Identification

Please note: contrary to my book, which has been translated by native English professionals, this post is translated in part by Google Translate and might not be perfect.

This post is also available in Nederlands

“Do you actually still identify as a woman?” Roufaida asked me after we talked about her podcast, which I had also contributed to. It was initially called Grrrls, but now that she’d just interviewed a non-binary person, she couldn’t take that name anymore. Shortly before that, 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 even think that?

Roufaida asked, because we had discussed that too. In my book I write: “I don’t have issues with my biological sex, I’m fine with having ‘female’ in my passport and people calling me ‘she’ and ‘her’, but somewhere deep inside I think: whatever. I’m not a part of this.” Was that still the case? Or was I also non-binary by now?

This article has been in my head for months. Maybe even longer. But I still couldn’t find the right words. I wrote a draft for Doclines, and then quickly sent in another piece. It wasn’t good yet. I watched video after 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 concepts.

Sex describes what type of reproductive system you have. There are large gametes (eggs) and small gametes (seeds), and you need one of both to produce a baby. Which sex you have is controlled by your chromosomes: for example, a working SRY gene (found on the Y chromosome) makes an embryo of the male sex. Someone with two X chromosomes usually develops into the female sex.

"But what if someone doesn't produce eggs, for example?" Well, that person usually has a whole host of other characteristics, on the basis of which the sex can be determined. These characteristics are not a random mix, but all the result of the same development process. In this process, occasionally abnormal things happen, which then results in people with an intersex condition. This does not necessarily 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 in Dutch as "man", while in English there is a distinction between "male" (for sex) and "man" (for gender). For women, this is "female" (for sex) and "woman" (for gender), respectively. Although some radical feminists and gender activists will disagree with this explanation. Well, you can't escape that with an article like this.
Gender is a bit of a tricky term, because almost everyone defines it differently. It is, to put it bluntly, how you feel. According to some, this feeling comes largely from your biology, according to others it is mainly something that is learned. There are people who think that gender is completely separate from your biology, and then there are also people who think that gender doesn't really exist. Gender expression is how you express yourself, how you "perform" your gender, how you dress, and so on. It is often also said that someone "identifies" with a certain gender. At the same time, it is said that gender is different for everyone, in which there is some contradiction. (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 really identify myself. Others do.” As I mentioned above, I’ve never really felt like “one of the women”. That may also have to do with my autism, because this feeling appears to be more common among autistic people than among the rest of the population. But am I non-binary? No. A-gender? Also no. Why not? Because I see no added value in that.

Note: If you do see added value in one of those labels, I have nothing against that. Above all, do what makes you feel good. In this story, I'm just trying to explain how it feels to me, and maybe it'll help others too. If not, just keep scrolling.

Why do I see no added value in that? I think that people mainly judge based on what they see, and that I can exert little influence on that myself. They may try their best to use the correct pronouns, but when they see a woman, they see a woman. If a creep wants to harass me, the creep in question won’t care much how I identify. If someone has to make an assessment of my abilities, I hope that my gender and/or sex don’t matter, but if this person has prejudices, I can’t identify myself from that.

The second reason is that, as an autist, I find it annoying enough to talk to people. Everyone has to ask/explain about my gender, I don’t have the energy for that at all. I also think it’s a bit much to ask people, especially people I don’t know well. I know a lot of people will think differently about this, but I would feel like I’m putting my problem on the other person. Furthermore, I continue to find they (or them, or theirs) uncomfortable, no matter how well-intentioned.

Fortunately, I have now found a perfectly working solution for myself: I do not identify myself. Yes, on a piece of paper from the government, with the V for female, or better, with the F for female. I was born female, and that’s just what it is.

"But Toeps, you're wrong! It is: assigned female at birth. "I've had this reaction to my book before. This reader thought I was just not that knowledgeable, that I was using outdated language. But I've discussed this extensively with my publisher, and assigned just doesn't sound right to me. Why? I'll try to explain.

Assigned sounds like the midwife flipped a coin and then picked a sex. But of course that's not the case. The sex was already determined in the womb, and the midwife observed and recorded the sex at birth. This can go wrong in the case of people with an intersex condition, sure, but for the vast majority of people this observation is correct.

And it's important to know whether someone who is, say, assigned female at birth is incorrectly or appropriately placed in that category. The problem with assigned is that it's a derivative, one step away from the source, which is the genetic, biological sex. Someone who is misregistered 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 teens, which I actually found most annoying because it happened in a bullying way. After that, I’ve had periods when I (to compensate) dressed a bit more “classically feminine”, periods when I swore by short hair and baggy clothes, periods when I did modeling and periods when I was coding without makeup in my jogging suit. (That’s actually 99% of the time, lol.)

Of course, expression is only part of gender. But the rest, that feeling that you identify with something, I don’t have that either. I also have no desire to have children, no desire to be seen by others in a certain way, nothing. It’s not that I have to get rid of gender, but 404, gender not found.

“But Toeps, above you said you hated it when Instagram asked you for your pronouns. Then why is that?”

Yes, I had to think about that for a while. But what I said to Roufaida is correct: I usually don’t identify myself. That’s what others do. And now all of a sudden Instagram makes me think about how I identify myself. What I am. Who I am. Before, I was a woman, just because I’m the type that produces big gametes. If I fill in F somewhere, it is not because I feel something, but because I am something. Just like when I fill in 1.83 for height, not because I feel tall, but because my genes have determined it that way. If we went by the criteria, I would probably end up with a-gender. But then again I don’t identify with that – because it’s hassle.

Sometimes I find it contradictory: on the one hand we break all gender norms and everyone can be and wear everything (and for example nail polish and skirts are no longer just for women, and short hair and ties are no longer just for men), on the other hand gender variants are becoming more and more specific. And that’s fine if someone feels good about that, but I personally would prefer gender to be a lot less important. That I’m just Toeps, and that Toeps just happens to be female because that’s how she happened to roll out of the womb. And that with that information, you still don’t know hardly anything about me.

You might be wondering why I’m writing this, this kind of reverse coming out story. Who cares? And of course you have a point there, but somehow I do think it is important. Because every now and then I see articles and videos that make it seem like a new identity and set of alternate pronouns is the only option for people who feel different. Again, if it’s the right solution for you, that’s great. But I want to show that there are also people who do things differently. And that that is also possible. Or so.

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