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July 31, 2017 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

The Misogyny in Gender Expression: A Nonbinary Perspective

In a heavily gendered world, navigating how we present ourselves can be quite a task. Although clothing, makeup, and hairstyles have no inherent gender, incorporating typically masculine and feminine things into our presentation as a form of gender expression can be an important tool to convey our gender to those around us, and is a way of stopping binary trans people from being consistently misgendered. But how does navigating gender expression work when your gender isn’t binary? And what if the way you present isn’t in line with society’s expectations of your gender?

We’ve been conditioned to perceive people as female whenever they have any aspects of performative femininity in their gender expression. We’ve been taught that the “default” is masculinity, and that femininity is “other”. Feminine gender performance and expression is undervalued and deemed undesirable and lesser, to be avoided at all costs, which is why AMAB (assigned male at birth) trans people face so much transmisogyny. This assumed default of masculinity in presentation means that when AFAB (assigned female at birth) people incorporate typically masculine forms of presentation into their gender expression, they do not face the same stigma, danger, violence, and discrimination that trans women and AMAB nonbinary people face. However, it also means that it can be difficult for AFAB trans people to be read as anything but female, even when doing everything they can to present in a masculine way. And when AFAB nonbinary people are feminine presenting, they can be forcibly misgendered, policed, disbelieved, and have their identity consistently erased.

Androgyny is thought by some to be exclusively masculine. Most representations of nonbinary people are masculine — people with narrow hips, no breasts, and slim builds (they’re also mostly portrayed as white, which is indicative of the racism in our society and a lack of intersectionality in the LGBTQIA+ community). This is extremely erasing of AMAB nonbinary identities, and also polices AFAB nonbinary gender expression.

When I learnt about nonbinary identities, and realisations about my own identity started clicking into place, I was excited to present myself in a way that I was more comfortable with. I cut off my long hair and I had more confidence shopping in the “men’s” section. It was so freeing and such a relief to do so! But while embracing my nonbinary-ness I became a little engulfed by society’s expectations of androgyny, some of which made me feel less rather than more myself. I felt like I wasn’t “allowed” to keep a dress I liked anymore, that I wasn’t valid if I wanted to wear makeup and jewellery sometimes.

Of course, all of that is complete bullshit. There’s no such thing as being “trans enough” or doing it wrong! The idea that people can’t embrace the feminine aspects of themselves is wildly misogynistic. We need to challenge our ideas of androgyny to celebrate femininity. This doesn’t mean starting to police people who present with masculinity; it means eradicating the toxic and misogynistic culture of policing, disbelieving, undervaluing, and erasing people who present with femininity.


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