“Do you actually still identify as a woman?” Roufaida asked me, after we talked about her podcast, which I had also contributed to. Grrrls was the initial name, but now that she had recently interviewed a non-binary person, the name really couldn’t be used anymore. Shortly before, my Instagram app asked me if I wanted to put my pronouns in my bio. “Go away, leave me alone,” I thought. But why did I think that, anyway?
Roufaida asked, because we had talked about that too. In my book, I write, “I have no issues with my biological sex, I’m fine with the fact that it says ‘woman’ in my passport and that people call me ‘she’ and ‘her’, but somewhere deep inside I think: whatever. That’s not me.” Was that still the case? Or was I also nonbinary by now?
This article has been forming in my head for months. Maybe even longer. But each time I couldn’t find the right words. I wrote a draft version for Doclines, then quickly submitted another piece anyway. It still wasn’t right. I watched video to video on the subject, and each time another piece fell into place. Another answer, another explanation. But before we really get started, a few explanatory terms.
"But what if someone doesn't produce eggs, for example?" Well, that person usually has a whole host of other characteristics based on which sex can be determined. Those characteristics are not a random mix, but all the result of the same developmental process. In this process, occasionally abnormal things happen, which then result in people with an intersex condition. This does not mean that these persons are of a third sex: someone with XXY genes, for example, is always of the male sex.
Persons of the male sex are referred to as "man" in Dutch, while in English there is a distinction between "male" (for sex) and "man" (for gender). For the Dutch word "vrouw", it is "female" (for sex) and "woman" (for gender) respectively. Although some radical feminists and gender activists will not agree with this explanation. Anyway, you can't escape that with an article like this.
Gender expression is how you express yourself outwardly, how you "perform" your gender, how you dress, and so on. It is also often said that a person "identifies" with a particular gender. At the same time it is said that gender is different for everyone, in which some contradiction can be read. (Because if it's different for everyone, what exactly do you identify with?)
Anyway. Roufaida asked if I still identified as a woman, and I said, “I don’t actually identify. Others do that.” As I briefly touched on above, I have never really felt “one of the women.” This may also have to do with my autism, as this feeling appears to be more common among autistic people than in the rest of the population. But does that make me non-binary? No. A-gender? Also not. Why not? Because I don’t see any added value in that.
Why I don’t see any added value in that? I think people judge mostly on what they see, and I have little influence on that. They might try their best to use the preferred pronouns, but if they see a woman, they see a woman. If a creep wants to harass me, the creep in question won’t much care how I identify. If someone needs to make an assessment of my abilities, then I hope my gender and/or sex don’t matter, but if that person is sexist or prejudiced, then I can’t identify out of that.
The second reason is that, as an autistic person, I find it hard enough to talk to people. Having to ask/explain to everyone what the situation is with my gender, I don’t have the energy for that at all. I also find it a bit much to ask of people, especially people I don’t know very well. I know a lot of people will think differently about this, but I would feel as if I was putting my problem on the other person. Furthermore, I continue to think that they (or them, or theirs) sounds uncomfortable, however well-intentioned.
In the meantime, I have fortunately found a fine working solution for myself: I don’t identify. Yes, on a piece of government paper, with an F for female. I was born female, and that’s just what it is.
Assigned sounds like the midwife tossed a coin and then picked a sex. But of course that's not the case. The sex was already established in the womb, and the midwife observed and noted the sex at birth. This can go wrong in the case of persons with intersex conditions, certainly, but in the vast majority of people this observation is correct.
And it's important to know whether someone who is, say, assigned female at birth has been incorrectly or rightly assigned to that category. The problem with assigned is that it is a derivative, a step away from its source, which is the genetic, biological sex. Someone who is incorrectly assigned has dysphoria for a different reason than someone whose sex is correctly noted.
Okay, so I was born female. I was often mistaken for a boy during my childhood and teenage years, which I actually found annoying because it was done in a bullying way. After this I had periods in which I dressed more “classically feminine” (to compensate), periods in which I swore by short hair and wide clothes, periods in which I did modeling and periods in which I was coding in my jogging suit without make-up. (That’s actually 99% of the time, lol.)
Of course, expression is only part of gender. But the rest, that feeling of identifying with something, I don’t have that either. I also have no desire to have children, no desire to be seen a certain way by others, nothing. It’s not that gender should go out of the world from me, but 404, gender not found.
“But Toeps, above you said you found it annoying when Instagram asked you for your pronouns. So why is that?”
Yes, I had to think about that for a moment. But what I said to Roufaida is true: I don’t usually identify myself. Others do that. And now all of a sudden Instagram requires me to think about how I identify. What I am. Who I am. I was just a woman all along, because I’m of the type that produces large gametes. If I fill in F somewhere, it’s not because I feel anything, but because I am something. Just like if I fill in 1.83 for height, it’s not because I feel tall, but because my genes have determined it that way. If we were to go down the criteria, I would probably end up at a-gender. But then again, I don’t identify with that – because it’s a hassle.
Sometimes I find it contradictory: on the one hand we break all gender norms and everyone can be and wear anything (and for example nail polish and skirts are no longer only for women, and short hair and ties are no longer only for men), on the other hand gender variants are becoming more specific. And that’s fine if someone is comfortable with that, but I personally would prefer that gender be a lot less important. That I am just Toeps, and that Toeps happens to be female because that is how she rolled out of the womb. And that with that, you still know virtually nothing.
You might wonder why I’m writing this, this kind of reverse coming-out story. Who cares? You have a point there of course, but somewhere I do think it’s important. Because every now and then I see texts and videos pass by where it seems that a new identity and a set of alternative pronouns is the only option for people who feel different. Again, if it is the right solution for you, then that’s fine. But I want to show that there are also people who do things differently. And that that is also possible. Or something.