Five years ago I published this piece on May 5th, and it quickly became the most shared and commented on essay I’ve written. Since this marks the 250th Blog post, I thought I’d repost it here. Thanks for reading:
I had to fill out an online form for a writer’s conference and I knew all the answers about my identity but one.
Gender. You’d think this wouldn’t be such a difficult question.
Don’t get me wrong; I know I’m “male.” At least I thought so. But the form had a drop-down menu, and when I hit the little arrow to expose what I thought would be a binary choice, male or female, with a possible third entry of some form of Trans, I found these eleven options:
A gender not identified here
I had to look up some of them.
The first two along with Transgender and Transsexual all seem obvious, though one might argue that if a Male or Female does trans to the other, once the trans is done they are officially the other gender, but I’m sure the trans-aspect of life doesn’t every completely fade. Transsexual and Transgender, like Male and Female, are well established terms, one being the operation is complete, the other the “identification” is complete, but the packaging is original. For the latter Trans option, I asked myself if I identify more with the other “standard” gender—Female for me—than I do my birth gender, Male. If the answer had been yes, then I’d have checked Transgender. That was an easy one, though for some it can create problems, not the least of which is choosing a public bathroom.
Agender totally baffled me. Bigender I understood, particularly if I had been born with a mixture of gender identifiers (see Intersex below), or I never quite Transed all the way and am still walking the line between genders—bigender it is. But agender—having no gender—doesn’t make sense to me. I suppose if I simply couldn’t identify with either (as opposed to having tendencies to identify with both), I’d be absent gender—agender. But then I still feel like I would have to make some call in the matter. At the end of the day I really do have to pee, and at some point I need to commit. Bigender implies I can use either bathroom, of course. But agender leaves me hanging. I have nothing on that one.
Androgynous was easy; I am of the age to well remember “Androgynous Pat” of Saturday Night Live. In this case I am drawn toward parallels with bigender, though now I think this might better explain agender. The middle ground here gets murky. Bigender, agender, and androgynous all imply similar non-committal answers to the initial question. Still, I do not think they’re synonyms. In fact, agender and bigender might be precise opposites with the same outcome. One identifies with neither and the other both, leaving both in a holding pattern when it comes to decision making. Just writing that makes me feel uninformed, so my confusion could very likely be lack of experience and information more than lack of clarity on the part of the form. This is a writer’s conference, after all.
Cisgender is crystal clear. Cisgender is when I solidly identify with my birth gender. No freaking pink paint or rainbows in my room, Bucko. This is where the answer to the initial question is not “Male” but “you’re damn right I’m male, asshole.”
Gender fluid basically means at any given moment I can move unseen between the two dominant genders, which is very different from transgender where the move is deliberate and usually one-way. There is a breed of sandpiper here on the east coast that is gender fluid. I am not belittling people who are as well. I just don’t know of any, but I have seen the sandpipers, so relax.
Intersex is less confusing than it seems. It feels a lot like gender fluid but it turns out this is when someone is a hermaphrodite—born very clearly with both dominant gender organs apparent. I figure by the time someone is old enough to fill out a form for a writer’s conference and has to choose this option, he/she has already transitioned, or at least might probably check the bigender box, though bigender implies “identity” whereas intersex is a physical reality. It is possible to be intersex but completely identify with only one of the two, making an altogether new, hyphenated category.
What makes my mind wander, however, is gender not identified here. In coming up with that option, wouldn’t the list creators had to have at least entertained at least one other, or is that option to leave the door open for some combination not yet considered? They may have been thinking about the US Navy vet who went through an operation to become like a tiger. He grew whiskers and had a mechanical tail surgically implanted. Check transfeline if you fall into this category.
For the record, I have friends in nearly every one of these categories, and they can share a bathroom with me anytime.