Something I’ve come to realize as someone who navigates the world in between these “male” and “female” mass hallucinations we all buy into is that–well, I don’t navigate the world quite like everyone else. And having lived for twenty years as a girl, and more recently having spent several years trying to get people to see me as not-a-girl, I spend a lot of time people watching, and notice a lot of things that other people don’t have to think about.

We have this idea that gender is made up of these ideas we all agree on–girls wear dresses and pink and eye shadow, and boys wear blue and pants and thick watches. But it’s not really that simple. Girls wear dresses, and pants, and sweaters, in varying degrees of “fitted” and “loose”–and so do guys. In some ways, this is great. I believe very strongly that people should wear whatever they want. A girl is a girl whether she’s in a skirt and pinafore or work boots and a big sweater. And a guy is a guy, whether he’s wearing a skin-tight v-neck and tight jeans or a giant plaid coat and Dockers (or, alternatively, his own skirt and pinafore, which I would support too!).  Your identity doesn’t depend on what you wear.

But it also does, in some ways. Because we still have gender boxes, even when they don’t always make a lot of sense. As someone who lived for a long time as a girl and now dresses quite masculinely, I am most frequently read in public as a butch girl/a lesbian. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian. Just that I’m not one (and also, not all lesbians wear plaid button-downs and loose jeans.)  And this is despite the fact that I can be wearing entirely “men’s” clothing–from underwear and socks out to shirt, pants, sweater, and jacket.  When I wear a chest binder, I have a flatter chest than lots of cisgendered men do. When I wear a packer (a prosthetic phallus), I’ve got a bigger dick than most cis men do, and because of the way men’s pants fit on people with exaggerated hips, it’s also more prominent than a lot of cis guys’ packages. But I still get read as a woman. Similarly, my trans sisters can wear all kinds of makeup, pink dresses and hose and high-heeled shoes, and still get treated as a “man”.

This appears to be conceptually difficult for a lot of people to follow, but in the same way that your identity does not fundamentally change whether you are dressed up or down, NEITHER DOES MINE.

This appears to be conceptually difficult for a lot of people to follow, but in the same way that your identity does not fundamentally change whether you are dressed up or down, NEITHER DOES MINE. All of these photos are of THE SAME PERSON, with the SAME PRONOUNS.

Clearly, clothing isn’t everything when it comes to identifying strangers (why do we even need to identify strangers’ gender? But that’s a topic for another blog post). And the thing that I’ve noticed that makes the biggest difference is a lot of tiny social cues that most people have never had to think about. So here’s some dispatches from Beyond the Binary; “adventures in trans”, if you like.

I’m not a sociologist, and this evidence is anecdotal at best. I don’t claim that this is true for anyone other than me. But I think some people would find this interesting; maybe we can occasionally learn a thing or two; if nothing else, it’ll help me be less alone in spending an obsessive amount of time thinking about this sort of thing. Maybe it’ll help you be a little more conscious of other people’s identity?

Anyway. Tune in in the coming week for three (not one, not five, but three!) blog posts, with some meandering thoughts on being (socially) a girl, a guy, or a “queer.”