Over on Twitter, @CassanderDragon
(who is also cassander42
) asked me a question (across four tweets) that is totally worth discussing:
@Kistaro Current gender: oscillating wildly with minimal provocation. Cognitively, I'm not even keeping up with myself here.
@CassanderDragon How do you determine that one personality is male and one is female? Isn't gender an external rather than internal construct? | I'm genuinely curious, btw. I'm not trying to attack or call your views into question or anything. | I always figured transgenderism was about wanting to be treated like / viewed as the gender you weren't born with by society. | So I've always been curious how genderfluid people work.
So there are actually multiple questions all bundled up there. To be fair, the original query never pretended to be exactly one question anyway. But all these questions are individual, and hard to answer; you're not going to get an answer about "how genderfluid people work", but I can at least give an answer about how I work.
The first thing is about how I experience gender itself. Gender isn't quite
purely an external construct. I identify a lot of different traits about myself. Some have practical definitions, some have social definitions, and some have intuitive definitions. Most, of course, cross boundaries. Traits have different levels of stability. "I am a software engineer" is practical objective, so isn't prone to fluctuating as long as I keep my current career path. "I am a dragon" is intuitive, but hasn't fluctuated for twenty years. "I am trustworthy" is social, and fluctuates mostly as a function of background social anxiety. For me, "I am $gender" is primarily intuitive, and fluctuates wildly unpredictably, sometimes at very rapid intervals, and defaults to "not present".
That default means that a decent percentage of the time (I can't say "majority", as it's not over half, but it's the most common state), I don't consider myself to be gendered. When I do not particularly have a gender identity, I am not intuitively recognizing myself as being described by any particular gender. It's not a lack of a thing, it's just not a thing. No matter how my gender has decided to fluctuate itself, I don't want to be pre-evaluated from gender stereotypes, but I'm especially uncomfortable with it when I'm not gendered.
But sometimes my intuitive sense of self-gender is present. Sometimes it is, in fact, very loud. What it has to say is not entirely predictable, although it can be provoked; getting interested in some form of media or some concept that has a gender component to it will usually nudge mine around for a bit, and people I'm emotionally close to are also a very strong influence. (Just talking to people nudges it around.) That effect is usually reasonably consistent for any given person, although the way in which it is consistent varies from person to person. Some people always nudge my gender in the same direction; others push it based on their mood or how they're conducting themselves. That last one is the most common pattern I wind up with when I get to know someone who is also genderfluid.
My sense of self-gender is not reliably consistent with society's expectations of gender. I wish I could give a good explanation of how it affects me, beyond my self-image. It's no easier to express than any other intuitive aspect of identity, though; it shapes my thoughts and behavior at a level far below that which I am conscious of, so while I can observe changes, I can't really identify them happening directly. I am reasonably confident that something
in my conduct changes, since a handful of people who know me well have become able to infer my current gender identity without my actually mentioning it, and notice its fluctuations.
Sometimes they're better at it than I am! One of the anxious and unstable states I can wind up in is when my gender identity has changed but my self-image and mental voice haven't adjusted to keep up. Sometimes this happens for no identifiable reason and a sense of rising anxiety is, in fact, my first clue that my gender has changed out from under me. I'm learning to explicitly ask myself what my current gender is when I start to experience causeless anxiety, and sometimes the answer surprises me, and being aware of that answer can often on its own stop the anxiety problem. I'm talking about an experience rather than a cause here because I have absolutely no idea why this happens. All I know is that it does.
Something I haven't said much about is how my gender interacts with how I'd like to be treated by others. This is in part because it doesn't actually have a lot of impact. I would like to be treated as myself, and that means "someone with an unstable gender identity". As such, I would prefer to be addressed with neutral pronouns, and generally to not be evaluated on the basis of gender. That's a generalization, but one that, for me, won't "go wrong"; I never expect someone to read my current gender, I just really like it to be acknowledged that it is not a stable and unchanging thing any more than any other part of my state of mind is.
I think it's important to note that "current gender" is
part of my mood and is not really separate from it. It's simply another group of dimensions. It is not thought of as odd for a person to fluctuate between happy and distressed, energetic and non-energetic, timid and bold, social and asocial throughout the day; I merely also fluctuate between male and female, and gendered and nongendered as well. I can be strongly gendered and be at a dead neutral point between male and female (that's actually kind of common for me), just as I can be very male or very female and at the same time not very gendered at all- it's just quite polarized for what aspects of gender there are. So those two things are independent, just like you can construct an emotion out of any of those other aspects of mood I mentioned. For me, gender is no more externally-defined or purely social than any of those other pieces of transitory, experienced, emotional mood.
So I guess that last paragraph may be the important one (and probably makes the best blurb for Tumblr and its preferred content length). Gender is not fundamentally different from other aspects of mood for me, and that non-differentiation seems to be itself the unusual part compared to folks with more stable genders. Being treated as gendered isn't different from being treated as a happy person or being treated as a timid person; while you can develop expectations about a person's tendencies, it seems nonsensical that you would expect someone to experience an extreme mood all the time and if they do there is probably something wrong. Constantly experiencing an extreme of gender is apparently the normal thing for most people (although I suspect that genderedness
fluctuates for everybody, while gender generally does not), but it isn't for me, and it's a real and internal thing, not purely some construct from society any more than "happy" is.
I've migrated to DreamWidth. The original post is at http://kistaro.dreamwidth.org/488266.html. View comments at http://kistaro.dreamwidth.org/488266.html#comments; go ahead and use OpenID to post your own, or you can comment here.