Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my personal identification has changed since I wrote this post (check my about for more information).
This is a post for the February 2015 Carnival of Aces on Cross-Community Connections.
I’m an old hand at identity crises by this point, so you might assume that my recent adventures into the land of gender would be reasonably easy. You might also assume that, after asking the same question (‘what does ___ feel like’) twice already, and getting so annoyed by the vague answers that I actually created a survey to get more concrete answers*, I should be able to spot what I’m asking myself straight away, as the title of this post suggests.
Alas, your assumptions (which have also been mine, and will probably be mine again at some point in my life) are incorrect. I asked myself ‘what does gender identity feel like’, and, instead of quickly answering myself with the prerequisite ‘you know it if you feel it’, I wandered around the internet looking for an answer. Although a lot of people have been very sweet in sharing their own experiences with me (which I entirely appreciate), I still haven’t found an answer to satisfy me. Just as I haven’t found an answer for what sexual attraction feels like or what romantic attraction feels like. In fact, if anything, I’m more confused about gender identity.
Now, I don’t expect the asexual, aromantic, and agender communities to band together to decide on what each thing feels like (although that might be an interesting project), but I do think that it shows how much we have in common with each other. All three identities can be described as a ‘lack of ___’, even if we dislike using that particular phrase, and I think that there must be a lot of experiences in common in all three groups.
For example, from personal experience, I’ve found that asexuality and aromanticism have both come ready-made with a strong sense of alienation. I found this more with asexuality than aromanticism (possibly because I’m aro-spectrum rather than completely aromantic), but all of a sudden, it felt as if everyone around me wasn’t human. Or maybe it was that I wasn’t human and they were.
I’m sure many of you who are reading this have felt similarly, but for those who haven’t – imagine that everyone you know is talking about quantum physics (if you’re a quantum physicist you’ll have to pick a different subject). At first you might think you understand what they’re talking about (equating other types of attraction with sexuality), but at some point you entirely lose the thread of conversation and are stuck in a room with a bunch of physicists speaking nonsense. What do you do? It sounds like fun nonsense, and of course you don’t want to be rude, so do you try to join in and hope you’ll catch on later? Or do you just stare out the window and wait for them to move onto something else?
It’s disorientating to hear people speak about something you are entirely aware of having no knowledge of whatsoever. It feels like you’re faking or lying – pretending to be human when you’re not.
(I’m still on my gender adventures and haven’t had time to notice what effect my perception of gender has had on my life, but one of the things I’ve been thinking about is that I’ve never made the distinction between ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ in my head – when I talk to someone, I see them as a person, and I write guy characters in the same way as I would write a girl character**. I always assumed that that was some sort of inherent feminism, or the way that everybody thought, but maybe I was wrong [although I’m still not sure where feminism and the entire concept of gender intersect and work with each other as of yet].)
Building on the alienation a little bit, all three identities (and a lot of the more invisible queer identities) have no script for life. As an aromantic person, what do I do? Am I supposed to hope that someone special comes along? Maybe I’m supposed to find a platonic partner? Or maybe I just live my life in a more solitary way – but then what happens to me when I’m old and have no one to look after me? What happens when my friends are gone and there’s no one to remember me by? Similarly, as an asexual person who might possibly end up in a relationship – how does that even work? When do I tell them that I’m asexual? How do I make sure that our relationship is a safe, happy and healthy one? And finally, as an agender(? or possibly genderless? or maybe just very confused?) person, how do people address me? Heck, how do I dress?
I think the asexual, aromantic, and agender communities have a lot of overlap, both in experiences and the people who use those labels. I know that there’s been a lot of talk lately of asexual people throwing aromantic people under the bus (‘we can love romantically too! we’re almost normal!’), and I think that that makes now the perfect time to come together to celebrate our similarities and say fuck their normal – we have our own.
*The survey write-up is on its way to you, slowly but surely. It’s pretty much done, although I still need a few sets of new eyes to check over it (so message me if you’re up for that!) and time to dedicate to making sure people find it, as well as changing it if people think that it needs something else.
**Slightly irrelevant, but my main memory of Year Four writing class was writing from the perspective of a boy and being told that he was too girly because he cried and cared about his sister. Personally, I thought it was fine.