Nonbinary in the "real way"

I’m not afraid of people, but somehow, I’m afraid of both men and women. Without being afraid of people. The thing is, as long as somebody interacts with me in a fairly ungendered way, I’m not afraid. But, there are these standard protocols people fall into, and as soon as they fall into them, I become totally uncomfortable. I feel like suddenly everyone is suiting up to perform heart surgery and I have never gone to medical school, but somehow I ended up in the operating room pretending to be a doctor. Naturally the first thing I wanna do is get the fuck out immediately before I get in trouble. That metaphor may be stretching it a bit inasmuch as nobody will get hurt if I try to join a conversation and people notice I’m “not man enough”, or “uncool”. But it pretty well captures what I feel like. Everyone else is a specialist at gendered interactions and I’m just an everyday person who works at interaction Starbucks. I have a menu of stuff I can serve. I can tell you about my art, my programming, my favourite fields of science, geeky cultural things, the internet… et cetera. I have no idea what you are trying to communicate by gossiping about random people’s uninteresting lives, or by talking about sports, or some kind of elite knowledge.

I’m afraid of the judgement of men, but also, I’m intimidated by women. I can’t help but feel like anybody who can unashamedly get out there and be this gender I will never understand, run through all the motions of it every single day without thinking about it and not just that but defend every one of them fiercely, is stronger than I will ever be, in a way. When I was smaller I used to think it was just because I wasn’t like other people, and had different interests. But I started to realise as I grew up, it was more than that. My “different interests” were something that everybody could understand, even the people I thought I was different from. But there were all these things that were important to women that were never important to me, and I could never understand why. All these things they were fascinated with I could never think about for five seconds. All these things they were passionate about I could never be passionate about. It was like these things were tinted with green, and everybody loved green, and I was colourblind and would never be able to see green ever. Or more like, they were tinted with ultraviolet (literally invisible to ordinary humans), and everybody had bird-like tetrachromatic eyes but me.

At about 19 I decided to come to terms with who I was, but somehow, I didn’t even know the word “nonbinary” for maybe a year. I referred to myself as “Gender Zed”1 (a temporary joke name for the gender based on a silly thought I had late at night that ‘maybe I should call it Fred‘), “XX but not a woman”, “a they”, and other confusing things. It took a long time to fully figure things out—that demi-female was a thing, that I used to be that thing varying by day but eventually stopped being that thing, that I wasn’t just drawn to abstract genderless things because they were blank and that was my aesthetic—but finally I came to the conclusion that I was nonbinary. Most of the time it was a source of strength. But sometimes, it gave me a reason to doubt myself. Everybody seemed to think that the only way to be an adult was to be a man or a woman, and if you weren’t either, you needed to grow up. Period. Be a man, be a lady. You can be a man figuratively, building your muscles and readying a nice suit for formal occasions, but that’s all the slack you’ll get. There are no other options. Sometimes I’d wonder if I only called myself nonbinary (and its previous confusing variations) because I was a coward who couldn’t face the music. But at the same time, I knew if I were to try to face that music—charts for a whole different key and instrument—I’d only find myself coerced at rapidly accelerating speed into a mould I wasn’t made to fit by people who thought I was finally “coming around”. As I said once (slightly paraphrased):

If nobody in the world ever expected me to wear a dress, if that was the very last thing the most unfamiliar stranger would expect of me, I might consider it.

Was it cowardice, I’d sometimes wonder, when you know something is risky so you don’t do it? Or is that what they call common sense?

I’m intimidated by women. But the weird thing is…. it’s not actually women themselves I’m afraid of. I’m afraid more that… Somewhere out there, there is just this one particular woman. This serious-looking woman of probably at least 35 who looks respectable and imposing with her appearance in neat order, but is also the kind of person who can let loose and be casual and interesting. She’s cool. It’s not terribly hard to be on good terms with her. But, there’s this side of her. And if you ever see it, lord help you. One day I’m gonna run into her and she’s gonna tell me in regard to my gender, “Yeah. That’s cute. Sure you are. So many people think they’ve found a way out of interacting with civilised society… way to be number seven million and one. When you’re ready to be taken seriously, the rest of us will be waiting for you”. She doesn’t take excuses or nonsense. She thinks all the problems that nonbinary gender identity might solve are easily solved by feminism, and that anybody who thinks otherwise is delusional. A coward, who hides in a maze of pretty, distracting words that don’t actually change the world. And I don’t know who she is, or where she is. She could be anyone, and I have to be careful if I run into someone that seems to look like it could be her, because it could well be that’s her. I have to hold back, careful to dodge revealing who I really am, or somehow, this imaginary archetype metaphor woman will turn out to be the real actual person sitting in front of me, who I otherwise thought I could trust. Probably, she’ll turn out to be somebody I have to interact with a lot. And my future will not be pleasant.

Seemingly positive posts on tumblr sometimes mess me up. Once there was a post about “other girls” and how you were an asshole if you thought there were “other girls” worthy of looking down on, because… I forget. You should never say bad things about women just for being themselves? Or something. That sounds pretty plausible. Anyway, I took it personally, because my gut reaction was, how many other people thought there were “other girls” they weren’t like because they were really nonbinary or demi-female but didn’t know that was a thing that existed? How many people are going to see something like this and stumble around trying to be better people by denying their own gender dysphoria? The thing is, I wasn’t just “different” back then. I was an asshole. I bought into the idea it was genuinely worse to be feminine. I looked down on people for being themselves. I thought the only way to cope with there being a type of person everybody thought I was but I wasn’t was to see those people negatively so that I could rise above them. So that I could make way for “proving” to myself that I was worth something enough to deserve not to be misgendered, but since I didn’t know that was a thing or even a word, worth something enough to be “more than” those people. I’m not like that now, but at that time, I was about as much in the target audience for that post as you could possibly get. It was a really horrifying, saddening thought for me that somebody might see something like that, evaluate what they were doing, and come to the conclusion that they were evil and terrible, rather than having the opportunity to grow and learn and understand why they did that, like me.

Before I go further, I should note that I mention tumblr posts a lot in this article, but really, that’s just because tumblr posts give a very discrete unit of feelings to talk about. They’re a conversation starter; they give something to write about, or complain about, but I wouldn’t have anything to write without most of the feelings already poised to come spilling out. I talk about gem people a lot for about the same reason: it’s not like SU screwed me up in a negative way, but rather that it provides a neutral, alternate way to talk about things. To be honest, tumblr probably hasn’t been all that good for my sanity, but I’ll hold for now the posts I talk about here mostly just surfaced things that had been vaguely swirling around and developing for a long time. The times I paraphrased posts from memory instead of quoting them, it was mainly to distance myself from things about them and their wording that dragged out negative feelings, and not to maliciously twist anyone’s words. The focus of this article was my own feelings, and not the validity of anybody else’s opinions. Disclaimer over.

It’s funny to think that once I became okay with being nonbinary, I also became okay with all my avatars being binary.

I didn’t have the conceptual vocabulary to put my finger on it, but in all the things I was consuming, it was like the absolute only way they could show a character was female was to make them in some way “feminine” and I didn’t like that

It was like even when they tried not to make characters “girly” they were still working off stereotypes of what females should be, in a way that would never be acceptable these days when it comes to things like ethnicity, sexuality, or religion (and probably would have seemed at least a bit off even back then) but sure it was fine to have a nice little schematic of “this is what a girl is like and this is how a girl acts” And dammit I just didn’t want to associate with that in any way If that was what a girl was my ‘sona was gonna be a man by god

For the longest time, basically every character I created that resonated with me had to be male. In fact, if they were at all important, there was only one gender for them. Side characters? Yeah, they could be female, sure, I guess. It was perfectly fine to me to have multiple division leaders on the enemy side in one thing be female, but only because they weren’t really all that ultimately important. (Also note that when I say multiple I mean multiple and not even several.) The main character of that story naturally had to be a man, and his group of five people contained all of one tentatively-included woman. She threatened to be on equal footing with the leader a few times but I also had a number of frankly icky ideas where she was basically the Amy Rose trying to edge the main character into a relationship because that is clearly a thing that women like.

I did actually have like one or two stories I wrote where the main character was female. In one of them she was just effectively doing the “be a man figuratively” thing, and the other was an experimental short story. In my defaulting to male characters, there were actually a few factors aside from my own gender (non-)affinity.

  • Most characters I’d seen in things that I found interesting and relatable were male—a “representation” issue
  • I thought that was the kind of characters everyone expected, particularly in the sort of settings I’d write where serious characters were doing srsbiz stuff
  • The work of one Judith Butler holds that gender is “performative”, and the part of you that is female is a set of repeated performances. I’ve never read her work, but ever since I saw that phrase it struck me. Said one way, I was lazy. Said another way, I couldn’t wrap my head around how their gender would be performed, so I went for characters my gender-devoid mind would be more able to qualify.

It didn’t take me long to discover, once I let myself out of the chains that had held me back before, that there was no reason my characters couldn’t perform their gender any fucking way they wanted to. Step one: be a woman. Step two: that’s it. You’re done. Soon enough, I started going crazy with characters. One’s a detective-scientist. One’s a superpower. One’s a fiery servant of the one great phoenix. One’s a moody dragon keeper. One’s an ancient mascot beast who can get a human form by accident. One’s the most easily distracted daydreamer you can imagine. Guess which one is the woman. All of them but #4. At a certain point, I began to become concerned I was just reversing my previous gender trend, but in practice, a weird thing happened: what I perceived as being so many women! was actually… an approximately equal balance of men and women. A teeny bit skewed one way or the other depending on how you divided things up, but it was roughly equal. The thought occurred to me:

I’m standing here. With soft breasts. Over-representing male characters. Underestimating what is an equal amount of women. Disdaining feminine people like an asshole. It might just be the nonbinary thing, but I think this society is pretty fucked up.

As I increasingly came to peace with female characters—well, it actually started before that, but that definitely accelerated it—I started to enter a new era of my life, where everything I hated before became my favourite. Boring shows about life? Ponies? Literal pink roses of overflowing love? Things that were just about human interactions, instead of being a monstergame or having some interesting premise that was the draw? Stupid meme edits? All my favourite now. The most dramatic example of this was Kris, who at the same time basically accidentally symbolised the whole process:

It’s kinda funny that initially, I created this character who was very vaguely based off me (Kate) and this character who was supposed to be not really the opposite of me necessarily but a bunch of things I’m distinctly not (Kris) to the point of being in my outgroup at least on the surface. flashy, chatty, energetic, ‘girly’ to some small extent, tied up in superficial things, has a random obsession with minerals, dork who loves reaction images and cat pictures and memes and has no sense of ‘grand dignity’ that prevents her from being utterly ridiculous

I moved my characters over to Stablehand. Basically all of them got reworks to be more interesting and better constructed. Kate got a meaningful conflict related to fantasy vs science, Lance got a distinctive approach and this whole dragon-legion idea as a backdrop, and Jinfèng got this ‘mission’ from the great firebird and a new look. But Kris was just this weird nerd going ‘I’m gonna be a superpower!’ and her whole story was supposed to be kind of goofy. Note: I thought superhero stuff was kind of stupid.

And then very unexpectedly mineral heroes happened to me and here I am following a bunch of random mineral blogs.

I’ve like got this totally different view of this character now and it’s so weird because it’s like no you’re not supposed to be cool stop that but at the same time I feel a pressure to make her really interesting because now I can actually see how cool everything about her is and can see how much potential she has

Kris, who I created mainly as a contrast to Kate to show what she wasn’t (and what I wasn’t), turned out to be my favourite, and I suddenly found myself going what no this whole idea of wanting to follow “Fuchsia the Superpower” and become a mineral hero because your thing is minerals but you also coincidentally want to be a superpower is cool. Her energy is cool. This character is an inspiration. I ended up having to basically turn the dynamic between the two characters around, with instead of Kris being the obnoxious one you want to be mad at but just can’t because of her enthusiasm and Kate being the one who’s right and has a handle on this, Kate being the one who gratuitously disdains you and kinda doesn’t believe Kris will accomplish anything with an approach like that and Kris being the one who offers her unfailing perseverance and support regardless of what Kate says or does, making her look bad. Kate now has a quirk of telling you little notes-to-self (this is a gamebook, remember) that sound like perfectly valid instructions that come from perfectly reasonable logic except they’re just a bit too self-assured to not make you go wwwwait, will that really work? And then you try them and half the time they don’t work, because she used logic that was too realistic and down-to-earth to use in a crazy weird fantasy world so actually that perfectly reasonable idea doesn’t work too well. :p Semi-recently, this all led up to me turning my former fear of anything considered feminine on its head with Fuchsia White.

Her major “power”, which isn’t really a power at all, is the ability to do things that might be considered feminine or emotional or otherwise awkward with all the practical frankness of an engineer […], and to evaluate the aesthetics and merits of things completely outside of the context of gender. Yep this is the hero I imagine. Says a lot about me, doesn’t it?

Fuchsia White, an anthropomorphic pterosaur, was going to (and still is most likely) have a rock opera based around her and a few friends. I briefly mentioned I disliked Amy Rose? Well, to make a long story short, I was really disappointed in her for not being Fuchsia White, so I made Fuchsia White. Aside from her feminine thing she had a few quirks, like quietly scream-singing a couple phrases in her song (ex. “I am the Fuchsia!”) to underscore her bold “rocker” style. She also had this megaphone weapon thing called “Candora’s Vox” which among other things would give her a solid rallying cry. Fuchsia White was quite the inspiration. It was really great and really sad at the same time—on one hand I had this hero who was everything I could never be, but on the other, what a saddeningly modest standard to have for a hero. Fuchsia the Superpower, who coincidentally shared her name*, could launch herself into the air by smashing the ground backward and letting loose the fabric of the universe like an elastic spring. It was tentative that another superpower had the ability to burn vast swaths of land. Whenever I’d look at something like an obviously “feminine” boot**, instead of maximising my radius from it as if to avoid its corrupting dark forces, I’d simply calmly say to myself, oh, that’s a Fuchsia White-type thing. Fuchsia is pretty cool. But sadly, I’m not her. And with that, walk over to the next one.

Fuchsia White and Steven Universe I guess you could compare a little bit. They have different personalities and skill sets, but had similar effects on me. Steven I’ve described as, well,

there is so much where Steven is unexpectedly perceptive about love and relationships with this big-picture wisdom you just do not expect from a kid and just generally, well, the most girly and emotional little dude I have ever seen it is sometimes really like he is just a different-looking Rose Quartz

Like Fuchsia White, he’s another character that gains strength from things considered so often… not that. Steven is very liberating as a character because when you’re shown that something is no longer a weakness or something to be ashamed of, even if you’re not that thing, you still feel better about yourself because if you were things would be just fine. Of course, along with female characters I also embraced the nonbinary and genderless to a good extent, for obvious reasons. Eterea, Aeterna, the VairBlot household… I’ve talked about them all enough in other posts, so I won’t again. I’ll just sum it up by saying Stablehand, for all its female (and male) characters, is also kinda nonbinary/genderless central.

A very interesting thing to think about with genderless and nonbinary is when you notice it and when you don’t. Many early monstergame-type things didn’t give them genders. In fact, I’d say just about every not-exactly-Pokémon game only a few people remember did (that is, didn’t do) that. No hint of gender for Digimon. And if you look at the original version of Pokémon, too, no genders. Monster Farm never had genders/sexes. I think it may have been canonical the monsters were sexless and the only way to breed them was to use a fusion lab though I could be making that up.

So what? Why would they need genders, you ask. Well, that’s exactly the thing: they don’t. But we never think about that fact, and isn’t that weird?

People involved with the Pokémon anime said that initially the Pikachu was supposed to be ‘ambiguously gendered’, so that everyone could relate to it. When I read that years ago I thought that was really silly. I mean, why would it be harder to relate to an electric mouse if it’s this gender rather than that one. Come on. But now, I see a certain logic to it. Back at the beginning, they were working with a story based off the original R/G/B/Y Pokémon games, where nothing had a gender. In that game, I never even thought about what gender Pokémon were, I just kinda gave them names based on what they looked like and proceeded to call them by whatever the names suggested. There was a certain elegance and logic to that, in a weird way? I didn’t even treat them as if they were all dudes. Why would I? They were just monsters. It’s just so natural somehow, to assume without even knowing you’re doing it that anything that isn’t human but is alive is part of one big monolithic “gender”. Oh, look, it’s a songbird. There’s another nondescript songbird. We don’t think “that bird is probably male or female”, even though birds have sexes and in all likelihood that’s technically true2. It’s… just a bird, like many other identical birds. Dimorphic animals are another story, maybe. The most obvious place we do this is in language, at least in the English language. When talking about animals we usually call them “it” except when for example we’re talking about our pets. It really makes me wonder, why do some humans insist that the gender binary we apply to humans is so natural, when they’re probably doing that too?

I’d never thought about any of this until literally the other day, when, well, this happened.

"Renamon, you're a girl, right?" "...By nature, Digimon do not have gender."

It was kind of a shock. I mean, yeah, I knew that in the back of my mind. That was always the way it was in all the Digimon stuff I’d seen. But, like, I never expected it to be explicitly addressed, because that was just… the aesthetic. Early monstergames just didn’t have genders. Seeing it actually lampshaded felt like some kind of violation of something.

Creating my own species, I’d do it. Every individual was just… a creature. When it was a character I actually intended to give some amount of personality to, like Red, then it would start to get some very minimal amount of “gender presentation”, though usually in the vague sense seen in the female characters of Stablehand, where everything you do both does and doesn’t have anything to do with your gender. It’s funny to think I was doing that with monsters before I was doing that with people; maybe if I’d just thought to treat my people the same way I treated my monsters, I’d have been writing way better stories much, much sooner.

If we all forgot we were humans and we stepped back and looked at humans as some kind of monster—whoa look we just got invaded by a human, better go deal with it. let me check the guide quick. it says humans are weak against fire but they drop good stuff sometimes—would we see them differently? Well, there’s one thing I know. While you stay in the realm of monstrous monsters, the ambiguous/nonexistent gender thing makes perfect sense. A monster can even get pretty humanoid before you start asking questions: look at Renamon (creature in the gif), or any number of Pokémon. But when you start calling something a person and not a monster, something changes.

Many sci-fi/scifi-fantasy works have made humanoid space alien races where everybody is more or less the same. This, depending on who you ask, is either perfectly natural, or perfectly alien. Having aliens be genderless and/or asexual references a cool little part of biological diversity, but on the other hand, it can also create a distinct sense of them being weird and different. They don’t have what we kind of expect people to have; they’re missing something. It sometimes, though not always, accompanies a lack of certain human emotions—empathy and stuff like that.

There are also the aliens on the other end of the spectrum. I remember once watching an episode of Space Precinct (an odd 90s TV show featuring, yes, a space cop) which literally showed an alien father talking about his alien wife and all the little alien children pictured in the foldout of his billfold. Happy little alien nuclear family… To this day, I can’t help but laugh, sigh, and roll my eyes thinking of that and how I swear it felt like the laziest writing I’d ever seen. When you don’t give aliens genders, it makes them alien, and when you do give them genders, it feels like you’re being lazy. Neither one seems like it’s just the obvious and natural thing to do—both options feel like deliberate choices with an agenda behind them. Why is that? Why are aliens not like monsters?

To take a brief stab, I’d say that at least in Space Precinct‘s case, there was kind of a normative feel to it. A relatable heterosexual family was required, which mandated the aliens have a gender binary (and marriage, too). I wouldn’t go so far as to say the aliens seemed like middle-class whites, though I’m fairly sure other shows have shamelessly gone there when the point was to be relatable more than to seriously speculate about what living species could be like but haven’t.

This whole thing with nonhumans and gender reaches a surreal height when you look at the gem people of Steven Universe. They are, and the creators have always seen them as, friggin’ rocks. Let me repeat that again: they’re friggin’ rocks. Look at a rock. Pick it up and examine it. Now say the word gender. Do you feel ridiculous yet? Are you beginning to question if you really got out of bed this morning?

And yet, for a time, it managed to be an open question as to whether they had genders. They looked kinda like women. People got very confused. Some people made “male” Gem characters. And some of them were pretty cool actually. The crew tried their very best to explain when asked about it that they’re all the same, they don’t have sexes, they don’t have genders, they’re friggin’ rocks. It took a number of asks to finally get it straight, after which finally, people at last continued to refer to them as females and a female-only species. It’s so weird to me that without thinking, people of any age will intuitively understand without thinking about it a whit that a small yellow bathamster that transforms into a big muscled seraph (or a horned eagle and a long-tailed cat that combine to form a tall svelte one with breasts and a huge ribbon), is just a monster, that puts on a false sense of genderedness for a moment as part of a genre aesthetic. Renamon, a perfectly androgynous furry, does not bring to mind that adjective. It just is what it is, a monster. But Gems make people ask questions. Are they women? Are they genderless aliens that look like women? Are they just friggin’ rocks? It just seems to go without saying that it isn’t relevant or meaningful to ask whether monsters are genderless, but for some reason it becomes relevant and meaningful with gem people. I guess all I can definitely say is that I have a renewed appreciation of Digimon.

What does the word “gay” mean? Today at least, it’s often used to refer to homosexual pairings. Obviously, a male-male or female-female pairing is a gay pairing. (Some people insist that lesbian pairings should always be called lesbian and never gay, but I’ll stick with one term for the moment for simplicity’s sake.) But what about a pairing of two nonbinary/genderless individuals? What do you call that?

Well, arguably, if you think about its history, the whole concept of “gay” is only relevant when there is a concept of “straight”, given it came about to mark a group of people who were not straight. By that logic, if a pairing is not binary, it can’t be straight, and if it can’t be straight, it can’t be gay either. Ok, so that gives one answer for individual pairings. But what about at a species level? Can an entire species be gay? Well, to answer that, we need to answer the question of if there are really genders if everyone is the same gender. Probably that makes sense, though only fantastical species would ever have both one gender, and the human-type gender expression to be considered to truly have genders and not just sexes. The Greek siren, with features borrowed from a human woman, might be a good example. Setting genders aside for sexes, New Mexico whiptail lizards are all female, formed from a cross between two species with both males and females when hybrid inviability only affected the males. These lizards are known to mate with each other even though they are parthenogenetic and shouldn’t need to, so, in a sense, these lizards are gay. They fulfil the basic requirement of having a defined gender or sex and forming pairings.

Now, what about if all the members of a species are genderless, with no concept of gender expression based in gender? In that situation, one of the two basic bricks in the definition of “gay” falls apart. Put together two gender-neutral-looking Digimon (there must be people out there with ships like that), and… that sure is a pairing of two dinosaurs. Whether they’re gay is not really a meaningful question, given how tied “gay” is to actually having at least one gender.

So, what about the gem people? Are they gay? It depends on whether you’re in the “they’re an all-female species” camp or the “they’re friggin’ rocks” camp. In the latter camp—which I’m in—they’re the same as the two dinosaurs. Question answered. Right? Well… not exactly. The thing is, that answers the question of “are Gems gay”, but without having the bigger question of “what does gay mean” fully answered. So it’s a half-informed, incomplete answer. When people call Gems gay, beyond some desire to identify with what look like lesbians (which there is no shame in), I think they are sometimes using the word figuratively. A decade or so ago, it was commonplace to use gay as a general pejorative, for something that was “too” flamboyant, “too” shameless, “too” “beyond good taste”. I think that pejorative sense has effectively been reclaimed, in an era when people are starting to realise that just maybe, you should let other people decide for themselves how to express their identity and what is excessive. The two main “ships” that have surfaced know no restraint. These Gems are overflowing with love and emotion, and for Garnet at least, it brings a lot of strength and happiness. And that’s what’s gay about the Gems, they represent this feeling of unrestrained passionate positivity. Kinda going back to the original meaning of the word, in a way. You can’t really blame anyone for thinking that goes really well with LGBT pride, regardless of the comparatively superficial question of whether they are actually lesbians.

One time I mused about what it would mean if I were the type of person to get a serious crush on one of these gem people. What would that make me, if it was a genuine indicator of my sexuality? That question messed with my head a bit. My first inclination was to say it wouldn’t be a gay attraction because not being a woman I could not be a lesbian, full stop, but the second sense of gay above that I hadn’t yet sorted into words was muddling things in my mind. There was also the added complication that nonbinary and genderless aren’t exactly the same thing, because one exists hovering above a binary axis and the other is just whatever, the equivalent to being “just a monster” in monstergames. The way I see it, when trying to compare what is the same or different, “nonbinary” is not on the same level of things as “male” or “female” to start with. Say you have a set of different fasteners.

*Stock photo of literally just a bunch of fasteners*
I’m the sort of person who needs pictures for this kind of thing. (CC0)

Some of them are nuts, and some of them are bolts. Some of them are neither. When you hold in your hand two bolts, you can confidently say you have a pair of bolts. When you have two nuts, you can confidently say you have a pair of nuts. When you have a nut and a bolt, you can confidently say you have a nut-bolt pair. All these pairings are useful. When fasteners are exactly the same, you can put them all in the same container, and easily find others like them. And when you have a nut and a bolt, you can tighten things together. But if you have a washer and a spacer, you don’t really have a nut-nut pair or a bolt-bolt pair. Or even a nut-bolt pair. You have an other-other pair. You could put all the “other” fasteners in the same container, washers, spacers, screws, anchors, and all, but it would make for a really messy fastener drawer, and if somebody handed you a mystery bag of two fasteners, only saying that they were a pair of things that weren’t nuts or bolts, that would tell you nothing about what you could do with them. An other-other pair doesn’t really provide as much information about the fasteners in it as a bolt-bolt or nut-nut pair.

I ultimately concluded that in the event of me being attracted to a vaguely feminine genderless rock it would not be called gay. It wouldn’t be lesbian because there’s at most one female, the concept of gay becomes meaningless when you put a genderless thing in there, and finally nonbinary is not even a homogeneous category, making it the shipping equivalent of trying to add something that’s not a number and getting “NaN” back. When you think about it, it’s rather weird, maybe a bit messed-up, that after we’ve managed to get so okay with genders not being binary, we still so readily interpret sexualities in binary terms. (Or quaternary, I guess, if you wanna be technical: gay, straight, bi, aro.) Why do we need a gay/not gay binary? Why can’t something just be… a pairing. The same way that a person can just be… a person.

Personally, I was one of the few people who actually thought it was weird in a way I could never really explain to see all the humans in SU so naturally treat the Gems as heterosexual females. Though, I don’t blame them, cause what are they gonna do? It’d be an awful lot to expect of them to understand how gem people work. They’re only human, and just doing the best they can. Much like the fans.

I think it’s kind of amazing, actually, when a show can literally, after explicitly telling you even if only in word-of-god interviews and such that something is an illusion and everyone in-universe that buys it is misunderstanding—purely by showing a bunch of what give a distinct vibe of being misunderstandings, and without deliberately misleading anyone in any way—manage to make all its fans misunderstand too. That’s like, a really good worldbuilding achievement when you step back and look at it. I also think it’s safe to say, regardless of how weird it might be to call some mysterious alien fighting mineral projection Your Beautiful Chosen Wife, Rose Quartz was the best treated alien space rock wife in the extremely limited history of alien space rock wives. Almost makes it seem not weird to see some fan referring to their particular favourite gem person as ‘the wife’. …Almost. In any event it’s hard to overlook that this is what you attack when you attack the idea Gems are lesbians, an attempt at humanness and understanding. No, it doesn’t really make sense, but we want to include them. They’re amazing creatures that are basically human (though not exactly) and when you start getting technical, it seems in some weird way like you’re trying to deny how amazing they are. In favour of turning them into monsters.

It’s funny that “monster” can be both the height of equality, and the ultimate level of dehumanising exclusion.

Sometimes, I stumbled and fumbled around a lot. My personas were one such area. The first time I made a persona that really truly represented me, it was kind of a joke persona. Somebody interpreted my forum avatar of Homestuck’s blankfaced dog literally, and I couldn’t stop being amused at the idea I was in fact actually a genderless dog person. I had a lot of fun rocking it “ironically”, before I started to realise I had a real connection with it, and when I spoke through roleplay about the genderless dogperson “experience”… there was an unexpected amount of genuineness in it. Realising that, I made a new species—the Observers—through which I could reuse the mythology I created around my joke persona “VG”, but with a more visually interesting appearance that wasn’t based on a giant in-joke and would more sincerely represent what I would’ve done with the species had I made it on my own time instead of sloppily bleeding all its details out in a weird author insert crash sequence in something else, where it didn’t really have any business being. I then made “The Ingenious“, my author insert for Stablehand, using the species I’d just created. It was a pretty perfect avatar, representing all at once my gender, aesthetic, personality, and this idea of just sort of living in the world you created as just another random citizen.

Of course, a weird eyeless quadrupedal talking monster is not always an appropriate character for everything. Sometimes I feel like using Ingenious would be unnecessarily “furry-ifying” a given setting, so I go for a more human persona. But we just talked about what happens when monsters turn human: we start asking gender questions.

This led to the very weird couple of posts I made in October last year, which I now cringe at.

I think the Crystal Gems did a weird thing to me

When I made a not-super-serious gem version of my “me” persona (yes, in addition to Ingenious I also sometimes visualise myself as a human with clothes kinda like Kate’s and a fluffy dinosaur tail) I just called it “she” without thinking too much

And that spread I guess, such that I keep mentally wanting to call Ingenious “she” now even though nothing about them is female? The weird thing is that I’m still as solidly a they as ever, I would never call me “she” or even go back on my Zed label for any other

And the weirder thing is that visually I think if I drew “Agate” properly I would probably start immediately calling them they; ditto for Ingenious, it’s way more natural to call them they like I intend them to be when I actually visualise them the way I would draw them but when I merely think of them I keep occasionally “misgendering” them mentally

Neither a Gem, nor an MB like Ingenious actually, wouldn’t just go with it (MBs don’t even understand gender so hell if they care what you call them), but it just felt weird when with the logical part of my brain I’d laid out that Ingenious was very much supposed to be a they and Agate would probably end up looking more like a they than the Crystal Gems if actually designed and drawn as a coherent character concept

(I should do that, I think… that character (:p) could look pretty cool and distinctive if I did), but then I would just subconsciously call particularly Ingenious “she” kinda persistently for almost no reason. It’s just annoying to me to get my own character details wrong for no reason. :p

“A they”. What does that phrase even mean? But I said it. I was convinced for some reason that pronouns meant something. That when you used a certain pronoun, it said something about the identity of who it referred to. And that misgendering was bad because it assigned a different vibe to people than the one they wished to project. I thought this was especially relevant to fictitious characters, where the nuances of an actual person’s identity are often lost because all an audience can know about the character is what is presented to them. And so, I was convinced that by calling Gen they, I secured them as being genderless, like my own nonbinary gender.

Naturally, I transferred this thinking when I made a Gem character. Agate (green agate, the same colour as Ingenious and used by Kate, who I already discussed) was also “a they”. (God that phrase causes me pain every time I type it.) At least, at my first impulse. The second impulse I had was that this could be inaccurate because all Gems appeared to go by she. By this time, I was already fairly solidly okay with having persona characters that were female or feminine as a gender different from mine, much the way one might symbolically associate a nonhuman animal species with themself while being human. But somehow, when I was making a character this representative, it did not feel right to slide into that.

For a while, I had increasingly been noticing a weird phenomenon where if anything was genderless or nonbinary, plus at all feminine, it was only a matter of time before I’d catch myself accidentally calling it “she” in my mind, not least of all Ingenious. I couldn’t explain why. It felt really wrong, like something I shouldn’t be doing. There was no reason for it to be a natural thing to do. And yet I couldn’t stop doing it. I would even misgender actual (nonbinary!) people I knew in my mind, though nobody would ever know it, as I’d never do it when actually speaking. (And I don’t even just mean in a moral sense of “Oh, I would never do that”—it just literally isn’t a thing that would ever happen.) It would only happen on a low subconscious level, when I wasn’t consciously exercising control over my thoughts. I still do it sometimes to this day, and every time I do it involving an actual person I feel horrible. It was sort of to fight this I thought Agate had to be “a they”, and Gen had to be “a they”.

It’s weird. I knew Gems were genderless, though my knowledge of that fact was vague, as confused asks on the subject were still in the works, and that Eterea were genderless. I knew it would not really change anything for this gem person to be “a she”. Whatever, if anything, that phrase might mean. I reluctantly rolled with it. But I couldn’t help feel like it did change something.3

Jasper happened. I was confused.

The most obvious conclusion to make was that this was the most masculine Gems were going to get, and anybody who thought there might be “male” Gems or any Gem that was “a he” had guessed wrong. But I also wondered for a second if this meant some kind of distinction between “a she” and “a they” was a thing Gems recognised, not necessarily at the pronoun level but I guess at some sort of aesthetic-based level. A time later, all the confused asking finally finished, and a clear answer had finally confirmed that Gems were all the same and indirectly confirmed that all Gems (most likely) went by she. You’d think my reaction would be to flip out, realising that it was a done deal my green agate would now be setting me up to misgender everything for all eternity. But, that wasn’t my reaction at all. Instead, I was simply relieved. As it wasn’t ruled out, I could still go with as neutral an appearance for Agate as I wanted. Or, I could give the character any number of traditionally feminine characteristics. My stupid conflict was gone. Promptly, I struck off the questionable decision to make my second Gem character (demantoid) one of the dreaded “male” Gems hiding out from canonical inaccuracy behind the guise of “they”. It took only really minimal tweaking to make Demantoid’s design make sense in this new context (which surprised me), and in the end, I ended up being happier with it. I even started to eliminate weird unnecessary distinctions[1] my strange notions about pronouns and presentation had created in my own universe, which made things make a lot more sense there.

Besides my not-too-infrequently misgendering things in my head, including Ingenious (though that one happened less over time), you might be prepared to think this segment had a happy ending. Well, not quite. A post arrived to shame anyone who referred to Jasper as they, a demographic I frankly did not think existed. It urged all such sexist pigs to cease their body policing yesterday and for godsakes, allow this coarse, muscular brute a chance at misnomered womanhood.4 Awesomely, it did reference Gems being genderless and the same, which would not-so-awesomely place its small handful of targets as doing this relatively recently. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help be shaken a little. What I’d thought was a mere confusion before about the real meaning of pronouns became something disgusting and uncomfortable, akin to my younger self’s warped notions that being feminine was bad because it didn’t suit me. I managed not to beat myself up about it, but only through passing by the series of events with an awkward smile every time any of them came to mind.

At one point, there were some posts showing screenshots of Gems and their notable lack of breasts per se, and wondering why fan artists (and quite a few of them) would draw them with breasts per se. They were fairly superficial posts, at least the few I saw, and I got a good laugh out of them. It was a question I wondered about a few times too. Then came the counter post, which was deadly serious. It discussed, though relatively concisely, how “nonbinary” should not have any specified look. Very true—the whole purpose of “nonbinary” is to step away from your title prescribing anything, looks included. Breasts, it explained, are not fucking binary. Having breasts, or breasts per se does not make you binary. Not having breasts per se does not make you nonbinary. And if you ever thought otherwise you are a sexist pig.

I was pretty ready to agree with that post. It was pretty positive5, I mean, hell, I agree with it now. If gem people are needlessly human in any number of other ways that don’t really benefit them, breasts is really not that eventful an addition; there are much more “sex-neutral” things that would surprise me a lot more (example: why would a creature that doesn’t regulate its internal temperature sweat from exertion?). But that post hit me at a bad time, just after I’d been thinking about something that had happened a long while ago, so I ended up getting deep about it.

The thing that happened a while ago:

[S]eeing people in my chat repeatedly call an acquaintance of mine we had had some weird and stressful experiences with and ultimately had to boot out a binary pronoun instead of their chosen pronoun kinda… shook me. The person was someone with some rather weird ideas in their head at times, but nonetheless, in my mind had shown signs of possibly being nonbinary, and it upset me in a way to think that everyone was perfectly accepting my gender identity and not the gender identity of this person just because I seemed to […] not have all my feelings and attempts to figure out how to deal with it a total mess in my head.

I began to wonder on an emotional level if I was the one fooling everybody with the fake gender, if I wasn’t really nonbinary, if I was just doing it for acceptance and attention as they suspected the other person of doing. I’d never thought I was doing it for that, but all of a sudden, I didn’t know any more. I’d known exactly who I was. I was Takumi Veria, nonbinary, “Gender Zed” facetiously. Blankfaced, tough, and un-gendered as an eldritch wolfcat. Sharp, distinctive, and freeform as a gem person. I was me. I controlled my own destiny.

I looked in the mirror and looked my mirrored self in the eye and wanted to believe I was still who I was but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel “not” it, but I didn’t feel it either. I still didn’t want to be called binary pronouns. I still didn’t want to accept the strange nature of reality in which there was a whole segment of the population everybody would assume I was a part of but whose culture I would never understand, nearly as much as the other major segment of the population everybody would assume I was not a part of, and I’d look tacky if I made any criticism of their culture. I could never be one of them if I tried but I was doomed to be considered one of them and never be allowed to comment on whether I liked their culture or not for eternity.

Did that make me nonbinary, as I’d always thought it had? I didn’t know any more. Did my lack of body dysphoria and acceptance of the anatomy I lived with disqualify me from being “really” nonbinary? Were other friends my friends had (which we never had any problems with) that went by nonbinary pronouns actually nonbinary, while I wasn’t? What did it really mean to be nonbinary? Was it even a real thing?

If at some time in the future when feminism “succeeded” and when males and females really could be absolutely anything and nothing could be assumed, to the point it would almost be hard for someone to even explain to another person what a “girl” or a “boy” was, would I be able to stand up and say “I’m a __an”* and be able to think nothing of it? Or would I be Takumi Veria, they of nonbinary gender and all the things I was “before”?

I think if I’m wondering about this kinda stuff so much I must be nonbinary. But I feel weird and not quite right, and I’ve not been sure what to do with myself.

* My best compromise between “woman” and “man” when I don’t wanna type out the real thing, haha

Even after I’d long abandoned the idea that there was anything wrong with feminine gender expression or that it was even the least bit mutually exclusive to being nonbinary, I had continued to express my gender mostly in unfeminine ways. Never a brassiere, always a male-styled undershirt (I always recognised that wouldn’t be viable if I didn’t have exceptionally flat breasts all my life, but it was nonetheless a relief; I’d literally never been physically comfortable in bras, perpetually fidgeting with them). Shave nothing, as I actually preferred having body hair. Durable clothes, wide-brimmed adventuring hat, wear outdoor boots everywhere as long as there’s good flat carpet and they aren’t going to get the floor dirty. Prefer a deep vocal range. The suggestion of what nonbinary meant that I had just been faced with did not make me regret any of my gender expression. That was a done, non-negotiable deal. But it did make me begin to question what a person like me would really be called.

I was getting the vibe this term was going to be negative. Either before or after the post in the blockquote, there had been a few other posts about how you can’t tell nonbinary people what to do, some encouraging, others coarse and invoking the idea of perpetuating harmful stereotypes through ‘doing it wrong’. Trans selfie day had also brought a lot of highly confident-looking people, which was a double-edged sword: it was 95% a positive, welcome arrival for me, but 5% an excuse for me to wonder if the “real deal” was now in front of me. Anyway, the cumulative effect of all this was to make me wonder if there was another set of “real” nonbinary people out there that I wasn’t part of, making me a faker. People who didn’t first connect nonbinariness with androgyny or masculinity, who had the courage to be feminine in spite of their non-affinity to any gender. People who weren’t sexist pigs* who thought you could express gender by shying away from it or asserting you were better than anyone else, or that you could build the idea of “nonbinary” out of the exclusion of any category below the level of “male” or “female”. People who had this. People who were fucking adults.

This messed me up a lot. Before, whenever I started to doubt my gender, I’d always been able to recount my previous experiences, my inability to belong in binary categories, my sense of belonging with the genderless, blank, and nonbinary. But that wasn’t enough any more. Now you needed courage and authenticity. Nonbinary was no longer an amalgam of all the things you weren’t, it was a list of things you were. And I felt like I didn’t have most of them. I didn’t have the strength to take down a dragon. I didn’t have the speed of the cheetah. I didn’t have the wit of the falcon. But at the same time, I also didn’t fit into binary categories. As much as I wanted to toss myself back into the binary pear wiggler out of nothing but pure spite, I could also recognise there was no good reason for me to be in it. I couldn’t think of even the most spurious justification for why I should be shaken and bruised, other than that was a nasty place to be that I probably deserved in light of all my previous sins.

I mused for a bit if maybe I was looking at the difference between nonbinary and agender. Maybe the “real” nonbinary people were nonbinary, and I was just agender, unable to understand the intricacies of real nonbinariness. Much the way I previously thought that women and men were the people I wasn’t because I would never understand the intricacies of their genders. But, I realised, that wasn’t productive or useful, because agender is often considered, and really is categorically, just part of nonbinary. So in asserting I’m not nonbinary but agender, I’d basically be saying I’m not a cat but a serval, or I’m not a building but a barn. A serval is a cat and a barn is a building, even if you can’t put a serval on your lap and you can’t hold meetings in a barn. Agender is outside of binary gender, which makes it nonbinary.

I still felt guilt at not having the strength of the draft horse, the speed of the cheetah, or the wit of the falcon.

Sometimes, It’d mess me up a little bit to see literally everyone referring to Gems as women and female, rather than, like, idk, “person”. I mean, to be perfectly clear, that alone wouldn’t mess me up. It’s canon that’s the way everyone sees them—misnomer or not—and the gem people don’t fucking care how anyone sees them. (Though it’s interesting to note that if you pay attention to the Gems themselves, outside of using “she”, they only ever refer to themselves as “Gems”.6) I’d even decided Eterea in my own unrelated universe were probably the same way—accepting any gendered terms you might call them by, though gender was not really a concept they had.

Sure. Arright. All that was fine and great. But the times it would mess me up is when people would talk about them in regard to “female representation”* or such.

Posts would often kinda imply that for any discussion of gem people as characters, the fact that they’re only misnomered as female[4] was never relevant. To put it in more concrete terms, if X was a good character X was a good female character, and if people were not being unduly harsh on X they were surprisingly forgoing the usual unfair expectations on female characters.7

It felt weird to me, and prompted me to ask many questions. If gem people are women just because that’s what they look like, not just as a convenient misnomer but practically speaking, is everything people say about gender presentation having nothing to do with your gender just lip service? If gem people can be as coarse and unfeminine as they want to but they are still women does that mean I do somehow belong in the binary pear wiggler? Are gem people both women and genderless? Does that mean the binary/nonbinary binary is deconfirmed? Are gem people non-binary/nonbinary-binary? Is the world non-binary/nonbinary-binary? Are female and nonbinary really just two names for the same thing? Does gender even exist? Given that gender might not exist, should I just accept everyone offline referring to me in binary terms instead of coming out, because they’re really just trying to include me and believe that I’m another human? Is feminism the understanding that nobody really has gender and we are all genderless monsters defined only by identity?

Will things start making sense and my mind stop knotting itself inside-out over existential questions once I obtain the strength of the draft horse, the speed of the cheetah, and the wit of the falcon?

Sometimes, I could be an adult, and accept that the Gems were great female characters of an all-female species. Maybe they’ve even got some semblance of boobs. Big fuckin’ whoop.

The problem was, this caused me to run into the reason I didn’t want to accept it.

As I said, I’m intimidated by women who have a clear grasp on femininity and don’t let the world tell them what to do. I’ve always had this feeling those were strong people worthy of respect. To learn that the Gems were “just friggin’ rocks” with no sense of artificial roles—that just happened to be living in a vacuum where a separate class of manly people was unheard of so everyone just happened to be vaguely feminine—was strangely empowering. It was absurd. It was beautiful. I was finally free. I felt in some abstract way like they were my “sibs”. I was “sibs” with them. Never mind what sense that made, I had a connection with these guys.

But in this light, they became something else. It was like, these ancient inorganic semi-immortal fighting mineral projections had now added “womanness” onto their list of impossible powers. This was in another court now. I would really never be or understand this. What was in front of me were these people, these things, that did whatever the fuck they wanted to with complete assurance of who they were and what they were doing. They weren’t even just women, they were hardcore gender-smashing rock people that didn’t give a fuck about literally any stipulations of gender (or anything, really). And also women, because fuck you. They were fucking formidable. You couldn’t stop them; they wouldn’t even stop to listen. These women were just doing their job. Of their own strength. At the end of the day, there’s nothing all that cool or admirable about doing your job. You just do it. If anyone thinks they might be due something that’s not your job, it’s also your job to tell them to get the fuck out, because the last thing you need is anyone getting in the way. You don’t take excuses or nonsense. Anybody who thinks otherwise is hiding in a maze of pretty, distracting delusions that don’t change the world.

I couldn’t even comprehend how much power they had and how much sudden respect I had for them unless I imagined nerdily updating some display name or avatar or theme to toss in a gem person, and saw it through the huge upshot in my perceived arrogance level the way you observe displaced fluid in a barometer. What would my thrashings about cowardice, audacity, identity, and the “real” nonbinary people even look like to beings who were so far the fuck beyond that problem?

…Back up.
Huh?? Where did any of that even come from?

Had I really just totally re-framed the Crystal Gem squad and decided they were suddenly entirely different because they were “women”? That… didn’t seem right. In fact, that didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Surely that wasn’t a sensible thing to be shaken about or like, even have vibes about at all…? It shouldn’t make any difference what gender the electric mouse is. And when exactly did women stop having feelings, anyway? Realising my error, I took a stab at invalidating my own emotions and the incident’s occurrence in the first place, but that didn’t really work.

It didn’t work because, this was not Pikachu, a case of a yellow mouse wearing a coloured bow or a black bow tie. It wasn’t Fuchsia White, a case of a woman wearing an inspiring voice. It was a case of one problem wearing another one over the top of it to obscure its solution. What was the real problem? It was doubt. It was Compulsion.[9]

I have trouble at times trusting that people are really okay with me sharing my feelings. I feel like I need to say them because the more I don’t, the more confusing it’s going to be later when some random shred comes spilling out without any context whatsoever, and the more prior context you have, the more chance hopefully you’ll be able to trace back to the central issue(s) even when I lose sight of them and it gets incoherent. But at the same time, I feel like the more I talk about my feelings, the more I turn into a tiring landfill which you can’t put anything productive into and can’t get anything productive out of, a pointless sad abyss of sad that is probably better for everyone to ignore. It’s hard, when objectively you could well be a disturbance, to believe that people really want to hear about your problems, that they are not just telling you it’s all right while behind their backs saying jesus fuck, I wish they would stop. And thus, it’s almost like, the more a central character is portrayed as adorable, benevolent, and sympathetic, the more I’m gonna come to mistrust that character and think nuhnuhnuh, that is not who they really are. You don’t know them. You don’t know what they’re capable of. I haven’t been there; I don’t know that. But I just can’t help being suspicious.

“Woman” was not code for “woman” in my mind at the moment I re-framed the Gems. It was code for “somebody who has things fucking figured out and would never have any of the stupid problems I have”. And from that, with any actual meaning of woman conveniently discarded, it’s pretty easy to see where I got “the Gem squad are formidable and don’t fucking care”. But, you know what? It’s absolutely fucking wrong as heck. It just. Nothing about it is correct. The Crystal Gems sort of are grand figures above anything, but a lot of it is an illusion they create for themselves. When Steven just treats them like people and his friends and not some grand cosmic treasure guard who have no one—surprise—they find themselves a lot happier. They’ve got emotions. They’ve got compassion. They’ve got all these things they care about. They seem discordant but most of the time it’s actually more a matter of hey, stop beating yourself up/being awful to your teammate, it’s pissing me off. They are cute. They are relatable. They aren’t even disgusted at anybody who’s being a big disappointment, they just patiently walk away. When they’re not smashing things they’re like the most innocuous thing. If it’s not really the way they’d put it themselves, they’ve accepted as “close enough” Steven’s image of them as inspiring superheroes. The wrongest part of it all is, they aren’t stronger than I’d ever be; they don’t have hearts of steel. They. fucking. need. support. They’re like super-human and I was expecting myself to have everything figured out when they don’t.

Unrealistic standards much. At some point after that happened, I decided that I was no longer allowed to be my own anon hater. It was time to flip my mind’s anon ask switch to ‘off’.8 Because honestly?

You gotta draw the line somewhere. You gotta draw a fucking line in the sand, dude. You gotta make a statement. You gotta look inside yourself and say ‘what am I willing to put up with today?’ NOT FUCKING THIS!

Arin of Game Grumps

Characters are in a way people. Some semblance of them. But they are also abstract objects. You can put a flowerpot on the floor where it seems the most natural… or you can hang it up as high as humanly possible. It will look silly up there, probably. Maybe people will see it and laugh. But, you bothered to put it up there. You bothered to climb all the way up there and hang it up, because you could, and there’s some sense of achievement in just being able to have a dream and get up and realise it, even if it’s just to put a flowerpot way up on the ceiling. Positivity doesn’t seem like an achievement until you have a million flowerpots piled up on the floor that you never bothered to put up on shelves and tables and walls just staring at you from their spots in the dirt. If this incident is the alternative, I decided, I might as well burst out in an avalanche of positivity and cool stuff, self-inserts and everything, literally never shutting up about things that are important to me. Flood everyone with your so-called “sibs”, nerd, cause how will anyone know they are way too awesome otherwise.

I’ve never in my life had anyone else object to or hate my obsessions as much as I have. In fact, no matter what I’ve done in that vein, I’ve practically never had anyone tell me to stop. The approximately two times I did something worthy of such a negative comment (which were in collaborative projects both times, for context), the “negative” comment was something like ‘yeah hmmm excuse me but I don’t know about this, I feel sort of like it’s [opinion]. Do you think that too? I mean if you don’t it’s not a problem but…‘, and what led me to regret it was really me turning around and yelling at myself for failing to be awesome.

Never again.

I need to have more faith in me.

Many times before, when something threw me off (often a tumblr post), I was left questioning whether my gender rested on the amount of virtue I possessed, and if I did not possess enough virtue to “deserve” to be who I thought I was because I was an asshole. I had, over time, both accused myself of being a coward by calling myself nonbinary—without the strength of binary people—and being too weak to possibly be nonbinary—lacking the immense strength, gender savoir-faire, and maturity required to be the real deal. If you are it’s because you aren’t strong enough. If you aren’t it’s because you aren’t strong enough. You will never be strong enough. It’s like an anime.

It feels to me like it’s way too common to subtly define basic labels in terms of virtue. A Real Diversity Advocate must know the ins and outs of every single ethnicity, or they are being lazy at best, possibly exclusive. A Real Artist has to be impressive, and original. A Real Trans Person must understand pain, fortitude, and compassion. A Real Bisexual, according to non-bisexuals, must take up arms and fight for all others under the queer umbrella; having an opposite-gender partner but also being attracted to the same gender is not enough and practically blasphemous. Some intersex people have expressed frustration at a belief apparently held by some people that a Real Intersex Person should be nonbinary and/or fight for the cause of gender and sex nonconformity. The former leader of the NAACP, who great as she may look in frizzy curls is a white person, may have gotten the idea she was a Real Black Person as defined in terms of readiness to assist her black siblings. And we all know the more familiar ones. A Real Man must have literal strength and the fortitude to take anything; a Real Woman must… um… take a bunch of bullcrap without complaining. And be beautiful, maybe.

Gender (and sexuality, and the desire to create diverse and good art…) should not be about virtue. Or your “statistics”. This is stuff that belongs on your character screen free of charge, before you start racking up virtue points or statistic growth. To stretch the metaphor a bit, getting stuck on a quest to win such basic stuff denies us all the chance to progress on all the cooler quests that could be.

And the funny thing is, even if my virtue gauge was truly empty, I had nothing else to put in the spot where my gender would have been. The only thing I really could have filled it with was “asshole”. Which reminds me of how the other day on this weird and amazing social justice parody thing I saw an ask about Jasper’s “gender”:

anon: 'whats in your pants' tough-gem: 'AN AXE WHICH I WILL NOW USE TO FILLET YOU'

In a context like this character, “gender: asshole” would be pretty funny. If the character doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, it seems like an irreverent symbol of power.

But not all of us can be the coarse muscular brute who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

I recently caught The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe running on TV, which made me think about how I never noticed before how… something it is they more or less decided to un-man lion jesus before they killed him. In order to make him less grand, they (sloppily, of course) cut away his mane. The mane though as we all know is a secondary sexual characteristic.

Normally I’d say nonhuman animals just don’t have genders the way humans do (which could, y’know, be part of why we tend to regard them as not having gender). There’s not really any concept of whether you’re a “boy” or “girl” as you aimlessly peck around in the grass for seeds, or scout for other lions. The creature’s system is just kinda carrying out all the tasks on its genetic agenda in the background, among them allocating resources to things like secondary sexual traits. This results in stuff that looks sort of like our own processes of gender expression and courtship according to gender/sexuality roles, but all the conscious thought that goes into ours is not there. Animals do not make conscious decisions on what is most appropriate to do to fit their gender identity, because they do not have one. They just do what feels natural.

However, when you go and completely anthropomorphise the animals, it’s another story. Now they aren’t just male or female-sexed, executing a program in the background, but man and woman—depending on how you decide to read their gender as the writer, their secondary sexual characteristics may parallel how humans fuss over presence or lack of body hair and appearance of their pectoral region.

I’m not all that sure Narnia was deciding to read things that way. But, I can’t help thinking of it as lion jesus had his mane chopped off to show that he was not “man” but “weakling”, devoid of enough virtue submission-to-evil points to be a man. That quickly takes things from the level of generic fantasy evil to Vergozsya the Monster of Compulsion.9

The thing that is terrifying about being nonbinary, MTF, or FTM is that part of your gender expression resides in your own person, but the other part resides in the way other people decide to present you to the world. You can’t control whether other people will decide to regard you in the way you want to be regarded. You can’t control how they decide to refer to or describe you. Transphobia happens outside your control panel. At the end of the day, you need help to be trans. (To some extent you need help to be cis too—if nobody recognises you as “man enough”, or feeds you bullshit about “being a lady”, well, there you go.)

Likely I’m really just reading symbolism in Narnia that kinda isn’t there, and seeing my own symbolic purposes in the story. Writing my own derivative symbolic story, I guess. That’s part of how culture works, we reinterpret stories to make new ones that reflect what we saw in the previous ones. But this broader symbolic idea it evokes for me that, oh, you’re not going to submit to evil, to literally anything I might want to do with you no matter how completely warped it is. Arright then, as long as you’re going to be that way I’m just gonna withdraw any and all recognition which you actually really need in order for your identity to be realised and insist that you do not deserve it, and if you wanna think that any of this love and justice and freedom crap is a right you have that people “should” recognise, that’s cute. This is what you get for not taking whatever bullcrap I wanna churn out purely to be powerful and abuse other living beings to my own sadistic content. …may just be the height of fucked-up.

I don’t blame the littlest kid for crying all over lion jesus for many literal hours.

Sex and gender are really weird. I ran across this silly little post maybe a few months ago:

'You don't need a penis to be a man. To be a man you just need to CONQUER THE MULTI-BEAR'

This post, unlike a bunch of other posts I mention here, didn’t shake me up or make me feel weird. Like the Ig Nobels, it just first made me laugh, then made me think. It seems like there are a bunch of conflicting definitions of gender out there.

  1. Male and female mean something, though their meaning is vague and not homogeneous. Women reserve the right to do “girly” things as their cultural tradition.
  2. Nothing is gendered. There is no such thing as a “girly” thing. Everything is for everybody, genderwise-speaking, and not liking some things is a matter of taste. It would make more sense to call things by aesthetic like in Animal Crossing.
  3. Male and female mean nothing. You completely choose what they mean, and it’s a coincidence that a bunch of people happen to choose the same things. Your gender is what you say it is, nothing else after that matters.
  4. Your gender doesn’t reside in words like “male” or “female” but is created through repeated performances. None of these are necessarily associated with any gender on their own, but together they form a complete gender picture.
  5. Binary gender distinctions are useful if they are just shorthand abbreviations of physical and biochemical differences for the purpose of achieving equality—so, male and female become closer to sex distinctions. It’s okay to call small basketballs “women’s”, even though they are really just small-hands basketballs. It’s okay to call restrooms “men’s” and “women’s” even though we really mean “restroom with urinal” and “restroom without urinal”.
  6. Biological sex is a semi-coherent thing that hovers along at the side separate from gender; gender is an unnecessary construct on top of sex. You can safely be one gender even as you have all the markers of another sex, but a transition surgery is a valid way of securing your true sex and gender. Though secondary sex characteristics are not necessarily gendered, it makes sense and is fine to use them to express your gender.
  7. Biological sex itself is a constraining concept that is actually created by notions of gender. All its components—chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, dimorphism—are definitely things and work the way they work, but we should consider all of them separately (until it gets way too unwieldy) because doing otherwise would in a way imply assigning gender.

I’d mused a bit one day about how the thing that’s wrong with “be a lady!” is that—for cis people—the only thing you need to be a lady is a vagina, and if you said “but I already have a vagina”, purely on a logical level there would be no good response. When you bring that up, the person saying “be a lady” would be either forced to acknowledge that lady was a gender term unconnected with sex and they were forcing you into a gender role, or accept that they were insisting homogametic people must behave a certain way and they were being sexist10.

In the new era of trans acceptance, you don’t even need a penis or vagina, and in fact can even be genderless without being some kind of fantasy alien or monster. It’s pretty great. But with every small step we edge toward an ideal world where there is no sexism or transphobia, the more confusing it becomes what gender really “is”. Sexual characteristics aren’t gendered, don’t worry, you don’t need a penis. Nah, you don’t need to go on a “man quest” because that’s not gendered, spare yourself the effort. Don’t worry if your secondary sexual characteristics aren’t in order, that’s not gendered. You don’t have to deck yourself out in black and greygreen tactical gear down to the soap, soap is not gendered. You don’t have a “girly name” just because it ends with “a”, names aren’t gendered. It’s not necessary to overuse the words “dude” and “bro”, dude, because they’re not really gendered. Gender isn’t. fucking. gendered.

I’m only half joking and being hyperbolic. The word gender originally came from linguistics, where it was used to describe different forms of words, usually including a masculine form and a feminine form. But ironically, by now linguistic gender is not socially gendered: “dude”, “bro”, “guys”, “man”, “bitch”, “gurl”, “drama queen”… so many words that appear to be gendered are either just not, or are increasingly slipping out of their original use in expanded or facetious senses such that they aren’t any more. Nonbinary trans people are not infrequently taking on or retaining names without caring what they sound like. Unisex names have been around for who knows how long, and are not showing any sign of slowing down. Gender is not gendered.

Pronouns aren’t gendered. Though there does appear to be a rule that it is considered in poor taste for cis people to not use cis pronouns, there is not any practical difference between what terms of address nonbinary people choose. It’s like Digimon. Something like Renamon you could pretty much call he, she, it, they, what-the-fuck-ever, and all of them are equally poor approximations of the fact you have a big cryptic sagelike taijitu fox furry forged out of tough high-carbon internet standing next to you.

Is it any wonder we find ourselves scrambling frantically to try to find some kind of something that can justify our gender, be it a defence of skirts and style and lipstick; ‘tactical’ greygreen soap; representation in the media; a quest for power, quickness, and perception; or an angry rant on tumblr prompted by other circles of nonbinaries that appear to overshadow the validity of one’s own gender expression? I think one day we’re gonna discover gender doesn’t mean anything. It’s not even my fantasy of what I want for the future, I just think one day we’re gonna go back and sort through all this and go geez you know none of this makes any sense whatsoever, let’s just rewrite gender from the beginning. Just toss out the Articles of Gender Confederation and write up a proper gender constitution. I can’t even read some of this writing.

There’s one little thing I know, though it’s something of a sidenote to this, and that’s that I don’t agree with the idea that biological sex is gender in its own right. My (least) favourite list point, #7. The thing is, gender is pretty constructed. Your dog has no idea what any of your gender expressions are “for”. But biological sex is constructed for another reason, as more of a convenient schema we use to understand things—not a set of roles, but a scientific model.

Does this organism produce: many tiny energetically cheap gametes, or few large energetically expensive gametes?

We apply the words “male” and “female” across the board to try to understand homologies. One could argue that New Mexico whiptails are not in fact all female if female is the only sex they have, but the truth is, these lizards don’t exist in a vacuum and we call them “female” because they’re closely related to other species of lizards which are “female” by the exact same mechanism and also have males. Plants, we don’t so much have an excuse to call male and female, as they (probably) aren’t even homologous to the male and female sexes we share with mammals. However, you could argue that it makes some sense to call them that on the basis of convergent evolution—mosses have swimming gametes, similar to mammal sperm cells; “eggs” inside seeds are big, you have to be equipped to infiltrate them. By putting together these two groups by analogy, we can compare the challenges they face. It’s also important to note that the male/female model is meant to apply more to populations than at the individual level. We have it to understand how large groups in a population interact (court, mate, fight, etc.) with other groups in a population. So it’s not really surprising that when you try to apply it too rigorously to individuals (just look at the split cardinal I linked[2]) it can fall apart.

In some groups like fungi that are just too weird for the “male/female sexes” schema to be of any use at all, we’ve wised up and used other words, like “+/-” and “a/α” “mating types”. For species like us, we just happen to be unfortunately stuck with “male” and “female” instead of some kind of esoteric A/B coding, probably as a historical artefact of gender and sex not being truly separated for a while. It’s pretty unfortunate, because it’s kinda like if literally every time everyone said the word “do”, every time, there was a confusion as to whether it actually meant “fuck”. Our behaviour and reproduction really kinda need separate words, which we just don’t have.

Personally, I think shying away from the concept of biological sex could really just make the gender/sex problem worse, because by telling people that biological sex is not legitimate, you give them an excuse to duck away from and be made uncomfortable by something that’s really pretty neutral, and trans people do not need more reasons to be uncomfortable. Way more important is to get across the full understanding that biological sex, although it’s a pervasive model, is just a broad model for understanding similarities in reproduction of different groups, and not necessarily a feature of reality. Instead of “female-sexed”, we might as well be saying “mating type B”, but we just don’t say that.

I think, on a slight tangent, that honestly this might well be what was going on with the thing with gem people having breasts per se or not: a model being unconsciously applied. I think people probably added them not because of anything related to gender, but because that seemed like the “realistic” thing to do. If realised, a form like that would undoubtedly include soft breasts, because that’s the way it always is in reality, right? If you were trying to design like CG (heh) Gems that were supposed to have all these realistic forms and textures the way they do in movies it would almost be hard not to think in terms of “and here’s boob”. Because we all know how science works. There are scaly things that should have freaky slit crocodile pupils and bony spikes, and never feathers. There are squishy things with tentacles and some of them come from space. There’s type with pec and type with boob. It’s something that’s kinda bothered me (and many other people too) about “realistic” renderings of Pokémon and whatnot—so often people just make them look exactly like one or two existing animals. Some artists manage to make amazing renditions that make each Pokémon look like its own distinct new animal, but, making up new anatomy convincingly is not easy at all. I can definitely excuse anyone who’d rather not try to make sense of Gems’ padded-but-not-exactly-breast-adorned chests.

I once remember seeing a headline in a suggested articles thing for an article that read “There is no such thing as a sex change”. I’ll confess that I didn’t read the article (though I think I did quickly skim it out of curiosity), and when I tried to google it recently to read it all I found was transphobic mumblings about how sex changes were pointless, unlike the article itself that was on a site which was pretty trans-positive. Anyway, my impression of what the article was saying is that literally, who you are after the so-called “sex change” is who you always were, so to call it a change is not quite right. Personally I think that kinda bends logic. Isn’t transgender defined on the basis of your gender not matching your assigned sex?11 You can say the sex is assigned along with gender because honestly, particularly with intersex babies it becomes evident we do assign sexes as well as genders, but in the case of sex changes, you just can’t argue that the construct of sex is somehow gender and the sex characteristics, ungendered and neutral as they may be, never existed and were in people’s heads. All that said I do think sex change is a slightly weird thing to say, given its implication you just instantly go from one to the other versus the fragile and uncertain nature of sex as a concept while any of its elements are changing. We could just call them transition surgeries, and neatly sidestep the problem entirely.

I made another post that I came to somewhat regret, before the pronouns one.

You know I think I really agree that there’s no such thing as a fake gender. I thought about what gender means the other day when I was trying to come up with a way to explain Gender Zed to other people and I came to the conclusion a pretty decent if really vague definition of gender for me is what kind of people you understand and feel will understand you and that when you’re with you feel as if you’re with “your own”.

So, your gender can be “man”. It can be “woman”. It can be “banana”. It can be “robot”. It can be “mysterious and terrifying faceless monster”. If the mysterious faceless monster club where everybody goes by “nwhivx” is where you feel most in your element, you shouldn’t be ashamed to call that pronoun and gender your own just because you feel like you have to fit in with other people who aren’t your gender.

As you can see, I started with a pretty good premise in the first paragraph, but went way off the rails and came to the wrong conclusion. The thing with genders is they are supposed to be groups. The benefit we get from saying “I’m male” or “I’m female” or “I’m not” is to have some guide (if the roughest one ever) of who is similar to us. So, you don’t gain anything from being needlessly specific. Their purpose is to unite, and sure, if you’re too vague and unite yourself with the wrong group, that doesn’t help you any. But if you’re too specific, there’s a certain justification for people to call you a special snowflake: that’s literally what you’re unwittingly making yourself.

As a general rule, I think it is safe to say that if the thing you wish to put in your gender slot is genderless, you should just call yourself genderless or nonbinary. Doing otherwise in a non-facetious or -metaphorical sense is kinda like going to the store and going up to an employee and saying, “hey, I’m looking for whatever pomegranates are called”. (They’re… called pomegranates, honourable berry.) It does seem reasonable to say that there’s no such thing as a fake gender, but I think there can be such a thing as a bad gender label which doesn’t really “get it right”. There’s no such thing as a fake gender because gender is what exists before we give names or try to describe; to say there are fake genders is to say your real actual feelings and identity can be invalid. But labels are another animal. If you put a jar in the pantry and label it “highly spatio-distortive sono-radioactive dinosaur carburettor signatures”, people are going to get very suspicious of what’s in it. They do know it definitely doesn’t have spatio-distortive sono-radioactive dinosaur carburettor signatures inside (there’s like, 20 absurdities in that sentence), but the only other thing they can deduce is that you’re screwing with them. It would be much better to label the jar with what’s really inside—in plain English—such as pickles, peaches, or jam. Or genderless.

If, however, the mysterious faceless monster club where everybody goes by “nwhivx” is where you feel most in your element… you shouldn’t be ashamed to plaster faceless dreamaliens all over everything as a symbol of being genderless, or even use weird pronouns. Pronouns aren’t like gender labels, and it’s largely other people’s problem if they don’t like them; you probably know better than anyone else if it’s better to follow convention or good riddance to part with anybody who won’t accept them or not.

As I said earlier, even as I’ve found myself becoming oddly suspicious and disillusioned of other fictional heroes for no good reason, I’ve never come to mistrust Steven Universe a single time. And I don’t think there’s any chance I ever will.

There’s this emotion I’ve had forever that I’ve never been able to explain. It’s the reason Vergozsya the Monster of Compulsion is a thing I needed to tell a story about. It’s the reason I feel like free software and creative freedom are such an important thing, though getting into that in any more detail is a topic for another day. It’s the reason I believe in America as an idea, if not as a country right now. It’s the reason the literally one story of Ayn Rand’s I read, Anthem, struck me so much it made me go off on a huge phase where I was obsessed with “objectivism” (I would later change my word of choice to “objectivity” to better reflect what I was really talking about), and five years later when I actually went back and read the Wikipedia article to find out what Objectivism actually was, still kinda agree that if the whole philosophy was not necessarily amazing stuff and the main person was something of an asshole sometimes that there was something there at its heart if you really think about the main thing it was really trying to get at.

It’s like, you want to believe there’s some justification for the feeling you need love and support, that there is some solid reason we believe that things should be just and harmonic. That human rights come from somewhere and mean something. But there’s no real tangible sign of it. You can believe you have the right to be acknowledged and included but it seems like a stretch to say any single one person out of all the people that exist has to acknowledge you, help you, or even treat you well. It’s not really anybody’s obligation to serve you. It’s not the universe’s obligation to serve you. It’s not anybody’s job, ultimately, to prevent for eternity the entire ideas of liberty, openness, a quality-of-life standard, and such from being erased because it seemed like a good idea. No natural order or Great Magic (is that what Narnia called it? I don’t remember) is stopping, say, the UN from redefining the term human rights in destructive and chilling ways and the original meaning being forgotten. It really freaks me out whenever I catch anywhere a suggestion that something which is really important could just be something that you don’t have the right to because nobody understands, and you can’t explain, how incredibly important it is.

To give an example, many people who don’t understand the significance of the American National Security Agency (NSA) collecting data from every online place that stores data—and governments in both America and Europe pushing for the ability to read every communication via “golden keys” and nothing to be shielded from them by proper encryption—say that they aren’t concerned because when you communicate over the internet, you’ve given up the right to privacy, and that it is not unreasonable for law enforcement or similar of any kind to be able to search anything they want to. There is this thought that people should just stop looking suspicious if they want to be left alone and allowed to carry out their lives without suspicion. “Goddammit, stop suspecting me of being a terrorist” is not a valid thing to say.

So it is with human rights, and so it is with gender. You can’t really explain why it is that you should not be tossed into one of two arbitrary categories based on body build, and you should be referred to the way you say you should. No, it doesn’t really change anything, when male and female don’t really mean anything. It. It just feels right. I… I don’t know. Stop asking me questions.

We need somebody. We need somebody to just show up and say, nah everybody needs support and I love you. In previous eras people often looked to religion, e.g. Christianity. But progressively, in trying so hard to make the Good Book seem hip and amazing in stuff like really cheesy bible cartoons (see also: Captain Bible!), I feel like the plot kinda got lost. There is something about SU, or even Narnia with its stately lion jesus, that feels like it beats at their job every single forced corny bible cartoon or even stuff like the Monster Rancher anime where there was nothing Christian about it but because it was apparently still the 80s* they had to shoehorn in some very forced lip service to Values and the importance of Good and Kindness and Rainbows. (I watched this shit in Japanese listening to the Japanese and no dub can be blamed for this shit. It was painful to start with.)

SU on the other hand, does a great job at showing in unimaginably concise terms, in fact practically making it look self-explanatory, why you should be good to people. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need to wave your hands around and go on and on about why you, the impressionable child should surrender and be indoctrinated to the HOLY SPIRIT OF HOLY and that is why anything is, or why the bad bad of bad is bad and we the good goods of good are good because holy shit whew are they bad and we hate them. Religion is all right, and having principles is all right, but if you convince people religion is why they must be good you’re missing the point, and… I shouldn’t have to explain what’s wrong with dialogue so corny you find yourself simultaneously laughing and crying. No, all you need to do is show a terribly broken gem person not getting beat up for her own abusive self-treatment in the recognition she’s just trying to deal.

Some people think Birthstone Insurgency would be better without Steven.

I felt for a while like I couldn’t talk about my gender. Like if I talked about it at all, everyone would see me as a boring person with no life who only ever thought about gender. Somebody who should have taken a major in gender studies instead of biology and immediately checked out of everywhere cool.

But all of this was really important to get out. I felt like I couldn’t even be positive about my gender, because it would sound like empty, gratuitous words to anyone who didn’t know why it was important. Somebody would speak up out of a metaphorical second-floor window shouting down at me in the metaphorical street, “Nobody cares!“, and I would suddenly fall quiet, setting slowly back down the metaphorical road, many distant metaphorical street sounds in the rain later to ascend the stairs to my metaphorical room, sit down, wrap my arms metaphorically around my knees, and just stare at the wall. People make fun of TED talks all the time because they look like some random person is just saying things with no context, or like someone wanted to share with you this great new way to cure cancer and end inequality they discovered when their son was playing with blocks that’s totally gonna work if we all put our hearts into it!

But a TED talk is a story. The purpose is just for somebody to get up on stage and share an important story of their life. The important research they spent the past year toiling over, the fucked-up shit they saw when they were living in another country and haven’t been the same since, the story of how they became who they are. If this particular speaker wants to change the world, they already did and are doing stuff to do that. They’re here to talk to you because no matter how confident, capable, or ingenious and insightful they are, a person needs reassurance that all their hard work, or triumph over struggles, or experience of the crazy things that go on in this world, actually happened and somebody cares. Otherwise it might as well have not happened. The hours of sleep you lost, significant amount of money you’re out while waiting to see results on your research, literal scars, who knows what you have, are just there coincidentally. And that’s why I had to tell my story. I’m not after you for calling gem people ladies, nor am I after you for using them as a symbol of gay pride. At all.

I’m not after anyone, except the people who would erase who I am personally. Or, you could say I’m after inner peace and self-actualisation.

I may not have the strength of the draft horse, the speed of the cheetah, and the wit of the falcon, but I am more than strong enough. Nobody can deny or re-frame away what I actually am on the inside. It’s done. I know what I am.

I am the rain, I am the drops that run down the glistening windowpanes
I am the storm that cracks through the skies and drives down the healing rains
I am the sprout that breaks through the calm and sheds the evening dew
The orchid in the canopy that feels the world renew

I am the sand that blows over the dunes under the noon sun most austere
I am the cry of the swooping hawk slicing through the mountain air
I am the blood and sweat and tears of all that ever were
I’m a totality, a personality, so much more than a mere “gender”

So let me spread my wings and be
Let me sound across the boundless sea
You can’t hinder me…



After I wrote this article I realised I did not do a good job describing what I meant by “genderless” and the Gems being “genderless”, so I wrote a short addendum. Also, I initially misused the words “homozygous”/”heterozygous” for sex chromosome combination thinking there wasn’t any better word, but later learned there IS a more correct word for that: homo/heterogametic! The more you know.