To read previous posts in this blog series, click here.
Is it writing season? Here's a second post in less than a week!
Let's continue with the Q&A style for today's post again.
Why do LGBT people make up so many words to describe gender?
Many people roll their eyes when they hear an LGBT person describe themselves with a word that they've never heard of. Once in a while, you might run someone who identifies as "Star Gender" or "Solarian" and legitimately wonder if they're joking.
This means I can identify as an Apache Helicopter, right?
In this post, I will help break down the reasons why LGBT people invent so many words for gender in a way that I hope makes slightly more sense.
Premise A: Language is constantly evolving
Before moving forward, I think it's important to establish that Language is dynamic and constantly evolving. Every day, words are being created and words end up dying. "Ginormous" for example, entered the Oxford English dictionary in 1989 and the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2007.
There is no "official committee" that decides whether a word is real word or fake -- if enough people use the word and recognize the word, it effectively becomes real (e.g. "weeaboo"). In this sense, it's perfectly valid for you to make up a word or me to make a word. Shakespeare made up words, and this dude has a blog full of really cool made up words. The bigger question is whether the word you made up catches on in popular culture.
If you coin a word that sticks, congratulations -- you just modified the English language.
Premise B: Different cultures have different vocabularies for the same concept
You have probably heard the very famous saying that the Eskimo people have 50 different words for "snow". You might instinctively think -- that's ridiculous! Why do you need 50 different words for snow when it's just snow?!
And the answer here is that our cultures are different. We appreciate different values in American culture and Eskimo culture, and the things that we appreciate reflect in the vocabulary of our language.
In ancient East Asia, the word "青" means both blue AND green. There was no way to distinguish between blue or green in ancient East Asian vocabulary. The sky is blue-green. The sea is blue green-green. The grass is blue-green. Yeah, it was confusing.
And some point, somebody decided that it's really frustrating to have such an ambiguous word, so in modern Japanese, the word "緑" was invented to help distinguish green from blue-green. As humans, we invent vocabulary as their becomes a necessity in our culture to utilize a new word to describe a new concept.
Premise C: Some transgender people don't see themselves as male or female
When a typical teenager enters the "questioning" process of exploring their gender identity, it usually starts with vague feelings that are hard to put to words.
For me, I grew up feeling like I was constantly faking my way through life living as a guy. I was more concerned with playing a socially prescribed role to fit in with my peers and I worked really hard to make myself an "ideal guy", in a sense, all while repressing the things I wasn't supposed to feel or do. After a certain point, instinctively, everything just felt wrong and alien to me. I couldn't recognize the person whom I had become.
Those were the only sentiments I had to begin with in this entire journey.
I only had this vague feeling that I didn't feel right as a guy. It felt like all of my other male peers were a different species from me, and it bothered me deeply because things felt deeply out of place. It wasn't... normal... for a guy to hate their own genitals or their gradually growing body hair. It was distressing me, and I knew something was wrong.
I didn't feel like I was a girl or feel like I was zebra-gender.
How was I supposed to know what I've never experienced before?
To be honest, I was actually somewhat homophobic/transphobic in high school. I refused to even consider the idea of identifying as female. In short, I basically rejected both a male identity and a female identity right from the start.
Premise D: The effort to fit inside a box can be really hard
You know that feeling of your first day at a new university at the activities fair when people try to recruit you to their club?
It's the kind of moment when you wander from table to table, not fully sure about which club you want to join. Should you join the chess club? The go club? The checkers club? The poker club? Which one is best for you?
It would be great if a shogi club existed, because you play shogi, but this university doesn't have one. So what's the next best thing? It's not ideal... but the chess club might be better than nothing????
- - -
I give this analogy because the initial process of seeking a gender identity is somewhat like this.
Picture a Confused and Distressed Teenager who knows something is wrong with him(?) because he hates his own genitals. He goes onto the Internet and shakes his head when somebody suggests he might be a transwoman. He doesn't think he's a girl. At least, right now he isn't sure. He might need more time to reflect on it.
Somebody else shrugs and says, "Well, if you're not trans, you could be..." and proceeds to rattle off an enormous list of crazy words.
The confused and distressed teenager clicks on the enormous list of words to see their definitions and is presented with a list somewhat like this:
It takes Confused and Distressed Teenager a few days to read the entire list.
- agender. 1. Some who call themselves agender have no gender identity (genderless). 2. Some who call themselves agender have a gender identity, which isn't female or male, but neutral.
- agenderflux. Coined by perfectlybrokenbones in 2014. "Where you identify as agender but have fluctuations where you feel feminine or masculine but not male or female".
- androgyne. This word is used for a wide variety of gender nonconforming and non-binary gender identities and gender expressions.
- aporagender. Coined in 2014, from Greek apo, apor "separate" + "gender". A nonbinary gender identity and umbrella term for "a gender separate from male, female, and anything in between while still having a very strong and specific gendered feeling" (that is, not an absence of gender).
- ashtime. In Ethiopia, the Maale people had a gender role called Ashtime, for assigned-male-at-birth (AMAB) eunuchs who live as women, though later this became an umbrella term for all kinds of gender non-conforming AMAB people.
- berdache. An old word used by European-American anthropologists as an umbrella term for nonbinary gender roles in Native American cultures. The term was replaced by Two-Spirit in 1990 at an Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering. Some Native American people can reclaim the word "berdache" for themselves, but it shouldn't be used by people who aren't Native.
- bi-gender, bigender. Bigender individuals have two gender identities, at the same time, or at different times. These two genders might be female and male, or they might be a different pair of genders.
- butch. A queer masculine gender identity or expression, which some see as a nonbinary gender.
- demiboy. A gender identity that is male-like, or both male and genderless.
- demigender. An umbrella term for nonbinary gender identities that have a partial connection to a certain gender.
- demigirl. A gender identity that is female-like, or both female and genderless.
- enby. Created in 2013 by a non-binary person named vector (revolutionator). Based on an initialism of "non-binary," "NB". A common noun for a person with a non-binary gender identity. This is the nonbinary gender equivalent of the common nouns "boy" or "girl." Plural: enbies.
- fa'afafine. In Samoa, the Fa'afafine are people assigned male at birth who have a feminine gender expression, and who don't think of themselves as female or male.
- femme. A queer feminine gender, which some use as a nonbinary identity.
- Fluidflux. A gender identity that changes over time and also varies in intensity.
- FTX. Female-to-X, covering people who were assigned female at birth, and who identify as nonbinary or X-gender.
- gallae. Originating in Turkey, and spreading to Europe, many of the ancient priestesses of the goddess Cybele were Gallae. The Gallae were eunuchs who were analogous to transgender women. Some see them as a nonbinary gender role. Today, some worshipers of Cybele call themselves Gallae. One of their temples is in New York.
- genderfluid, or gender-fluid. A gender identity that often changes, so that a person may feel one day like a boy, and another day like a girl. Fluid gender.
- genderflux. Coined by deergoths in 2014. "Genderflux means that your internal sense of how gendered you are varies over time. One day, you might feel really gendered, and the next day, you might have a very weak feeling of gender, or not feel like any gender at all. Whereas genderfluidity is a shift between different genders, genderflux is more like varying intensity." A gender identity that often changes in intensity, so that a person may feel one day as though they have almost no gender, or none at all, and another day they feel very gendered.
- genderless. Having no gender identity. Syn. agender.
- gender neutral. 1. That which has nothing to do with gender. 2. Having no gender identity; agender. 3. Having a gender identity that is neutral: not female, not male, not a mix. Neutrois.
- genderqueer is a non-normative gender identity or expression. This can be an umbrella term, or a specific identity.
- gendervoid. Coined by Baaphomett in 2014. "A gender consisting of the void (also/originally used to mean the same thing as genderless)."
- hijra. In south Asian countries including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the Hijra are people assigned male at birth who have a feminine gender expression. This is a very ancient tradition. Today, Hijra are legally recognized as a gender other than female or male.
- intergender. Coined in the 1990s or earlier. A certain nonbinary gender identity in between female and male. In the 1990s, this was an identity label that any person could use, even if they were born with non-intersex (dyadic) bodies, but others say it should only be used by people who were born with intersex bodies.
- juxera. "a gender relative to female, but is something separate and entirely on it’s own." Coined 2014 by tumblr user ren, along with proxvir. Intended for use as an adjective, not a noun.
- Māhū. In Hawaii, in the Kanaka Maoli society, the Māhū is a nonbinary gender role, made of people who can be either AFAB or AMAB. This tradition existed before Western invaders, and survives today.
- maverique. Coined by Vesper H. (queerascat) in 2014. A specific nonbinary gender identity "characterized by autonomy and inner conviction regarding a sense of self that is entirely independent of male/masculinity, female/femininity or anything which derives from the two while still being neither without gender nor of a neutral gender."
- MTX. Male-to-X, covering people who were assigned male at birth, and who identify as nonbinary or X-gender.
- [...] (I got tired of copy-pasting)
After reading the list, he(?) shakes his head and can't believe some of these are actually words.
But... if he had to pick one... maybe "demi-boy" seems kinda close? It kind of describes the way he feels right now...... kinda? Maybe? To be honest, he's not sure. He'll keep it under consideration at the back of his mind for now.
Confused and Distressed Teenager wanders around the Internet for a couple more months and eventually encounters someone who asks him: "Oh so if you're not male or female, what are you???"
Confused and Distressed Teenager thinks about it for five seconds and says: "It's #complicated."
But this hits a landmine and provokes a conversation that lasts three hours because that person wants to know what the hashtag means in exquisite detail. Apparently, each person whom Confused and Distressed Teenager meets asks way too many questions to figure out what it means, what pronouns they should use, whether he has real boobs or a small dick, and Confused and Distressed Teenager doesn't have the energy to explain himself(?) each and every time.
Two months later, Confused and Distressed Teenager simply sighs and says:
"I give up. I'll just tell people that I'm demiboy so they stop asking questions."
And thus, +1 was added to the statistic of the number of demiboy people in the world.
PS. Three months later Confused and Distressed Teenager decided he didn't like the word and changed his self-described identity again.
The moral of this story can be summarized to into a few very straight-forward points:
- LGBT make up words to describe a feeling they have that doesn't exist in the English language
- Some LGBT hear that word and think, "hey, that describes me pretty well!"
- But other LGBT hear the word and might think it sounds stupid or doesn't fit them at all
- But it's not polite to invalidate people's gender identities, because people are trying their best to find a word that describes themselves, and their feelings are real even if the word sounds ridiculous (blame the person who invented the word, not the people who use it!).
- In the end they're just words that are used to communicate concepts, so no need to go "apache helicopter!!!" and freak because you see people using words you don't understand.