I recently found a blog post where someone wrote about their identity as “gender agnostic.” I liked it so much that gender agnosticism is becoming part of how I describe my gender identity. It makes for a very apt description of the attitude I’ve been developing towards gender lately. The way I’ve been feeling about gender is similar to the way I feel about God. Weird, right?
My dad’s an atheist, and my mom identifies as spiritual, not religious, and dislikes organized religion a great deal because of bad experiences with a previous church. As a result, my attitude toward religion is fairly unusual. I think religion is fascinating, and I love learning about it. But I don’t know which one is the “right” one, if any. And I think God does exist, but I don’t think He, She, or They are what many people think of Them as. I don’t think God is a bearded old white man in the sky, like in the Renaissance paintings I saw as a kid. I don’t know what exactly God is, though. I don’t know if any human being will ever truly understand Them.
Years ago, I saw a short video in Juliana Luecking’s series “People Are A Trip.” For some reason, the video isn’t available on YouTube anymore, but there’s a transcript here. So with this series, Juliana went around and asked random people deep philosophical questions. In this particular video, she asked Kathleen Hanna, “What does God look like?” Kathleen’s answer has stuck with me ever since. Even her first attempt at answering fascinates me: ”There is no God. There’s no God… Like, God doesn’t look like anything, ‘cause there is no such thing as God.” (I find a lack of religious belief just as interesting as the presence of belief. Anyone with any kind of religious opinion interests me, as someone who’s wishy-washy and lacking conviction either way.)
But then Kathleen changed her mind. She reconsidered and said, “I think it’s just like a good force in the world. You know what I mean? Like, that thing that, when you’re really freaked out, makes you not kill yourself. So, in a way, it’s like the thing that lives in like any good artwork, or any great song that makes you happy, or a conversation you have with a friend that makes you feel like you exist and they exist and you’re really happy you both exist. Like, that’s God.”
And I’ve never been smited–smote?–by a bearded old white man in the sky, but I’ve felt that thing that made me not kill myself, even when I was feeling suicidal. And I believe in whatever thing exists in the artwork and songs I like, even if I can’t quite describe what it is or why I like it. And I’ve experienced that feeling when I’m having a good conversation with a friend and I’m incredibly happy that we’re alive and together right now. Maybe there’s some kind of scientific explanation for all those things, but I like the thought of something bigger than all of us connecting people together, giving us a reason to communicate and grow with each other.
I think God is real, but I think our definitions of Them are flawed, boiling down a huge, unexplainable concept into terms one person can understand. But because one person’s perspective is so limited, one person alone will never be able to know God. And maybe that’s why so many people worship together rather than alone. You increase your chances of understanding God fully when you hear multiple perspectives on Them, even if you still might never know Them completely.
Likewise, I think gender is this huge, unexplainable concept that one person alone can never fully understand. In fact, I find that the more I learn about it, the less I understand it. Even at an early age, before I knew about feminism and trans advocacy, I didn’t understand it. As far as I understood as a child, girls had certain bodies and boys had other bodies, and I got the girl edition, so that made me a girl, right? But I wanted to be a boy sometimes, and I liked things like X-Men and Star Wars, which were apparently “boy stuff.” I never understood why I couldn’t just like things. My XX chromosomes didn’t keep me from picking up a comic book. My private parts didn’t prevent me from sitting down and watching Star Wars.* But for some reason, I couldn’t just like the things I liked. People like me were called “tomboys,” and other kids were just called girls or boys.
When I was a child, my body wasn’t enough to make people accept me as a girl. I was never being a girl in the right way. Girls were supposed to act differently than I did. Girls were supposed to dress differently than I did. Girls were supposed to follow all these rules that I just didn’t understand. And then I got older and realized that I didn’t feel like a girl at all, but then I encountered radical feminists who said that actually, my body was enough and the only reason I “wanted to be a man” was because the patriarchy told me my interests were “masculine” and therefore inappropriate for me. And I was just like, “Where were you when I felt like I was being a girl wrong all these years? Why is it now, when I’m finally discovering my gender identity, that someone is telling me that my body is enough and I don’t need to change anything about myself? Where was this ill-informed gender acceptance when I could have used it?”
I felt caught between two warring perspectives where on the one hand, society thought my body wasn’t enough to make me a woman and I had to change who I fundamentally was to be one properly. On the other hand, there was this incredibly loud fringe group of feminists who thought that my body was not only enough to make me a woman but that it permanently made me one. No matter what hormones or surgeries I got, to them I would just be a woman who took testosterone or got genital surgery to escape the ill effects of the patriarchy.
And eventually I got really deep into the trans community, and that made any definitions of gender I’d managed to scrape together go down the drain. Yes, some trans women and trans men desperately wanted genital surgery, but others had never wanted such a thing at all and saw no need for it. Some trans women expressed themselves in very femme ways and considered that to be evidence of their womanhood, but others considered themselves to be butch or androgynous or tomboyish and still thought of themselves as women. Some trans men expressed themselves in traditionally masculine ways and considered that to be a sign of their manhood, but others considered themselves to be androgynous or femme or even girly and still saw themselves as men. What blew my mind the most was that while some non-binary people were androgynous, others veered more towards the masculine or feminine side of things but still didn’t feel male or female. And while I loved the variety, I was confused out of my damn mind. I’m still confused, honestly. But I’m growing comfortable with it, and I think this kind of confusion–constantly reevaluating my assumptions and changing them only to question them all over again right after they solidify–is a good place to be.
So I don’t know what gender is, if it’s not what you like to do or what clothes you wear or your hormones or your genitals. Lately, my own gender identity has mostly been, “Hell if I know. I just like taking my testosterone and having a flat chest, and I’m not a girl.” But I still believe in gender. I think it does exist. I just don’t know if it’s what many people think it is. And so many people have such different ideas about it anyway that I feel like I’m better off learning as many of their perspectives as possible than trying to define it myself. I don’t think I’ll ever understand gender fully, but I feel like the more perspectives I encounter, the closer I get to doing so.
Maybe the reason transgender people are so often accused of being “confused” is because we just don’t claim to be completely certain of gender like cisgender society does. Maybe a lot of us are confused and that’s an okay thing to be. Maybe we’re always learning, no matter who we are. Maybe that’s why I love being around trans and gender non-conforming people so much, because they constantly force me to learn. Maybe this is just a really long way of saying that I love my community, y’all. Here’s to staying gender agnostic and confused for a long time.
* I just wanna take a moment and say thank God for Rey. Thanks to the new Star Wars movie, no child is going to be told that Star Wars isn’t for girls ever again. It’s a damn bright future, y’all.