Updated: Oct 25, 2021
A Primer for the Uninitiated
There's a few gender-centric buzzwords floating about the zeitgeist right now, and they might warrant a little bit of explanation if you're not familiar with them. In particular, people are using "gender fluid," "genderqueer," and "gender non-binary" to describe their gender identity (and I even see them popping up daily on casting breakdowns). If you're confused by what these words mean, I think the first thing you should try to understand is that there is a fundamental difference between sex and gender. Sex is biological anatomy; gender identity is everything else. (Or, as Kate Bornstein puts it: “Sex is fucking; everything else is gender.”)
I identify as "gender non-binary." Personally, I am not questioning my relationship to my biological sex. In more crude terms, my penis and I get along just fine, but I speak only for myself in this regard (not all genderqueer folks are the same). For me, my discomfort (or dysphoria) around gender arises when the culture tells me that I need to act, dress, behave, or see myself in any kind of specific way BECAUSE of my anatomy.
In practice, this means that I paint my nails, wear lipstick, and ignore department store signs that label clothing as being for "men" or "women" (i.e. "the binary"). I do not do this simply as an act of rebellion (although I do enjoy the middle finger it retroactively sends to my middle school bullies); I dress this way because doing so brings me closer to my authentic self.
Some people struggle to take the connection between fashion, presentation and identity seriously. They say, "Well aren't you just a man in lipstick? You're not some other gender." To those people I offer this little thought experiment...
Imagine an average, reasonably masculine, heterosexual American "man." Biologically he has a penis, and culturally he identifies as male. (Just for starters, what clothes have you dressed him in in your head...)?
Now take that same "man," and imagine that you have forced him into a H&M Summer Dress and a pair of kitten heels. How does that "man" react? Just imagine his anxiety, how he'd try to make it a joke or just plainly demand to take it off.
Now keep him in that dress and tell him to go do your grocery shopping... Something tells me you're still out of milk at the end of that conversation. You might say to the man, "Dude, calm down. It's just a thought experiment!" but nothing you say will make him genuinely want to do what you're telling him to do. And, in his defense, he's not being ridiculous. He identifies as a man, these clothes are at odds with that identity, and he wants to take them off. They feel wrong to him, and ultimately you understand the root of his discomfort without question.
Now imagine me. I'm wearing that same H&M Summer Dress and kitten heels (and it looks a hell of a lot better on me than that other gibroni). You don't need to imagine how I would react, because I can tell you: I want to keep it on. I'm not making a joke, and I do not feel anxiety (in fact, I feel considerably LESS anxiety). I feel neither like a "man" nor a "woman," and I don't think trying to answer that question will ever help me understand my place in this world or culture.
So... can you start to understand the root of my comfort without question?