The Difficulty of Communicating Me

IMG_6280_cropA conversation with my wife this morning, one in a series on gender identity and the binary, pointed a bright spotlight on an area of my personal identity journey my wife has serious issues with:  my male identity.

OK, it’s more complex than that, so I’ll try to unpack it and maybe I’ll learn something in the process.  My wife isn’t fond of labeling characteristics male or female.  She’s very much into her female appearance, has some characteristics that could be labeled masculine or traditionally male — mostly in communication style and attitudes about sex — but she doesn’t label them male, she sees them as not belonging to men, but being available to anyone equally.  I don’t disagree, it’s a very feminist way of looking at it and I approve.  When I tell her that, she kind of jumps on me and not in a pleasant way.

her:  you talk all about being against the binary but here you are labeling parts of yourself male and female.  How is that getting away from the binary?

me:  you’re right, I’m not post-gender, I’m still very attached to gender.

(continuing) me:  and also, I’m not labeling the stuff I like to do, or how I dress, or any of those characteristics as the male or female parts of me, I’m not dividing it that way.  Those are separate elements of identity.  The part of me I see as male vs. the female part are not split along the lines of who enjoys ‘male activities’ vs. ‘female activities’, especially when I don’t see things in terms of male or female activities.

her: but there you go again, using the binary when you say you’re against it.  I don’t understand why you need to use male and female and why you don’t just say, this is me, and not use male or female at all?

me, attempting not to let my brain get clouded by my urge to shut down and go non-verbal:  Look, I get that it’s hard to understand and I have a hard time communicating how it feels on the inside, but that’s where I am.


My wife is very opinionated and not super gentle in how she communicates.  And this is one of her things, that she doesn’t especially like all the labels and vocab I’ve been trying out in an attempt to understand myself and the world better.  She has this idea that I should just be aloof to all that gender shit and be some happy blend that doesn’t need to declare itself in any way other than my name.  I’m not saying that’s a wrong way to see the world, but it pisses me off to have her push me without compassion, or much expressed interest, about what I’m going through.  She doesn’t seem to have the patience to listen as I try to explain, either.  If I start to lay out the map of how I see myself, the elements of identity I call my own, she just wants to jump to her conclusion.

Thankfully, there are a people in my life who will take the time to listen and work toward understanding, they are precious to me because they don’t get bored halfway through my sometimes long and drawn out explanations.  There are others who don’t require too much explanation but accept my truth as I present it.  Then there’s my wife who seems to want to fight me every step of the way because I’m not doing the way she would.  And since I’m not going to roll over and stop doing it my way, I guess we’re gonna keep having that conversation.

I will continue to argue against the restrictions and assumptions of the binary while simultaneously embracing gender as a way to express and explore my self.  I do not think that is contradictory or hypocritical.  Asking that we not restrict people based on the gender binary and our perception of where people fit into that system is not the same as saying, no one can use genders from the binary ever, ever, ever.  I just want the freedom to choose.  I want you to have the freedom to choose, as well.  I don’t think any of us should be telling the others what they can or cannot do or think with regard to gender identity.

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5 Responses to The Difficulty of Communicating Me

  1. Rachel says:

    I’m sorry its been so tough for the two of you to communicate around gender. It sounds like you could use some more compassion and understanding. 🙁

    Thank you. My wife is who she is and I’ve been running up against her particular brand of opinionated communication for almost 20 years. There are times I just don’t open up to her because I don’t need to have salt poured into those wounds. Not that it’s all bad with her, just that she has a hard time empathizing when she doesn’t feel the same way. On the other hand, I’m lucky enough to have friends all around who are very supportive and positive — K

  2. Charlie says:

    Rather than see it as male vs female, or as a spectrum that you are so much male and gender, see masculinity and femininity as two separate scales. Just because you are very male doesn’t it makes you less female.

    I like that, dipping from each bin of ingredients any amount you want, without regard to how much you poured in from the other? That’s a very cool way of seeing it, thank you 🙂 –K

  3. I know quite a few people who argue the gender binary/label issue.

    My argument is this: if there’s a box on the floor in front of you, you can’t deny that it’s a box. You can choose what you put in or take out of it, but the box remains, whether you wish it to be a box or not.

    Labels exist as explanations. Not always accurate explanations, granted. But they are made up of the only words we have to use in order to join a discourse. Gender labeling and the binary are a box. You can choose what to put into the box, and what to take from it. You can choose how or whether you fit into it. But saying the box isn’t a box and shouldn’t be used as such, doesn’t work. Because every person around you will be using the box in order to make their point and discuss. If you refuse to use the box or even acknowledge that it’s the focal point of other people’s discussions, you’re closing down the only way we can communicate with one another about varying concepts.

    My two cents, anyway. It sounds like you may have to agree to disagree with your wife on this one.

    Thank you for that analogy. It’s true, labels are going to be around for a while and it’s really hard to communicate some concepts without using them. That doesn’t mean I don’t continually work on ways to communicate without using them, but sometimes the shortcut helps communicate faster and more clearly. And for me it’s all about communicating — with others, with myself — trying to communicate concepts that are pretty slippery at times. And I often agree to disagree with my wife. Thank you for the support – K

  4. Jonathan says:

    I think I get this…

    In my community (MTF cross-dressing) we often use ideas of “female” and “feminine” to express things, and I’ve done so on my own blog. And yet though the whole point of my blog is to refuse this gendering: to say that these things are not actually female or feminine at all, and that it’s only society that erroneously and arbitrarily defines them as such. That they can just as validly and correctly be regarded as male; or more precisely, as human.

    And yet cultural ideas of gender have resonance, so if we want to speak at all, to describe ourselves and be understood (at least partially), what language can we use? There is only this. So I just need people to remember that, when I refer to “feminine” things, I’m only reflecting local cultural assumptions in order to communicate. I don’t actually believe in those assumptions myself. Please always take that as a given.

  5. Roxy Jones says:

    There are words, and there are feelings. If you feel supported, the words are almost secondary to communication. If you don’t feel supported, no words will suffice.

    Words aren’t meaning, and they aren’t understanding – they are merely a means to that end. I’m sorry that your conversations sometimes don’t make it past the delivery vehicle long enough to see what’s really inside.

    Thank you, hon. I appreciate your support and understanding. You know the situation very well. I will keep trying because … well, I guess I hope to eventually find the right words to communicate to her. I don’t feel entirely unsupported, but the lack of understanding of some of the fine points feels a little unsafe at times and I want to work on that. And I think sometimes the idea of conversation/debate as a form of competition overrides the goal of actually communicating and I’d like to work on that as well. There are times, like right now, where I don’t want to compete, I want to communicate. Again, thank you for your love and support, you’ve been my constant cheerleader, you’ve helped me get to the point where I can articulate things about myself that seemed impossible to tease out before. Thank you so much, honey, I love you – K

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