There are very few things I know for sure.

This is true in all areas of my life, but right now I want to talk about just a few.

About gender, and the gods.

I don’t know what gender is. Not really. I have some thoughts — I think it’s a social construct, but unlike a lot of people who use that term, I don’t think that means it’s unimportant. Maybe someday we will do away with the social construct of gender and it will no longer matter, and we’ll probably have some other construct take its place. But I think that so long as it is a construct we use, it is important, because it does shape our lives.

Almost everything in human life is a social construct, after all. Doesn’t mean they don’t matter, and doesn’t mean you can wiggle your nose and make them disappear.

So when I say “gender is a social construct,” the end to that sentence is not “and that means your gender identity is meaningless.” Your gender identity does mean something. It means something to you, and it means something to humanity, in the way we think of and conceive gender, and working to change our perspective from something that is rigidly binarist to something more open-minded.

I also think that gender is a spectrum. Or maybe I don’t — maybe what I’m thinking of as being a spectrum is masculinity, femininity, and whatever is in the middle of those things. (I don’t want to use the term androgyny, because of the current connotations it has.) Maybe I do think gender is a spectrum, but not in a flat line; a spectrum within a 3D polygon. Infinite possibilities abound.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis. It is in shades of green and purple.
Pictured: gender. Or maybe not.

And I don’t know what the gods are, but I know how They present to me, I know how They interact with me — so while I’ll never know the totality of Their existence, I know some things about Them.

One thing I know is when I connect to Manannan mac Lir, my father, I get a sense of deep maleness. I don’t know how to describe it other than that — as a god, He comes across as very much id-ing as a man. A man who tried to steal my Mary-Janes when I went to the beach, a man who is gentle and loving and nurturing, a man who defies all the stereotypes we have about what “makes” a man.

When I connect to Brighid, I get a sense of deep femaleness. I get the sense that She identifies as a woman. A woman who works as a blacksmith, making weapons for battle. A woman who loves other women. A woman who will steal cows from the rich to give to the poor. A woman who is the flame, is the sun; who inspires creation, but is not to be trifled with. A woman who defies stereotypes of what “makes” a woman.

And finally, when I connect to the Morrigan, I get a sense of deep queerness. A sense of liminality, a sense of existing between genders, or maybe outside them. She is a genderqueer goddess, in my experience. And not because She’s traditionally seen as female but defies stereotypes; because when I connect to Her, that is the sense I get.

These feelings I have about the 3 gods who are central to my practice are not based in Their lore. I didn’t look at the myths of Brighid and go “Well, She’s about creation, so definitely female,” or look at the myths about Manannan and go “Well, pigs are one of His animals, so definitely male,” or look at the Morrigan and say “She defies female stereotypes, so She can’t be female.” It has nothing to do with the lore, and everything to do with my experiences of Them.

Is gender a social construct for the gods, too? Is it a different social construct from ours? Are They more welcoming of non-binary genders? Are They all trans?

Or are They, in Their purest, most whole forms, beyond gender? Is gender a dress They put on to interact with us so our heads don’t explode?

I do not know the answers to these questions. I will likely never know the answers to these questions, at least not while I’m still corporeal and walking about here on earth. What I do know is what I experience from the gods, and that is what I have to go on.

And I don’t know why I’m genderqueer, either. I don’t know except that when I read about non-binary genders in my 20s, I started crying, because it felt like I’d finally found something that fit. I spent 20 years not feeling right — not right in my body and not right in my head. I spent my childhood thinking I was bad at being a girl, so I should be a boy, instead — but I wasn’t any good at being a boy. Nothing felt right.

Since coming out, I went through a transition. Some non-binary people don’t identify as trans, because they feel they didn’t go through a transition. That’s not the case for me. I did change, inside and out. I stopped trying to be something I wasn’t; I stopped living a lie. I finally understood why I went through such intense hatred of my body, and while I can’t stop the dysphoria, knowing what it is helps me live with it, helps me cope.

I still have conditional privilege, which means I “pass” for a cis woman a lot of the time, and people think that’s what I am. The truth is, if you see me in a dress and with my hair covered, I am not presenting as female. I am presenting as what I am — genderqueer. Or genderfluid, as I also identify.

The idea that androgyny must do away with any traditionally feminine characteristics is part of the reason I have such an issue with the word. You can be androgynous and have prominent breasts, or a curvy figure. Androgyny shouldn’t mean “resembling an anime hero.”

My lack of a binder and packer (due to finances more than any other reason) doesn’t invalidate my genderqueerness. My being a femme doesn’t invalidate it either. Had I been assigned male at birth and gone through the same journey of self-discovery that I have in this life, I would be just as femme. It would just be more dangerous for me to exist that way.

People ask “well how do you know you’re genderqueer if you’re just going to look like a woman all the time anyway?”

All I can ask them is “how did you know you were the gender you are?” Because getting into a long explanation about how presentation doesn’t define someone’s gender for them isn’t something I often have spoons for.

I don’t think you can define “woman” or “man” or “genderqueer” (or “agender”) with a set of stereotypes. Someone isn’t a woman because they like to cook and clean; someone isn’t a man because they like to tinker on cars. You can’t define someone else’s gender for them. If they say they are a woman or a man or genderqueer or without gender, then they are. And if they discover that that term wasn’t right for them, and find a new one, that doesn’t invalidate their identity.

I don’t know how or why I’m genderqueer, all I know is that I am. I don’t know how or why the gods I interact with have identified as They have; all I know is They have, and it’s influenced the cosmology I’ve put together surrounding Them. Instead of being based on dualities, my cosmology is based on a triadic model. Land, sea, and sky. Birth, life, and death. Female, male, and non-binary. And no, these qualities are not necessarily associated with each other.

I don’t know if this model will ever work for anyone else. I know it works for me, and that I’m going to continue to build a religion based on it, and share what I can with the world.

I don’t know if my thoughts about gender and the gods are anywhere near correct. Maybe gender isn’t a spectrum. Maybe it’s not even a social construct — maybe there is an immutable Truth about gender out there, and we humans have fucked it all up, and actually there are 6 genders and they have nothing to do with supposed biology (we say our binary system is about biology, but people don’t assign gender based on a karyotyping of an infant — they assign it based on the appearance of the infant’s genitals). I don’t know.

What I do know is that if someone’s identity isn’t actually hurting anyone, or themselves, then we need to trust that they know themselves best and leave them the fuck alone.

Trans and non-binary identities don’t hurt other people. The idea that they do is a lie; anti-trans propaganda spread by people who are scared of living in a world that doesn’t accept a rigid binary system as law. The belief that the very existence of trans or non-binary folks will erase people of binary genders is wrong.

I may not know much about what gender is, or what the gods are, or even if I’m anywhere near right when I say I experience the gods as having gender identities. I may not know why I’m genderqueer. I may not know why gender is a Thing at all — why and how the hell did we come up with this stuff, anyway?

What I do know, despite all my gender agnosticism, is that people have a right to self-identify.

What I do know is that there is room in our world for multiple gender identities.

What I do know is that I have no interest in erasing women from existence. I have no interest in erasing their identities.

What I do know is that if you feel my identity as trans non-binary, or anyone else’s identity as trans, if you feel these identities erase yours — then the problem doesn’t lie with us. It lies with you, and your discomfort with your own identity.

I’m solid in my identity as genderqueer. If I met someone tomorrow who is exactly like me in almost every way, except they ID as a cis woman, it would not shake my comfort in identifying as genderqueer.

What does it say about people like Ruth Barrett or Cathy Brennan that the very existence of trans folks makes them so unsure of themselves, to the point where they need to declare war on us just to feel secure in their own identities?

What truth does that reflect back on them?

5 replies on “Gender Agnosticism”

  1. For me, the trappings of a high femme and the feeling of being deeply entrenched in the feminine sector of the spectrum feel like being home. That feeling of looking in the mirror and knowing that, even if it’s not what I want to see, I recognize the person looking back, is precious to me, and has helped me make tremendous progress against my eating disorder and body image issues. I’m so sorry that cis women like me are denying your right to it. You deserve to have your identity respected and celebrated. In the years I’ve known you, I can honestly say that I have never seen you try to erase anyone, and the idea that you ever would is laughable. Kick ass yes, erase no.

  2. I needed to read this. On one hand I feel that I’m non-binary, but on the other hand it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m just lying to myself when I’m in make up so often(to be fair, that is due to my work), or other femme things. So maybe it’s more the coding on things that’s messing with me.

  3. Speaking as a somewhat genderqueer cis woman, you have really expressed my position here. I just don’t know what gender is. I don’t think science knows what gender is. I don’t think popular ideas of gender are very useful. As a writer who’s interested in erotica and science fiction and the intersections of the two, I am very interested in speculating about alternative genders, new genders, alternative social arrangements of gender and marriage and partnership.

  4. Things I think about What Gender Is:

    Gender is liminal. Gender has to be liminal, because it is simultaneously an inner sense of self and the experience of interacting with the expectations of others, the social category into which one is put by others.

    When people’s social categorying is not congruent with one’s inner sense of self, it hurts. It is being surrounded, constantly, with the sense that people are telling lies, that there’s that whispering gossiping slandering undercurrent in everything, that sense that somewhere one is going to Get The Role Wrong and then All Hell Will Break Loose.

    There will never not be social categorying, even if it becomes totally separated from the physical traits that are assumed to be real. There will always be “you are an intellectual, so these things are true about you”, “you are poor, so these things are true about you”, “you work with your hands, so these things are true about you”, and so on. And those categories are maybe more diffuse than people assume ‘gender’ strictly taken to be, but they’re going to exist forever, or at least until everyone’s shoved into grey jumpsuits with masks and stashed in little boxes to do the same assembly line tasks. People will make assumptions; people will make categories because the overhead of living is too hard if one has to datafile everything separately.

    It gets hard when people assume their categories, their theories, are more important than other people’s lives.

    Genderfluid I may be, but I have never really considered myself trans. However, the closest to trans I have ever felt was during my first pregnancy: nothing I did, nothing I did in the world, had the slightest chance of affecting how I was social categoried.

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