Gender: Queer

About a year ago I started a Somewhere in the Middle group at my church for people who are trans, genderqueer, gender-flexible, and friends. I co-moderate the group with my transman housemate Ryan, who has actually done a whole undergraduate degree in counseling and has  graciously allowed me to take advantage of him by de facto making him a co-leader.

We are a diverse bunch, unsurprisingly. There are three transmen in three stages of transition—one fully transitioned for years, me (on T for a year, but pre-surgery and legal document change), and Ryan who has yet to start medical or legal transition but has been living and identifying as male for more than a year; one genderqueer person who is the spouse of the fully-transitioned transguy; one transwoman who transitioned in the 1970s; two cisfemale lesbians, one who identifies as butch, one as low femme (not partners); and a cisfemale straight person. Recently we gained two new people, both of whom identify as cisgendered: one lesbian, and one gay man.

Because we had new people, we decided to do introductions again, and because our new members were relatively unfamiliar with the various definitions we operate under, we covered some of the Trans101 kind of ideas about how gender and sexuality aren’t the same thing, and once you start taking apart gender, sexuality becomes much more murky. All the usual words—gay, straight, lesbian, and bisexual—are based on a binary gender system. You are either male or female. You are attracted to either males, or females, or both (but if it’s both you’re suspect, can’t make up your mind, are in denial, just want attention, are a traitor, are greedy, or maybe all of those things.)

If you have a vagina and you sleep with a person who has a vagina, and you both have beards, go by male names and pronouns, and use the men’s restroom, are you in a gay relationship? A lesbian one? What if you used to be in a lesbian relationship and then one of you transitioned to living as male while the other continued to identify as female, are you now straight? What if you don’t feel like you’re male or female? What if you feel like you’re some of both? Or more than both?

The whole thing got me thinking about the intersection of gender and sexuality. Ryan pointed out in the meeting that the cues our culture uses to identify someone as gay or straight are actually largely gender cues, which begs the question: if gender and sexuality are orthogonal, then why do gender cues inform our opinions about someone’s sexuality?

If a man acts in a way that culture defines as effeminate, or a woman looks or acts especially masculine, they’re likely to be considered gay, but what they’re doing is giving off gender cues, not sexual preference cues. And they aren’t really the same gender cues that straight people give off. A gay man might have some traits that are similar to the way straight cis women act, but there are a lot of differences. Likewise for a butch lesbian as compared to a straight cis man. (There’s a whole other topic here, too, on misogyny and how it’s at the root of homophobia, but I’ll save that for another time.)

The thing is, I’m starting to think that maybe queer is a gender. In fact, on a dating website, I defined myself as “queersexual, preferring people who identify as some stripe of the rainbow.” Why is that? There’s something about queer folk that attracts me, and that I identify with. Some of it is my preference for rebels and outsiders, and some of it, I think, is due to an assumption on my part that people who identify as “not completely heterosexual” and/or “not completely cisgendered” are likely to be more open-minded, more likely to have thought about gender and sexuality themselves, and so will be more like me.

Maybe that’s all it is, really, but I don’t think so. When I think about what kind of men I’m attracted to, it’s almost exclusively queer ones. (I’m not talking about simple aesthetics, by the way. If we’re just playing the “hot or not hot” game, then all bets are off.) The thing is, I really enjoy the company of queer men as friends. Maybe it’s an issue of not having a lot of straight, cismale friends. I have a few, and actually, am deeply fond of them, but I’m not interested in them sexually. So it’s not really friendships that are at issue here, it’s sexual attraction.

But maybe there’s a factor of availability coming into play. After all, I’m unlikely to turn a straight man’s head. So let’s look at women: am I more attracted to queer women than straight ones? Again, yes. But why? The more I inhabit a male appearance and identity, the less attractive I’m making myself to lesbians, and yet I’m still drawn to them. Is it because I know queer women aren’t going to be alarmed by what they find inside my boxers?

That really is a factor, I think. I’ve held back from any serious flirting with gay men because I can’t quite convince myself the plumbing I have won’t end up causing a scene right out of The Crying Game. Similarly, with straight women. No matter how clever I am with fingers, toys, and tongue, my dick is prosthetic and probably always will be.

And yet I know that sexual attraction is about a lot more than genitalia. As is sexual and gender identity. One of the things that helped me understand myself as transgender was how uncomfortable I felt when a friend invited me, several years ago, to be part of a women’s spirituality circle, and at the same time said she wasn’t comfortable holding meetings while her husband was around, because of the male energy he brought into the house. At the time I was still identifying as female, and certainly looked female, but I was well aware of the large dose of male energy I was walking around with. When I went to a few of the group meetings, I almost felt like an interloper, and definitely like an imposter.

I feel like I should be leading somewhere concrete with this, and I wish I could. I wish I could articulate my hypothesis—queer is a gender—and then systematically and logically argue for its truth. But I still haven’t freed myself from the gender binary even here: glance back over this entry and note how often the words “woman” and “man” have crept into my writing, almost without my thinking. And I know that’s not right.

On the other hand, maybe if you deconstruct gender all the way, you end up with heterogeneity so complete—every individual redefines gender, so that in a population of seven billion, there are seven billion genders in the world—that it looks like homogeneity. Everyone is different, so everyone is the same.

That’s not quite right either.

So let’s go back to the question of sexual attraction: are there any broad strokes I can apply to identify, out of that seven billion, characteristics that are common to the kinds of people I tend to be sexually attracted to? Yes. They tend to be smart, independent, free-thinking, aware of gender and sexuality as issues that need consideration, and unfettered by the dominant cultural rules about sexuality and gender expression. In a word, queer.

I guess for now, that’s good enough.

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~ by Nezu on 29 June 2012.

One Response to “Gender: Queer”

  1. Wise and thoughtful, as always.

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