My Gender and Language Limitations, Or: A Big Miscommunication

If you are under the age of 18 please click here to leave.

If you are 18+ you should know this blog contains frank and explicit discussion of sex, sexuality, queerness, gender, BDSM, polyamory/non-monogamy, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Based on this information or my blog in general you may or may not want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

My heart hurts a little. I woke up yesterday to an attack on my gender, which if you follow me on twitter you’ve probably already heard about.

I wrote a post not too long ago on The Femme’s Guide about my newfound femme fagette identity, my multigendered femme identity and I was hoping for a while that more people would comment on it, so I suppose this is the one of those “be careful what you wish for” moments.

I woke up to this comment:


You are a cissexual person appropriating the expriences of trans women and other MtF-side trans people.

Wearing a feather boa and badly-applied lipstick that is the wrong color for you with your t-shirt and half-assed fauxhawk does not make you a drag queen and isn’t even particularly femme.

You are not a starfish, snowflake, or magical twinkling unicorn, and your personal identity is not a form of activism.

Pretty much a direct personal attack on my person, my gender, and my appearance. I replied well, or so I thought, but apparently I was being condescending and though I was trying not to be defensive it’s difficult not to be defensive when someone is out and out attacking you.

The comments went on, but one person stopped commenting and another took over. This second commenter was much more reasonable and constructive, she didn’t attack just told me to pay attention, basically, which I am grateful for. You can read all the comments here, many of which are insightful and thoughtful not just personal attacks.

The big issue that was offensive was they thought I was trying to appropriate trans experiences, which I wasn’t. Here is part of my latest comment:

When I talk about gender I’m not talking about anything “biological.” Never in the post did I talk about my sex, only my gender, and I get attacked with “you’re cissexual trying to be a trans woman” which is not at all what I’m saying. Am I cissexual? Very probably. I’ve never had a real affinity toward my sex, I don’t “feel” female (whatever that means) but I don’t feel male either so I’ve thought about reassignment surgery but, like the quote above, I’ve “decided that would not resolve my gender conflicts.” (Note: the quote I am referring to is the same one in this post) Part of the reason I love that quote. As Riki Wilchins said, you can say “I feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body” (or in my case, woman’s) and get results, but if you say “I feel like a herm trapped in a man’s body” people don’t understand and would think you’re crazy. (And I do know hermaphrodite is not a positive word, I was, however, quoting Riki from the book Genderqueer.) If I had my way I would be able to change sex frequently, but since I can’t do that, that’s what my gender and strap-ons are for. ;) (Though I know that’s not the same as transitioning, that’s supposed to be a bit of a joke.)

As for appropriation, I wasn’t trying to appropriate trans experiences in any way shape or form. This comes down to a language issue. Am I transsexual? No. Do I feel like Patrick did when he wrote the quote above? Definitely. I was agreeing with his sentiments, using the same language, and he wasn’t transitioning then either. The problem is that I don’t have any language for what I’m feeling or experiencing, the best I can do is use the language around me and try to make sense of myself as best I can. Just because I use language that sounds similar to trans experiences doesn’t mean I’m claiming to be trans, it just means I don’t have any better words, and that’s my fault for not finding any. I am multigendered. I never claimed to be trans in the post and I’m not trying to claim to be transsexual. I may be transgendered but that depends on the definition. I do not use gender and sex interchangeably.

Through these comments (the constructive ones, anyway) I have been made to think more about my gender and my definitions and experiences. I may repeat myself a bit from the quote above, so apologies if I do.

While I’m not transitioning I haven’t ruled it out completely, I just don’t think it would solve anything. I don’t feel female or male, I’m not sure what that’s supposed to feel like. I like having breasts and orifices, but I also like having a cock (though mine’s silicone, granted, and that’s not the same). I like the idea of growing facial hair, of my voice deepening, but I like my breasts and don’t want to get rid of them. I’ve felt for a while that I would feel most “me” as an intersexed person, somewhere between male and female. I’m not trying to appropriate the experiences of an intersexed person, I’m just saying I don’t feel male or female.

I have been feeling more masculine lately, not sure why I just have, more of my fagette side than the femme. Yet I don’t wear pants. Granted, gender is more than the clothes you wear it’s an attitude, a feeling, which is partly why my masculine gender is fagette as it’s a feminine masculinity. I never wear pants, or, almost never, I wear pants when I go to the gym and that’s pretty much it. Can I be masculine in a skirt or dress? I think so! Though not all would.

The big issue here is it is felt that I am trying to appropriate trans experiences. This too, is a limitation of language. I’m not transsexual, I freely admit that, and I’m not trying to say that I’m a trans woman, far from it! I used similar language, but I did not mean to appropriate anything. I do not think my experience is in any way shape or form similar to that of a trans woman.

I do think I am transgendered, however, though that depends highly on the definition of transgender, and I usually use genderqueer over transgender but they are similar though not the same. I know that is not the same as being transsexual (in my and many others definition). I don’t feel like I fit in with my culturally assigned gender. I am not a typical femme (whatever that means) or a typical feminine female, I embrace masculinity and femininity and rework them into me in a way that works for me. I enjoy drag of every kind, and I love to change my gender expression at the drop of a hat. I’m genderqueer.

When I walk down the street do I think that people see my gender as I see it? Not at all. I’m not easily identifiable, as I’m not easily categorized. I use the terms femme and fagette but what do either of those really mean outside of my own definitions? They’re so open to interpretation that I often don’t know what I mean by them, but I know I identify with them.

I try to learn as much as I can about gender and sex differences. I have a degree in Gender Studies focused on gender and sexuality issues. I try not to be offensive but obviously that doesn’t always happen. I try to understand as much as I can, but I don’t think it’s possible to fully understand the experience of another even if you have gone through a similar experience and definitely not if your experiences don’t come close. I have read a lot, but it’s never enough to avoid misunderstandings like this. I don’t really have any answers yet, but I’m thinking about it, and I think that’s important.

Although I was caused much pain yesterday from the hurtful and attacking way the comments started I’m glad that this issue was brought to my attention, as it’s not something I had considered before. I admit my own ignorance on this freely. All I can do is learn from the experience and try to be more precise with my wording in the future.

Technorati Tags: change, fagette, femme, gender fluidity, genders, identities, labels, terms, vulnerability

Related posts

No Responses to “My Gender and Language Limitations, Or: A Big Miscommunication”

  1. kyle says:

    There’s so much here.. so much I can relate to.

    “The problem is that I don’t have any language for what I’m feeling or experiencing, the best I can do is use the language around me and try to make sense of myself as best I can.”

    I’m running into this a bit, too. Genderqueer seems to be a term I can use, but we all have to try on words until we find ones that fit. And maybe others won’t see the fit, and won’t try to understand how and why we’re using certain terms, but that’s their loss.

    “I have read a lot, but it’s never enough to avoid misunderstandings like this. I don’t really have any answers yet, but I’m thinking about it, and I think that’s important.”

    I think it is important. You are still learning, growing, trying things on for size.. you’re not dictating to others, or marginalizing or coopting anyone else’s experience, you’re trying to find ways to explain and understand *your* experience. It’s too bad that some of your readers chose to jump on your semantics instead of listening and trying to contribute something positive.

    kyle’s last blog post: Half-Nekkid Thursday : my selves  

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I value all the soul-searching you have done, as well as the reflections you began with in the original post and in other posts. However, I must disagree with the interpretation of the altercation as a misunderstanding. I believe there are many people out there that see what they want to see, that purposely attack to make themselves feel better.

    You have every right to your relationship to all these gender issues. They had no right to try and take any of it away from you. While inclusion and understanding are essential to the communities we want to create, there will always be predators. The commenters behaved just as a Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps would, only they used different language. Life pain – no matter how vast – is no excuse for such willful violence. Your variance from their worldview is no excuse for their behavior.

    I am thankful you found something of value in the experience. I would offer up the idea, though, that those that do not believe in an individual’s right to their own identity, and those that only seek to hurt, are best contained, not engaged.  

  3. Amber says:

    First I would just like to say that I am really fuckin’ sick of these tightassed, fight-mongering, I’m-big-and-tough-when-I’m-anonymous-on-the-Internet twerps starting shit on TFG. That place is supposed to be about freedom of gender expression, not about being PC or pleasing the purists. (HOW can there be purists in a community so immersed in fluidity? Hello?!)

    There is a huge issue around the vocabulary of the GLBTQ world in general. There are no standardized rules and guidelines to follow. There is no black and white. It’s ALL gray. We do the best we can. It’s ridiculous that attacks are even happening on such a undefined basis.

    And let me just say, I think it’s wonderful to contemplate one’s gender, but please, please don’t let anyone, particularly snub-nosed wastes of space make you RE-think your identity. You are who you say you are, not whomever they want you to be to fit their rigid guidelines. They can whuff about it in hateful communities all they want. But they need to learn to be human and to keep their attacks the fuck off of TFG.

    Amber’s last blog post: The Road to M  

  4. Amber says:

    Oh, and that’s bullshit about your lipstick. It is the perfect shade for you and applied very well. I went back and looked at every picture of you wearing lipstick I could find (mostly on your pic-a-day site) and every single one of them supports those statements. So HA.


    Amber’s last blog post: The Road to M  

  5. PIX says:

    i just want to say that i am not someone who spends a lot of time analyzing my gender. but i was also hurt by the original comments to scarlet’s post – hurt because i know her. many is the time when scarlet has corrected me in the more correct usage of a term. there is no reason to attack when there was no offense intended. attack should be reserved to people intending offense (if you are into attack at all – i am not) everyone makes unintentional mistakes – isn’t the whole discussion of owning your own sex/gender/identity/whatever best served by finding out who you are and being that?  

  6. Lisa Williams says:

    For every utterance we make, online or in person, there’s what I like to think of as “lyrics and music” — that is, the actual words someone says, and how they say it.

    The original comment was offensive on both counts; it contained mean words (cheap shots about your lipstick and hair) and was expressed in a particularly mean and harsh tone.

    Maybe the person who left the original comment has a good point; maybe they don’t — but people who express their ideas without a minimum level of respect for the person they’re addressing shouldn’t expect serious, thoughtful responses.

    Experiencing this kind of “drive by” comment online is analogous to walking down the sidewalk minding your own business and having someone throw a beer can at you and yell some slur out the window of their car as they roll by. It seems like you should just be able to shrug it off, since you don’t share their views and will never see them again, but such an experience hurts, makes us experience doubt and fear at just being ourselves on the sidewalk (or on the sidewalk of the Web).

    You’ve put a lot of thought into responding to the content of the original comment, but I don’t think you have to put up with comments in that form. My sense is that you would have been perfectly happy to have a friendly, rational and open discussion about the same issues if they had been presented in a minimally polite and respectful way. But the original comment wasn’t polite or respectful — it was rude and mean, full stop.  

  7. April says:

    After reading this and the linked post with it’s comments, I don’t feel that you worded anything incorrectly. I understood exactly what you were trying to say. Now, I’m not a trans person, but if I were, I wouldn’t have been offended by anything you wrote what-so-ever. I agree with what Amber wrote about the people being too sensitive and I also thought the lipstick was a great shade for you!

    I also don’t think that the 2nd commenter was correct when he/she said you were being condescending to the first person who attacked you. That person had nothing intelligent to say at all and you had every right to say anything back that you felt appropriate. To be honest, you were a whole lot nicer than I would’ve been.  

  8. Soph says:

    @April, did you actually READ my comment? First of all, I identified myself as a trans woman, so my pronoun is certainly not HE. Secondly, I didn’t accuse Scarlet of having been condescending. Second of all, I didn’t say she was condescending. I said that when you are called out by someone over whom you have certain institutional privileges, it is probably better to not immediately reply defensively. Jellybear restated this better than I did.

    Also, “but if I were, I wouldn’t have been offended by anything you wrote what-so-ever.” This is really cissexist – you’re reducing trans experience into something you can so obviously “simulate” in your own mind and decide for us what is reasonable etc.  

  9. Scarlet Lotus St. Syr (@ScarletLotus) says:

    @Soph, I could be wrong, but I think she was actually referring to the second comment rather than the second commenter, meaning shemale rather than you, as I was accused of being condescending in that comment. That would also explain her not being sure of the pronoun used as the term shemale could be confusing her into not knowing what pronoun to use, therefore using he/she to try to avoid incorrect usage. I’ve agreed and do agree with both you and Jellybear regarding my reaction, though both of you glossed over the fact I was blatantly and harshly attacked.

    I do agree with your second quoting assessment, however (though I don’t know if you care if I agree, but there you go now you know), and I’m glad that you were the one to comment on it as you brought it up respectfully as opposed to in an attacking manner. Since attacking is counterproductive to realization of mistake and change of further behaviors.  

  10. April says:

    @Soph, I did read your comment, and as Scarlet mentioned, I was referring to the second comment. That commenter DID attack Scarlet in a way that was very inappropriate. Honestly, Soph, I believe your comments to Scarlet were very explanatory. The only think I disagreed with was your feelings on her response to that person who did attack her. And yes, I did use he/she when referring to shemale because I didn’t want to use the wrong pronoun. I’m sorry if you felt that I was speaking of you, and I probably should’ve made myself more clear on that. I knew what I meant in my head, I guess it just didn’t come out correctly when I wrote it.

    I wasn’t trying to decide for you or any other trans person what is reasonable. I’m merely saying that *I* don’t take things too personal and don’t find too much offensive. As someone who is an amputee, I’ve heard many things that a lot of people would find absolutely inappropriate and maybe even hurtful. But I don’t let it bother me because it doesn’t really directly affect me.

    Scarlet’s post reflected HER feelings about HERSELF. She was in no way saying anything about anyone else. So yeah, for people to get their panties all in a wad about what she wrote…’s a tad bit uptight. And that’s just my opinion.

    Oh, and I still think the lipstick was a great shade for you, Scarlet!  

  11. April says:

    Sorry for the mistakes. I should’ve proof read before publishing.

    think = thing
    call call = can call  

Leave a Reply

Note: Use of a non-personal name, web site, or blog in the fields below and/or comments that are off-topic, personal attacks, or rude in any way will likely be removed at my discretion.

CommentLuv Enabled

By commenting here you grant me a perpetual license to reproduce your words and submitted name/web site in attribution.