“What Are You?” The Gender Question

I’ve been asked if I’m male or female countless times: at high school, university, at work, at the grocery store, at the library— worse still was when I lived downtown in an apartment above a popular bar and was bombarded by intoxicated passersby every other day. Some people are crude and ruder than others, but the interaction is always uncomfortable. 

Even the most polite query achieves nothing productive if anything other than ‘how would you like to be referred to as?’ is asked, even then, only if it’s relevant. Most of the time when a stranger asks me this, it feels like a trick question. I’m an advocate for asking for pronouns but only in the right context. Most of the time these people will never have to refer to me as anything and only ask because they’re curious. 

Gender variant and transgender individuals never need to sacrifice their comfort for your curiosity. Even in acceptance we find a disregard for our privacy. Many times in casual conversation someone will indicate that they’re vaguely LGBT+ friendly and then ask something along the lines of ‘so which direction are you transitioning?’. These questions make several assumptions, one being that there’s any direction I’m going in regards to binary gender, and another being that I’d be willing to divulge that information.

Over the last decade since I began feeling comfortable with my androgyny I’ve met with many different reactions to how I present myself: assault, fetishization, verbal abuse, harassment, and I’m still extremely privileged compared to the situations of many considering I’m white and live in a relatively accepting city. I’m also not a trans woman, who are among the most oppressed and accosted.

I don’t need to shy from what I am, from who I am, what I’ve experienced, or what my body is capable of to appease the misconceptions of others. Stringent binaries kill the fluid spark of life within us all— not just amongst those who aren’t heteronormative, or those who are transgender, nonbinary, intersex, gnc, etc.

The beauty standards that kill trans women also kill a cis woman. Toxic masculinity that turns men into monsters easily can infect trans men and transmasculine individuals. We have to be aware of how not just gender roles but gender binaries, the divide of sexes, gender presentations, and identities, can cause severe social impact upon vulnerable communities.

Stop wondering what gender someone is. They will divulge to you what is necessary. Believe what they say. Male and female are outdated concepts, when a doctor needs to know about reproductive organs or sex characteristics of a patient, it will be in context of medical nessicacity and there will be records to reference with far more information than an M or an F on an intake form. Assuming anything about physical characteristics regarding sex or gender is unproductive in any situation. A cis woman may not have ovaries. A trans man may have a penis. We know that that the simplicity of M or F does not have general medical significance.

Bigoted people will always exist in my lifetime and day to day life. I accept this, but I also accept that if I can learn than others can as well. Slowly, we can change our language, our questions, and how we approach topics gender presentation and biological sexes.

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