Living in the Land of the Binary

Posted by – September 4, 2008

Our friend and book reviewer Jude Russell wrote a short, simple piece about the binary that really resonated with me. I hope it does for many of you, too.

There have been a couple of threads recently wherein gender outlaws (and I use that term with utmost affection and respect) have run afoul of cisgendered folks who have gotten the gender wrong – typically persons in “boy mode” who were androgynous or feminine enough to be gendered female – although I am sure it runs both ways.

Now, I spent many years in that gender neutral zone – where I’d be gendered female in one interaction, male in another, and trigger some confusion (and possibly, anger) in a third. It was all very interesting (from a sociological perspective), and fun (from a Loki / coyote / mischief maker perspective) but also somewhat stressful (especially when things like waste elimination came into play, or I’d run into someone who had a problem with it).

I guess my reaction to these experiences has been somewhat different than others. Because I think we need to take some responsibility for choosing to color outside the lines, choosing to bend gender, choosing to break the rules. So when I was in boy mode and got gendered female, I was less pissed off, and more amused – it was my decision to adopt a more feminine affect, and it was, in some ways, rewarding to have that recognized even as it was uncomfortable to be called on it. I began to pay attention to how others were gendering me – and acted accordingly. If I was vibing female that particular day, well, I stayed out of male gendered spaces; opting for unisex or female gendered spaces, or being cautious and quick in male gendered ones. Many a time, I sought out a unisex bathroom, or watched the gendered bathrooms until I was pretty sure they were empty, or wandered towards a pair of gendered bathrooms and decided at the last minute which one to use, based solely on if anyone was going in or coming out of either.

And when I was called on my gender blur – well, I had a collection of responses ready. “Yeah, I guess I am pretty androgynous” or “I’m still deciding” or “Sometimes I’m not really sure myself”. And yeah, when it got to be too stressful, I’d move in one direction or the other, to reduce the friction. In some ways, my decision to transition was of this nature – that living in between genders required too much energy, produced too much friction in the world.

I guess my point is, we live in this binary gendered world. And slowly, things are loosening up – there are unisex or gender free bathrooms, gender markers are removed from forms and identity documents, salutations are made optional, gay marriage (the prevention of which is, IMHO, the primary reason for rigid binary gender boundaries) is made legal.

But in the meantime, we need to live in this world. And we need to own the fact that we are the gender outlaws, that we need to live on this binary coded planet. Even if the long term goal is a lot less gendered society, we’ll grind ourselves into dust with stress and anger if we do not figure out how to bend and move in the margins at times.

Often starting our journey from a position of cisgenderer privilege – where we could use the right bathroom unconsciously, where we could simply move through the world on automatic pilot, feeling a sense of affiliation and belonging with our gender, its difficult to find ourselves stripped of that gender privilege. But the quicker we realize “I’m privileged differently now, I need to adjust my attitude accordingly”, the more gently we move through society. We can still fight for rights or visibility or a less gendered world. But we can do so without the constant erosion of our energies and self esteem…….

It’s sort of a reframing – becoming less of a victim of a repressive culture, and more of an anthropologist or explorer, carefully moving among this binary culture that we are studying and experimenting with.

2 Comments on Living in the Land of the Binary

  1. a very thought provoking piece , the ideas of the anthropoligical expedition and taking responsibility with awareness, that indeed requires one to move among the culture with care. Understanding the different privileges can save a hell of a lot of trouble and heart ache. Going with the flow, does not mean we cannot be change agents. In fact one might suspect that by careful observation one can synergize more powerfully in areas where the binary is less rigid get further , and live to fight another day in more rigid settings. Job one is preserving self esteem and energy because the forces of the cisgendered world are emmense. Nice Piece.

  2. jessicayogini says:

    I like this.
    The sense of taking responsibility and inquiring into what happens. A nice growthful way to live.

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