Next week on May 19th, we celebrate Agender Pride Day. So today we want to recognize Agender Visibility and discuss the spectrum that is gender. We’ve had a lot of people reach out and ask us questions about gender and requested an episode on what it’s like if you fall in the middle of the gender spectrum and not on the ends. While we have touched upon this subject numerous times in our episodes – check out Billy Porter, The Public Univeral Friend, Chao Xiaomi, and our many episodes on transgender icons – today we want to delve further.

Agender is defined as “a person who has an internal sense of being neither male nor female nor some combination of male and female” according to Webster’s Dictionary. In the word’s deconstructed form it means “without gender”. Agender is often used as an umbrella term for those who don’t identify with a gender. And in fact, Agender is often classified under the larger umbrella of non-binary which is a subcategory of transgender. Think of Agender as the town you live in, Non-Binary as the state, Transgender as the country, and your body as the world.

Often people need to further explain and this is due to perceptions and stereotypes attached to words. For instance, ALL transgender people are not alike and many trans people see their genders as vastly different from one another. Even with a smaller category like Agender, many folks will further identify or prefer another terminology. Some people who identify as agender may also use the terms Neutral gender, gender-neutral, genderless, null gender, lacking gender, and a variety of other terms that they feel best identifies who they are. There’s actually a great, short YouTube video and article on Them.Us media where Shamir explains the word Agender. We’ve linked the video in our script so you can check it out.

The term itself is relatively new in respect to other terminologies around sex and gender. Agender first appeared in a 2000 UseNet forum when a user wrote the following “God is amorphous, agender, […] so image can’t be a physical or gender or sexual thing.[4]” This may or may not have been a reference to a bible verse, Genesis 1:27 which states, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;” Whatever the background behind the post, people began to discuss the word and many found that it better fit their sense of gender or lack thereof. In 2005 the word was presented as a standard identity when a UseNet writer stated: “cultures can have transgender, agender, and hypergender individuals.” By 2013, the term was being used in the New York Times profile piece “Generation LGBTQIA” [6]. And in 2017 the first individual was granted the right to place Agender on a state I.D.

In fact, throughout the 2000’s the queer community has morphed and expanded to mean so much more than the LGBT labels of it’s past. And this is due to our understanding of sex, identity, orientation, and expression. These four pieces don’t always align with the standards and boxes of the day. In the past, folks who challenged these social norms were either locked away, banished from society, or forced to comply. It’s not that people haven’t always defied standards, it’s just that many lost their lives or were forcibly silenced. And as we well know, while many places do currently enjoy a freedom that hasn’t been seen in centuries, there is still a lot of danger for queer people.

This is especially true for those who are still consistently othered by society and even their own communities. The less that people understand about expression, identity, and sex, the more likely those people will create biased and bigoted beliefs against others. In reality, we ALL benefit when we allow ourselves to be more open-minded about our ability to be fluid in these standards. Here’s a way to explain the 4 concepts of personal identity.

Imagine you walked into an ice cream shop and they had an assortment of ice cream Sundaes. There was the banana split, a strawberry sundae, and a build your own option. Now some people like a banana split just the way it is, they don’t question it, they don’t worry about it, they just like a standard banana split. Some people like a banana split but they don’t want cherries on top, they want another banana on top. And some people look at the standard options and think “none of that is me”. Or maybe they identify some parts of the strawberry sundae but not all of it.

Imagine if we allowed ourselves to treat our personal identity like that sundae shop. And this isn’t an argument about choosing to be queer – people don’t choose to be queer. It’s about choosing to express our queer identity because often we believe that simply is not an option. We believe we have to take the full masculine sundae or the full feminine sundae and there’s no build your own sundae. In reality, in our identity sundae should be made up of WHO we are, not what someone else has pre-made. Our expression (mannerisms, clothing, hairstyle, etc) should be based on what’s comfortable and right for us and should not be decided on our assigned sex at birth. Our orientation should be based on who we are attracted to and not based on fitting a label, or a box, or what someone else thinks.

And as for gender, that is based up how we see ourselves. As Agender writer Adrien Converse stated in their Deconforming article “What Does It Mean To Be Agender”, “Agender is a term relating to the mind. And every mind has a distinct sense of self”[1]. So while some people find themselves identifying with a specific gender, others often feel they are somewhere in between. And some people feel no connection to the word or concept of gender and so, therefore, have no use for it. While everything in our society may be gendered in an attempt to label, track, and sell to people, in reality it is a social construct and not a universal reality. That is not to say that many people don’t find comfort in that construct, it’s just to point out that many other people find the construct uncomfortable.

What’s more, gender constructs have caused A LOT of social discord, abuse, and open prejudices. To both those who do fit in the boxes and to those who do not. But especially to those whose gender identity, expression, and assigned sex do not align. With everything in our lives divided by this construct, it becomes easier to ‘other’ people who don’t fit a label or who reject that label altogether. Think about it, our clothing is gendered, our toys, colors, mannerisms, jobs, relationships, everything is based on gender. And if anyone steps outside of the gender boundaries, they are maligned, ridiculed, and often rejected.

On the other hand, the person enduring the abuse is left feeling alone in a nightmare that makes no sense. Converse continues their article with this description of what it feels like to be Agender in today’s society:

The easiest way to describe it is this. It feels like I’m in a dystopian society that’s trying to manipulate and control me until I am no longer me.[….] My entire life is comprised of my environment chipping away at my psyche.
The attempt to reprogram me is constant and ongoing, but the software install never has really worked. I’ve tried to run the program, but it always felt fake and contrived. The best I could ever do was memorize rules.
And, like I mentioned previously, the rules never made any sense to me, so I could never keep track of them all. But I sure tried, because not keeping them led to scrutiny, isolation, and punishment. The better I kept them, the safer I was. [1]

Adrien Converse statements show us how damaging it is to deny that gender stereotypes and forced conformity are abusive. Not only do we harm those who don’t fit the label, but we also deny ourselves the wonder of exploring beyond our labels. In fact, we would argue that most people are only comfortable in these roles because they have been taught and conditioned to be comfortable. What might the world look like if we removed all pressure around gender? Where would people truly fall on the spectrum if there were no social repercussions? And how different would our personal and romantic relationships look?

In reality, simply by questioning gender, we defy our conditioning. But that should only be the beginning and at the very least we should seek to express outside our boundaries. Not as a joke or a whim, but as an honest expression that breaks the binary. Whether you identify on the ends of the gender expression or somewhere in between we strongly encourage you to explore your identity and expression. And we hope all our Agender listeners enjoy a wonderful pride day.

Your recommended resources are any that we mentioned in our episode. We also recommend the documentary I Am They: A Non-Binary Transgender LOVE Story. While it is not about Agender people, unfortunately, there isn’t an accessible documentary specifically for Agender people, it does discuss what it’s like to live in such a gendered world. Also, check out the AGENDER CAFE podcast, available on limited platforms.

RESOURCES:

  • De-conforming – https://deconforming.com/what-is-agender/
  • Wikia – https://gender.wikia.org/wiki/Agender
  • Them.Us video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxtEeHGfSpQ
  • Them.Us script – https://www.them.us/story/inqueery-agender
  • Generation LGBTQIA – https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/10/fashion/generation-lgbtqia.html
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