I’ve always identified as a cisgender girl. Recently I’ve realized how restrictive gender feels. I don’t want to adhere to gender norms, rules or expectations. I just want to be myself. I like she/her/hers pronouns, I like being referred to as a girl. But inside, I feel like I don’t want to be labelled. For example, I don’t always shave, I sit with my legs wide open when I want to, i like feminine, masculine and androgynous styles… Maybe I want a label that feels more free, even if it’s temporary. Is it ok to explore and then change your mind about gender? Can you be a gender non-conforming woman? Could I identify as femme? Feminine-of-center? I have no idea. Should I continue to identify as a girl? (I don’t want to claim labels that are for trans and genderqueer people). Is this kind of feeling and questioning normal?
Also, On a totally different note, are there sexuality or gender labels typically used by people of colour?
Thanks so much for contacting AlterHéros and for trusting us with your question. It’s brave of you to share what you’re sharing and these are some awesome questions you’re asking. This kind of feeling and questioning is very normal and it is so very much okay to explore and then change your mind about gender! It can be very important to explore gender as that allows much more possibility for figuring out what gender means and feels like for you. Gender is socially defined in so many ways and it’s also a very individual thing, so taking time and space to explore gender (one’s own and/or in general) is a key way for people to be able to better understand what works (or fits or is) or doesn’t gender-wise. It makes a lot of sense that you feel gender is restrictive – gender as socially defined (and associated things like gender roles and gendered expectations, like some of the ones you’re describing about shaving and how one sits) is incredibly restrictive! Binary gender (the idea that there are “only” women and men) is restrictive and restricting and also erases the fact that so many people are not “only” women or men (and even people who might identify as such are so much more complex and nuanced than is reflected in the ways those binary categories get labelled and defined). So, yes, one can certainly be a gender non-conforming woman, and many people are. You can identify as femme and/or feminine-of-center. You are the only one who gets to decide what labels (or lack of labels) are ones you want to use for yourself or identify with or as. It can be hard when so many things around you tell you that you don’t get to choose your own identity and that you have to make yourself fit with certain labels rather than the other way around, but that does not change the fact that you are still the only one who can say for you. You should continue to identify as a girl if that’s a word and identity and concept that feels like something you identify with/as. Otherwise, you don’t have to continue to identify as a girl – or continue to identify as a girl all the time or however else might be true in terms of your relationship to identifying that way. There’s no “should” in that case except in terms of what feels true for you as best you know at a given moment (and I realize that that can sometimes be really difficult to know. We can all only do our best as we figure things like this out and that’s important and okay). It’s cool that you’re wanting to be aware and respectful of terms used by trans and genderqueer people. At the same time, it doesn’t really work in terms of a “minimum requirement” for this kind of thing. If, as you explore gender, you encounter terms or concepts from trans and genderqueer communities that feel like they “fit” better or more accurately for you, then that’s as valid for you to identify with/as whatever that might be as it is for any other person who might find that same thing “fits” for them. If you’re doing your best to be mindful of where different terms and concepts come from and not speaking for people other than yourself, it’s okay to use whatever terms/concepts feel true or accurate (or as true or accurate as possible) for yourself.
One additional essential consideration in terms of that, though, relates to what you’re asking in your last question about sexuality and gender labels used by people of colour. In that case, there’s no “typical” as people of colour are not one group of people or category of people. There are indeed lots of sexuality and gender terms used by different groups of people that don’t rely on or relate to terms used by white folks and the terms that have come to dominate these conversations in so many ways, and which have tried to erase other labels and concepts of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour. If you’re asking because you’re wondering about terms that might be used by folks from your own background, I’d encourage you to do some looking into that (websites like tumblr are sometimes really good for that kind of thing. It can also sometimes be helpful to look for LGBT+ groups specifically by and for folks from whatever your background might be in that case). It can sometimes bring up a lot of additional thoughts and feelings when looking into that kind of stuff because it comes with confronting a lot of really painful and violent ways that white colonialism has tried to erase and silence. There can also be a lot of power and beauty and joy in connecting with sexuality and gender terms and concepts from one’s own heritage and histories and often folks find those are the terms that “fit” best. If you’re asking that question because you’re wondering more generally, but do identify as white/are white, then it’s still a good question to be asking and cool that you’re curious about that. In that case, however, it is important to be mindful not to take on terms that come from backgrounds and histories other than your own. It’s really important to learn about sexuality and gender outside of a white colonial context and there’s all kinds of ways white folks can do that without being disrespectful – for example, looking things up online, reading books and engaging with other media (ideally created by people speaking about their own cultures and backgrounds), and listening to folks speak about their own experiences (without speaking over people or giving your opinions unless specifically asked).
If you have more specific questions about this or anything else you, please do feel free to write to us again, and thanks again for your questions and reflections.
Noah, Neuro/Diversities project coordinator