Question: Roles vs Labels

L asks…

(I am a cissexual, bisexual, white, female atheist.)

I hate the limitations placed on me because of my gender. But I have no problem with the label “woman,” or “female;” no matter how hairy my legs are or how assertively I act, no matter how I hard I try to defy the limitations patriarchy has imposed on me.

I don’t fit the standard definition of my gender, but I don’t identify as genderqueer (even though of course I wouldn’t have a problem doing so).

So what is it that makes you all identify as genderqueer, rather than thinking of yourselves as non-standard individuals within the existing binary terms?

What is the difference between rejecting a gender ROLE and rejecting the LABEL?

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on October 8th, 2013 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 13 comments »

13 Responses to “Question: Roles vs Labels”

  1. kaberett

    To take a clothing analogy, I think for me it’s the difference between “this doesn’t suit me” and “this doesn’t fit“/”I’m allergic to the fabric”. Like, I am FAAB slightly femme-leaning and also genderqueer – but my gender expression and my gender identity are two different things (which articulation I owe to Serano, and for me, for now, it’s a good one).


  2. Principissa Beluosa


    I’m a lurker around here and this is the first time I’ve felt tempted to reply.

    I think about this ALL THE TIME.

    I’m biologically XY and express as male in my work place, but alternatively identify as genderqueer, genderfluid, mostly female, possibly trans, a shapeshifter, and a monster. I have a lot of trouble parsing out the differences between gender roles and labels too, but have spent a lot of time thinking about it. But beware, I’m far from an expert and far from being a good writer on the subject.

    The problem is that so much of our language is tied up in our culture that it’s almost impossible to parse out the differences between all these things. I do think it will help though if separate biological sex from cultural “gender” roles and preferences.

    For instance, I have a “male” body. This is my biological sex. If I could magically alter that to be biologically female, with the capability to support offspring and all, I would. This is why I put myself in the “possibly trans” category. This biological description meets the definition of female, in any usage of the term.

    You are happy to be biologically female.

    I like things that our *culture* identifies as “feminine.” I also like some things that our *culture* identifies as “masculine.” (Although, admittedly, I do not understand or desire the western male cultural attitude.) I also like to combine those in interesting ways and fuck shit up. I vary between those preferences depending on factors too numerous to name here.

    As far as cultural expression of “gender”, I identify as BOTH/AND. This is easiest to express as saying that I’m genderqueer or genderfluid, depending on the circumstance. Labels are restrictive, but they can also be empowering, giving me a way to express myself proudly as “something different” and giving me a flag to wave so other people like me can find me, and vice versa.

    I can say that all this cultural garbage is bullshit and ignore it completely, which I do at times, but sometimes a new label is needed during a process of cultural growth so other people can see it and begin to understand. This is where I prefer to identify as a shapeshifter or a monster, or something altogether different. Some people identify as “a person” but I’ve lived my whole life feeling like an outsider, and I want to find the strength in that perspective and not throw it away.

    I would think that you, from reading your information above, identify fully with your XX chromosome female label, but you are more of the “fuck cultural bullshit” type when it comes to gender roles.

    Is that accurate?

    Does my perspective offer any additional understanding?


  3. Anonymous

    When I express myself stereotypically femininely and socially am in “women’s roles,” I feel (mostly…no one is a perfect stereotype) comfortable. When I think of myself when I do these things as a woman doing them, my comfort dissipates. When I think of myself as genderqueer or male doing them, I feel okay, although I tend to be a little more self-conscious because society tends to harass people other than women expressing themselves in feminine ways. I guess that’s it…It’s just what makes me feel comfortable…and it’s not a misogyny thing…I love women and try to lift up the women in my life…I just feel weird thinking of myself as one of them…It’s definitely something rooted in the body, although my dysphoria is only moderate and comes and goes…


  4. Taylor

    I’m ‘MAAB’ but not comfortable identifying as a ‘man’. Identifying as a woman feels much more comfortable, but not entirely accurate either.

    Also I have a very androgynous appearance and can present as either gender without much effort… so to me genderqueer or fluid just seems like the most natural fit.


  5. Anonymous

    It can simply be that the existing binary terms are insufficient to describe the whole range of human genders. To use the cliche that nevertheless makes a good opening statement, gender (and sex as well, though that’s not strictly on topic here) is a spectrum. If you feel that neither of the binary labels can quite do your concept of gender justice, then why would you accept them? (Many genderqueer/nonbinary people do use the binary terms strategically in everyday interaction, but that doesn’t mean they feel completely described by them.)

    The two-gender system is not only limiting, but it also only expresses the dominant mode of thought in a particular culture. In other words, it’s not universal or somehow “more valid” than identifying outside of it. I’m wondering what makes you come into a genderqueer space and DEMAND that people “explain” what makes them identify as something other than strictly male/female. It’s obvious the answer will vary from person to person (some people like to naturalize the whole thing by biological essentialism; I personally don’t find that helpful). Either way, posing the question like this in the first place – like it has a one-size-fits-all answer, or like you’re somehow owed an explanation – comes across as pretty entitled.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a “non-standard” (whatever “standard” even means) individual within a binary category, but it’s not inherently more legit or self-explanatory than just not identifying with that category at all. Being asked to present these identity papers, so to speak, makes this site feel like less of a safe space to me all of a sudden.


  6. Adrian

    I identify as androgynous, because I have always felt too masculine to be a girl and too feminine to be a boy. I don’t like how limiting the roles given to those of the gender binary are. I don’t like how people treat individuals differently because of it. For the longest time, I was confused about my gender. I was raised as a girl, and because of that I was always sheltered, protected and treated like a princess. I was expected to sit, dress, and behave a certain way. I also rejected a lot of the things that the identifying “women” in my life do, such as being over emotional, dramatic, egocentric, maternal, or conservative. As a child, however, I identified as a tomboy. I loved gross things, insects, dinosaurs, Pokemon, and video games. I also liked drawing, stuffed animals, playing with anime figures, and ice skating. I didn’t care what I wore until I was 11 and I didn’t care much about my hygiene until I was 15.

    I always felt like I failed at being a girl, so I tried being a guy for a while, binding my chest, changing my name, and wearing mens clothes. I found that people were calling me “faggot” because I wasn’t exactly the sterotypical “manly man” and getting harassed for cross-dressing. I rejected the idea that people expected me, as a man, to be plain, overly aggressive, emotionless, or proud. I identify as part of a subculture where the gender expressions are blurred, the fashion is flamboyant and androgynous (Think Rozz Williams, Anna-Varney Cantodea, Mana from Malice Mizer), and so as you can imagine, I like to wear makeup and be fashionable. I like being able to express myself, but I also like being tough and self-sufficient. There are days when I don’t feel like wearing much more than a t-shirt, jeans, and boots. I don’t like having breasts. big hips or being scrawny and short.

    Rejecting a gender role doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t believe yourself to be that gender. There are people who aren’t flamboyant, maternal, or very emotional and still consider themselves women. There are people who aren’t very tough, aggressive, or plain and still consider themselves men. I have a third-gender friend who wears facial hair and has a masculine name.


  7. Ryan

    I reject the gender binary because it simply doesn’t work. You can’t possibly fit all of humanity into two boxes. They literally have no common ground.

    Personally, I’m MAAB but I am not male. I have known I am not male since I was 10 years old. All of the normal “boy” things never interested me, except video games, which really shouldn’t be a “boy” thing. But even then I knew I definitely was not a girl, either. I’m also not trans, and I tried androgyny but it didn’t work for me. So where does that leave me? I’m something else, something our language has no name for. Genderqueer is the only label I’ve ever encountered that “fits”.


  8. german dude

    for me it is just the possibillity to leave the binary. I don`t want to be a non-standard whatever WITHIN the binary, because I think it is this binary made by “the normal” People to define what the standard is and what not. I don`t want to be part of such a system based on stereotypes.

    But I fear that genderqueer is the new…punk….is the new “must-have” for the cool kids, and that makes it so standard to live outside the binary, that I fear i have to find a place outside of the binary AND outside of the “non-binary” soon….

    So, for me it is not the label, the role, but it is very much the people who label me, who expect a certain role of me, that make me look for something different.


  9. Tasha

    You sound like you’re in a very similar place to myself, as a cis-, white, bisexual (pansexual?), atheistic woman. I’m also a lurker- this is my first or second comment here.

    I have a really weird and frustrating conflict going on in my brain; I suppose I’m cis-, because I don’t feel disturbed when people call me female, but at the same time I loathe and reject the gender binary. I feel discrepancies with the role girls and women are assigned at birth, like most of us, but I don’t feel like there’s… enough to “legitimately” call myself genderqueer or something along those lines. I don’t feel like I can claim those terms for myself because… I haven’t gone through enough, I guess? I don’t have the same level of struggle to deal with? I’m not ever bullied or judged for my gender expression. I can wear clothes and makeup I like without being harassed. I can go through daily life without thinking much about my own gender because I come from a place of privilege, and I know I do.

    I don’t know what to call myself, as someone who doesn’t accept a binary definition of gender, but cis- seems like it’s the most appropriate for now. I feel like I’d be cheapening someone else’s struggle if I claimed their terms.


  10. Lun

    To Anonyomous (comment n.5) and others who might feel similarly. I am not the original post-er, so I do not claim that I represent their views and intentions, but I don’t think they were ‘asking identity papers’. If anything, they were exploring different notions of gender and wanted other people’s opinions to compare to their own. I think they were asking for an exchange of ideas, rather than demanding it. I of course respect everyone’s feelings, but personally I don’t feel that this makes this website any less safe a space, as the question was termed respectfully and I don’t think that in any parts did it actually suggest other identities to be ‘more legit or self-explanatory’. Of course everyone might have different readings of the same question, but I wanted to say that in fact I thought it was a good question, as I know plenty of people on both sides of this ‘fence’ (myself included) still I rarely hear any (polite, respectful, informative) discussion about it, and I don’t see how this kind of respectful discussion might be harmful. I have wondered about this myself, in my own journey of self-exploration and I have found these replies helpful in thinking about these categories. Just my thought.


  11. Eli

    What a great question! What a great challenge for folks to consider the complexities of these issues. Also more of a lurker than participant, I read this post/question as an opportunity to challenge myself to articulate how I really feel about this. So here goes…

    In my experience, it seems most people have the desire to be heard, seen, felt, and understood the way in which they feel they exist. I would love nothing more than for someone to use gender neutral pronouns to describe me, even though I will likely always be represented by “she/her/hers”. The challenge isn’t that humans-largely-desire to be allowed to present him/her/hir self in public and be treated the way he/she/ze wishes. The challenge is that, for me, I don’t want to be pushing against the binary system as a woman. I don’t want to be pushing against the system as a man. I want to be the example of what it means to be in-between, beyond, above, beneath, intertwined, and tangled among gender expressions. My gender role as a woman is to be oppressed and (hopefully) empowered to challenge the patriarchal system in which one sex is dominant over others. My label becomes–among other things–“angry feminist”. Neither of those describe me, but it is how society has described people who are marked as similar to me.

    Both “gender role” and “label” are very restrictive terms indicating there is a constant performance and identification we have. Generally, both categories include socially-constructed markers that may or may not describe most individuals. For instance, if I were asked to denote my gender role, my answer would change every time I was asked. My gender role changes on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Sometimes I am the “bread-winner,” the “nurturer,” the “central negative,” the “challenger,” the “aggressor,” the “quiet one”… all subjected to gendered analyses. My label, then, is often genderqueer because–while the term is still restrictive–it allows for all of these gender roles to exist and still describe me in a way that is accurate. It allows me to be heard and seen on a more authentic level (in a shorter period of time, because let’s face it: how many folks want a 2 hour conversation when they ask “how do you identify?”) than saying I am a bio-femme, pansexual, white, person-of-faith, Libra, able-bodied with learning differences, middle class, highly-educated life-long learner, monogamist, non-radical activist, F2?, ally, and happily-partnered andro queer. I’m willing to accept the extra connotations associated with “genderqueer” more than giving my identity resume.

    I wonder, then, if the difference between labels and gender roles is more about the performance of each. I perform a gender role that is consistent within the label that I choose. The label of genderqueer allows me to be fluid and ever-changing in my gender roles. I would love to hear/read more thoughts on this.


  12. maddierose

    I am 35, femme-presenting, queer and genderqueer. Pretty much everyone reads me as a straight white cis woman, even in Portland OR. While I have definitely thought about your question as it relates to me personally, that kind of reflection happened much later in life. From the age of 3 onward I knew there was something “wrong” with me. As I hit puberty, first I thought I was a lesbian, than for several years that I was a trans man. Then I tried hetero on, then lesbian again. When in my mid 20s a friend defined genderqueer to me, the quiet click was astounding. I finally had a name for the thing that I was, an answer to the “What are you, anyway?” question I have gotten my whole life.
    I was born with a female body, I look pretty damn girly (these days, that is). I don’t talk about my individual gender identity publicly much, because I have a shit ton of passing privilege and I feel that given the struggles of so many people I love, in some ways it would be really appropriating. Which may be wrong, I don’t know.
    When I think about why genderqueer feels more accurate for me than “woman”, I feel it’s because “woman” and “feminine” were and are constructs that I resigned myself to as the slightly more preferable choices out of a bad lot. I never WANTED to be “male”, but I ALWAYS felt like being born “female” was a mistake. My presentation is drag. It always has been and always will be. These days, in my mid-30s, it’s drag I’ve been doing so long that it’s like putting on your favourite old t-shirt instead of some scratchy new thing, but it’s still drag.
    I guess to finish, I want to say that personally, I don’t feel like being genderqueer, for me at least, is a rejection of either a role or a label. It feels like a way for me to embrace the fact that both physically and socially, having a body that only has ONE type of primary and secondary sexual characteristics still feels wrong. I am both, I am betwixt, I confuse myself.
    p.s. Also, I really like saying that I’m GQ, baby:)


  13. XylophoneGender

    To the anonymous poster – my personal approach here is to give folks more benefit of the doubt than I would elsewhere. For me, I understand the questions to be more along the lines of, “How does one become one of you? How do I know if I already am or if I cross that line in the future on my journey?” Like Lun, my understanding is not one of gate-keeping, but of asking for a road map. You are, of course, entitled to your own understanding of the comments, but luckily most of the thread has been a positive space for people to tell their stories.

    To the original L, I agree with folks so far who have called into question our existing vocab and the attempts in our current western society to make roles and identity different. Plenty of other cultures have taken gender and roles as intertwined and nuanced in ways that we just usually approach with a whole different language. Which is to say, there are no super answers when it comes to parceling roles and labels out into different categories; not surprisingly, no one-size-fits-most. Some of your big-picture questions lead down the road of more philosophical discussion (What is left of a gender category if we were to strip away all the roles and color-coding and posture and clothing associated with it? What is left of the gender identity label itself?), but I’m going to stick with things I know better.

    I can speak from my own experience and what that looked like through my eyes. For me, it has been a process over years during which I was pulled strong and steadily toward queerly gendered spaces and people (For plenty of newbies coming out as anything, I call this the “You’re SO interesting” phase). I wanted to be around them because something rang very true for me in their company. As I came to try on identity labels for myself, it was like trying out Goldilocks porridges; first I figured out what didn’t fit, and eventually I got to know myself well enough to realize when something just /felt right/. For me, taking labels is about being able to look out and see others who choose those same labels, and being able to feel echoes of the same parts of myself in their experiences; a unique tone of echo that I don’t often feel elsewhere. It feels like kin. It feels like wiggle room that I craved to my core. My journey came not from a place of rejecting the options I was given, but rather a drive and yearning for /something else/. As I found it, as my eyes opened to new possibilities and freedoms, it felt like coming home (mine:

    My relationship with labels evolves. Good luck with yours, you all :)


Leave a Reply

Can I show your picture? If you have a Gravatar associated with this email address, it will be displayed as your photo. If not, I'll just put a picture of a fork next to your comment. Everybody likes forks.

Be nice. Judgmental comments will be quietly deleted and blacklisted. There's plenty of room for those elsewhere on the web.

For legal reasons, you must be age 13 or older to post a comment on Genderfork.

You can use some HTML tags for formatting, e.g. <em>...</em> for emphasis (italics) or <strong>...</strong> for strong emphasis (bold) or <a href="http://(url)">...</a> for links.

Back to top