"I’m pretty comfortable with myself and my genderqueer-ness when I’m alone, but as soon as I find myself around other people, I start to question my gender roles. I find myself constantly asking, "Am I more masculine right meow? Or feminine?? What am I trying to convey to the world?" Getting dressed in the morning is a nightmare. How do I DEAL."
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Erika Lynn as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
First of all, I’m a dog person, so I would have said “masculine right woof.” But, more importantly, I can relate. For much of my adolescence, my gender presentation and roles were determined by the people around me. Sometimes, I’d try to be really masculine to fit in, and other times I’d try to be incredibly femme to stick it to my parents. But most of the time, these changes were unconscious, and I’d only notice them after the fact, when someone pointed out to me that my behavior changed in different settings. I used to think of this as a bad thing, as a sign of inauthenticity, but as I got older, I realized that having your gender role and presentation informed by those around you is actually fairly common, and can be really good and important.
Gender, I like to think, isn’t so much something we are, but rather something wedo. And we all do gender in different ways. Cheerleaders in layers of makeup, all trying to wear skirts shorter than each other, are doing gender one way. Football linebackers (they’re the big ones, right?) trying to bulk up more than the others are doing gender their own way. Drag queens trying to out-fabulous each other are doing gender their way. To each group, doing gender can mean very different things, and someone existed in all three circles, as a cheerleader, a linebacker, and a drag queen (maybe a character on Glee?), then they would be doing gender in different and equally valid ways, depending on the situation and the people around them.
Now, it does seem like this is causing you discomfort, so I would suggest that when you’re in different settings, look for specific ways that you do gender that you dislike. If you want to change your gender presentation to something you feel more comfortable with, then identifying those specifically gendered things you do in different situations allows you to know what you might want to change; that is, it allows you to know how you can do gender differently.
As for the clothing question, many people, myself included, have very fluid gender presentations, and it seems like you might as well. That question seems to haunt you in the mornings, but actually I do something similar myself. I usually ask myself how I’m feeling, and what I want to do (in terms of gender) today. And from that, I pick out an outfit—sometimes a cute frock, other times a ripped, tye-dyed t-shirt. Either way I’m doing gender differently.
One thing that might help ease any discomfort is to stop labeling different actions as “masculine” and “feminine,” and to think of doing gender in terms of specific action sets and behaviors. For example, “Today, I want to be perceived as rough-and-tumble and tough,” or “Today, I want to be dainty and passive,” or “Today, I want to be tough, dainty and assertive.” These are all ways of thinking about how you want to do gender outside of the gender binary. Sure, the first two could be lined up with “masculine” and “feminine,” but by stripping them of that context, they can be perceived more as socially constructed, as something we create.
As someone who’s genderqueer, you have the privilege of getting to define what gender is for you. Thinking of gender as different sets of actions, behaviors or perceptions rather than as a combination of masculine and feminine traits might give you more personal freedom and alleviate any discomfort you feel with your presentation. It also allows you to look more specifically at actions you do in different groups, and, as I said earlier, this can help you determine which actions and behaviors you like doing around certain people, which you don’t, and which you want to get rid of.