I haven’t said much that’s personal about my child, Link, since my last post in April. Last week we finally visited Link (age 20) in Toronto and I sussed out what’s happening on the Gender Identity Frontier 🙂
Link came out as genderqueer at age 16. This refers to someone who is not exclusively male or female, and embraces both genders. After moving to Toronto at 18, new friends were referring to Link as “he” and “him.” Link hadn’t told me about wanting to become a man, but I gradually got used to the idea. I had expressed some hesitation about it when we spoke about it a year earlier. I thought Link was trying to spare my feelings by not telling me. I thought that when I visited Toronto, or Link visited home, I would have the shock of seeing him with facial hair and muscles and a deeper voice!
As it turns out, I spoke too soon. After reading the blog post cited above, Link told me they were still genderqueer and not planning to become a man. However, they still planned to have top surgery (chest reconstruction) and possible take testosterone. Say what?
I think what it comes down to is that your body parts alone do not make you male or female – your mind does. Link does not want to be perceived as a woman at first glance and treated accordingly. Link wants to have a body that is more in tune with their self-image, and that does not involve being curvy or having breasts. On the other hand, Link doesn’t buy into macho culture or want to take a traditionally male role in society.
Hence, Link is genderqueer. Not female. Not male, but perhaps more so. Androgynous, yes. Neutral, no. I asked Link if they still felt they were “somewhere on the trans-masculine spectrum” and the answer was yes. Link would even say they are transgender. But the end result will not be “a man” but an individual who is comfortable with their body and how they look, even though some might say it’s “in between.”
Interestingly, among people who are born biologically female and later live as male, there are two main paths. (I am generalizing here). Some present themselves as male and live as male without any body changes. Others go the medical route and have top surgery and/or take testosterone. However, having “bottom surgery” (genital reconstruction) is much less common. Nevertheless, they all fully identify as male.
Link, on the other hand, will probably make permanent body changes, but not choose to publicly identify as a man. Link doesn’t mind being perceived as a man, but doesn’t work hard at the full effect. They are comfortable with some degree of male identification, but not the whole shebang.
Like all people, Link is a lot of things besides a gender, or a gender variant! Link’s career is in a traditionally female field (sewing) and they love crafting, cooking, baking and fashion. Link’s other interests are neutral – computers, art and design. Nothing about their interests is dramatically boyish. Going further, people aren’t just about their hobbies and interests, either. Gender is also expressed in how you see the world and how you present yourself and how you treat others. In those ways, Link is more masculine.
Link’s gender is defined not so much by what they are as by what they are not: not girly, not feminine, not nicey-nice, not demure, not a wife or mother, not a tomboy. On the other hand, Link is outgoing and friendly, flamboyant, attention-seeking, strong-willed, smart and loyal.
In some ways, it was easier for me to think of Link ending up as a man. It’s easier to explain when you start at Point A and end at Point B. There’s a well-known narrative: you were trapped in the wrong body, and now you’ve fixed it. Link’s story is not going to be that simple. It’s possible they’ll go through the rest of life with some people assuming they’re male, some assuming they’re female, and others confused or angry, saying, “What are you?” You know the answer, right?
A human being.
Now I see why folks like Link embrace the word queer and why it inspires such a strong and welcoming community. If you are queer, you embrace the whole human condition, all the variations of gender and sexuality, without assumptions. You are going to find variations you’ve never heard of. You won’t know what language to use or how to act. The only way around it is to ask and to listen.
I asked Link what they’d like my blog readers to know. They said:
- There are more than two genders.
- If you hesitate over someone’s gender, or really can’t tell, avoid using any gender words.
- If someone appears to be male or female and is doing nothing to obscure their gender, then it is most often safe to refer to them as he or she in the traditional way.
- If someone asks you to refer to them by certain gender pronouns, such as he, she, ze or they, honour their wishes and don’t try to talk them out of it.
- If someone asks you to call them a new name or nickname, again, honour their wishes and don’t use their birth name.
- Finally, says Link, it would be great if there were more public washrooms that were just one door/one room/one stall, that could be used by anyone and didn’t need Ladies and Gentlemen signs.
Not too difficult!
Do you know or have you met anyone who is genderqueer or gender variant? How have you responded? Did it work out OK?