In July of 2011, I made a post about my gender. I said, after quite a lot of irate ranting about V.S. Naipaul,
I can spend the rest of my life fighting for recognition of a genderqueer identity and not account it time ill-spent. I can fight to convince reviewers to call me sie or xie or zie, to speak of hir writing or zir writing, to create a space in their language for a gender that is neither male nor female but instead both or either or neither, and I would not account that time ill-spent. But if I choose those fights, I may inadvertently spend the rest of my life fighting against the recognition of a female identity, and I cannot brook that.
It’s now 2017, and this tension still pulls at me. I still feel myself tugged between wanting to defend the value of presenting as female in a patriarchal world, and wanting to be seen as I am: mostly neither male nor female, but sometimes one or the other by turns.
I am heavy, fleshy, smooth of face. I am no gamine androgyne, just a tailored blazer and a stick of eyeliner away from departing the gender spectrum entirely; even when I bind my chest, my curves are clearly visible. I have the kind of voice that might charitably be called “sweet,” no matter how I try to rough up the edges. Even among intimates whom I have trained for four years to call me “xie” or “he,” I am still called “she” more often than not. It still feels like misgendering. It has always felt like misgendering.
(These traits, of course, are only female-coded. Many men are fleshy and smooth of face. Many men have sweet voices. Many men have heavy breasts and wear binders, and perhaps they feel the same despair I do when their binders do nothing for them. And many people who — like me — are neither male nor female wind up being called by the wrong pronouns, mostly because we haven’t yet created cultural space for the right ones.)
In 2011, I knew myself to be genderfluid, but I didn’t train others to treat me as such. Now, though, it’s part of almost every social interaction. Greeting, hug, conversation about work, roll the dice, correct that persistent “she.” Wait for my turn in combat, roll the dice, have someone else remind another player that my character is a “he.” (So am I, that day. But that isn’t remarked upon.)
It’s exhausting, having to make myself recognized and present at every turn, even when I just want to relax and fade into the background. Correcting people kindly is exhausting. But every time someone remembers, every time someone else steps up to remind people of who I am, it feels worth the struggle.
I still believe that it is important for women to be recognized as writers. I still want to uphold the women who create the art I love, to celebrate their work, to spread the word of their contributions to everyone who doesn’t know them yet. I want to remind people of how valuable women writers are, for being women writers.
And now, six years later, I think that’s where I want to make my stand. I want to be the person who stands up for another person’s identity and says, “She is a woman who deserves respect.”
But I’m not a woman. I’m not a man, either. I’m only a person, and people like me deserve respect, too. That’s also a battle worth fighting.