Before I start posting personal observations and editorials to this blog, I should share a little about who I am. This is partly a repeat of the content already on the About The Editor page, but as that’s likely to change with time, here’s a snapshot of me in March 2011:
Hi, I’m Nat and I’m an androgyne, by which I mean that when you meet me my ‘sex’ is confusing or not immediately apparent. I tend to get a mix of different gender perceptions from others because my gender presentation is ambiguous. Personally, I’m happy with that because I have a nonbinary gender identity. By which I mean that I am something other than the binary genders of female and male, man and woman. I prefer there to be some confusion or ambiguity in my appearance so people have to think about who I am rather than jump to an easy but incorrect answer of female or male.
I’m currently in my early 30s and I’ve felt uncomfortable with my assigned gender since I was eleven. I started identifying with androgyny in my mid teens after discovering the Androgyny RAQ and other websites of that period, but despite telling friends about my feelings, I became increasingly gender dysphoric until I concluded that I must be transsexual. I transitioned in the late 1990s and felt considerably more comfortable with my body as a result, however I still felt gender dysphoria from my social interactions with others. I felt that both binary gender roles were wrong for me and that I needed to step away from them and simply be myself. After a couple of years exploring my feelings in the early Internet genderqueer community, I re-transitioned to live as an androgyne. As of the summer of 2011, I’ve been presenting androgynously for more than ten years.
My actual gender identity is something considerably more complicated and personal than ‘androgyne’. You could say that I’m ‘non-gendered’ or ‘third gendered’ or ‘somewhere in the middle’, I personally think gender is more complicated than all those imply. I’m most likely to sit you down and have a long conversation about my gender, or give you the short Facebook-esque response of “It’s complicated”. Either way, ‘androgyne’ isn’t how I identify, it’s just the simplest way of explaining what I am. I am a practical androgyne.
In my day to day life I’m an IT professional, a media science fiction and fantasy fan, and an amateur digital artist, singer and podcaster. I haven’t tended to think about gender other than as something that comes from my interactions with other people. However I recently had reason to get ‘back into the system’ and found myself looking for resources and advice for people like me. I ultimately found myself forced to use resources aimed at binary-identified trans people. I had to read through large amounts of mostly irrelevant advice for both trans men and trans women to find the subset that addressed issues I face, albeit with commentary that made inappropriate assumptions about my identity.
I was surprised to discover that there was still very little practical information for nonbinary transgender people. Most sites I found were having the same old familiar discussions on the nature of gender and the specifics of people’s gender identities, which are hugely important for questioning people but can drown out the voices of those of us who have definite answers already. I’ve created Practical Androgyny not to compete with any existing sites about gender identity but to provide practical resources for anyone who chooses androgynous presentation for any part of their day to day life. I hope someone finds it useful!
Frequently Asked Questions About My Gender
Are you a man or a woman?
Actually this is a surprisingly infrequently asked question. It seems to be considered the highest form of social faux pas to admit to being uncertain of someone else’s gender. I’ll only be asked this outright by drunk people or those who I’ve offended and have decided to stop treating me politely. I’m most likely to hear this shouted in the street.
Younger children seem to have not yet learnt social embarrassment around gender ambiguity and so may ask me if I’m a boy or a girl, or more likely loudly ask their parents the same (this seems to cause parents considerable embarrassment). If addressed directly, I’ll usually ask them what they think I am, and am usually pleasantly surprised by how open minded they are about the subject.
New people who are trying to gauge my ‘correct’ gender without asking the embarrassing question may ask more socially acceptable questions like “Nat? That’s an unusual name, what’s it short for?” or “Has anyone ever told you that you have an unusually high/low voice?”, this is often after they’ve noticeably looked up and down between my face and my chest a couple of times or conspicuously failed to make eye contact with me during the conversation.
Those who have spent some time with me and have become close enough to feel they can broach the question are more likely to phrase it as an embarrassed confession of ignorance, or perhaps ask if I’m transgender in some way (usually a specific and incorrect variety of transgenderism). Once I’ve explained myself, I’ll often hear that mutual friends had made incorrect assumptions about my identity and had been sharing these behind my back.
What do you mean you’re not a teenager?!
No, I really am 33. No you really should be taking me seriously. No I might not have ‘been in short trousers’ when you did that.
In recent years it seems to have become extremely common for new people to assume that I’m a teenager or, if not, that I’m a student in my early 20s. Work colleagues also in their 30s have been asked if I’m their son, I’ve received some impressively poor service in shops and restaurants, and people who I thought I had developed a good rapport with have casually asked if I’m on my ‘school holidays’ or if I was ‘still in school, or started uni yet’.
When I first transitioned it never occurred to me that I would become ambiguous in age as well as gender presentation.
Do you have a pronoun set of preference?
In my day to day life I will happily take whatever pronouns others feel are appropriate for me. I get a mixture of different pronouns and gendered language from different people I interact with, so across a typical week I’ll have probably experienced the full set.
However, I’ve noticed that people will tend to take other people’s pronoun choices as correct for me, especially if that person seems to know me better than them or if I’ve not reacted negatively in their presence. As such if I’m being formally introduced to someone, announced on stage or written about on the Internet or in the press, I would prefer that pronouns are omitted or that some form of gender neutral or third gender pronoun is used. If pushed to express a preference I tend towards singular ‘they’ as a practical gender neutral pronoun with a good literary pedigree.
As a general rule, I prefer to be referred to with gender neutral language. If you’re wondering if it’s appropriate to refer to me using a particular term, imagine if both normatively gendered men and women would be comfortable being referred to in that way. If either group would object, it’s almost certainly not gender neutral.
So your gender identity is androgyne? You see yourself as between female and male in gender?
It’s an almost ubiquitous assumption that my androgynous presentation means that I must see my gender identity as on a continuum between female and male or feminine and masculine. In fact I see myself as neither option, I’m only ‘both genders’ or ‘between the genders’ if you have a binary view of gender, and I don’t.
It isn’t unusual for people with nonbinary genders to identify with rather than as the binary gender they’re most commonly seen as within society. In a similar way, when I call myself an androgyne I’m identifying with but not as my androgyny.
But what’s the neat label that sums up your gender identity?
I tend to be wary of specific single word identity labels when describing myself. In my experience once one has an identity label in mind, one subconsciously tries to fit that box. Every time I’ve attempted to define myself with increasingly specific labels and descriptions, I’ve found myself less comfortable than when I’ve stopped thinking about identity and simply tried to be myself.
I’m much happier identifying with more general umbrella terms, or providing a list of options all of which apply to some degree. I am genderqueer, a nonbinary gendered transgender individual comfortable with an androgynous appearance. Depending on your perspective, the situation I’m in and how I’m feeling that day I could be third gender, agender, non-gender, bigender, fluid gender or all or none of the above. Gender can be far more complicated than any of these terms suggest. It comes from our culture, it comes from other people, it’s performed in our interactions with others. It’s about our bodies, our experiences and our identities, and these need not correlate.
If pushed, the simplest phrase I can use to summarise my actual identity is ‘gender neutral’. I see myself as a person, not as a gender, and I am most comfortable when people treat me that way.
But I’ve always assumed you were a normal man/woman, why didn’t you correct me?
I’m androgynous enough that I’ve found I can ‘pass’ as either binary option. And yes, I confess that for the last few years I’ve been something of a ‘stealth androgyne’, blending in and going with the flow of gender. I haven’t corrected any first impressions and I’ve allowed any new group of people I’ve joined to reach their own consensus for gendering me. As such, I am considered to be different genders among different groups of people.
However I have never hidden my gender identity, it’s always been there if you were looking, and I’ve always answered direct questions about my identity with honesty. You could say that I’ve followed a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy about my gender.
This site is part of an effort to be more open and honest with others, as I’ve felt that by being ‘stealth’ I was creating a barrier and so only became close with those who mentioned ‘the elephant in the room’.
There’s more to come on this subject and my experiences of ‘coming out’ too.