Call Me ‘They’: What It’s Like To Live Without A Gender
I needed to reflect the ‘agendered individual’, not as someone who was starkly different from the way the men characterize themselves in appearance, but someone who looks just like them. I wanted to take everything that they, and I, had used to create power for us and fear for the rest, and turn it on its head. I wanted the performances of masculinity, to be reduced to the tenderness, the thoughtfulness, the compassion and the most loving strength, that I had the privilege of knowing all my life, from every fortunate suffering.
Love is taboo. We sexualize our fears. Witches, incubi, succubi, cuckolds, Oedipus, Elektra, and the various other ways in which mythology, literature, and culture represent sexuality and femininity as evil.
Recently, I provided myself the tag of being ‘agender’. Gender and identity tends to be tacit and latent, where in most cases, language falls short of best expressing our felt and lived experiences. An agender identity, to me, is one that goes beyond categorization within gender binaries, or any combination of them. It is a wish for a post-gender world. By labeling myself such, I had to clarify the language behind gender, and sex, and sexual orientation. My sexual orientation remained the same, it was my gender identity that I wished to deny, removing myself from the gender spectrum entirely.
In doing so, I did not wish to deny the historicity behind the ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘gender-queer’ or any other gender identity. On the contrary, it is a recognition of the same, and an attempt to subvert these oppressive structures from within.
I despise the fear and pain of being a woman in this world: an etymology of oppression, and a history of begging. I despise the privilege of men and the power they believe they hold. “Providing” women with rights evolved from charity to chivalry and, finally, to equality. It took us this long to be convinced that true diversity means acceptance and hospitality, even of the unknown, and that which isn’t understood.
Esotericism has consumed the dialogues of the mind, our “English as Second Language” has left us convinced of progressiveness, despite our First languages retaining the spirit of fear, dominance, and power. Historically, why have women been considered ‘the weaker sex‘? Why have men been the stronger one? Why have women been ‘the vessel’, ‘the chalice’, and ‘the receiver’, while men have been ‘the arrow’, ‘the point’, and ‘the actor’?
Power and physical strength. Biology may have provided testosterone-derived strength to the male sex of the ancient cavemen, but it provided the female sex the ability to withstand childbirth, and to reconcile ferocity with nurturing. We’ve progressed beyond mere biology and animal instinct, to process and interpret and rewire our interpretations of the world, not merely for co-habitation but for fantasy, creation, and magic. Power hierarchies will perhaps always exist, as long as diversity is seen quantitatively rather than qualitatively.
Growing up, I was always told that I’d be taller than my dad. That I’d be strong and bigger and I’d take care of people, that I’m the man in the family. I continued being one of the shortest in every class, standing first in each school-assembly line arranged in ascending order of stature, but in the descending order of the ability to dream. For as in most schools, it was an assembly-line, but one where I learnt humanity in different ways. Beyond all else, when I failed to grow to reach those literal heights that I was told I would, I wasn’t the lover of the day as much as I was of the night. Not a lover of honesty as much as I was of secrets, nor of aggression as much as intellect. I believed me to be the witty intellectual, the potential smart-ass detective, the Artemis Fowl and the Sherlock Holmes. When I entered my first fight, none of that panned out too well. Fear, my old friend, complimenting my love for the nights, by denying me the sleep that I knew I really wanted. I really did.
I wasn’t the caring paternal figure, I was the one who wanted to be cared for. The ‘receiver’, not the ‘giver’. I despised the fear I could smell from the women living in the world of men, a scent I’d recognized from my first fight. But I could never taste it. Only smell it from a distance as the gut-wrenching odor grew. Men have historically been seen as stronger, because strength and violence have evoked fear and thus provided power, since time immemorial.
But as Hannah Arendt would tell you, or Gandhi, violence is but a primitive means, a temporary form of subjugation born from an insecurity. Much like the violence that comes from anger, and anger itself, it was born from irrationality, and an ability to comprehend that you might be powerless, truly. With every strife I witnessed in my friends, I noticed two paths – quiet sadness, or loud anger. The ones who picked the sadness kept the anger, displaced it to create the most beautiful art, the most wondrous music, and the loveliest conversations that have ever happened. The angry ones continued to believe that their power was supreme, and continued to misunderstand the universe behind the quiet sorrow, sadness merely being the door to a mansion of beauty, wonder, and music. The anger does arise, eventually, but in creation, and not destruction. A desire to surpass goodness, and greatness, and simply be compassionate and tender.
A line from the popular British science-fiction show, “Doctor Who”, says: “Fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly… Fear can make you kind… Fear makes companions of us all.”
And in that understanding I persisted. I despised the violence of men. I despised the hurt of women. I wished to be nothing like the men, and I knew that my identity would always be tied to them, unless I reinvented it.
I sought to remove the gender perspective entirely – to not have my actions, clothes, gestures, stature, physique, voice, behaviour, or words be seen as a gender at all, but as an entity. Gender can be beautiful, and so can diversity, but not unless the two can accept each other in hospitality, until liberty can be reconciled with equality. I wished to be agender, to not be assumed to be hitting on a girl when I thought that she was beautiful, to be not considered “gay” when I told a boy that he was pretty, and not be the object of the world’s insecurities.
How? I began to embody those insecurities. Idolisation decimates objects of oppression. A caring world leader is no longer “gay” but “cool”. A pedestal makes everything seem more desirable. We all want to be taller, in that way.
And I considered cross-dressing, considered makeup and nail polish that I always felt was fabulous, but I didn’t want myself to be a stereotype — an archetype of repetition, to be seen as the representative of all that is gender less in the world. I needed to threaten the powerful, in this case, the men, who for all this. I needed to reflect the ‘agendered individual’, not as someone who was starkly different from the way the men characterize themselves in appearance, but someone who looks just like them. I wanted to take everything that they, and I, had used to create power for us and fear for the rest, and turn it on its head. I wanted the performances of masculinity, to be reduced to the tenderness, the thoughtfulness, the compassion and the most loving strength, that I had the privilege of knowing all my life, from every fortunate suffering. If I, with my facial hair and my short hair, my baritone voice and my over-the-top hand gestures, could be seen as a concept and not as of a gender-binary, then anyone could be. Baritone because in all my phone conversations and fast-food orders, my pre-pubescent voice would evoke a “Yes ma’am?” and that would irritate me, for masculinity was the compliment and femininity was the weakness, so I’d practice a lower-toned voice till I was stuck with one. Facial hair because it represents masculinity and oppression, because of every female individual who I knew, despite most of them having some natural occurrence of facial hair or more due to hyperthyroidism or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, they’d be degraded for even a glimpse of facial hair on them. My relatively fair skin, a lighter shade of the browns, for I idolized fairness as the paradigm of aesthetic beauty. I stayed indoors and away from the sun, till I was fairer than my parents or my sister, despite being of Dravidian origin that celebrates the dark skin that most Hindu gods possessed, before they were white-washed or, more aptly, “blue-washed”.
I overcame my fear of being ‘the weaker person’, by falling in love with the concept of weakness. By accepting weakness not as ignorance or blank acceptance, but as an acknowledgement of sadness over anger. I loved being taken care of, I loved being ‘weak’, and loved knowing that vested in this weakness was a strength that wasn’t merely abstract, but translatable into a strength of will. I overcame the fear of being unable to fight for myself, by fighting for another who couldn’t do it for themselves. I understood the value of the sword, by being the shield. And I understand the value of hope, by knowing fear.
If all of my flaws, laid out as they are here, one by one, could become an abstraction, a connection of my ideal self-image with my current image, if I could become an ideal myself, where anybody and everybody around could be people and not genders, then my work would be done. A statement to the world to be creative and respectful with its categorizations, to use adjectives more reflective of nuance than superficial structures of the past. Call me sly, call me cunning, call me loving, call me beauteous, call me afraid, call me compassionate, call me stubborn, call me frail. Call me hopeful.
Don’t call me male. Don’t call me female. There’s more to life than penises and vaginas. Love over lust, kindness over cleverness. Call me weird. I shall wear it on my sleeve. Call me ‘they.’ For I am many.
First published on Youth Ki Awaaz.
[This post was contributed by Q (Srivatsan Manivannan), student at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, Sonipat. They is also an Editor of Maya]
Feature Image: Wikimedia commons.