I think that the identity of agender is similar to the identity of queer, in that there are a wide range of meanings depending on who is using the label at what point in their lives. I thought I’d take a moment to describe what agender means to me and why I use it to describe myself, but I want to make it clear that I am really not trying to define the term for everyone or speak for anyone else who may use this identity for themselves.
I often introduce people to my idea of what it means to be agender by making the obvious parallel with atheism. Atheism is not a belief in no god, but instead a lack of belief. Likewise, agender is not a belief in no gender, but simply a lack of gender. I do not think that gender is unimportant or nonexistent. I just do not feel comfortable with any gender identity for myself. I feel very comfortable with not having a gender identity.
Having the traits of being agender all my life actually made my transition more difficult. While I quite clearly did not identify as the gender that I was assigned, I did not identify as the other commonly acknowledged gender, either. In my teenage research into trans* topics and in correspondence with “real” trans people, this was always seen as a major issue. Identifying as the gender you are was seen at the time (the late ‘90s) as the most important requirement for being trans.
It took me an agonizingly long time to come to the startling realization that being trans did not have to mean fitting into the monolithic stereotypes perpetuated by so many aspects of our culture- from mainstream news media and Hollywood sensationalism to the queer and trans communities themselves. There is no rubric for being trans. There is no graded test. There Is no required formula for what to do and how to proceed and which options to take once you become honest with yourself about your relationship with your gender and your body.
(Of course, the sad truth is that many organizations that provide services feel differently. I was initially afraid that I would have to lie through my teeth to fit some Harry Benjamin Standards of Care protocol. I was fortunate enough to find a clinic which would offer care without prejudice, but I realize that many of us do not have that privilege.)
I am agender. The way I look each day is a little like Schrödinger’s presentation: from day to day I have no idea how I will look until I go through my clothes and perhaps try on a few things and, you know, collapse the possibilities into the actual. As far as I am able to tell, I am read most often by strangers as a woman, and frequently as a woman with a trans history. (The fact that I do not identify as female does not shelter me from misogyny and sexism.)
I tend to avoid gendered spaces as much as possible. I remember where the gender-neutral public restrooms are in the neighborhoods I spend a lot of time in. I avoid events geared towards certain genders. Sadly, this cuts me out of the vast majority of queer events, which are usually “men only” or “women only” or “women & trans only”- and what the fuck does that even mean? I feel profoundly uncomfortable about being in a space where I will have to defend or justify my presence based on my gender, because the fact is that I don’t have a gender identity at all. A large part of the reason that the SF Citadel is so important to me is the fact that it is not inherently a gendered space. There are a few events there geared toward specific genders, which I do not attend, but the default Open Events are just that- open to everyone. The trans* specific party is focused on people who have a trans* history and our friends, period. No grouping or exclusion based on assigned gender or current gender identity. For me it is fucking amazing to be able to be in a place like that without having to constantly lie about basic, foundational aspects of my self to avoid being kicked out.
This feels to me like a longish, navel-gazing bit of self-indulgent introspection taking up space on the internet (where space is at such a premium, har-har). I’ve been told, though, that when people open up about their experiences and perspectives, often that is not taking up space but instead creating new space. A lack of agender or even non-binary role models in my adolescence is what kept me from pursuing active transition for a decade longer than necessary. I hope that more voices and visibility will help prevent that kind of needless struggle for others in the future.