Compulsory Gender Binaries and Fluid Existence

Written on 04/19/2021
Tessa Wotherspoon

While we are still a long way away from trans inclusion in much of the western world, trans identities are becoming more and more normalized. However, a topic that has yet to breach the cusp of normative discourse is gender fluidity, including "de-transitioning" and exploration of gender.

Gender is often referred to as a fixed set of categories with matching characteristics, such as male and female. It is produced as a linear process, and therefore the process of "transitioning" between genders is meant to end once the desired gender presentation is reached. In turn, "passing" as cis is seen as the ultimate end, and stigmas, such as those surrounding "de-transitioning," are created.

What does this mean for those who see their gender as fluid or those who come to this conclusion after an initial "transition"? With the example of myself, I feel highly constrained by gender categorization and have always been in a constant flux between male and female. Since I was a child, I felt confused about my gender. Not because I did not know who I was, but because society was confused about me.

For a few years of my childhood, my gender was often read as male: I wore boy's clothes, played sports and with male-marketed toys, and cut my hair short. For myself, I was not choosing these things because I was a boy, but because that is just what I liked.

However, problems began to arise when I started to notice and ultimately became disciplined by society. The more often I was referred to as a boy, while simultaneously being told at school, in sports teams, and so on that, I was a girl made me hyper-aware of my gender presentation. I felt ashamed of my gender presentation, not because I thought it was wrong, but because I was being taught that it was strange and confusing.

Following these experiences, I began to present as hyper-feminine in my teenage years. While I did not refer to this process as one of gender transition, I did recognize that I was making a conscious and calculated shift in gender expression. This also felt extremely uncomfortable, but I was at least glad that my gender was read as normal.

Today, while I identify as non-binary and use she/they pronouns, I still feel a similar discomfort. While the non-binary category is supposed to encompass inclusion of anyone who doesn't fit any set gender category, it has become its own binary. Society tells me that non-binary people are supposed to be androgynous, and the fact is that just isn't a way I often present anymore. I'm simply human, and I see my body and gender presentation as a work of art, something to be made rather than "discovered", something fluid and ever-changing, unrestrained by categorizations. Sometimes I want to dress "feminine" or wear makeup, and sometimes I just want to wear "men's" pants and baggy t-shirts, and what is the problem with that?

Tessa Wotherspoon is an undergraduate student at UBCO double majoring in Sociology and Political Science. Her research interests include anti-capitalism, labour, critical animal studies, and feminist/queer theory. They are a local activist in Kelowna, British Columbia.

(Image Credit: LYDIA ORTIZ)