Being androgyne; inside and out.

I’ve talked about this topic before, but only peripherally because I had only just realized then myself what it means to be and feel androgyne. I also linked to this site but I feel I need to point to it again. It helps a lot in understanding this particular ambiguous part of the multicolored gender spectrum; both for those of you who may be androgyne or are in doubt if so and for those of you who simply are curious about the subject and want to understand more.

In this post I try to give an insight in my particular situation and explain the subject the best I can, but I must point out that I’m no expert in the matter and may have yet to understand and use some of the terms and definitions correctly. I do not, however, couple being an androgyne to that of being an INTP or vice versa. Personality type and gender are, after all, two different things. The chance that there are other female-born androgyne INTPs out there is pretty slim, I reckon, but if there are and you have found this, I welcome you with open arms. 🙂

Being androgynous has long been – and, I presume, still is among most people – associated with fashion and physical appearance where one – whether man or woman – combines male and female traits of clothing styles in one’s own and/or genetically bears traditionally and commonly associated looks from both sexes, thus making one appear both masculine and feminine or neither. Some of the best known examples are Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, David Bowie, Prince, Patti Smith, Grace Jones and Annie Lennox, etc.. I guess being androgynous has – from the side of the onlookers – long been connected with an equal amount of intrigue and obscurity and high level of performativity due to its naturally undefinable, ambiguous attitude.

But being androgyne has of latest also been recognized as a gender. That is, where one’s gender is non-binary; both male and female or neither. A third gender. It’s a complex field to understand (go to the above-mentioned site to understand the intricate differentiations better) and it’s still in the progress of being understood and recognized properly, but what’s important to note here – or indeed always – is that one’s biological sex, one’s sexuality and one’s gender are three different components. They can, by principle, be combined in a multitude of ways that make up our identities; who we are as individuals. As such, androgynes do not necessarily want to become a different sex or gender, because we simply do not subscribe to any of them, per se. To quote the above site:

One cannot claim to be a man or woman and still be (an) androgyne, because androgynes are of a third gender: they are either a combination of the two binary genders or the absence of both of them. They can’t be (just) one of the two binary genders. One reason why the terms male-born and female-born are applied to androgynes is in deference to different sets of life experience, but another is to differentiate them from post-operative androgynes, who are not (trans)men and not (trans)women.

Yeah, it’s a bit confusing, but to scale down a bit: In my case, I was born female and am a heterosexual (or, more likely, demisexual), but I feel and now view myself as androgyne. Remember, gender is how you view yourself – and can in itself consists of several components according to gender theorist Judith Butler (whose work I can highly recommend reading).

On top of that, I actually look androgynous, although that is coincidental. My face has rather manly features (I’m no cute gamine, so I can hardly classify them as boyish) from my father’s side, and of average build with both curvy and lanky features (broad shoulders, bony hands, long legs and arms) from my mother’s side. My hair is fine, straight and ash-brown (and has its own life). I wish I had a husky voice à la Lauren Bacall or Emma Stone but I’m afraid mine is rather fair and bland.

It’s all an awkward combination to be honest. Never one thing and yet the same. Odd and yet rather unnoticeable. I guess it suits my INTP personality just fine: Never being just one thing, but rather puzzling and atypical. Chameleon-like. But I guess looking androgynous as well as being androgyne can also create all the more confusion among most people you meet when you – as an INTP – are already hard to place into anything definite and comprehensive. It’s both an advantage and a disadvantage to have this ‘combination’ I have, I guess.

But how you physically look or dress doesn’t have to have anything to do with how you feel inside and view yourself. Or vice versa. Thus, even if you happen to have what are typically classified as feminine features, you do not have to necessarily feel feminine inside. Or, in this case, masculine. You could feel both or neither at the same time. To better explain, I resort to quote good old Wiki:

For humans, androgyne (/ˈændrən/ an-drə-jyn) in terms of gender identity is a person who does not fit neatly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of their society. Androgynes may also use the term “ambigender” or “polygender” to describe themselves. Many androgynes identify as being mentally between woman and man. They may identify as “non-gender”, “gender-neutral”, “agender”, “between genders”, “genderqueer“, “non-binary”, “multigender”, “intergendered”, “pangender” or “gender fluid”.[25] However these terms are slightly different in definition. A person who is androgynous may engage freely in what is seen as masculine or feminine behaviors as well as tasks. They have a balanced identity that includes the virtues of both genders and may disassociate the task with what gender it may be socially assigned to.[26] People who are androgynous disregard what traits are culturally constructed specifically for males and females within a specific society, and rather focus on what behavior is most effective within the situational circumstance.[26]

It’s interesting to think about all this, had I been born male. At first I thought, hypothetically, nothing but my biological sex and thus certain features of my current body would have changed. I don’t imagine my face would have altered that much, actually, simply because I’m androgynous enough around my facial features to pass as male. At least in my eyes. All in all, it wouldn’t really matter because I would still have the same personality and gender; I would still be an androgyne INTP. My sexuality is another thing to consider though. Instinctively, I just thought heterosexual, because I would still be me and thus still attracted to men. But being male-born that would make me homosexual – which would be totally fine by me – but then I began wondering whether having a male body combined with having an androgyne gender could also make me hetero and attracted to women? Silly to question perhaps, and likely not as easily boxed-in like that, but I couldn’t help myself from including that possibility as well. I find it an interesting aspect to ponder upon and I don’t think I would mind if that was the case. But still – though I’m no expert in this area – I believe there must somehow be a correlation between your sexuality and whom you’re attracted to and your own, unique personality (i.e. not personality type) which would function the same way no matter your body or sex.

Anyway, it’s an interesting thought experiment. I would like to experience being male and all the privileges that entail for a short while. Especially travelling the world alone. I wouldn’t dare to do so as a female. On a smaller scale, I believe I would have less trouble combining clothes that should flatter my body type and be less modest about my physique. As a woman I generally hate showing too much cleavage or bare legs, but I also want the freedom to do so without being leered at or judged and I feel like that isn’t the case with men. That is, they can show skin without being leered at and judged the same way. I may be wrong, but I think there’s some truth in it as well. Then again, men, in turn, struggle to embrace ‘feminine’ values because the heteronormative and patriarchal society have taught them such values inherently points to weakness.

In the end, each sex has its different advantages and disadvantages, also depending where you live, what freedom and rights you have in that specific culture and society and what values you’ve grown up with. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where gender roles are fairly equal (not enough, but still), so being female luckily does not pose such a great hindrance here. (Well, as long as you are white and sorta Christian.. *sighs*).

Male or female; as an androgyne I would be just as comfortable and still be me.

I’ll end with an excerpt that struck a chord with me:

“Dionysus is a god who takes human form, a powerful male who looks soft and feminine, a native of Thebes who dresses as a foreigner. His parentage is mixed between divine and human; he is and is not a citizen of Thebes; his power has both feminine and masculine aspects. He does not merely cross boundaries, he blurs and confounds them, makes nonsense of the lines between Greek and foreign, between female and male, between powerful and weak, between savage and civilized. He is the god of both tragedy and comedy, and in his presence the distinction between them falls away, as both comedy and tragedy…”

— Paul Woodruff, The Bacchae (Translated and Annotated) – Euripides

 

PS. Since this discovery, I’ve realized that the title of my blog is rather incorrect or misleading, given that I am not female but a third gender. Thus I have been considered changing the title, putting in ‘androgyne’ in stead of ‘female’. I may decide to do so, one day or another, I’m still not sure.

*revised 09/15/17*

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Sometimes I look at myself from the outside

In spite of all my inward self-discovery lately, I fear at times that I appear more arrogant that I intend to be. (Not that I ever intended to appear arrogant in the first place).

But what is arrogance? Being confident? Sarcastic? Aloof? Cynic? Superior? Elitist? Oppinionated? Stubborn? Where do you draw the line based on an impression?

I recently (and reluctantly) watched a snippet of one of my dad’s recent home videos of the family and it shocked me to see that in the clip I appeared to put on airs in a rather dislikable manner. However, my own recollection of this episode was that I was disconcerted by my dad’s ‘invisible-yet-all-the-more-in-your-face’-filming of us and instantly put up a front of flippant, snide sarcasm to seem, well, cool, I guess. I think I do it a lot. And not just because I have this pet peeve when people don’t vocalize that they are about to photograph or film me. I use sarcasm/irony as a filter in various contexts; it’s like a second nature to me. A weapon. I do it to make sense of myself and the world – and to protect myself. I just never really realized how obvious it is. That, or I simply look and seem utterly and genuinely arrogant.

I’ve doubted whether I really am arrogant or not, based on this and other responses I’ve gotten throughout the years. But I know that deep down – despite of all the little superiority and diva complexes – I could never be truly arrogant to those I am around (well, as long as I like them, which is most of the time). I’m too self-deprecating or self-aware to be so. I am too curious, humble (although that statement always seems counterproductive) and naive about my fellow man, believing – perhaps too often – in the good in people before anything else. Not necessarily in the way they act towards me, but inherently. The problem is: I’m not arrogant, I’m distracted (or I seem ‘aloof’ as most people describe INTPs). Distracted by everything I know and am aware of – and everything I have yet to know and become of aware of – and I try to take all that into account. The poet William Cowper once said: “Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; Wisdom is humble that he knows no more”. Ironically, you could say I’m distracted by my awareness and staying aware. So distracted that I appear uncaring or poker-faced or whatever – and thus arrogant. I don’t know if I truly have a pokerface. Naturally, I’ve not had a chance to observe myself from the outside – unless I watch a video of myself where I’m unaware that I’m being filmed (which are fewer than a few). When I know I’m being filmed the above-mentioned episode happens; I instantly put up a front – like a petulant, squirmy child.

I’ve doubted so much that I started using this possible arrogant appearance to explain why people stay away, don’t find me memorable and never become emotionally invested in me (I know, that isn’t a one-way street, but as an INTP I’m not always aware that I may not seem emotionally invested even if I am). Maybe in an overall view, this may be true, but I’ve also come to realize that those people perhaps just weren’t meant to be in your life or they were too ignorant and prejudiced to give it a chance or it was simply bad luck. How will you ever know, anyway? What is most important are those who care and show interest. I’m learning to be more expressive about such things myself, because even if I feel it I need to show it in order to receive something in return. It sounds silly, written like that, doesn’t it? But sometimes I need to write it down like a manual for dummies or notes to myself in order to get it into my head. I may know it already, yet too often I take it for granted. I’m awkward and stumbling along the way, but I try my best to get out my distracted head and show some personal investment in the immediate world around me, be a little less hypocritical and self-absorbed.

Something happened just this day that made me doubt again, fearing ‘the air of arrogance’ had returned. Little things; like people not getting why I had decided to drop a volunteer job I had had for over two years despite I smiled and explained why (even apologized), some of the new volunteers not looking me in the eyes (but apparently everybody else’s), etc.. Ugh, sorry for the petty venting. It’s not something I usually do, but it illustrates a pattern of almost similar occurences throughout my life and the simmering feeling of doubt I have that I may appear different on the outside to those around me than what I think. And not in a good way. Today, by chance, it led to one depressive thought after another and somehow I got ahead of myself and concluded that nobody really cared much for me or liked me. Silly me, getting all insecure and possibly drawing the wrong conclusions too fast. Because then I came home and realized people do care, people do remember me. An old friend I haven’t heard from in a long time called to say hi and my mom called because she has become all excited about a potential job offer for me after uni. I returned the gestures, listened and thanked them, respectively. I finally sent a much belated postcard to an elder in the family and wrote a message to another old friend I haven’t spoken to in a long time. I’m awful at keeping personal tabs and initiate immediate, emotional support to those around me – simply because I take the show of outward support for granted (though that doesn’t exclude the fact that I feel for them and am willing to lend them a friendly ear). Once again; it isn’t enough that I know that I care for people, I need to show it as well. And just because I feel I’m not particularly good at showing it in the expected ways, I should still just do it – even though it feels awkward and stilted and doesn’t come entirely natural to me. As I’ve said before, this is a battle with myself – a life-long project that I cannot give up.

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Between a rock and a hard place

In so many aspects of life, I feel like I’m caught in a limbo.

Maybe we all feel like that?

I can’t claim to know anything for certain, only that I exist (and will die) and thus, unequivocally, have value, meaning and a place in life. What kind of value, meaning and place is another matter entirely. And everything in-between is just – up for discussion (sorry, I’m not feeling very poetic at the moment).

However, in general, I feel I have drawn the long straw in life. So many things have come almost disturbingly easily to me (though I’m not one to complain!) – maybe out of sheer luck or just coincidence (back to the straw). When I see where and how other kids grow up in the world – bruh! – no, I have shitloads of luck compared to so many others living in poor and awful conditions, with no safety, no rights, no freedom and no possibilities. And that’s the extreme comparison! Even well-developed neighbour countries don’t have the possibilities, secutiry and advantages my country gives me. It’s not an excuse to downplay everything in my own life (I’ve certainly been through that already) – but a way to put my life in perspective, be humble and grateful. Maybe a bit too humble but that’s my vice I guess and it could be worse. Then again, I say that about everything in my life. Not an excuse either.

But feeling like being stuck in a limbo is as paradoxical and annoying as it can be. Like being stuck forever in purgatory, not Heaven nor Hell, or the Wood between the Worlds in the Narnia Chronicles, where nothing ever happens and one is drowsily, indecisively and disorientedly stuck between worlds. Multiple choices and the possible intervention of fate. The eternal, absurd, existential crisis between determinism and indeterminism; the maelstrom of causality, free will, karma, fate, luck and chance. It never seems to be just one thing, does it, and how could it be? The world is anything but simple. Sure, the theorists and philosophers who first suggested each of these terms had to go a different way than the other guys just to argue their own theories but even they couldn’t avoid taking the other possibilities into account some way or another. Even ‘free-willed’ decision-making on my part has become wrapped up in a sense of equally causal- and chance-like events; the expected satisfaction of such actions overrode with questions of how much I made things happen myself or whether things happened to me? I’m never left with a solid answer.

Being an in-betweener, so to speak, is as liberating as it is imprisoning because you never settle down on either side but are free to choose – or not to choose at all – yet are imprisoned forever in-between. Of course, you have to choose and settle down for a bit at times, but never for long because your nature (or fate?) rebels against this and seems to have other plans. I don’t mind being in doubt, but doubt can certainly be as rewarding as it can be unproductive.

*scratches head* Is this getting a bit too abstract?

Scaling down a bit, to entirely superficial matters, my self-image is as certain and secure as it is changing and fluctuating. When I view myself on the outside – when I wonder how I strike people – I can be as harsh as I can be fair. I’m neither pretty nor ugly (in the conventional ways), I am both entirely average and entirely unique. Most girls I see and compare myself to are pretty yet so boring to look at; they all look the same, dress the same, wear their long hair the same. I feel I look different but in a good way and the megalomaniac in me often wonders why no one seems to ‘fancy’ me. Then the self-deprecator in me answers by saying everyone is unique; what I feel or exude is nothing unusual or extraordinary thus why should I seem more noticable because of that? Yeah, it’s both a sad and a bad excuse, but maybe profoundly human as well?

It is especially in matters of romance that I feel caught permanently in-between, never getting a taste of either side, so to speak. That I’ve drawn the shortest straw. Or simply haven’t drawn anything because the straw was given to someone else. Should I feel particularly lucky about that? I don’t know since I can only feel unlucky about not having been given the chance to draw in the first place. I’ve come so desperately close once (I think) only to see it ripped away from me before anything truly came to be. In these matters I feel myself wondering about fate and karma and superstition and all that shit, because I’ve never been given a sign or thrown a bone – and if I have, I’ve been purposely blinded to it or have gotten it taken away from me before I even managed to grasp it. I’ve not lived long but long enough to wonder if it will ever happen. Truly. I may overthink and over-analyze things, become too self-centered too easily, because I know other people around me, the same age, mind or personality, are as inexperienced as I am in these matters; I’m no extraordinary case. I tell myself over and over again that it will happen when it happens, that love and soul mates don’t have to come from romance but can be found amongst family and friends and myself even – which I already have. But love like that – well, it isn’t necessarily stagnant and unquestionably secure – it just isn’t … enough. And I don’t know whether it is society that erroneously has taught me so; to expect romance and love to come swooping down in immediate, various forms as I got older, or really my inner being having a hole where something – something significant – is missing. Some part of me feel that I have something to fill and give that I cannot receive and give through the ‘altruistic’ love of family and friends. Something from which I will change, mature and develop from in different ways than the love of family and friends and myself. Rather than a question whether I will feel whole or not through such love, it is about not sitting in a life-long pool of stagnation and being content with that.

Am I too greedy and selfish? Perhaps, but at some point I also feel a right to be – as a human being. A part of me has always been humble, grateful, giving, listening and obedient (never quite in any Mother Theresa-kind of way) but in the ‘smallest’, most ‘insignificant’ of ways towards the people around me. Don’t mistake my tone for bitter, but there just comes a time in your life when enough is enough and you need more than what you give. Just the smallest of things. I’ve always placed myself at others’ disposal, always lending a helping hand or a willing ear, never for my own benefit, purely, but because it has always been second-nature to my curiosity and willingness to help and offer advice the best I can. And though I’ve not been perfect in matters of picking up the phone for the daily or weekly or even monthly updates with friends and family, I’m always here. And maybe that’s why I’m easy to take advantage of and take for granted: Because I’m always just there; a statue in my temple where change never reaches me. No matter how far or long we are apart, it doesn’t change anything for me. I’m always here to offer objective, sound advice (well, according to myself) – like another Gandalf appearing out of the blue to offer his help when most (or unconciously) needed and then retreat in mysterious ways when help is no longer needed. The benefit for me is that I get to learn about other people and if that means I have to stay the lonely wanderer all my life, so be it. It is really no wonder that I’ve always been fascinated with the Byronic anti-hero-cowboy archetype who appears out of nowhere with a questionable identity and background and finds himself more or less willingly help out those in need before he disappears into nowhere, alone again. Selfish, yet not un-selfish. Caught in the eternal limbo with no certain roots, too, it seems.

And being a woman and growing up as a girl, this has, of course, always been highly confusing to identify with – all these male, fictional archetypes that seemed so purposely stripped of feminine values – since I desperately wanted to fuse these traits with the femininity I also thought I felt and which I thought held both. Actually, I always felt confused by the fact that most people was so concerned about keeping them separated; masculinity and femininity. I couldn’t understand why everyone seemed to judge one’s gender before one’s person. And I didn’t even feel – although I might not have been aware of this at the time – that one’s being could be divided into categories and only two. But sadly, I felt myself involuntarily being drawn into these forced, limited patterns – that were as visible as they were invisible – everywhere in society. I couldn’t even call them out and I couldn’t understand or figure out why before later on, only that it all felt linked somehow. It seemed I was caught in one limbo after another when growing up – true Inception-style – and though some were explained, they just kept on coming quicker than they were solved. Today, I spot heteronormativity’s frighteningly infused power practically everywhere and though we still have such a long way to go, I feel blessed to have been born into an era where it is finally and properly being rebelled against.

I remember this episode during a painting class in high school where I made this portrait of two humans facing each other with a heart between them. Cheesy, I know, but I just felt something about expressing this particular image, I don’t know why. I made the profiles of the humans look entirely sexless, that is, with no visual, gender-prescribed signs that told which gender they were. I didn’t feel it was important to the painting. The important thing was that they were humans and they loved each other. However, my teacher was for some reason baffled by this choice and suggested I should make it visible who was the woman and who was the man. And like the meek, little teen that I was, I just said ‘oh, okay’ and did as she said. It wasn’t necessarily a bad painting and my mother had it hanging in our kitchen for years; there was just something about it that didn’t sit right with me, though I couldn’t quite say why. Soon I started feeling strained by its in-your-face image and in the end, I ended up hating it and decided to take it down (without permission. Just said I was sick of it). I think this episode paints a pretty good picture (haha, pun intended) of this whole theme I’m talking about.

I’ve always been the mousy, nerdy-looking wallflower and got a rather androgynous look and as a kid it was in full bloom since I never really bothered with acting and looking like the heteronormative version of a girl. I wasn’t a tomboy either (I’m not overly fond of that word since it implies a deviation from the default form girls ‘should’ be) as I wasn’t at all with the incrowd of most of the boys (however, I did befriend a couple of boys here and there). Hence, the most ignorant of kids being somewhat confused around me, I guess, thinking I was the one being confused. Some bullied me, some ignored me, some I got fairly well along with but never in any deeper context and still I got a rather ambivalent, apprehensive vibe. Maybe I developed my chameleon-like skill of adapting to most social interactions later on – or I always had it, more or less. But I realize I was caught in the limbo early on already. Not only did (and do) I look androgynous but I also couldn’t conform or identify to the binary gender descriptions and expectations. I still can’t.

And I only just realized today that the word androgyny can be ascribed to gender as well – not just looks and attitude – and that it is the closest I can come to classify this gender-based limbo I’ve always been in. The term encompasses my gender in all its intermediate complexity yet differs from my sexuality which is straight (though straight is a terrible way to describe (hetero)sexuality, really. If anything, sexuality should be just as fluid and dynamic as one’s identity. And I find that I, more likely, verge on demisexuality; in keeping with existing in a grey area). Androgyny suggests that one is not entirely feminine or masculine, nor that one necessarily feel both or either of them. The above link elaborates a lot on the intricacies, legitimacy and problematics surrounding this term since it’s not very commonly acknowledged as a gender description even by LGBTQ+ people – which might explain why I’ve been stuck in this limbo for so long. However, it’s gaining prominence.

So. Apparently, I’m androgyne inside and out. I guess, once again, I can breathe a sigh of relief of actually having a term for what’s happening inside.

One limbo down … um, more to go.

tbc

*revised 17/04/18*

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