The other night I dreamed I was at a church that had three bathrooms marked Men, Women, and Genderqueer. Entering the last, I found a glorious wonderland that was everything I could possibly want from a bathroom: talking Japanese supertoilet, hot tub, surround-sound entertainment system, etc.
It wouldn't be quite accurate to say that I trust my dreams. Dreams are your brain sorting through its junk drawer: most of it is pure junk, and occasionally something important turns up. I trust my reactions to my dreams. I've had sexual dreams about male friends which didn't disturb me at all, because I instinctively classified them as junk (hell, if everyone keeps calling him your boyfriend, your subconscious is eventually going to try it on for size, even if the notion is quite revolting). And it was a thoroughly PG-13 teenage dream about a female friend which unleashed the initial torrent of panicked self-reflection that is the first tender step on toward the closet door.
I wish I had access to the diary entry of the time so you could see it in its full, verbatim hilarity. “I'm not gay,” I wrote desperately (or something to that effect), “though it would make sense of a lot of things I like (hot girl-on-girl makeouts on Sugar Rush; scantily clad women in horror movies)...”
(I know! Bless, right?)
It took me a couple more years of self-torture – writing things like, “I'm not gay. I'm just homosexual”, which presumably made sense to me at the time – before I gave up trying to resist The Gay. (“Suck it, haters,” I at last wrote triumphantly: “I am a lesbian.”) My reluctance to accept The Genderqueer reminds me a lot of my reluctance to accept The Gay. I'm probably scrabbling for any available reason to deny something I pretty much know is true.
And yet, and yet...
I can't stop obsessively second-guessing myself. Just as I used to fear that my homosexuality was nothing more than intense fear and disgust at the penis, I now worry that my inclination toward genderfuckery is nothing more than internalized misogyny.
Like, when I reject the societal performance of femininity (shaving, makeup, skirts, long hair), is it because I consider the feminine-coded to be lesser?
If I accept the proposition that no true generalization can be made about women without resorting to tautology – if I accept that you don't have to be, have, or do anything to “qualify” as a woman, apart from identifying as a woman – why then am I not comfortably identifying as a woman?
When I'm enraged by someone in a store calling me “Missy” (THIS LITERALLY HAPPENED LAST WEEK, IN BERKELEY, IN 2012), am I enraged because it's fucking patronizing as shit, or because it genders me as female?
Does my general feeling that being gendered female is wrong mean that it's wrong for me, or that deep down I buy into the patriarchal equation female = wrong?
I feel increasingly disconnected from the pronoun she/her. When somebody refers to me as she/her, it feels as though they're talking about someone else. I like it when I get read as male or referred to with gender-neutral pronouns. I would love to ask people to use ey/em, but they probably wouldn't: even in out oh-so-progressive, wonderfully accepting and queer-friendly community, most people are terrible at respecting the pronouns of our openly genderqueer friends. And even if I could convince my friends to make the switch, how can I stop strangers from gendering me female?
We're so indoctrinated to categorize everyone into this M/F binary that people immersed in a supposedly queer-embracing environment won't even refer to someone as “they” after being explicitly asked to. And yet I pull on one thread and the whole gender thing comes apart in my hands. The existence of trans men and women is proof that it's possible to scrutinize and deconstruct your gender identity and reach a conclusion other than “Gender is bullshit”; but more and more that seems like the inevitable endpoint of my own inquiry.