Blank Space: embracing being agender

It was feminism that did it. Feminism and my own redundant reproductive organs; both some misplaced indicators of womanhood that I did not, could not, connect with. It was that feeling that other people have described before, more eloquently than me, of feeling wrong, of feeling you’re doing something wrong, acting wrong, failing at being what you appear to be. I appeared to be a woman; I had some bits that society said made me so, others treated me like I was, I had this piece of paper, a certificate congratulating me on being born, that said it was so. But I wasn’t, I’m not. 

I’m agender. I have this big blank space in my head where I’ve been told my sense of gender should be. I have these body parts, both inside and out, that don’t always feel connected to the rest of them. I have tried to “think like a woman” but found it impossible to shove something in my brain that didn’t belong. I am neither male or female or both; I am blank, neutral. I am nothing and everything. 

You can live, define, identify your own truth, whether you’re a woman, a man, nonbinary, or someone else. You can have one gender or many or fluidly dance between them or have none, like me. Your gender can stay the same throughout your lifetime or change, just as your sex can. But you’re not allowed to define my gender or sex, and as part of that deal, I’ll never assume yours. I don’t respond to being defined as a woman, as female, or, the worst word to ever exist, a lady (sex clubs take note). Girl, however, is different: partly because I grew up in the 90s, a time of irreverent third wave feminism, and partly because to me it represents pre-pubescence, pre-gender, pre-sexualisation. Girl feels as blank as I do. 

Two models of feminism raised me. There was the TV feminism: Buffy, Xena, Gladiators, 10 Things I Hate About You, Daria, Samantha Jones. All that feminine power and anger and sexuality fizzing with energy in an unprepared society. And there was real life, growing up in a place where the working and upper-middle classes co-existed uncomfortably and everyone was very white, very cis, very Tory. My female relatives believe in equal rights for men and women, value their own agency, but still defer to their husbands. In my adolescence, there was no such thing as intersectionality and no one even considered anything could exist outside of the gender binary. We never even used the term gender. 

So I grew up believing I was doing feminism wrong. Or, actually, that feminism was doing me wrong. I understood it, but I couldn’t connect with it. When women spoke of their experience of their gender and sex, what it meant to them, the challenges it invited, I couldn’t hear them. The words went in but never made sense. I didn’t have those experiences, it didn’t mean that to me. Of course, there had been sexual harassment and assault, but I felt that was more about men than me. I didn’t feel oppressed by men, because I was told men only oppressed women. I didn’t share in anything feminists were telling me was inherently shared. I felt excluded. 

For a long time, I declared I wasn’t a feminist, because of that exclusion. It was only when I understood that I didn’t have a gender, that I understood my feminism. It wasn’t the movement or the ideas that had excluded me, but the people who were interpreting them; people who were still determined to enforce the gender binary, even though it was working against them, people who were using gender as a tool of oppression rather than freedom, people who weren’t interested in supporting me, as a non-woman, and viewed me as a traitor. How could I betray womanhood, something I was never a part of in the first place? I did a lot of listening and talking and found my feminism, and it’s intersectional, it’s anti-patriarchy, it’s the feminism of bell hooks and Judith Butler. Feminism isn’t about your body parts. As hooks wrote, it’s a “movement to end sexism, sexual exploitation, and oppression”. You don’t need a vulva to be part of that movement, you don’t need to be a woman, and you don’t even need to be a non-man. I need feminism because the state still sees me as a woman and it needs me because we can’t let the TERFs win. 

I was at an embarrassing age when I discovered where my urethra is; my nesting partner had to point it out to me. You may read that and think it’s ridiculous, untrue even, but I ignored parts of my anatomy for a very long time. I’m an agender person with a reproductive system some define as female: that’s as succinctly as I can describe it. I’ve always had a very good sense of the fun, sexual parts, of my clit, my vagina, and my arsehole, because they’ve never felt inherently womanly. I can easily separate the act of sex, whether solo or with another person/persons, from my gender and even from my sex. The problem is my reproductive bits. 

I’ve seen all the diagrams, all the photos, all the models, and I know, vaguely, what it all looks like; the cervix, the womb, the arm-like fallopian tubes, and the globular ovaries. But I can’t place any of that inside my own body. It’s a big blank, just like my gender is. Part of understanding my lack of gender, was recognising why I’d been ignorant of all those parts. 

It was the same mistake I’d made with feminism; I’d let someone else define what they were and how they relate to me. And that someone else had said that those reproductive bits were female and that equals being a woman, but I couldn’t relate to that, it made my body feel alien and wrong, so I ignored it all and let myself slip into innocence. It took me a really long time to understand that my reproductive system doesn’t define me and actually it isn’t important at all, because its purpose is redundant, and it was listening to the experiences of other nonbinary and trans people that helped me get there. 

They remain a big blank in my body, those tubes and eggs and sacks of fleshy space, a different entity to the rest of me; I’m OK with that now, I’m comfortable, despite my periods reminding me that it’s all there now and again, squatting inside me pointlessly and binding me to an illusion of womanhood. I sincerely cannot wait for some kind of menopause to cut the cord. 

I’m writing this now because I’m going to be making an adjustment. Since I recognised who I am, I’ve used the pronouns she/they; more recently, I’ve been asking myself why she? When others refer to me as they, I don’t feel a euphoria as such, it simply feels so natural I don’t even notice. But she, I notice. I see it, I hear it, like a glowing, pulsing, noisy alarm shouting SHE. It doesn’t distress me and I don’t blame anyone for using it (I defined my pronouns myself, after all), but it’s there. And I’ve noticed that I’m noticing. 

Having a gender-neutral name, I’ve always been acutely conscious of being misgendered. When I was younger, the risk was that people assumed I was male, and even now I hear the line “Oh, I thought you’d be a man” far more often than anyone should. At first, adopting a she pronoun was a habit; it was me telling everyone that I’m not male, rather than me conceding that I’m a woman. Now though, affirming my lack of gender is more important to me than proving I’m not what people assume. 

It was also a concession to my appearance being femme, my body being womanly in the eyes of many people; I was allowing people to misgender me through assumptions and pronouns, so I didn’t have to correct them. I have more confidence now. I have the words to correct them and I can take away that one word they’ve been relying on: she. 

In this world, this foetid world being assaulted by hate and phobia dressed up as criticism, it’s important that we’re seen. I’m happy to have others look at me; not as an example, or a role model, or a goal, but just as a normal agender person, living their life. The pronouns they/them are going to help me to be seen how I want to be, as I am.

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