It’s downright weird. As I walk down the street in the sunshine holding hands with my partner, a woman shouts down at us from her balcony that we look like such a cute couple. We smile pleasantly as we walk by. Little does she know. I think back to my early trans days, when just leaving my apartment was risky business. I would get sticky with sweat the moment anyone stared in my general direction. I assumed they were judging me, trying to figure out how to classify me, maybe thinking of ways to hurt me. I was terrified of being seen.
As for M and me, truth is we love being seen together, and we embrace the complexity hidden behind our straightforward façade. I’m tall and lanky and as sensitive as they come, for a boy. I don’t own a car, don’t watch sports, and I’m useless as a handyman; I like to sing in the shower, though, and I wear a necklace every day under my business shirt. My partner M, on the other hand, knows how to handle a hammer, used to work as a bike mechanic, and drove tractor as a landscaper. She likes to dress up, too, the higher the heels the better. But don’t let that fool you – and don’t you dare call her a woman. That’s not a label she likes, even though she tolerates female pronouns just fine.
Gender isn’t straightforward for either of us. I still wince when people call me a man, even though I’ve been living as one for almost a decade. M, on the other hand, has a real aversion to the ‘woman’ word. Not because she doesn’t like women – she used to date them – but because she feels it erases a part of her that simply isn’t feminine.
If attraction defined gender, we blur the lines there too. M used to date women, with a few men scattered in between. I used to date women, with a handful of men along the way. Now we date each other, we’ve become straight by default if not by design. When it comes to attraction, I can’t imagine choosing someone based on gender, actually. It’s just not that important to me. That makes me bi, I guess. Except that I don’t believe in just two genders. Not unless we acknowledge the existence of bi-gendered people. People with characteristics of both genders in one body. But does being bi-gendered constitute a new gender? If so, do you blur together all the gender non-conforming people into one big, messy category? Why bother?
Seeing gender as a compilation of discrete categories just doesn’t work for me. I imagine gender more like a piano, with white keys and black keys. And depending on which keys you press, the melody twists and curls through the air in infinite complexity. The melody isn’t entirely made up of black keys or white keys; it’s a combination of both. Doesn’t mean black keys and white keys don’t exist. But the music only comes when you play them together. In that sense, we’re all compilations of masculine and feminine characteristics, each our own individual tune.
I think gender, as a classifying system, is slowly outgrowing its usefulness – if it ever had one. In a time before birth control and contraception maybe it made sense to divide the human species into those with sperm and those with eggs. Maybe it seemed obvious to match people’s gender expression to what they had between their legs. But society is changing, and so is the way humans conceive and raise families. Technology is allowing us all – straight or queer – to build families of our own, through surrogate mothers, in vitro fertilization, adoption and maybe one day even cloning.
Are those families any less valuable in an evolutionary sense than the nuclear families of the past? Not to me, they aren’t.