Doing Gender

It’s interesting to me that an apparently disproportionate number of asexuals are also of non-traditional genders—whether that be transgender, bi-gender, agender, or otherwise gender neutral or deviant. Of course there are no real statistics out there about it yet, but I would really like to see a study done on asexuality and gender, probably more so than any other kind of asexuality-related study. I really want to learn more about what connection gender has to sexuality, because apparently they’re connected. I wonder if that connection is more biological or socially constructed, however.

I have always found it strange that some of my cisgendered heterosexual friends have told me that being with someone of the opposite sex makes them feel like “more of a man/woman.” I don’t understand that sentiment, because I don’t connect gender with sexuality at all. I suspect that, more than anything else, it has to do with people buying into heteronormativity, and feeling some kind of psychological reward for meeting social expectations which have been built into the identities they’ve constructed for themselves.

It seems that any person who goes against society’s heterosexual agenda (Honestly, I don’t think there is such a thing as that mythical “gay agenda,” because gay people really aren’t out to corrupt children and turn them gay, but there’s certainly a very prevalent “straight agenda,” because turning people straight is exactly what every person who would use the term “gay agenda” is trying to do.) tends to be much more likely to question gender norms as well. Well, why not? If you’re already breaking the most important rule, what’s a few more?

What’s interesting to me is not so much which gender people claim as their identity, but how they do gender, that is how they present themselves to the world as a gendered (or genderless) person. It seems that asexual women tend to be less interested in dressing up and showing off their bodies. Why should we be, after all, if we are taught that the most important reason to do so is to attract a mate? Why should we want to appear sexually attractive, if we don’t want to have sex?

I used to try very hard to hide my own attractiveness, as I think I mentioned before. Apparently to most straight men (and nerdy men in particular), it’s a shame that I’m asexual—and this is not vanity, but merely a repetition of things I’ve heard over and over from many different people, so I suppose it must be true. To some extent, I will occasionally still try to take the edge off my own beauty, by wearing my hair in an unflattering braid, for instance. I find I do get a very different reaction from people when I do that than when I dress up.

And I do enjoy dressing up. I love beautiful clothes; I consider them wearable art. When I do dress up, I want to make a statement—one that has nothing to do with sexual availability. It’s purely about aesthetics for me. Everything I wear is deliberately chosen to make some kind of statement, and a lot of them have to do with asexuality. There was one time I flippantly decided to wear bright colors and carry around a pink backpack for a while, trying to give people an actual reason to think me immature, since I had been fed up with being treated as such just because I’m asexual. At the time I had just moved to a new place, so I wanted to make memorable first impressions and then absolutely shatter them when I reverted to my usually subdued everyday wear and special occasion gothic lolita. Some of the reactions I got were just hilarious. But I digress.

Gothic lolita appeals to me for several reasons. For one, it’s an alternative to mainstream fashion which tends to be all about sex appeal. It’s not about showing off your body, it’s about showing off your clothes, and being cute rather than sexy. Except for the rare creepy lolicon, the look tends to be a little too modest and strange to attract much unwanted sexual attention. There’s also a high level of craftsmanship that goes into the clothes, which isn’t usually seen with most mainstream fashion, as well as a lot of emphasis on creativity. Many lolitas, myself included, sew their own clothes. And finally, a lot of the aesthetic draws from the Victorian era, in which friendship was the ideal avenue for romance. It’s very compatible with asexuality, and ultimately, for me it’s really all about expressing my asexual identity in a visual way.

Of course, lolita is also a highly feminine style (though there is a counterpart boy-style), so it’s also a way for me to express my femininity. But I don’t really consider it an expression of gender, as such. This is possibly because so many famous lolitas are men in drag that I don’t really consider it a statement about gender. It’s more of a statement about aesthetic, and it doesn’t matter what parts you’ve got under your bloomers if you can pull off the look. It’s not strictly for women, and kodona and ouji are not strictly for men, so in a way it’s kind of an androgynous style, even if it isn’t so much so on a visual level.

But doing gender isn’t just about what kind of clothes you wear; it’s also about mannerisms. I’ve been told that I think and talk like a man, because I don’t emulate the silly inflections that women often use to try to get attention. I have a more level, almost monotone way of speaking, which according to linguistic studies is a lot more typical of men. I wonder if that is common among asexual women; having never met another one in person as far as I know (I live in a small city, no meet-ups around here), I wouldn’t know. But I think it would be interesting to see if it is.

Although realizing that I’m asexual didn’t cause me to start using more gender-neutral mannerisms (those have always been there, though I’ve been mostly unaware of them until they were pointed out to me), it made me think about my own gender identity. I am decidedly feminine, but I no longer really consider myself inherently female. I’m just incidentally female, just because this is the body I happened to have been born into. If I were male, I would probably be given to cross-dressing due to my strong appreciation of the feminine aesthetic, but still just as satisfied being male as I am with being female. So I am a feminine person with no real gender identity, or at least not a strong one. If I weren’t asexual, I probably wouldn’t have come to that realization.

Honestly, I just don’t think that gender is quite so important as society makes it out to be, and it’s certainly not as rigid. I think it can be quite unhealthy for people to stick so close to gender roles, rather than just being their natural selves, and downright dangerous for people who don’t physically or mentally fit into those roles. I don’t understand people who can’t or won’t accept anything that challenges gender roles—which, really, isn’t that at the core of what heteronormativity is all about? I think it’s quite telling that we define people as being heterosexual or homosexual, because the words focus on the gender of both participants, and actually mean nothing in terms of defining what gender a person is attracted to unless you add in a word denoting whether the person is male or female. I personally think we ought to divorce sexual attraction from gender identity; the words heterosexual and homosexual should ONLY be acceptable to refer to relationships, rather than people, and instead we ought to refer to people as either androsexual or gynosexual (or asexual, or bisexual, or andro-romantic, or gynosensual, and so on and so forth). I think that would do more to get rid of anti-homosexual bias than anything else, but it would require a significant change in the perspective of the majority of the population before such a linguistic change would catch on. It’s too bad that there are so many people out there who wouldn’t even consider it—really, what are they afraid of?

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3 thoughts on “Doing Gender

  1. This is such an interesting subject to me, I could probably write a short novel as a comment. So I will just say, yes! Totally! And I think Gothic Lolita is quite cool as well. :-)

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