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Am I genderqueer?

GenderqueerCharacteristics of masculinity and femininity differ greatly between cultures. Tiara the Merchgirl doesn’t fit neatly into any boxes and wants to know: Is genderqueer a reflection/rejection of society’s idea of gender? If so, whose society?

14 November 2010

This is probably going to sound really epically stupid, and perhaps transphobic, so many, many apologies in advance for the head-desk-ness of my queries.

I’ve met quite a few people recently who have identified themselves as genderqueer or bigender. I don’t think any of them have a physical/biological intersex condition, and as far as I know none of them are looking to transition physically. Their perspective seems to be that neither “male” nor “female” suits them, so they place themselves somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum.

Now as far as I understand, masculinity and femininity are largely societal constructs. Also, what makes something “masculine” or “feminine” can differ greatly between cultures. For example, in creating my Bengali Butch/Femme list, I found characteristics that were quite gender-divided in my heritage culture but not in White Australian culture, or vice-versa. In some places women and men have more defined roles, but there’s no power difference; they’re both equal, just different.

Then you have things like the Albanian sworn virgins and the Samoan fa’afafine – very culturally specific classes of gender that may not fit neatly into White Western ideas of male/female.

To me it’s a reflection of how different cultures deal with situations where codified gender roles and biological sex may not necessarily match up neatly but where “transgender” may not be the best term or situation. (Partly I feel there’s an element of the untranslatable happening here.)

My question(s) stem from this: I don’t feel like I can neatly relate to masculinity or femininity (and also butch or femme) as contemporary Western culture, or even Malaysian/Bengali culture, defines them.

I’m not particularly concerned with my appearances (however a woman is meant to look like), am not much of a homemaker, and may not feel as strong a need to be self-sacrificial like my mother or my aunts.

At the same time, I don’t feel like much of a tomboy or “butchy” either: I find sports boring, I don’t share my male relatives’ interest in looking sharp (appearance is important to them too and is a sign of Being a Man), and I’m not much of a provider either.

Based on the Bengali butch/femme list I am strongly femme – especially when you take into account things like being hyper-emotional, fussy/mothering, loud, brash, flamboyant – but I doubt my idea of “femme” is going to translate into Western ideas of “femme”.

I look up femme identity resources from Australia, US, UK, wherever there’s a stronger presence, and it doesn’t really resonate. Yet “butch” seems just as alien to me too. I remember being tired of being confused for a man for two months while working on a drag king character (I was being confused for a male even out of costume!) and really missing my womanliness.

Yet I don’t feel like I was born into the wrong body, or that I need to identify myself as anything beyond a cisgendered woman.

What gets to me is the expectations of what a woman is meant to be or act like, whether as an Asian woman or a Western woman. I suppose if there was a term for me it would be “gender-presentation-meh/indifferent”, but does that make me genderqueer?

I’m a woman who’s not particularly feminine or masculine. I’m not girly nor a tomboy. I’m more masculine than a lot of my female relatives, but I don’t desire to be male in the slightest.

I don’t think Western ideas of gender really work with me. Does that make me genderqueer?

Is genderqueer a reflection/rejection of society’s idea of gender? Whose society?

Tiara the Merchgirl is associate editor at The Scavenger.

Comments   

0 #2 Natasha Curson 2010-11-16 06:10
Hi Tiara. I enjoyed your piece - it's almost as though it complements my own article as it feels like another perspective on the relationship between sense of gender, cultural expressions of gender and the assertions of the dominant culture. Your piece doesn't read as transphobic at all - I certainly identify with the idea of testing out these different modes of gender expression to discover which of them feel authentic to my sense of my own self. In many ways these are signs and symbols - and the same signs and symbols can be liberatiing or oppressive depending on context and on how the person uses them.
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0 #1 Kathy 2010-11-15 19:52
I like your article. It is amazing timing as I was thinking about this same issue today and was wondering if there was anyone writing about this kind of thing. Thank you! :-)
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