Today we’re talking about the third meaning of A in LGBTQIA.
Since we already know what asexual and aromantic mean, I’m sure we can guess what agender means, right? The prefix “a” means “not”, so… not-gender!
Someone who is agender doesn’t identify with any gender. No gender. None. Nope. Nada. Not any gender here, no way, no how.
How can someone not identify with any gender?
Well, think about a transgender person. They look at the gender that everyone says that they are, and they go “nope, I’m not this gender. Everyone who said I was is wrong. I’m actually this other gender!”
An agender person looks at the gender that everyone says that they are, and they go “nope, I’m not this gender. Everyone who said I was is wrong.” And then they don’t turn and orient towards another gender. There’s detachment from one gender, but no attachment towards another gender.
Some agender people feel very strongly about their lack of gender. No gender feels an appropriate fit for them, so they vehemently detach themselves from any identification with a gender.
Some agender people feel really apathetic about their lack of gender. They know that they don’t identify with their assigned gender, but don’t feel really strongly one way or another about gender.
An agender friend of mine coined the term “gendershrug” to explain their gender. As in “sure, when I was born I was assigned with this gender, but shrug, I don’t really feel any connection to it? I don’t care? And if I’d been assigned another gender, I wouldn’t care either. Like, I guess my body makes people think I’m this binary gender, but I don’t really care what they think?” Gendershrug.
Agender is a non-binary identity. That means that agender folks don’t align with the gender binary of male/female as options.
There are other non-binary identities, by the way; some people are mostly one gender but have aspects of another gender, or are genderfluid, where they shift between genders at different times, or are genderqueer, where they are a mix of multiple genders at all times. If someone tells you they’re non-binary, there’s no way to just guess what their gender experience is, because it’s so unique. We have a roadmap that tells us what it means to be male or female, though the roadmap (aka, society) is really flawed, and makes masculinity and femininity both extremely unrealistic, unattainable, or unhealthy in some circumstances. There’s no roadmap for non-binary gender identities – each person gets to decide what their gender is and looks like by listening to what their feelings are telling them.
Non-binary identities mostly fall under the “T” in LGBTQ, because they are transgender. They transition genders by moving away from one gender (what they were assigned at birth) and to another gender (genderfluid, genderqueer, etc). Agender folks don’t always feel comfortable under that T, because they may not feel transgender. Some agender folks explain that because they’re not transitioning TO a specific gender, they’re not technically trans. Other agender folks explain that because they’ve transitioned away from the gender they were assigned at birth, they’re definitely trans. This is entirely up to individual agender folks, whether they feel like “transgender” is the right identity for them, or not. No other person gets to tell someone whether they’re trans or not.
Agender people can often feel difficulty figuring out how they want to present themselves. Androgyny usually ends up just being masculine* in our society, so how can an agender person signal their lack of gender through clothes, make-up, and other visual markers? Well, they can’t, necessarily! There are only a small subset of people who can visually pull off a completely “gender-neutral” appearance, and that’s only due to having a body type that strangers will look at and wonder “hm, does this person have a penis or a vulva? I just can’t tell.” And since we know that genitals don’t indicate gender, there isn’t actually a way to know that someone is agender just by looking at them (unless they have some sort of pin or shirt that says “I’m agender!”).
You can’t ever assume what someone’s gender identity is, so your best bet is to ask. Not intrusively, not where you march up to strangers and ask what their gender is, but when it becomes relevant. “Hey, we’ve been chatting for a bit, and I just want to make sure that I don’t misgender you – what are your pronouns?” or “Okay, we’re about to start introductions – can each of the panelists state your name, pronouns, and a little bit about your research?”
Agender folks often get left out of gender conversations, because folks spend a lot of their time and energy fighting for the right to identify with any gender that they want to – we sometimes forget that people have the right to NOT identify with any gender, if that’s their experience. Being agender is valid.
So the “A” in LGBTQIA stands for asexual, aromantic, and agender. You now know a little bit more about each of those three identities, and how their existence fits into the queer spectrum of identities.
Next up: Q is for Questioning!
*the gender of clothing will be a future post!