Virginia Prince popularized the phrase “Sex is what is in-between your legs, and gender is what is in-between your ears.” She separated sex and gender into two social constructs: one biological and one psychological. This concept is also used in The Gender Unicorn infographic, which adds gender expression, and romantic/sexual attractions into the mix. The unicorn allows for infinite possibilities, including a continuum titled Other. How do you measure otherness?
My gender identity has been clear to me since I had the vocabulary for boy and girl, and the concept of self (I am). I am a boy. I also got the social construct of gender expression pretty quickly because I kept trying to do it my way instead of their way. I never understood biological sex, and it still perplexes me.
The pre-puberty loop used to run something like this: I am a boy, I don’t feel like a girl, I don’t want to do girl stuff, I want to wear boy’s clothes and look like a boy. It goes from straight from gender identity to gender expression, and avoids the issue of biological sex. I don’t remember thinking that I wanted a boy’s penis. I don’t know if that is because I knew I didn’t have it and couldn’t get one, or because it seemed besides the point. Who needs that stuff to be a boy?
Sex (biological or assigned at birth) is a confusing mess of gonadal hormones, the endocrine system, chromosomes, gametes, internal reproductive organs, and genitalia. It courses through my veins. Legal sex is stamped on all my documents. I did not understand why people kept telling me “because you’re a girl” when it was clear to me that I wasn’t really a girl. I knew that I was the only child who felt they were on the wrong line every morning in the school yard.
Puberty complicated things. The rush of hormones created more visual cues and they were hard to camouflage. I didn’t want hips, body fat, breasts, or body hair. All that estrogen did not change the loop. It was harder to look like a boy, but I gave it my best shot. In addition to not thinking about my body, I didn’t think about the crushes I had on women, or about sex.
I am both butch and transgender, and my gender expression is a mix of clothing, hair, shoes, comportment, speech, posture, tone, and affect. It is a mixed up version based on thousands of messages and cues I have rejected, intercepted, and partially digested for presenting as white, middle-class, Jewish, female, male, queer, or a pacifist. It is intentional, unconscious, ridiculous, and authentic.
Top surgery boosted my gender expression. I’m not sure where testosterone fits into this, which is the reason I’m still prevaricating. I don’t want to change how I feel inside. I’m not sure I want it pumping through my brain and rewiring my nervous system, the medical equivalent of Taz on a mission. I’m not ready to poke and prod the primeval beast.
Notes: I started thinking about gender identity versus gender expression when I was reading an article (which I can’t find) on why it is OK to not match your gender identity with your gender expression (e.g. non-binary identity with masculine gender expression). While searching for that article, I found these two instead: Gender Expression Is Not Gender Identity and Body Dysphoria and Gender-LEGOs.