a blog by J.M. Cottle
Facebook Twitter Goodreads Newsletter

By the end of this post, “gender” may not look like a real word anymore

Note: This post is part of the #Trust30 challenge. I wrote it in response to Mary’s prompt. Nothing is too scary to write about, but many things are too scary to post online where people who know me can read it. Here is one of those things.


I am genderless. I thought you might like to know.

I used to call myself agender, but then a blogger said that we should reconsider the word agender because grammatically it means “no gender,” and that’s confusing, they said, because everyone has a gender, even if it’s not male or female. If you have a neutral gender, you might use neutrois instead, or genderqueer. It’s good to be precise. So I switched to something more precise, more obvious — I don’t want there to be any confusion. I do not have a gender. And there is no way you can misunderstand the word genderless. Sometimes in my more whimsical moments, I say gender-free.

If you don’t know what on earth I’m saying, I highly recommend “Not Your Mom’s Trans 101“. If you have an inclination toward complicated gender theory, I also highly recommend reading the entire comment trail.

That could take a while. I’ll give you some time.

Okay. So. The reason I am careful to differentiate between having a neutral gender and having no gender is laid out nicely in “Gender Neutral = Genderless?” The writer, Dreki, is neutrois (meaning they have a neutral gender) and gets just as annoyed as I do when people can’t tell the difference between neutral and non-existent. At the end of the post, they say:

There are people who don’t have a gender, people who genuinely are genderless, I don’t know if they really identify as such or if it’s just something they see and go “hey, sounds like me” or “oh, so that’s why I don’t get trans people” then go on with their lives label-less. From what I can tell, they generally feel fine in their body, don’t really understand gender and assume it’s just based on sex because that’s the only reason they identify as anything (get really confused by trans people) and the only problem they’d have with waking up as the opposite sex is that they’d have to re-socialize themselves. But I also don’t really know.

I know there are genderless people who do feel like this, but I’m not one of them. For one, I actually identify as trans because, as I understand it, transgender means your gender identity doesn’t match your assigned sex. Mine certainly doesn’t. To me, gender feels like some huge oppressive system to which people innocently chain me. I’m uncomfortable in my body because people use it to assume incorrect things about me (and because the clothes I like aren’t made to fit on it, but I find ways around that, and anyway, cis people have this experience, too). People see a certain set of characteristics and assume I am a woman, so I have a desire to rid myself of these characteristics to stop people from doing that. If I woke up tomorrow with a new set of body parts that made people think I was a man, I’d enjoy the confusion it caused everyone else for a while, but then I’d get sick of people assuming new and exciting incorrect things about me and want to change the offending parts.

It’s kind of like… let’s say I choose to vote Republican, and someone puts a sign in my yard that says “Vote for Nader!” I’m going to want that sign gone. It’s not like I hate the sign itself — it’s just a piece of paper on a stick. I don’t hate a piece of paper. But it makes people think the wrong thing about me, so I take it off my lawn. That’s how I feel about the characteristics and mannerisms that make people think I’m a woman.

Dreki guesses that trans people might confuse me, but I wouldn’t say that is the case. People are different from me. That’s not confusing. But anyone who has a gender is experiencing something that I do not understand, whether they are trans or cis. What does it feel like to be neutrois? What does it feel like to be a man? What does it feel like to be a woman? (When I was a kid I listened carefully to this song to try to understand. It didn’t help.)

In fact, I understand gendered trans people more than I understand cis people because I know what it feels like when your assigned sex doesn’t match your identity. The only people who confuse me are those who sincerely believe that there are two mutually exclusive types of bodies that humans can have, and that these bodies match up neatly with two types of personalities. This, my friends, baffles me.

All of that being said, I wouldn’t think about gender if people didn’t chain me to it. It might not even cross my mind at all, and if it did, I wouldn’t be upset about it. If you would like to help me achieve this happy state, there are a few things you can do.

  • If you talk about me in the third person, avoid using pronouns if you can. If you can’t avoid it, I’d prefer “they”. “She” is okay when you’re talking to people who don’t know about my lack of gender and you don’t feel like getting into a discussion about it. As for titles, avoid them until I get a doctorate. Then you can call me Dr. Cottle. Bwahaha.
  • Avoid using gendered terms when referring to groups — even if you think the whole group is one gender. You might be hurting someone without knowing it. Instead of saying “ladies” or “girls” or “guys”, try saying “everyone”, “folks”, or even “y’all”, if you can pull it off. I like saying “friends” if it applies. I know that “guys” is supposedly okay to use for any gender, but it’s just as bad as using “he” to mean an anonymous person. It makes male the default. I still occasionally hear myself say “guys” out of habit, but I’m working on replacing it. Until it becomes okay to say “girls” when referring to a mixed group, “guys” is sexist.
  • Please stop assuming that you know what body parts people have. Unless they are naked or they tell you themselves, you don’t know. (Packing, tucking, padding, and binding can be very effective.)
  • Please stop assuming that it matters what body parts people have. Unless you are giving a medical examination or having sex using those parts, you don’t need to know.

These are some simple examples that would make me happy. I don’t like turning my identity into an angst-fest, which can sometimes happen when I think about it a lot, so I’ll just end by saying that I enjoy being genderless and the people I’m closest to are wonderful about it. Now I recommend checking out the photographer J.J. Levine, especially the gallery “Switch”. My favorite is the third down on the left column. Sometimes gender is really cool.

Huh… Does “gender” look like a collection of incomprehensible gibberish to you? It’s funny how words fall apart after you see them too many times.

26 Responses to By the end of this post, “gender” may not look like a real word anymore

  1. This is a great rundown. The other day on tumblr people (me included) were wondering how to explain genderless, and this definitely helps.

    I’m going to assume I can re-post this there, to shed some more light on the matter.

    • Go for it! I’m glad I can help. It seems like tumblr is full of fascinating conversations and I’m missing out. I don’t quite understand how it works.

      • hehe, I don’t either, but don’t tell anyone…. I use it as a mini-blog to distribute content that is not fit for a full length post but still worth sharing.

  2. Thanks for sharing your perspective on gender. I related to a lot of it.

    My own attempts at explaining my gender are here:


    My relationship with labels is complicated by the fact that I so clearly experienced bodily gender dysphoria around secondary sexual characteristics (until I removed/reduced them), so I find it hard to say that I have no gender. But I also most definitely don’t have that faith-like ‘feeling in my bones’ of what my gender should be that other people call a ‘gender identity’.

    I feel like a person. I get bothered when I’m being treated like a gender and not a person, but being androgynous and getting a mixture of treatments seems to defuse that.

    I tend to treat gender as something that comes from other people, in their perceptions and the way I interact with them. So I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to call myself genderless socially either, as I’ve always gone along with whatever gender I’m given.

    And in transgender terms, my experience has taught me that it’s a bad idea to treat gender as a ‘package deal’ where if you feel one thing you’ll automatically want the matching gender role and every other aspect of medical transition. There are clearly many aspects to gender and dysphoria (or lack of it), whether they correlate or not.

    I’ve personally found it very difficult to name and distinguish the different types of agender/non-gender/neutrois/gender-neutral/genderless experiences. I know many have tried to distinguish between types of agender/non-gender by saying ‘neutrois’ people do something to express their gender (‘transition’) while ‘genderless’ people don’t feel any need to do anything about their lack of gender. Of course that clearly doesn’t match the experiences of everyone who identifies with those labels, including you.

    I know neutrois people who argue it’s a total lack of gender and others who argue it is a gender. I know those who have no intention or need to ‘transition’ but insist neutrois is correct and other labels are not. I personally get uncomfortable with any label that seems to conflate identity with a ‘transition path’ (As neutrois.com very definitely seems to do). I’d prefer us to talk separately about our genders (or lack of them) and how we need to express them and feel comfortable with them, not conflate our identities with our gender expression or bodily dysphoria and imply that others who have the same label will do or feel the same things, or if not they must need a different label.

    So in that respect, your post was very refreshing too :)

    Sorry, I seem to have unintentionally written an essay in your comments section… Thanks again for sharing this, it was thought provoking!

    • Thanks for your essay, Nat. :)

      I definitely share that feeling that gender is a thing that comes from other people. Right now I’ve never been read as male (offline) before, just female, but I am hoping to change that gradually in the near future. I think it would make me feel better. I started by ordering a binder a few days ago, and it’s in the mail now. I’m so excited that I want to tell everyone.

      But anyway, I tend to just distinguish between labels that mean “I don’t have a gender” and ones that mean “my gender is neutral” and not try to get more specific. I haven’t seen a significant difference in definition between, say, agender, non-gender, and genderless. It’s like peaceful vs. tranquil vs. serene. They mean the same thing, but the flavor is slightly different.

      Have I mentioned that I really love the English language? Synonyms galore.

  3. I’ve been on the internet since I was a kid, and I’ve always used ‘their’ and ‘them’ and ‘they’ unless it was explicitly stated what gender they were. It always seemed rude to me to assume and risk getting it wrong – and it’s not like I actually care, anyway. Most of my online friends are ‘them’ to me, lol. I’ve never seen any need to ask, and I prefer not to indicate what I am myself.

    The idea of that existing in real life, though, has never occurred to me – it’s never seemed to matter much what sex/gender people are (apart from the usefulness of pronouns) except for how frustrating I found it when people disapproved of how unfeminine I was (How dare I grow up liking toy cars, dinosaurs, computers and science when I was a girl!) or judging people I knew for their gender. I’m somewhat genderfluid, myself, so I always found that annoying… which is why I can see why it must be irritating for you, to have it constantly assumed you have a gender at all.

    Thank you for enlightening me.

  4. I’ve recently discovered what ‘genderfluid’ and ‘genderless’ are. Was linked to your post via a site about it. Thank you for your writing, J.

    In my case…

    I was born female (sex). Was a ‘tomboy’ (their label, not mine) as a kid. Didn’t care about boys unless they wanted to climb trees with me. Most girls were wimpy, some were cute.

    I’m a person. I dislike gender labels as they are. Too changing, confusing, bound to upset someone. When possible I check Neutral/Other in the box rather than pick M or F. Sometimes I make a box when it’s absent. Makes me smile.

    I wear clothing for comfort, weather protection, and body art. The target gender doesn’t matter. It may look feminine or masculine today, opposite or unknown tomorrow.

    If possible I’d be a male, mostly to get rid of the female parts. They get in the way. As it is I don’t care much for sex with any gender. I’m fine without it. Though if I was male I might want to get with a female.

    In social settings I don’t care if someone calls me him/her/it/that. It’s too much a hassle to keep correcting. But I’m respectful if someone asks it for themselves.

    Assuming it’s not hurtful, whatever label others place me, it doesn’t much matter to me anymore. Someone else will re-label it tomorrow anyways. But I’ll still be me. That’s most important.

  5. Oh, well this was helpful.

    I’m a trans-identified person, who has found, through trial and error and a lot of doctors that my body feels better when it has testosterone in it instead of estrogen. I’m saner, my brain works better, and I’m happier. This has led me to identify as a trans man for the purposes of medical care and interacting with the world, but I’ve always felt a little bit like a cheat and a liar because I don’t have a sense of gender identity, either, and for the longest time I thought that other trans people were simply making things up to explain and approximate these sorts of feelings to cis folk.

    But what you describe about gender identity is very congruent with my own experience — and while people’s labels for me don’t really bother me at all anymore, the assumptions that come with them are a hassle.

  6. I get it. I often identify as trans*, not as female-to-male, but as female-to-neutrois. I am uncomfortable with my body, and would like to remove those markers that would use to define me as a “woman” or, because my facial features, mannerisms, and dress are masculine, think I am butch (assuming as in “butch lesbian”). I don’t think that acquiring a male body would help, either, would be just as limiting!

  7. I finally, after like 24 years of feeling disconnected from this gender thing (ages 13-37), settled on an actual gender identity – my gender is GOTH. I’ve been a goth for well over a decade, it’s just that I only recently realized that goth encompasses all of the things I can actually relate to about gender. It’s clearly different from gender-binary and gender-neutral. I like it because it is a gender that doesn’t contain the word GENDER… even “agender” and “gender-free”, and “genderqueer”, which I used earlier, do, and thus I never quite felt comfortable with them. And I run into people who say “Well I identify as goth but it isn’t my gender”. And I’m like “That’s ok – it doesn’t have to be, It just is for me.”

  8. Definitely an interesting read, to see the other side of things.

    Not because I am cis, rather I believe I am closest to the type of individual Dreki mentioned. I will admit I have had trouble understanding Trans* individuals. Not a judgemental type thing, but rather I have trouble understanding gender ..as a thing. I can understand how terrible dysphoria would be. (More like I can heavily sympathize and try to be as compassionate a friend as possible, since I can not say I understand having never really experienced what they’ve felt.) The misunderstanding problem popped up again the first time I met a genderfluid person, I couldn’t understand why they simply didn’t just.. do whatever pleased them, without certain labels. Then, I thought ‘well of course, maybe their personal or family lives make it difficult’ but the more I learned from people, the more it was obvious it was more a very different outlook on gender itself.
    (In terms of not understanding some Trans* people, I remember someone once saying ‘I don’t know, some days I just FEEL like a girl, and some days I just FEEL like a boy.’ I didn’t want to insult them in any way, because I would never question how they felt, but mentally I was drawing blanks. I just..had no idea what they meant or were describing. ‘imagine if someone called you with male pronouns for the rest of your life!’ to which i’d respond with a slight shrug. I’m pretty sure I upset people without meaning to. It just…wasn’t a problem I could grasp having, not that I doubted other people had. just..me personally.)
    I am content in my body, I don’t believe I have ever felt like I had the wrong body. I have felt irritation and annoyance at certain assumptions people make based on gender, ‘girls do this/boys like this’. But, I figured that was fairly normal.
    Until I mentioned to someone I would not care how one addressed me in terms of pronouns. call me she, he, them, xir, eir, hir..pick and choose I personally don’t mind. It’s true, I would honestly not care if I woke up biologically male tomorrow. Or anywhere on the physical spectrum. It might surprise me momentarily, but I would probably spend more time searching the cupboards for cereal than I would worrying about my body and gender.
    To me, I am me and I am a person and who I am has nothing to do with what gender or sex I am. As long as someone isn’t rude, and i’m aware they are speaking to me…I’ll be the same as I always am, regardless of pronoun.

    I have a ..pretty feminine physical appearance, so now I tend to wear clothes made for those who are biologically female. It’s simply a fit issue, and me not caring enough to bind. Growing up, I wore “boys” clothes fairly frequently, and I would switch clothes with my male cousins fairly often. At one point, after about a year, my cousin demanded his shoes back because the ones he had of mine were “girls”…they were white. and..his were grayish brown. I never understood why he cared so much about the label on them. they were just shoes to me.
    Clothes, to me, are what I made of them. It has always been that way for me. People are welcome to view things as they want, because..that’s what people do. But, for me, clothes and colors have no inherent gender. A dress doesn’t HAVE to be feminine, certainly kilts aren’t viewed as feminine. colors change gender specificity fairly frequently, (I had a friend who was shocked that pink wasn’t viewed as much of a “girls” color in places like Japan.)
    I was raised by an Anthropologist, and even as a child there was a pretty big emphasis on MOST things being cultural, and cultures change. “Cultural trends are fleeting” was the general sentiment. Nothing about gender was explained away with, ‘well that is just the way things are’ as a kid. Things were explained from the point of our culture, and then countered with examples from other current or past cultures. Skirts and makeup, and jewelry weren’t ‘For Girls Only’ to me, because I knew male Pharaohs wore them.
    I actually spent a good portion of my childhood playing with dolls, and barbies and things like that, that would be considered girly or feminine. I just, naturally preferred them. I even quite like kids and plan on having kids, but I just don’t personally view any of it as inherently feminine. (my folks actually made an attempt to have unisex toys, because my mom as a kid hated dolls and liked reading science fiction, and my dad ..while a linebacker..actually preferred reading Shakespeare. in the 1960’s. )

    So, If I call myself female, it’s simply because I am XX and because when I die it is very likely someone will identify my skeleton as biologically female.(..i was taught to .tell sex of a skull…quite young. nothing quite like puberty and raging hormones with a side of ‘here, hold this skull for me real quick’ )

    I do tend to avoid calling myself genderqueer or trans*, partially because I’m not sure where I fit in, but also because I really do not want to disrespect those with any type of dysphoria. Maybe dysphoria isn’t a requirement for genderqueer status, but I don’t want to take away attention from those who have or are suffering.

    So, yeah. In the end I just kinda wanted to show maybe something of how the individual Dreki described might think or act. Just to give another side to the ‘genderless’ spectrum too.
    (I wrote this at like 5am and I haven’t slept so I’m really sorry if any of this came out unreadable. I’m aware it is painfully long. I am so sorry.)

    • Sooo muuuch this!

      My body is male, but I never really thought about gender, just assumed that it’s mostly based on the body. Maybe if my significant other hadn’t come out to me as being gender neutral, I would have never given gender a second thought.

      I had (and am still having) a lot of trouble understanding their gender neutrality. I can’t comprehend what’s the big deal and why they want everyone to adept and refer to them with neutral pronouns and why they want to look androgynous. I must have asked them like five times, “why not just let it go? Just don’t care what people say? What’s the big deal!?”

      I still wonder about these questions, but now I know not to ask them all the time. I know they need my support and respect, which I will provide. I hope they don’t need my understanding, too, because I feel like I’ll never have that.

      I’ve done a lot of research regarding gender lately, and I understand that they feel like they have a gender that is just neither… I just don’t know why that matters so much and why it’s so important for them to have other people accept them as such. But I see that this is the case, so I’ll help.

      If I woke up with a female body, I’d think that’s cool, because I think they look cooler. I kind of don’t like visible hair everywhere. But I don’t really mind being in a male body. It doesn’t seem to matter much to me. I think it’s exciting when people refer to me with female pronouns, but not because I feel like they’re more appropriate, just because it’s different and for once they don’t assume I enjoy drinking beer and watching sports.

      I think it might be cool to wear a dress or paint my fingernails or color my hair, but I just don’t do it because people would think that it doesn’t match my assigned sex. I think it’s a bummer that I don’t have the body to do that, but I don’t feel stress or dysphoria because of it. It’s just like “huh, I guess I can’t do that because of my body. Nevermind then.”

      So in the end, I feel like I just don’t have a gender identity. I don’t identify as genderless like OP, but I don’t identify with gender at all. I don’t understand how some people find it so important that everyone should be able to express their own gender and stuff. The only reason I’ve ever even given gender a second thought is because I was confronted with it by the person I love.

      And, I don’t know (or care about) what I should be called. At first I thought agender, but that sometimes seems to be used interchangeably with neutrois or gender neutral, which I’m not. Ultimately, I don’t care what it’s called. I am who I am, gender is not an important part of me (or a part at all), and I don’t see why it matters so much to some people.

      It’s pretty interesting to think about it, though.

  9. I get frustration sometime from people trying to treat me as a specific gender not a person, and expecting certain behaviors. Before and After I cut my hair boy short, I’ve been called “sir.” I feel feminine and masculine most of the time, but I don’t know how clearly I express it. I find myself wanting to express that fluidity more often. I read others that way. I see most people expressing somethingthat falls outside of a binary system, lands somewhere in the spectrum of unnamed genders. I don’t have a name for my gender, and because i t’s unnamed I probably get lumped into a binary category, so maybe I can explore possible names here. I don’t know whether I have gender dysmorphia but I remember points in my life when I was getting dressed for school and the girl outfit I had on made me feel physically nauseated, so I would quickly change to something more gender neutral. The nausea could have also come from me thinking and dreading how others might read me completely wrong. I guess I have a huge distrust of other people when it comes to thinking about and reading my gender obscurity.

  10. I think gender-neutrality is something that doesn’t get discussed enough with regard to gender identity. Some transgender activists alienate potential allies by assuming that everyone who says ‘”to me, ‘he’ and ‘she’ are just physical descriptors” is transphobic. One should be respectful of addressing others how they want to be addressed, of course, but simply thinking of pronouns as physical-by-default does not make you transphobic. It may simply mean that your designated pronoun never meant much to you.

    I hope more activists will come to realize this. It’s sad to see internet-screaming-matches between people who basically agree with each other on everything except the semantics they use within their own heads.

  11. Enter your comment here…You express thoughts and feelings very similar to my own. Thank you for being able to articulate so well and sharing your experience. I always thought gender roles were bullocks and was happy to play in the mud in a tutu pretending to be a fairy princess that could turn into a dragon. It probably helps that I was raised by eco-feminist, hippies who are working class and my mom had the higher education and income. Personally, I feel mentally genderless a lot of the time but also vibe and connect with my inner goddess, as it were, and am happy to of the feminine sex if I must have one. I am comfortable with feminine pronouns but also really like and sometimes *prefer “they” or “xi.” I identify as femme-flux, agender, awesome lady, and/or demigirl.

  12. thank you for sharing your words. i am gender-free too. just to name it for this tiny little second, i do not like signs. i wish it would not be necessary to put it in words. you inspired me to write a text in german, i miss the debate and also the “neutral” pronouns (in the german language). it is really difficult to share thoughts with people here without reference any engl.source. and translation is not an option in every case.

    i will follow your blog :)

  13. Hi, I’m a Neutrois.
    But I’ve always Thought How it feels like to be genderless!!! It was NOT quite Confusing, but I Still Have some doubts Whether One day I’ll find out I was Wrong And I’m genderless… I Don’t Exactly Know… The only Thing i say is That I can’t Be sure… But I still don’t understand how it feels like to be genderless… Or .. OK!! I’m sick and tired of hearing these words and Reading several and GREAT Articles like this one, BUT I Still Can’t understand What is the point to leave a Distance between Gender-neutral And Gender-less….
    But you know… I think Gender is exactly the thing you want to SEEM!! So Is Genderless the term You want to SEEM NOTHING??? Or You don’t Want To seem ANYTHING!!?? And you just want to get out of the everyday Xplanation Of WHAT AM I !!! And You think It’s better to Be YOURSELF… But Being Agender or Genderless I think isn’t just a part of being trans… It’s more like a belief and Being gender-neutral is like you want to SEEM NOTHING!! Is my Guess RIGHT??? Does Being Gender-less equal Leaving options OPEN??? To be anything?? Ok Dude! Thanks for Posting this… It was REALLY Helpful… :)

Say something