(The subject line refers to this amazing extended metaphor
I just emailed a version of this to a friend who asked me what I mean when I say "genderqueer". It's not definitive--no definition of gender terminology ever is--but it might be a useful starting point for conversations with cis friends who are trying to wrap their minds around trans* concepts. I'd be glad to revise it if others have suggestions or corrections (especially about the last paragraph).
Most people think of gender transition as getting on a train in Femaletown and getting out in Maleville. Well, even the fastest train takes many months for that trip; the route is very roundabout and the train makes several stops along the way. Some people get out to stretch their legs at the intermediate station of Queerburg and like it so much they decide to stay.
Others commute so often between Femaletown and Maleville that both feel like home; they practically have one foot in each place. Sometimes they wear a shirt for the Femaletown hockey team with a hat for the Maleville soccer team. They couldn't possibly declare allegiance to just one.
All three of those cities are in the state of Genderia; some people consider themselves residents of Genderia rather than of any particular city, and they wander around the whole state as they please. (You might think that everyone lives in Genderia, but quite a few people live in the distant states of Agenderia and Neutroisland. I visit both occasionally, but as Tom Lehrer says, "a charming spot but clearly not the spot for me".)
I grew up in Femaletown and have spent many years slowly progressing along the train line to Maleville, with numerous side excursions and occasional doubling back. Right now I live in Dandy's Crossing, a suburb of Maleville (though I am unlikely to ever move into the city proper). I wear clothing made for men and describe myself as a dapper dandy. I spend summers in neighboring Masculin, where I ditch my fedora and dress slacks for a short-back-and-sides haircut and cargo shorts that show off my hairy legs. I've also lived in Femmea, Butch Bay, Elegantia, Jeansland, and pretty much everywhere else in and around Femaletown. I prefer the culture of Femaletown but adore the fashion of Maleville. I seem to be happier living near the big cities than in quirky little Queerburg, but I often visit it for the joy of being around other people like me.
I've been talking about gender lately with my friend Q, who was born in Interburg and raised in Femaletown. They're planning to have chest surgery that would help them fit in better in Maleville, and they wear a packer, but like me, they hate the Maleville culture of violence and casual oppression and don't feel like they belong there. Honestly, I think they'd be happiest in New Maleville over in Agenderia. They care a great deal about physical shape but not at all about presentation. I'm the opposite; I enjoy the cognitive dissonance of wearing "male" clothes on a "female" body and rarely bother to bind my breasts (though if I needed a mastectomy for medical reasons, I wouldn't be sad to see them go). My ideal body would be totally hairless from the neck down and have neither breasts nor broad hips, and while we're at it I'd like to be four inches taller, but that's all because I regard my body as a paper doll to hang clothes on. I don't feel dysphoria very often now that I have clothes that fit.
Now guess which one of us is having a baby. Surprise: it's Q. The chest surgery is being put off so they can breastfeed. "Might as well get some use out of the damn things," Q says. Me, I'd ditch my reproductive anatomy in a heartbeat. The idea of something growing inside me gives me the creeps.
Genderia is a big place and people live all over. If you've only ever been to Femaletown or Maleville you might be surprised just how many other parts of Genderia there are (not to mention all the places that aren't anything like Genderia). Respecting trans* people is just like respecting people from other countries: our customs may be unfamiliar to you, but that doesn't mean we're wrong to do things the way we do, and if we put a lot of effort into speaking your language, kindly do us the favor of not pointing out our accents.
Speaking of other countries, I should note that this is an extremely mainstream U.S. way of looking at things. People raised in non-U.S. cultures or subcultures within the U.S. (such as religious communities where gender roles are very strong) will have their own concepts of gender and approaches to gender identity and performance. Respect for a person's gender means respect for how they think about their own gender, and that includes recognition that their native culture's approach to gender-related things will have affected their upbringing, their understanding of what is possible, their life choices, and their efforts to fit in, stand out, or cherish their own uniqueness. That doesn't mean you should go quizzing them on all those things! Just be aware that gender is cultural and social as well as a matter of one's innate feelings.
Now I want someone to draw me a map of Genderia.
EDIT: I am reminded that booklectic
used a very similar metaphor
in an article she interviewed me for a couple of years ago! I'd totally forgotten; at least consciously, Genderia came from my frustration with the "taking the train from point A to point B" envisioning of transition, which in turn came from discussions on Twitter about how completely ignorant most cis people are of what transition is
. ("I bet they think it takes about six weeks," one person grumbled.) But I'm sure Katy's post planted a seed somewhere deep in my brain, and I'm glad to give her credit for it.You're welcome to comment on LJ, but I'd rather you leave a comment on the Dreamwidth version of this entry. The current comment count is .