My problem with being agender

On Thursday, we had a meeting of one of my morris dancing sides to discuss a fraught question. This particular side is an all male side (with a bunch of musicians who they insist on calling “our terrific lady musicians.” ) The question on the table was:  should we allow female dancers into the side?

I don’t mind the fact that it’s an all male side. That’s not really my issue. As long as there are morris sides that women can join–mixed sides, or all female sides or whatever–I think it’s all fine and dandy that some sides choose to be all male.

During the discussion it became totally clear that if they chose to let women in, it would be on the understanding that women don’t and can’t – by virtue of biologydance the same way men can, and therefore the side’s entire culture and reputation as hard men of the dance circuit would be on the line. That’s just plain sexism and biological determinism, old as the dinosaurs, but still kicking in terms of offensiveness. I may not like to be classified as a woman, but sexism still makes me flip my lid.

My specifically non-gender-binary problem came up when they decided that perhaps it would be better to have all these hypothetical female recruits form an all female branch of the side, so that all male dancing could continue unmixed.

The only morris side that would take me when we moved into the area was an all female side, and I feel – on and off – profoundly uncomfortable there, even though I have adapted the kit so that I’m now wearing a man’s kilt rather than the uniform skirt. (Don’t say anything. I think I’ve got away with it, if only because no one has noticed.)

I am now a member of a mixed side, which is a profound relief, because in a mixed side it doesn’t matter that you’re neither a man nor a woman, because the variety of human that you are shouldn’t need to come up.

Yet even in the mixed side there are continual calls for the re-establishment of the binary. “Let’s do this dance with all the women on one side and all the men on the other!” “Why don’t we do this one with all the women in one set and all the men in another, then it could be a fun competition!” “Maybe we could adjust the kit so the the women could all wear matching skirts,” etc. These calls are not just coming from the men; they’re coming from the women too.  Many of the women have made attempts to make their kit more feminine, adding appropriate jewellery and leggings rather than trousers, some with skirts on top.

I recognize the impulse. It’s like the kilt thing in reverse. People need to have a way to express their gender or lack thereof. But the trouble for me is that cis people’s continuing desire to separate themselves into two genders leaves me standing in the middle on my own.

I generally go to the side that I pass for, but being forced to make that choice is deeply uncomfortable, and it’s a choice that is forced on me over and over again by well meaning cis people who are trying to make me feel that my (non-existant) womanhood is being respected. I don’t have one, thanks. Leave me out of this.

This rant was prompted by getting an email from about “Simple Steps to Love Trans People (or Your Trans Self)” And all of them are about accepting yourself–learning to love and value yourself and how to silence the inner voices that tell you you’re wrong for being who you are.

But I don’t have that inner voice. I may have spent my whole life going “what the hell am I?” until I finally decided to give up on figuring out gender altogether and settled on non-binary about five years ago. But I never felt my gender identity was wrong. I felt the rest of the world was wrong.

I think I was in my late teens when I decided “I was made like this to be a bridge between men and women, to help them understand each other.” And when I found out about the concept of two spirit people and how they were considered to be holy, I thought “that sounds about right.”

So self-acceptance has never been my problem. My problem has always been the rest of the world.

What I can do about that, I’m not sure. I dread the idea of trying to explain any of this to the kind of people who still think that women are biologically predetermined to dance daintily and without aggression. There were gentlemen in that discussion who deserve the following image.

But I suppose that making posts like this where anyone can see them can be considered a first step.

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Lee Rowan
Lee Rowan
6 years ago

No, it’s not you.

Yes. The rest of the world IS screwed up. Every single human being has “male” and “female” qualities and characteristics. Expecting anybody to identify with their genitals above all other qualities has always seemed to me to be a monumentally *stupid* notion. (I identify as a female human being because I spent 30+ years living with female hormones and, frankly, I never much wanted to have the male hormone cycle. It looks worse.) I’m a human being in a female body. Last time around was probably different. Next time, who knows? I suspect trans people may be here to teach that the vehicle’s accessories are not the person in the vehicle.

Some cultures recognize gender ambiguity, some (mostly those from Abrahamic religious cultures) have screwed up men’s minds so that they fear any suggestion that having a wiener does not, in fact, make them superior to anybody who merely brings children into the world through her body. (I use the binary because reproduction is a binary process.) And those religions are based on fear–BIG SKY DADDY WILL PUNISH YOU IF YOU DO NOT OBEY. I think Jesus tried to change that, but the cultural norms dragged his ideas back into the oppressive binary because that made the men in charge feel safe.

I’m not sure how many generations or incarnations it will take to fix this problem. But I’m damned tired of letting greed, stupidity, and fear keep dragging us backwards.


6 years ago

Hi Alex. I’m a bit late to the show, but I wanted to thank you for writing this article. I’m non-binary and I appreciate it. It’s sparked some really great discussions. 🙂

I should also mention that I love your books! Thanks for writing. 🙂

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