This is a contribution to January 2020 Carnival of Aces “Conscious and Unconscious Difference.” Here I compare my difference in unconscious gender identity with what had happened before with my orientation.
I knew I was not trans because I have never felt feminine. I have never felt masculine, either. I assumed I was cis because I never wanted to modify the sex characteristics of my body. I lived most my life with this assumption, though something started to change when I discovered my asexuality, which eventually led to my identity as cis-genderless.
Discovery of the term cis-genderless
As an asexual that discovered their asexuality late, I had lived this before around my sexual orientation. I did not fit as either straight or gay, and the unidimensional spectrum of bisexuality left me as lost as the old-times sailors who could only measure one of the two coordinates, latitude. During my first year in the asexual community I was introduced the Storms model, a bidimensional model of sexual orientation, which allowed me to picture a better map of sexual orientation. Indeed, the Storms model is essentially another instance of the splitting model. We can split sexual and romantic attraction, which yields the so-called split attraction model, but inside each kind of attraction we can split the attraction toward each binary gender, getting Storms model. There are two axes for sexual orientation and the low-low combination is as legitimate as the rest. This way I got the concept of asexuality and, together with a better understanding of what sexual attraction was, I could place myself in this Storms map of sexual orientation, near the origin.
The case of romantic orientation was clearer for me. I recognized my aromanticism from the very beginning of my approach to the asexual community, and I felt sex and romance so separate that the split attraction model made a lot of sense to me. Further split kinds of attraction were of great help for understanding myself, especially the platonic attraction. But the splitting model could be applied also to gender, and indeed it was a split model of gender roles what inspired Storms in 1979 for his model of sexual orientation. Having two axes, one for each binary gender, we generate a map for gender identity that, though imperfect, distinguishes a non-binary person with high scores in both axes and a non-binary person with low scores in both axes. We can call agender the latter, what makes the situation very parallel to the asexuality and the aromanticism.
Anyway, the usual definitions of gender identity mix the physical sex and the psychosocial gender. In the same way that a mismatched sexual and romantic orientation causes a lot of confusion in the person unaware of the split attraction model, this mixed definition of gender causes a great confusion in its community: what qualifies as transgender? A solution could be applying the splitting model once again, distinguishing the physical sex and the psychosocial gender. Why not can one be cis-sexual and a-gender at the same time? This might be a faithful description of myself, but this idea kept low-profile in my mind until I came across the term cis-genderless in the AVEN forum on gender:
“The state of being in which one identifies as what they were assigned at birth (usually male or female, though sometimes intersex) without having feelings or concepts pertaining to gender. A genderless individual with no dysphoria.” (AVEN gender definitions master list)
Then this new concept resonated in me as the concept of asexuality had resonated before. It was legitimate to be A with respect to gender while cis with respect to sex.
Some subtleties I need to clarify before going on
In the same way we can distinguish around sexual orientation some different concepts like identity, expression, behavior, perception and others, we can apply the same distinctions to gender. Apart of distinguishing sex from gender, as I did before, I think it is necessary to distinguish the gender one identifies with, which is restricted by the knowledge and prejudices of the subject, from the gender one expresses, which may be restricted by other factors like, for instance, being in or out of the closet. These two categories depend on the person’s will and consciousness, but gender behavior may be unconscious and one might be behaving as a gender different from the gender they identify with or try to express. This is the gender a researcher could measure, while the gender identity can only be asked for. Finally, we have gender perception, which depends on the observer rather than on the subject, and thus it is restricted by the knowledge and prejudices of the observer.
In the same way an asexual person may identify as straight before discovering asexuality, an agender person may identify as cis before discovering non-binary genders. In the same way a man can have sex with men but reject the gay or bi identities, as the campaigns addressed to men-sex-men have spotted, a conservative male can reject any non-binary label and identify as a man while his behavior is far from the masculine roles.
But, finally, what is essentially one’s gender? I do not know if it exists an inner gender, whence all these features arise, or the gender reality is the mere juxtaposition of them. In the next discussion, I will try to make clear which gender feature I am talking about at each point.
Early hints showing I might be agender
Before entering the asexual community, the only transgenders I knew were the binary ones, and I could not understand their strong binarism. Seen from my current perspective, it could be caused by a low or absent identification with either binary gender. Anyway, I saw the opposition to their gender transition as a thermometer of the inequality among genders. Discovering the non-binary world though the asexual community made me more sense than the binary one, both cis and trans, though I did not identify with it since the beginning.
Apart of my history of contact with the transgender movement, I can also find hints of my non-binarism in my socialization and gender dynamics. My disinterest in both masculine and feminine stuff can be seen from my current perspective as a hint of scoring low on both gender axes, according to the bidimensional model, near the agender corner. I know that these interests are only small part of what gender is, and refers to gender behavior, but they are the earliest hints that worry transphobic parents. In my case, I was not pressured into masculine stuff, and I think that agender children can fly under the radar easier that children with high interest in stuff of the opposite gender to that assigned at birth. Anyway, my sister showed tomboyish interests and was not pressured to leave them, either. Indeed, I think she scores high in both axes, what from my current perspective could explain the gender dynamics at home. (This observation of my sister’s gender tries to analyze her gender behavior, but it is essentially my gender perception once informed of non-binary genders.)
When we were alone at home and had to negotiate the housework, she always imposed over me, assigning me the most cores, skipping out on the greater burden, but reserving for her the supervision. Despite me being male and her female, once I got older, I identified with the stories and gender dynamics for sharing housework in straight couples. I guess that the masculine feature is skipping out on the housework cores, and that this applies to gender behavior rather than to gender identity, expression or perception, so that I finished giving up before a girl who scores more in the masculine axis than me.
My current life as cis-genderless
Currently, I am aware of the concept of cis-genderless, but this has not changed my gender expression or behavior. I keep being so non-masculine and non-feminine as ever, same as I keep being as asexual and aromantic as ever. I do not shout it out, but I do not pretend to be something I am not. In the same way as I live happily single not pursuing sexual or romantic relationships, I live happily as guy who does not follow the roles of any binary gender. Though I find a bit annoying the stubble growth or the position of the testicles, they do not cause me any dysphoria. I do not reject my masculine bodily features, and I would not prefer to have any feminine one either. This is what comes from being cis-sexual.
Though I am not a fan of having a grammatical gender linked to the sex for the sexed beings (with the exception of epicene nouns) as it happens in Spanish, I have no problem with using the masculine gender for myself because of my physical sex. This might also come from being cis-sexual, but I do not know any other cis-genderless person who speaks a gendered language.
So far, this is my experience. The key that opened the questioning of my sexual orientation, the key of splitting models, also opened the questioning of my gender. Once you have the knife and open your first melon, it is easier for you to open another one.