and feeling like I knew how, so today’s the first day I’ve really gone for it with something that might be said to actually resemble a flaccid penis. I’m determined to wear it all day. I made a joke with a friend that now that my hair is brown I can really probably pull off straight boy realness, so that’s what today’s about.
Honestly, though, I don’t have a harness on this bad boy and it’s hard for me to keep it in its place. It keeps riding up and sitting directly in front of my pelvis, which is kind of awkward and embarrassing for me. So I keep having to sneak off to put my hands down my pants really aggressively.
Also, even my straight boy pants are pretty tight, so that’s how bruising might be happening.