From A to T: Advice for Trans and Gender Nonconforming Youth, Adolescents, Families and Allies Words, Words, Words Part 2: Agender

Words, Words, Words Part 2:
Agender

It seems spring may, or may not, have sprung.

And now for another edition of:

From A to T: the semi-regular feature in which I address questions from youth and adolescents who identify as trans, transgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender expansive, androgynous, agender, bigender, demigender or otherwise nonbinary, as well as from families, educators, school counselors, therapists or any other allies.

Today's topics:
Words, Words, Words:
How do I explain myself as someone agendered?

Sometimes it's all about language.

And now for another of my semi-quasi-regular sub-sub-blogs on language use in the trans and gender nonconforming community.

We have countless terms for gender, age, race, socioeconomic class, religion, sexual orientation and so many other parts of our identities. Sometimes it seems we're lost in language. What do the words mean, and what is their deeper significance?

Yet again, the obligatory pseudo-legal disclaimer: These are for general guidance only. I'm a therapist, but probably not your therapist. Please use the better judgment I know you have, and decide for yourself if my comments work for you. If you need more specific information, seek out a therapist or doctor.

---

Question 27: I identify as an agender person, but it's difficult for those around me. How do I explain that my gender is not about my body? And how do I address it in dating?

First, what does 'agender' mean to you? Most agender people say they don't identify with either male or female, nor are they a 'genderqueer-ish' blending of the binary, but that in their minds they do not have any gender at all. A 'gender of no gender.'

But what exactly is a gender?

We know 'clothing makes the man' is bunk. Appropriate attire has varied throughout the ages, and gender transcends the outfits we wear.

We also know gender is not about procreation. People across the entire LGBTQ and cisgender spectrum have children, or don't, and even trans men have borne children. Our being 'male,' 'female,' or otherwise does not hinge on our ability to reproduce.

Nor is it about the physical brain. The tissues between our ears are far more variable than we like to believe, and a well-defined 'pink vs. blue' separation is a myth. Science has yet to find any clear association between neurobiology and gender identity.

Gender isn't even reducible to genitalia. Trans women who still have penises are women, and trans men who have not had phalloplasty are still men. Nor is gender about occupation, sexual orientation or anything else.

The more I study gender the less I understand what gender actually is. But socially, 'gender' seems to refer everything I mentioned above: an implicitly agreed upon set of cultural norms for body, expression and role.

Does that mean it is possible to step outside those stereotypes, and declare yourself to not have a gender at all?

I don't see why not.

But it's difficult to talk about. Most outsiders are still are still coming to terms with transgender issues in general, let alone nonbinary issues, and have difficulty grasping someone not having a gender whatsoever. What does 'no-gender' even look like? (Usually it appears pretty androgynous.)

You can try discussing identity politics. People not immersed in these issues are often not sophisticated about them, but perhaps you can explain the differences between identity, body, expression and social role. Also, sometimes it helps allies to realize you are not an individual being demanding, but are part of a movement of agender people that is thousands strong. You can direct them to online resources. But none of this may help.

So I'd ask: What is it you most need from those around you: understanding or acceptance? They might never quite appreciate what 'agender' means to you, which is perfectly ok. Sometimes the best approach is to help them get to a place where they respect your identity, regardless of whether they fully comprehend it. Their love may be more important.

Agender people may be sexually active like most others, and may want to use their penis, breasts or vulva alone or with other people, but they think of their genitals as body parts, not as signifiers of a gender role or self identity. My advice: when you start to have that 'spark' for someone, discuss how you feel about your sexual organs in the typical pre-sex conversation. (You do negotiate with your partners before sex, right???) Or you could consider referring to yourself as a 'male or female assigned at birth agender person who has/has not had body-altering hormones or surgeries' to suggest something about what's under your clothes, but that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

But so many legal forms still just list 'male' and 'female,' often bathrooms are binary, and social media sites are only recently expanding their options. It can be painful and sometimes dangerous walking through society expressing yourself in a way society doesn't understand, and sometimes there is nothing you can do but try to be physically and emotionally safe. Let's all hope society eventually learns better.

---

And now I'm signing off for today. Feel free to email questions at Laura@LauraAJacobs.com so I have material for future columns.

You can find information about me as a psychotherapist, speaker, writer and activist at my website: www.LauraAJacobs.com.