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(xposted from my main journal.)

I've been thinking about gender and sexuality.

I am a bisexual cissexual man.

Simple, right? But every day I feel more widgy about my identification with all three of those words.
I feel that my understanding of them, of how they're used by the people in my life who care about gender theory and sexuality, becomes shakier every day. In the end, I think that they're in need of some examination.

A lot of my trouble comes with a failure to understand the fundamental meaning of gender. I am not very tuned in to its significance, and I carry enough privilege that I can ignore it without significant impact on my life. That said, a rundown of the basic definitions of each term is in order.

I'm going to crowdsource the definitions of each of the terms I listed above by taking their definitions from Wikipedia. Please leave a comment to correct me if WP's definition is particularly off-base from the perspective of the QUILTBAG community.

Bisexuality: "sexual behavior or an orientation involving physical and/or romantic attraction to both males and females, especially with regard to men and women."

Cisgender: "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity"

Manhood: "The term ... used to refer to the various qualities and characteristics attributed to men such as strength and male sexuality."

One by one:


I consider this more or less the easiest one to tackle, and given how confusing it is anyway, that's saying something.

Beyond 'heterosexual' and 'homosexual', other sexualities tend to trickle down into three major terms: 'bisexual', 'pansexual', and 'omnisexual'. The definitions of the latter two seem to be under a great deal of debate; WP believes them to both mean the same thing but some relatively well-distributed posts on the matter assert that there is a difference. For the purposes of this discussion, I will be using the term 'pansexual' and ignoring 'omnisexual' until somebody provides a compelling source showing me that I should do otherwise.

By most accounts, the distinction between 'bisexual' and 'pansexual' lies in the notion of binary gender. A bisexual is attracted to both men and women but, under this distinction, nothing in between. A 'pansexual' is attracted to people of any and all genders.

So while I typically call myself bisexual, this is demonstrably untrue: I have been attracted to several people of genderqueer and genderfluid status. I am pansexual. I guess.

Part of me feels weird about this, though, and here's where stuff starts to get confused. I have a lot of sexual/relationship experience with people who identify as women, and virtually none with people who identify as anything else. Do I even 'count' as bi/pan? I am attracted to a strikingly low percentage of male-identified people I know, as opposed to the high percentage of female-identified people I find attractive (worse, the male body types I find attractive tend to be the ones that the teevee tells me I should like. Let me tell you how that makes me feel). This makes me question myself a lot.

Moreover, even if I decide that I am pansexual, I am still likely to refer to myself as 'bi' in most cases because it's a more widely-understood term and there's a part of me that resists using neologisms without test driving them a lot. I suspect I'm not the only person who feels this way; I suspect that a lot of self-styled bisexuals really don't care that much about gender and care more about whether they are attracted to their prospective partners.

Maybe I'll get used to it now that I've used the term in association with myself in a semi-public forum. "I am pansexual." I'll give it time.

Now that we've kind of messed around with my sexuality, let's move on to gender.


Cisgender has been a difficult term for me to swallow and adopt; when I first encountered it I tripped over it during a virulent discussion about privilege. It was being used with all the affection that an angry waiter affords the word 'sir.' Over time I've seen it proliferate and I've come to be more comfortable with its use, both as a simple identifier and as an acknowledgement that those of us who are not trans, GF or GQ operate under extraordinary privilege.

Most of the people who know me will readily and without hesitation identify me as a cismale. I use the male pronoun, I look like what you expect a dude to look like, I refer to myself as male, I carry all of the male privilege that a cismale generally carries.

But when I actually wear the term and look at it closely, it does not fit the inside of my head very well. To help explain why, I'm actually going to move on to the next term and come back to this one after we've addressed it.



This word has caused me a hell of a lot of confusion lately and I'm gonna try to unpack that confusion here. It will be messy. I will probably need help. Here goes.

What is a man?
  • A human with a penis? (no, the genderbread person tells us it's not that simple.)
  • Someone broad-shouldered and narrow-hipped, with no breasts? (no. the shape of your body does not determine either sex OR gender.)
  • Someone with a strong will, integrity, and honor? (no, many of the women in my life have these traits.)
  • Someone sexually dominant? (no. don't get me fucking started on this.)
  • Someone legally identified with an 'm'? (no, manhood is not determined by the government.)
  • A miserable pile of secrets? (no, Dracula was defeated many times and therefore doesn't get to set our gender norms.)
  • Someone who runs around the forest looking for fights? (only if you wear tights, apparently.)
  • Swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon? (no, you can never trust Disney's fact-checking.)
  • Fierce as a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon? (see above.)
  • Someone who identifies as male?

Is that it?

Are you a man when you identify as one? There's no entry fee, no paperwork, no requirements?

So ... what's my motivation? What does it mean to identify as a man? Why am I doing it? Privilege? I hate male privilege. I've spent the last several years trying to ferret mine out so that I can work against it and I plan to continue doing so indefinitely.

What it boils down to is that not only do I not understand what determines your manhood and/or manliness, I don't know what it means to have either.

Having thoroughly failed to established what manhood is, I shall return to the previous discussion topic:


Ok so! Cispeople are "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity," right? Specifically, the term 'cissexual' has been posited as "people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their mental and physical sexes as being aligned."


As we have established above, I have a thoroughly confused and fairly permissive idea about how I am supposed to identify manhood. The WP definition, again, is as follows: "The term 'manhood' is used to refer to the various qualities and characteristics attributed to men such as strength and male sexuality."

So I guess that to determine whether I am cissexual, I should figure out the above-mentioned qualities and characteristics and see if they jive with my mental gender identity. But what are those qualities and characteristics? Most of what I have to work from is stereotype: the values that men are encouraged to have by media and 'conventional wisdom' when opposed to the values that are valued in women.

I'm gonna do a little exercise where I put down a bunch of words that have ostensibly neutral to positive meaning and are stereotypically attributed to one gender or the other by media and tradition (yes, it will be a somewhat infuriating list). I will bold words that I like and want to have associated with me, and I will italicize words that I don't like and don't want associated with me. Words I feel neutral about I will leave alone. If you feel that I'm leaving out or misplacing any of these words, please say, but remember that I'm drawing from our stereotype-loving media.

Stereotypical 'masculine' adjectives:
strong, macho, manly, dominant, primal, powerful, chivalrous, handsome, stoic, righteous, protective, competitive, honorable, aggressive
Stereotypical 'feminine' adjectives:
graceful, beautiful, soft, gracious, submissive, empathic, emotional, obedient, helpful, kind, sensual, faithful

I'm sure that I missed a lot, but even as I continued to add words when the internet suggested them or I thought of them, a clear trend emerged: I don't identify with the societal image of my assigned gender. Of course, many women I know will probably find the same thing about their gender, but in part that's probably because this stereotypical feminine image is largely constructed and maintained by men. I'm not sure what the excuse is for the male stereotype, but it ain't me.

A friend suggested that in part we may bristle at the things we've been told that we 'should' be because of our birth sex, and therefore push them away harder than we might push away potentially negative traits of the opposite sex of our birth one. But if that's true, that means that there's no value in these societally determined characteristics anyway and the last means that I had to establish what manhood means is out the window. Now I'm REALLY confused!

Okay, let's take a few steps back. Before I got muddled, I identified as male. Why?

Well, I am a man much like I am an American.
I was born into it, I was told what it is supposed to mean, and I continue to watch people fight about whether that meaning is valid or not. I do my best to exemplify its positive attributes but often feel widgy about the people who are most enthusiastic about the label. I have no particular objection to the label itself, but I see stereotypical facets of other labels and wonder if maybe I would be better off with that label over there ... or maybe no label at all.

But it's easiest to just keep the label they handed me when I was incapable of decision-making, so I do.

Gender is totally a thing, but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to treat it.
I know transfolk who feel gender identity very strongly, and it's very important to them. I know genderqueer and genderfluid people who loathe gender and wish it would go away.

I don't know how I feel.

There's one other weird thing about my self-identification that I'm not sure is related, but ties into some of my confusion.

I think that a lot of people feel some kind of dysphoria concerning their physical form. I don't know of any people offhand who have always been satisfied with the way they look and feel, and most people arrive there (if they do) through a combination of altering their bodies (exercise, dieting, calorie balancing, plastic surgery, fashion, hair, makeup, etc) and altering their self-perception.

I've been trying to do some of both alterations for many years, and have had some success, but my body and I have not historically gotten along very well.

For example:
I think that wearing makeup is great. Stage makeup is okay, but I like the more decorative stuff better. Eyeliner, eyeshadow, blush, glitter, mascara. I like having pretty hair. I also think that dresses look awesome and skirts look comfy. Kilts are okay I guess but they're not the same.
But most of you will have noticed that I pretty much never ever dress in drag. Ever.
Well, yes, I dressed in drag that one time in Threads, but you know what? I did it for a comedic role. I did it while playing a cowardly fool who was supposed to look ridiculous. It was not pretty.

This is one element of a larger web of influences that come from my failure to fit my perception of myself into a lot of images that appeal to me. I'd be hard-pressed to try to break it all down, but it's the same wellspring of problematic thinking that made constantly makes it difficult for me to accept myself as bi, to accept myself as submissive. I picture myself [in a dress/tied up/made to look pretty/flirting with an attractive guy] and I just get this nasty gut reaction right away. Gross! Nobody wants me like that. Nobody.

Yes, I am aware of how incongruous and strange that reaction is. There are male-identified people on my friendslist whom I'd be actively interested in seeing in drag. Even though there are other people who wouldn't be personally physically attractive to me in a slinky dress and heavy makeup, I would still encourage them to do it if they wanted to, and I wouldn't react with the same revulsion that I have when I imagine myself doing so. I have a very special, very virulent internal reaction to the idea of putting myself in these images.

Some of it I believe boils down to a failure to step out of my own head and the fact that I'm not my type. Whatever the case, it's difficult. I have actually caught myself having a nearly coherent thought along the lines of "I don't flirt with the men I'm attracted to because those men would never be attracted to me" -- the kind of shit I thought I got over in high school.

I'm not actually sure where I'm going with this, so here's where I sort of trail off while I think of how to wrap everything up nicely. Probably I'll just end up leaving this line as is and write some sort of kludgey "This doesn't wrap up nicely" conclusion.

So these issues obviously don't wrap up very nicely.

My personal definition of gender is diffuse and lacking. My sexuality is confused and blocked by image/perception issues.
I'm not actively unhappy or angry about any of this, nor am I leading an unfulfilled life. I just think that I have a lot of reflection and thinking to do. I'm open to any feedback or perspectives that people want to give, and I'd be happy to participate in conversations, including those that show me some way that I could improve my perspective. There's a lot for me to learn and I look forward to learning it.

It's all pretty funny. I went into this post hoping to talk things through and clarify them, but I came out of it with more questions than I went in.

Some people are bicurious or genderqueer. I think I'm biconfused and genderquoi.

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(Deleted comment)
Please forgive me if this sounds dismissive, as I don't intend to be -- I am being a little flippant, but I am using fannish metaphor with kindly intent:

Based on the bolded characteristics, I think you might want to be the Eighth Doctor (who I perceive as all of those things), and your gender identity is not linear, but more a big mass of wibbly-wobbly, gender-bendery Stuff.

If I were to describe my life in labels, I'd be a pansexual, primarily heteroromantic cis woman, in a primary partnership with a genderqueer asexual and a secondary relationship with a heterosexual cis man. Mostly I just say "it's complicated."

I think fluidity is cool, and that dresses and makeup are fun for anyone who wants to play with them, and that if you want to play with performative femininity, I'd happily aid and abet.

Also, I seem to remember you discussing how your own perception of your body shape and facial structure makes it hard for you to visualize yourself in an attractive feminine presentation. I... have a few visual examples that might surprise you. Though it might take me a little while to find a specific one on YouTube. Basically there's an actor with a barrel-chested body and broad shoulders, and a face and jaw I don't generally perceive as androgynous, and I found a clip where he's in drag (including some transformation bits) and, hot damn, it works way better than I'd ever have guessed. I mean, I think he's hot in a way I perceive as masculine when he's not in drag, as opposed to some actors I find hot in a way I perceive as androgynous... and then when he's in drag, WHOA. So, you might femme up prettier than you think. Which might reduce your gut revulsion? IDK.

So yeah. There you are.

I think you hit the nail on the head of "labels are not meant for the individual." Collectively/culturally (and even sub-culturally) these words have purpose but no real significance to the individual. The implications and definitions of these words will change (and I think a lot of them are currently in-flux) and in that way are significant, but to the individual they are always ALWAYS unfair. So, while I think it's important to explore what they mean to me and how I define them as an individual- maybe it's not so important to figure out how to generalize myself so broadly. Then again, maybe I'm just a happy fence-sitter. In any case, I wish you luck on your quest! :)

I tend to consider myself a cissexual woman and genderqueer, for complicated reasons. (Gender identity for me is something that is both complicated, simultaneously innate and socially constructed, and only something I'm aware of when it's being brutal, so it's ... complicated.)

I do not have brain/time to put more than this here. I'm sorry to be so brief in response to your detailed post.

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