Starting last month, I’m offering one monthly slot to a guest author in the sex blogging community! I’m really excited to get some more voices on this website, especially about things I may not be the best person to speak about, such as gender fluidity, trans issues, or very specific areas of kink I haven’t explored. This month, my lovely, wonderful friend SugarCunt has written about gender and nonbinary feels. If you’re interested in writing for a monthly guest slot, let’s chat, but for now, let’s get to Sugar’s piece.
I have kicked around the idea of writing about gender for some time now, but could ever find the right words. The last time I published about gender was about 6 years ago, and my self-concept has only changed a little bit since then, although not drastically, but my feminism and understanding of gender has leveled up a fuckton.
I wasn’t sure where to start when I sat down to write this. Do I talk about my gender dysphoria as it manifests with my body? Because that’s where a lot of people start. I’ve talked about it in every brain dump I’ve written about my gender feels. And there are definitely changes that I could make to my body that I think would feel more affirming for my gender… sometimes.
There’s a misconception about the trans community that we all want to change our bodies, and an even wider and more harmful misconception that we have to change our bodies. Part of the reason that is so harmful is because it erases and invalidates non-op folks. If you’re feeling lost reading that sentence, don’t worry, I can explain.
The term “non-op” means that someone does not want to undergo surgery as part of their transition, as compared to “pre-op,” which means that they have not yet had any operations for gender affirmation but intend to, and “post-op,” meaning that they have already completed some kind of gender-affirming surgery. Everyone has their own valid reasons for deciding whether they want to change their body or not. Hormones and surgery are not required components of the trans experience, and do not render anyone more or less valid, trans, feminine, or masculine.
The implication that sex characteristics and bodies must change for transition makes me reluctant to discuss those things here, when I’m trying to explain gender fluidity and my nonbinary identity in a vaguely succinct manner. Genitals do not equal gender. Genitals do not have genders, either. Ditto sex characteristics. And with that in mind, the way that my anatomy may or may not be representative of my gender does not mean that it represents another trans person’s gender in the same way.
I guess my point is that this is super complicated, y’all.
My entire life, I have always felt that I did not belong among the crowds of prim, pretty southern belles and rough ‘n tumble redneck girls that populated my hometown. I didn’t have much in common with women. I had a lot of internalized misogyny and I was a class-A “female” chauvinist pig – in order to parse how I did not fit in with binary women, I gravitated toward binary men, and in order to integrate into their social circles, I was super chauvinistic and shitty. But to be honest, I didn’t quite fit in there, either. I was socially “one of the guys,” but I was not internally a guy – I knew that pretty strongly. So I floated through life, feeling a little alien, until I took a Sociology of the Family course during my first year of college.
This Sociology class was probably the first time I realized that “transgender” was a thing that people could be. Up until then I’d just had a loathing for men and women, confusion about why I didn’t belong, and complicated feelings about the body parts that society used to gender me. In particular, the term “genderqueer” jumped out at me.
Nowadays, we tend to define genderqueerness as a smaller umbrella under the transgender umbrella, and we say that it refers to people with gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. Some people use nonbinary and genderqueer interchangeably, and I am (functionally) one of these people, although I typically prefer to specify that I am nonbinary for the sake of clarity. At 18, in a presentation in front of my Sociology class, I came out as genderqueer.
I had to discover my gender. I didn’t even know it was a thing. I just thought I was failing at womanhood, barred from manhood, and doomed to never find a place that fit. Finding out that I wasn’t an outlier, and that how I felt had a name, and a community? That made my heart race with hope.
I wish I could explain to you what clicked for me when I saw that there were more options than binary gender. If you are cisgender, there’s a good chance you won’t intimately “get it.” If you’re a transgender person outside of the binary, you might. Gender is a quale: a subjective, conscious experience, or a “raw feel.” If you can perceive color, there’s no way for you to explain a color to someone who has never perceived it in a way that will give them a total understanding of what the experience of seeing that is. I cannot explain being nonbinary to you in a way that will make you fully understand how it feels to be nonbinary. All I can do is give you some vignettes from my nonbinary life:
Most days, I feel outside of gender. On days when I just exist, naked and alone in my house, talking to no one, looking in no mirrors, gender feels are not usually of note. But occasionally I wake up and I feel gender-y – a little bit womanly, or a little bit manly. I present either masculine or feminine depending on my sensibilities, although what I interpret to be masc/femme may be read differently by different people. And sometimes, I feel that I am both.
The trouble with this is that all of it hinges on the idea that personality traits and presentation are inherently gendered. They are not. Anger is not a masculine feature. Empathy is not a feminine feature. These are genders that our cultural framework has assigned to features, and all that this rigid gendering and enforcement of gender essentialism does is limit everyone’s humanity. If you’ve ever agonized over not feeling masculine enough or feminine enough, that’s because gender essentialism is wrecking your life! Thanks, patriarchy!
Some people have more of a concept of their gender than I do. Some people wake up every day and feel a specific shift in their gender. My gender is so nebulous that I cannot do this. I can just find external things that reinforce a certain gendered feeling, and then I gravitate to those things on certain days, usually unconsciously.
Sometimes it is a choice. If I have to attend something I’m anxious about, the ritual of concentrating on my appearance to turn myself into an armored femme helps center me. My make-up makes me feel like I have defenses. Poison glistens on the tips of my black-painted cupid’s bow and my eyeliner wings are sharp enough to stab anyone who gets too close. Femme-as-armor helps me in two ways: looking more “together” helps offset some of the fat shaming that I receive, and looking fine as hell makes me feel like I am an exquisite, vengeful deity as I scorch the people who hurt me off the face of the planet.
I buy my first leather jacket from a thrift store when I am 20, right before I start university. I’m thrilled to find something in my size there at all, much less something I love so much and can actually afford. I slip it on and something inside me aligns just right – something that feels masculine, and makes me feel confident. With my freshly-buzzed head and some slightly stompy boots, I am in my butch element. My leather jacket is my staple all throughout my time at the university, when I am very, very butch. Tits out, jeans on, jacket up, and I am a ball of masculine-centered power. It helps me start to feel brave as I start a new chapter of my life – leaving my ex-fiance of five years, moving onto campus, building an entirely new social circle. That’s an awful lot of shit to get from a jacket.
[CW: Gender/body dysphoria about breasts and binding.]
I think about mastectomies often. Most days I do not like my breasts. They look nice enough in a bra, but I usually hate wearing bras. On the days I do not like my breasts, I consider my breasts to be cumbersome, useless, alien chunks of meat that grew from my chest without my permission. My nipples aren’t very sensitive (and when they are they tend to feel unpleasant), so I find nothing redeeming about the area at all. On the days I do like my breasts, the only thing I like about them is how they look in corsets, bras, and low-cut tops. They’re an accessory, not a part of my body that I want permanently attached.
I’m in my college dorm room, using an ace bandage to bind for the first time under the tutelage of my ex/roommate. It isn’t comfortable. Because of my fat body and large breasts, I look like I’m spilling out over the top of the bandage. At this point, I do not know much about how to shop for a binder, or that binding with bandages is inadvisable.
I look at myself in the mirror and I despair – I do not have the narrow, androgynous figure that I have seen in my dreams. I have enormous hips, and without the boobs to balance them out, my body is foreign. Instead of an hourglass, I look like an amphora. This is not an improvement. I do not want to look like an amphora. I turn to the side and hate what I see even more. None of this feels like me. None of this is what I want. I want an outside that looks as amorphous as my insides feel. I want to be both. I want to be neither. I want people to be uncertain.
I am agitated by my reflection. I knew that binding my breasts wouldn’t shrink my hips, but I didn’t know how much I was going to hate what I saw. Not only does my now-asymmetrically curvy body displease me because it doesn’t look the way I wanted it to look – it displeases me because I know this will get me harassed about my fat even more. A thousand pairs of eyes that will never see this are burning in my brain. Jeers fill my ears, even though I will never hear them in reality, because I will never let anyone see me like this. It feels like my insides are peeling like paint, like my self-concept is crumbling, like these things I was so excited to shed are going to be shackled to me forever because this isn’t me either.
I still think about mastectomies.
They feel like a pipe dream.
They feel far away.
I don’t bind again.
When I sat down to write this, I was nearing the tail end of a few hours of derealization. I struggled to find words, so I turned to my wife Zoe, who is a trans woman, to ask her about her experiences with gender. How she could feel it. How she could explain it. She had some really lovely things to say, and I wrapped it up by asking a question along the lines of, “But what does it feel like to know you’re a woman? How do you know?” She replied, “I don’t know. I just know.”
That resonated all the way through me.
That’s how I know I’m nonbinary.