Columns Dec 10, 2014 at 4:00 am

Gender Solid


What do you call someone who speaks of themselves in the third person using gender-neutral pronouns?
I'm sure there are people who are truly asexual. The question is whether we should call it normal, assume the asexual were born that way, and consider it politically incorrect to question it, or we should see it as a psychopathology that people should be encouraged to work their way out of.

Considering how sexually repressive our culture is, the latter is far more likely, though I wouldn't go any further than encouragement. Individual freedom still applies.
@1: I'd go with "I'm going to go refill my drink. Nice meeting you. Bye."
One thing I do know for sure, you will never win with the gender thing. It's like the gluten intolerance madness. There are genuinely people who are gluten intolerant and suffer from coeliac disease and there are the fad followers. Someone will always be insulted. Good luck
@4: I know of someone who is a gender-changer and gluten-free. This person is also a vegan. So many categories of insufferable.
Oh thank fucking Christ I'm too old to be hanging out with college students. The proliferation of ways boring suburban kids try to make themselves interesting would have me banging my head against a cement block.

Protip: when you're actually weird, you spend a lot of time trying to pass as "normal." Not because you've internalized ---phobia or somesuch, but because you want to get through your daily interactions in peace and being "normal" is the fastest way to go about it.
@5 lol, that is somebody I would describe as "used to know".
So, in August I took my kid to college orientation at U of O. There was a presentation by student leaders, about 25 of them, and each one got up and said, "Hi, I'm Susie Smith from Pendelton, Oregon. My preferred pronouns are She and Her." Finally, they got to the ONE person who said, "My preferred pronouns are They, Their and Them." the only problem I had with this was that it made an overly tedious presentation in a mind-numbing day of tedious presentations even longer. Isn't it okay for JUST the ONE person who feels that information is important for strangers to know to share that? Am I a jerk to think so?
Needed that laugh, Dan. Thanks for that answer to first letter. Hope you guys enjoyed the Christmas Party.
@8; what the? At an orientation.. What a funny country you guys live in.
Everybody is a Comedian.
What a perfect pre Xmas set of Questions!
It'll help me cope with this damn humidity.
Dan the Man: Thank you for your beautifully stated response on gender identity to LR! Your clarifications are greatly appreciated. It's also comforting to know that I'm not necessarily a jerk if I can't keep up with forever changing terminology regarding gender.

@3 seandr: LOL! That works for me.
@5:One person's insufferable is another's sanity, I guess.

@8 portland scribe: I'm with @10 LavaGIrl---what the--? Third person pronoun preferences presented at an college orientation? No, you are definitely NOT a jerk to think that just ONE person's expressed 3rd person preference is enough. That sounds like a totally exhausting orientation! Good luck to your kid's first year in college and beyond.

@11 LavaGirl: Merry Christmas, and hang ten, girl!

@1 - Do you mean what would I call them, or what would I call them to their face? Different answers.
Longtime Reader, you clearly do need more info about nonbinary gender. First, why now? Because it's possible now. I'm almost forty, and I've been agender all my life, but I only started identifying as agender a handful of years ago. What changed was I realized that I could and people might understand and respect that. What changed was I learned there was a word for people like me. But I've never had a gender. I just had to spend most of my life (so far) being uncomfortable and pretending.

Here's a bit of backstory to put it into perspective. I was identified female at birth and told I was a girl. When I was still very young, probably not even reading yet, I was seriously uncomfortable wearing skirts and dresses. I never told my parents why, because I knew it made no sense. But it felt like cross-dressing. I knew that dresses were for girls and that I was a girl, but it still felt like cross-dressing. When I got older, I learned about intersexed people (although not by that term). For years, I wondered if I was born intersexed, since I knew that when children were, they were not told they were. I didn't stop thinking that I might develop unusually or change gender with puberty until I started menstruating at fifteen years old. I spent a dozen years unconvinced that I was physically a girl. I then spent a while wondering if I was trans, but I only knew of mtf and ftm. And I gave it a lot of thought, but I didn't want to be a man, nor did I feel like I was a man. Man felt wrong and woman felt wrong. Sometimes I'd forget what my assigned gender was, but I mostly knew it like a learned fact I could recite.

I have always hated being referred to as a "girl", "lady", "gal", "woman" or any other similar gendered term, and I would sometimes insist I was not one, even though I couldn't answer what I was or get that taken seriously.

Now, I identify as agender, genderless, or nongender. I consider it a subset of genderqueer and part of the trans community. And having people respect my gender identity and even sometimes understand it is wonderful. Much as I suspect it is for any other trans person to not constantly be treated and labeled as the wrong gender. It has zero to do with clothing or masculine/feminine traits and everything to do with the fact that I am neither a man nor a woman. I do not have a gender.

And I think people like me have always been around, but finally we can sometimes be honest and open and understood. That is what has changed.
@8 "Isn't it okay for JUST the ONE person who feels that information is important for strangers to know to share that?"

I'm pretty sure everyone in the room dislikes when people get their pronouns wrong. You mean: "Isn't it okay for JUST the ONE person in the room without the privilege if being able to assume strangers will get it right to share that," I think.
Just another reason to be glad I'm old and from the era when the big question was "are they a top or bottom?"

And I just want to shake that Astrophy person and tell her no one likes an insufferable twit.
@2 Given that most human traits naturally exist on a spectrum, you would expect some people to be naturally asexual and for it to have no pathological connection. That doesn't mean that you can't have a problem that leads to issues with sex, and if you have a serious trauma in your past, then certainly you should get help for it, and if it ends up changing your views on your own sexuality, then that's fine. But having some people be asexual and mentally healthy is expected, so pathologizing isn't a great idea. Also, even if it is caused by pathology, I don't think pathologizing it helps. Better to encourage people to get help if they have had past trauma or are currently unhappy with their lives. The general guideline is it's a problem if and only if it is causing issues to the person who has it or is causing them to harm others. If you're leading a happy, decent life as an asexual, then it doesn't really matter how you came to be that way. Just as many kinks (spanking, rape scenes, etc.) are probably sometimes caused by either past negative experiences or significant fears, but if they aren't causing someone a problem and are being expressed in a healthy, consensual way, then it doesn't really matter. And some people who have those kinks probably have no negative experiences that led to them, but it doesn't really make a difference. Mainly, we need to stop telling people who are leading happy good lives that they are sick and doing things wrong just because they express their sexuality differently than makes us comfortable, whether it's BDSM, asexuality, or something else entirely.
Some things shouldn't be disregarded. I ignored my low genderfluid light for weeks and when I finally took my car to the shop I wound up having to get a whole new transmission.
I'm going to take this opportunity to try out a delightful new phrase I heard on the Lovecast a few weeks ago, regarding how to address people: Not my circus; not my monkey.

I don't pretend to understand all the nuances of this and I can't always keep up with the attitude de jour regarding gender and sexuality.


My mother taught me to respect people's wishes about how they wished to be addressed. If someone indicated that he/she/they/ze has a preference, mine not to reason why; mine but to honor that preference.
My two cents on asexual--if the person in question is on antidepressants, then being asexual is a normal side effect. It's not a pathology. Most antidepressants cause a drop in libido, especially at larger dosages.
So, I guess now that there's no unregistered comments / trolling that way, they're now going to create burner accounts with really stupid names, so they can say their really stupid things..?

(This is OBVIOSULY not any of you regular Sloggers, RE: 14, & that's all the attention I'm gonna give it.)

Dan: this column does Ann Lander's desk proud. The dances of gender & manners & pronouns is totally wearying, & I want to be respectful of people's choices. Thanks for wrapping solid advice in some festive snark. I've seen the gender line of folks younger than me blurring for years, & I look forward to time when the current constraints of gender are less, but our appreciation of each other on all stops of the gender spectrum is more. In the meantime..the pronoun tango continues.
@15, thanks from someone in the same awkward bucket (but at a different time in life.) I wish people could understand what you stated so well.
@23 Many people are starting to. As they say, "It gets better". It really will. It might get somewhat worse in some ways on the path to better, but I've seen such enormous progress on gay rights and acceptance in my lifetime and reasonable progress on trans rights and acceptance that I expect much more of both. And there's so much more discussion now. As people point out (often in annoyance) younger folk think about, talk about, and care about this issue.

My only concern is the saying, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." I think it's often true. But non-binary people are currently in a mix of ignored and laughed at. The move to being laughed at is progress, even if it doesn't feel good. But I am not looking forward to when people start realizing it's real, and thus start fighting it. Too many mtf and ftm people who have been attacked, raped, or killed in the "then they fight you" step. Non-binary people of all sorts will be at risk for that once people stop laughing and start fighting. But eventually, society will come through it all, and we will win. And people will understand, accept, and it can stop being a big deal. You can just get on with your life, have your gender recognized, but have it be no more significant than anyone else's gender. I don't know if I'll live to see that though.
"Culturally enforced gender norms are ridiculous, and the policing of gender expression/identity is oppressive and often violent."

But aren't you just reinforcing gender norms if you say "Men don't wear lacy panties (or whatever) and I wear lacy panties so therefore I cannot be a man I must be genderqueer."?
@uncreative (15, and 18): Thank you for that. Your articulate explanation of your own experience was the first time I've ever come remotely close to understanding what it might feel like to want to identify as genderqueer or genderless.

This is one of the reasons I like reading this column and the comment threads.

And Eva Hopkins @22, I know what you mean.

Lastly, good point, I Hate Screen Names @6, when you said: "Protip: when you're actually weird, you spend a lot of time trying to pass as "normal." Not because you've internalized ---phobia or somesuch, but because you want to get through your daily interactions in peace and being "normal" is the fastest way to go about it."
@25 That's a strawman created by the letter writer's lack of understanding. The letter writer seems to think that genderqueer people tend to identify that way because of minor things like wearing lacy panties. I certainly don't, and I doubt most genderqueer people do. Although I don't usually go into my whole backstory nor feel like I should have to justify my statement. I could go into more detail about years of questioning gender and my own gender and feeling uncomfortable with it... but people shouldn't have to. Give a person the benefit of the doubt and assume they have a good reason for identifying as they do. A good reason that often is personal and often isn't any of your business.

I do not go around to my friends who are men and ask them to justify why they feel I should accept them as men. Nor do I go around to my friends who are women and ask them to justify why I should accept them as women. I don't claim that it's just reinforcing gender stereotypes for them to accept the one they were born into just because some of them do fit into the expected gender roles in various ways. If someone says, "I'm a woman." I accept that.

I agree with nocutename @20 too: Not your circus. Not your monkey.
Just treat people with respect. Use the pronouns and labels they prefer. And spend less time worrying about why, unless you are honestly curious. And you don't need to even treat someone as a special snowflake for it. Really, my lack of gender is far from the most interesting thing about me in my opinion. I'd be quite happy for it to almost never come up and for social interactions to be about more interesting topics. It's people who don't accept it who treat such people as special snowflakes and then blame them by thinking they want to be treated that way. If you accept it and move on, then it's no big deal.
"DESPITE [emphasis mine] my near-helicopter parenting"?

No further questions necessary, m'lord.
@28: Yes, Mr.Ven, I got a chuckle--or was it a wince--out of that statement, too.
Mss Names/Cute - Well, I hope I'm weirder than most (I'm sure the majority of the assembled company will give me an excellent reference), and I certainly never made a thing about trying to pass as normal. Perhaps I'm just the wrong sort of weird, though.


by the way, @28 was just to opine about LW's parenting and general cluelessness, and nothing to do with ascribing anyone's sexuality to horrible parenting - or, given that I think we're still a bit short of the optimum percentage of asexuals, what might be considered good parenting.
Mr. Ven: I never tried to pass for normal either, but it was a combination of
(a) not being able to if I tried,
(b) coming to accept and then like the weirdnesses,
(c) not being, perhaps, as socially unacceptably weird as some people and having exceptionally good hygiene (I think people are far more charitable towards those who don't smell or leave behind a trail of grime).

And for what it's worth, I, at least, understood your point @28 perfectly.
GGT - as part of a couple? Or on your own? Because success rates as a couple tend to be drastically lower. Especially if not both hot. As a mid-20's female, you are likely pretty much universally fuckable. As a bi girl in your mid-20's, definitely so. Your odds are the best possible. Most people aren't working with those odds.
@27: I apologize if it seemed like I was asking people to defend their gender. I would never ask anyone to justify their right to a gender. I think that's my point. I think you can be a man or a woman and still do and feel X,Y, and Z that society tells you "women/men don't do". I guess I would rather see people stretch gender norms than step to the side and leave them intact. Granted, few people give a fuck what I want and you should feel free not to either. :)
@EricaP: Right, the ask is that one person set aside their personal peeve and take one for the team so as not to waste the time of hundreds of people assembled there.

Having known the kind of high-maintenance people who would jump at the chance of forcing hundreds of people to sit through a ritual dedicated solely to them, I've found that life got better once I cut those people out of it.

In any case, it was good to read @uncreative's comments. It's a reminder that this stuff is ultimately about nice, thoughtful people who are just trying to get a fair deal.
I teach college, and I am (in most appreciable ways) a heterosexual married male. If this had been the 1980s, or even the 1990s, I would be exactly that - but not because it is terribly descriptive, but because that is the only language I would have to talk about myself: a language of gender norms. We walk into a room and say, "Hello, ladies and gentlemen" - we ask new parents, "Boy or girl?" Following those norms doesn't make anyone evil or hateful - it is the language we have had.

Young folks, including my students, are trying to change that. It's revolutionary work, and it doesn't make for immediately intelligible language. However, they make it possible for people like me, in my late 30s, to explore and maybe find expression about my own relationship to other people, to intimacy and love, to political association, that simply wasn't possible before. Like any revolutionary movement, it has its share of needy, attention-seekers, but that's isn't the worst thing in the world (Dr. King, for instance, seems to have craved attention, especially from attractive women - that didn't make him less of a revolutionary). We shouldn't dismiss it, even if, at times, it seems ridiculous. I am learning a vocabulary to speak publicly about being not quite heterosexual, and not quite masculine. That's impressive enough to allow me to put up with some complex pronouns and categories. In 1900, we didn't have terms like "homosexual" or "gay," and people were forced to understand themselves with words like "sodomite," "invert," or "pervert." As a kid, I had "weirdo" (as well as a long list of gender and homosexual slurs). I wish I could have had the terms these young people have, even if I would have jettisoned some of them after a while. It would have been better.
@33 It's all cool. I just want to help people to understand, because I recognize that it is hard to understand. I've put decades into trying to understand, because I had to, but I know most people haven't done that (and many people haven't even been alive long enough yet to have been able to). But I still think you're not getting it. I didn't look at how I fit the gender roles and then decide I was nongender. My not being a woman is unrelated to what the role of women is. That's the key bit you're missing.

If you tell me that women can't climb trees or ride motorcycles or box or whatever other sexist crap you can think up, I'll tell you that's bullshit. If you tell me that men can't tend gardens or bake cookies or change diapers or wear dresses, then I'll tell you that's bullshit too. But none of that affects what I am.

I have friends who are women and they push the gender roles as women. I have friends who are men and they push the gender roles as men. But I can't do that, because I am not a woman and I am not a man. I am not trying to fix the gender roles (although if I could, I would); I'm just trying to be honest about who I am. To put it another way, if you are a man, do you think you'd be comfortable being labeled as a woman? There isn't anything you do that shouldn't potentially be a thing that fits into the "being a woman" category. So, why should you care if from now on you were called a woman/lady/etc. and people used she/her/hers sort of pronouns for you? Or if you're a woman, then what if you were labeled as a man and given he/him/his pronouns? I don't think most cis-people who want to be acknowledged as the man or woman that they are are trying to reinforce gender roles by doing so. I think they're just being themselves. I honestly think some people are men, some people are women, and some people aren't either. Some people are both. Some people vary what they are. I happen to be neither. And it's not because I don't fit into the "woman" role. And it's not because I don't fit into the "man" role. It's simply because I have never felt like I was a woman/lady/girl and I have never felt like I was a man/gentleman/boy. And it makes no sense to me to identify as something that I don't internally identify as. And man fits and doesn't fit just as well as woman, so what would you have me be?
@30, 31: Hmm. I went from not even knowing I was odd, to realizing I was odd and not caring, to noticing my oddities often upset and hurt other people (my oddities are not the cute or eccentric type), to trying to dial back my strange as a result. And now I work in a customer/client-facing field because the customers/clients have interesting problems that I like to solve, so I try to pass for "normal" most of the time.

Query whether being weird correlates to introversion. Being in social situations where you're constantly trying to prevent people from feeling their feelings all over you can be exhausting.
Thanks, uncreative, for the descriptions and explanations. I don't feel I completely understand, but it makes for interesting thinking.
@38 I don't think I completely understand yet either. Society as a whole is just starting to try to understand these aspects of human variation, so it's pretty difficult. I truly hope that several decades from now it'll be much better understood, the vocabulary will be clearer, and it'll all be simpler for people to deal with. We're just stuck at the early times of trying to understand, and that's tough for everyone.
So, no unregistered comments on any of the threads?
Great you registered gnot.
" feeling their feelings all over you" nicely put @ 37. I find the feelings of places can get too intense for me. When I go down to the Gold Coast, to visit with my mother, I sense the intensity of so many people living there. And a darkness, too. I always assume, that I'm picking up the unhappiness of some of the people living there.
That's why living round more trees than people suits me fine.
@30 Dear Ven - It's easiest to work with others from a common ground. Learning to play down differences that disorient others when you want to work efficiently is a life skill imo.

PAUSE/asexuality - I'm really not sure if asexuality is an extreme end of the libido spectrum or the sexual equivalent of an eating disorder. On the one hand, people's libidos vary... but that's usually from monthly to daily+. On the other, people are 'built' to live long enough to reproduce successfully. The genes that survived until today were passed down through countless people who wanted to reproduce enough and survived long enough to succeed at it. It seems wrong to lack the desire for good conditions for survival and reproduction. An asexual person is not hurting anyone else, but is asexuality healthy? Having no libido seems different than a weird specific preference or dislike. It could be a medical symptom. I think I would ask my kid exactly what she means by asexual and consult a doctor if it's an actual complete lack of libido. Maybe she does mean that she's abstinent for now but that's not what she said. If she is exercising, socializing, forming and maintaining close platonic relationships well, and generally happy and healthy on a good track then there is probably no cause for concern but I think it's worth talking more about. Scarleteen if she's confused about sex.

OOPS/genderfluid - I accept the parts I have and what a person possessing these parts is usually called, it doesn't feel wrong to me. I don't really understand the difference between gender identity and physical sex characteristics that some people hold. I don't have to, to honor the preference of those who feel differently when requested.
Wednesday night, here. " The Good Wife" is on. So, does Finn and Alicia , you know, like, get it together.. How quickly she's moved on from Will.
No long drawn out grieving for this gal..
I will never be able to use they/them/their to describe one person. All I can hear is the plural clanging Grammar trumps identity for me in this one. Othet than that, I can try to be pronoun flexible.
Um. It's who-the-fuck knows, not who the fuck-knows. I hope no one else, or no-one else, addressed this up to this point because I didn't read very closely. It's late.
@44. yes, you will.
Oops. Sorry @44. Didn't realize we were in a gender discussion. Thought the their as a singular nongendered pronoun had to do with grammar. Nevermind!
LR: I am 43 years old and, although assigned female at birth, I have never thought of myself as a "woman". I am definitely even less of a "man", however; the closest my 20-something self got to a gender identity using the terms available at the time was "androgynous female." If today's young people have the vocabulary to describe their not-entirely-female/not-entirely-male gender identities then good for them, I say. Something positive has come out of the internet. Now stop judging.
@44: I know it's difficult for pedants like us, but not using the name or the pronoun someone prefers is disrespectful. So you have to force yourself, I'm afraid. People are more important than words.
I can't help but find this tiresome. I know we have a long way to go before trans/gender-whatever identities are widely accepted but I really can't wait until we get past all this crap and can just move on to 'hi I'm so and so'. Because seriously, who gives a shit? Good people are good people regardless of their gender id.
@42: Wow. Pathologising someone for having no interest in sex? No wonder so many asexuals stay closeted. If she's HAPPY, what's the problem? Why go for a medical diagnosis? Many people are happy not to reproduce; have no interest in sports; don't drink, etc, and no one tries to force them to. Why tell this young person there's something wrong with her and try to force her to be sexual? Honestly, she'll suffer a lot less heartbreak than the rest of us if she has no interest in sexual relationships. If she changes her mind later because she meets someone who turns her on, then great. Until then, why make an issue out of it?
Easy: Accept people as they are, treat people with respect as a default, defer to their self-identity, and realize that there are people out there who'll get horribly offended and self-righteous given any mistake even by their most well-intentioned allies.

These people are prats.
I haven't come across anyone wanting to be called them/ their etc.
Thinking about what if feels like to feel like being female- I don't get a self reading on this at all. Where does one feel female or male?
I have never followed any " feminine" notions of how I should be in the world. Though, being a mother- my body has sent me off in certain directions.
Maybe coming of age in the late 60s, when women were throwing off culturally defined notions of how a woman is, I just slipped thru.
The conditions now, seem to have swung back to defining and containing women, again.
M? Scribe @8 - In the context of an already lengthy day of presentations, one can easily empathize with the thought. But it would largely defeat the purpose of the exercise to singularize unconventional choices.

I think it's part of an attempt to generalize pronoun preference as a widespread part of introduction. It's a standard part of the intro on a podcast called Sex For Smart People, although there are just two hosts and a small number of guests.


As far as respecting people's pronoun choices, I can't recall finding any difficulty in avoiding using pronouns about anyone whose choices unsettle. We all recall Mr Savage's encounter with the student whose preferred pronoun was "it".
If someone told me to use the pronoun "their" for a single person, I would say "oh, are you quantity-queer too?"
@45: I read that as a joke, because it's in the context of hyphen-confusion.

Thanks, uncreative, for your thoughtful description of your experience. For those still trying to wrap your head around what uncreative is saying, I will note that the comment about how being called girl/woman/lady/etc was grating or irritating, reminded me of how, when I was married, being called "Mrs. __________" made me feel icky every single time. Every single time, but that was an "accurate" name for me, until I got divorced and got my real name back. And I know people who hate it when people still call them by the nickname they were known by 20 years ago. If you can think of parallels that have nothing to do with gender, it will help to imagine the experience. People don't like being referred to with terms that don't fit their felt, internal sense of identity, whether that's a pronoun, a "Mrs.," a nickname, or whatever.
uncreative, BiDanFan, and MameSnidely,

I'm genuinely curious, and hope I'm not beig disrespectful, so please forgive any clumsy blunders on my part--they're not intended maliciously, maybe just cluelessly.

I am fascinated by uncreative's eloquent descriptions of what you feel that you're not. How do you you see yourself? Is it just as a person? Is it something else, too? Do you believe that you have a more impoverished or an enhanced experience/sense of self, or merely a different one than someone who feels like a man or woman? From uncreative's descriptions I can see feeling left out of something, but I can't tell if that bothers you--it doesn't seem to--or if you feel that you have something else. If you divorce the notion of gender from gender norms and roles, if you believe and acknowledge that any human experience is open to and possible for for any human being (men who cook or nurse, women mechanics and firefighters; men knitters, women football players, etc.) then what do you ground that "feeling like a man" or "feeling like a woman" in?

I'm not trying to be snide or to defend old gender norms or roles. I'm trying to see where I get my sense of being a woman comes from or if that is different from my feeling of being female or my knowledge that biologically and genetically I'm a cis-gendered female. It makes me wonder where this sense of ourselves as gendered comes from, beyond culture. Because your experiences show that it isn't from culture. I wonder if people who feel undgendered are very subtly different at the chromosomal level or in some other biological way or if their intrauterine conditions were slightly different than the typical.

Do you identify as your biological sex, like male or female, or do those terms fail to capture you, too?
Which pronouns do you prefer?

Thank you for indulging my questions, and know that they were meant respectfully. I hope I haven't offended you and I apologize if I said something hurtful or stupid.

I'm confused about gender-fluidity. Isn't saying you're sometimes a man, sometimes a woman reinforcing gender stereotypes? Why can't you be a woman who sometimes does/feels things that society typically denotes as male without being male? What makes a person's gender fluctuate toward male that they can't do/feel as a woman? Like sex? Being piggish about it? Playing with super heroes? Climbing trees?
@35 (Capella): Great point.
Growth is rarely easy or elegant. It's often awkward and uncomfortable. Think about pre-adolescents and kids at the brink of puberty and right beyond: gawky, with teeth, hands, feet too big, chubbing up before that growth spurt that will slim them out again. All that once-cuteness seemingly gone. And then suddenly, they're possessed of the stunning beauty of youth. All my daughters' friends at 15, 16, 17, 18 look like supermodels; all went through that "awkward stage" at 11, 12, 13, 14 (I assume they were all adorable as young children).

It's kind of larval. And I guess we as a culture are in a larval state when it comes to a full understanding and embracing of the many facets and expressions or non expression of gender.

We'll emerge from this cocoon someday and be the more beautiful for it. In the meantime, thanks to those who force us to grow up. Sometimes growth is painful, too. Hence the term "growing pains." We're in the midst of them.
I have a simple rule for navigating the gender and sexual preference gauntlet. Refer to people as they wish to be referred to. If someone wants me to refer to them as "he" "she" "they" or "it," that's what I'll do. Even if I don't understand where they're coming from (and as a cis heterosexual white male I'm not the minority in anything) I'll still give them the respect of being referred to as they would prefer.
@56: ManxsomeFoe, I felt icky being called "Mrs." when I was married, too, but it wasn't because I didn't feel married somehow. I didn't change my name, and have always used Ms., so my objection was that the honorific was incorrect Mrs. Who? Not Mrs. my-husband's-last-name, because it wasn't mine and not Mrs. my-"maiden"-name-which-had-never-changed, because that implied I was married to someone who shared that last name, which wasn't the case.

In my case, the label "Mrs." gave me a very specific identity I didn't think I had, but in the greater sense, I absolutely had the identity of wife or married woman, so my irritation sprang more from logical and feminist soil than from a sense that I wasn't someone's wife. I don't feel like the analogy applies, though I applaud your attempt at one.
@ 19 Laughing out loud!
But people do try to convince non-drinkers to drink and non-sports players to play. Convincing the uninterested happens all the time. Religious conversion or just telling teenagers that they'll love Herman Hesse if they just gave him a try.

As near as I can tell, asexuality is real, but it's not nearly as common as people think.

It used to be that sex wasn't talked about much out in the open, and there was something vaguely embarrassing about admitting to having a sexual appetite. I don't need to go into the problems associated with that system, but I can think of an advantage or two. If you weren't interested in a particular person at a particular time, especially if you were young, you didn't have to offer an excuse. Turning down a date was seen as somehow virtuous. Now with the freedom to have sex with any number of partners, it's that much harder to carve out space for oneself, hard to say no and make it stick.

Look at all the old excuses. Used to be getting married put one out of the market. Now it could easily be "I know you're married, but have sex with me anyway." Used to be being straight or gay or in a relationship could do it. Now that's as likely to be answered with "how about a threesome" or "give me a try".

I'm growing sympathetic with the people who want to think about sex at their own rate and without pressure and need a no-pressure space to do it in.

Next question. It makes sense that asexuality would apply to men and women, but the examples I run into are all young women in their late teens and 20s or slightly older women following a divorce. Anyone have any better statistics than that?
The Mistress does not understand what all the fuss is about.
The Mistress has her own rules about pronouns, and the Mistress enforces those rules in many amusing ways.
First, when referring to the Mistress, you are to say, for example, "Yes, Mistress Joan" or "No, Mistress" (although the Mistress suggests you think long and hard before saying "no" to the Mistress, as she does not like anyone telling her "no' and (according to the First Rule of the Mistress, "The Mistress is to be obeyed.").
Next, when referring to yourself, the Mistress does not permit the use of personal pronoun. Instead of the word "I" you will say "This miserable worm."
Finally, if you are speaking to some other person, and that person says something like "My preferred personal pronouns are they/their." You are to reply, "My Mistress does not permit me to speak ungrammatical English. Thus I will be referring to you as 'Idiot.'"
@63 about female asexuality, I think the pathologizing might be about normal female emotion rather than normal female sexuality.…

With one of out four middle-aged women taking an antidepressant, I've got to wonder if our American idea of "mild depression" is simply normal human emotion for middle-aged women. At any rate, it's no wonder that cohort is earning for itself the reputation of asexuality, as women are more likely than men to feel the libido-dampening effects of antidepressants.

We chastise Islamic countries for their repression of female sexuality, yet American women are put under tremendous pressure to take antidepressants and hormonal birth control, both which depress natural female libido.

Some may argue that it is better to be asexual and not depressed, and that viewpoint makes a lot of sense. Yet, I believe that there must be a middle ground of women who might have what some might classify as mild depression which in other cultures might be more accepted as a normal emotional state.
The 'cis-' prefix is the most ridiculous aspect of this hypersensitive gender trend, and that's not even a pronoun. But when someone is eager to find offense, to imagine slights from their allies, and to ghetto-ize themselves into ever-reducing factions of semantic silliness -- it becomes ever more effortless to just dismiss the complainers outright. Surely they could trade-up for bigger and more interesting hobbies?
To GGT: Threesomes seem to happen naturally to you because you're the hardest part to find. I don't know the details of yours, but for every FFM threesome that starts in a bar there are probably a dozen FM couples that were hoping for one that go home without.

There's a reason you're referred to as a unicorn, you know.
@6: 'Protip: when you're actually weird, you spend a lot of time trying to pass as "normal."'

Hmm. That was one of the plot points of Dexter.
I trust that the people who object to using "they" for a single person also use "thou" when they are speaking to a single person. Because "you" is every bit as plural as "they".
@51 "Until then, why make an issue out of it? "

Why would you rule out a medical problem? I don't know the numbers but it seems to be far more often the case. Your assumption could be dangerous to your kid. I'm sure a doctor would have a better checklist of signs of health than the one I gave.

If it's clear it's not a medical issue and causing no developmental problems, and the daughter is not confused about terminology but happy and healthy with no sex drive, then there is nothing to do but accept her asexuality gracefully. Better safe than sorry though.

I think it would be sad if she were calling herself asexual mistakenly or as a coward instead of owning abstinent, is it wishful thinking that her mother assumes the self description is incorrect? It seemed a bit insulting to me.

I think I was wrong to mention the trauma symptom possibility and I should have used lack of appetite instead of eating disorder. It's much better for a mother to focus on encouraging healthy choices than psychoanalyzing their daughter.
I am only comfortable if I am addressed in Icelandic pronouns. Only an asshole wouldn't know Icelandic.

My roommate is a man who likes to sleep with women. That's very common. You wouldn't think it needs a label. But sometimes it's convenient to call him "straight," even though that involves applying a label to majority behavior. The term "straight" is especially useful for contrast when discussing people like me who aren't.

"Cis" just means "not trans," and if we're going to talk about trans people, it's really practical to have a word that neutrally describes everybody else.
"... or we should see it as a psychopathology that people should be encouraged to work their way out of."

What we do is leave them the fuck alone. If they don't want sex and / or relationships, that's their business.
I'm always puzzled by people whose first reaction to learning something new is to run to an advice columnist to verify it. Is it somehow more difficult, time-consuming, and less anonymous than simply doing a Google search? Or is it only true if an advice columnist tells you so? So many questions!

I remember a woman who wrote in to Dear Abby or something because she overheard her tween son and friends talking about "twerking" and she was in a panic that it might be some new sex game. You'd think it would be easier and less nerve-wracking to simply Google "twerking," rather than waiting for your letter to appear in an advice column.
@Capella: That's great, although to be honest, my main takeaway from your post is that it's important as ever to make sure neither of my kids end up graduating college with an unmarketable Mickey Mouse degree.
@69 thanks -- much more eloquent than my draft.

Re the analogy to "Mrs" -- some of us are old enough to remember the brouhaha when feminists objected to having to choose between Mrs. and Miss. Does anyone objects to "Ms." now? Times change. If you can get used to saying "chair" instead of "chairman" and "firefighter" instead of "fireman," then you can also get used to new pronoun usages.

That said, my feeling is that the current approach is too hard: if people's pronouns can't be identified by how they present themselves, then they don't serve the function of pronouns and just become another kind of personal name we are supposed to remember.

Think about Esperanto. Despite an enthusiastic campaign, Esperanto has not been adopted as a major language by most of the world. The barriers to adoption are too high and most people's motivation is too low.

Our culture could easily adopt a third set of pronouns (signs point to 'they/them') for when you're not sure the person uses the pronouns that seem appropriate to an outside observer. But I'm dubious that in fifty years we'll all learn someone's pronoun at the same time that we learn their name and use it thenceforth. Perhaps pronouns will become a form of intimacy: people will show they are family or close friends by remembering your specific pronouns (the way nicknames serve now).
@44, pick up a copy of Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia O'Conner for a grammarian's take on the history of they and their as singular pronouns.
Whenever a genderbore starts telling me about their fifty shades of identity, I reply to every statement with "I have a huge cock."

OK, I don't really do that. But I will if I must.
Speaking of honorifics, it would also be nice to have a gender-neutral honorific, for use in writing to people whose gender is not obvious from their name.

And having gotten that far in my thinking, I googled "gender-neutral honorific," and learned that there is one:…
@uncreative: Thanks for the further explanation. I'm still not sure I get it on a philosophical level but it's not really important that I understand or agree with other people in order to respect them.

My roommate in college was (and remains) asexual. It was hurtful to hear from her mother that it wasn't "a real thing", or to bemoan the lack of future children, or consider her "deviant" in some way. Don't worry about her missing out on any thing: my roommate was and is very happy and fulfilled, a generous, funny person who is an incredibly involved auntie to adorable nieces and nephews, a creative writer, an animal lover and activist, a compassionate human being. She doesn't waste her time on "drama" or romances, but shares her passions and efforts with friends and family alike. These are great people who will surrounded by loved ones, co-conspirators, and comrades their entire life.

On the other hand, I was staunchly "abstinent until marriage" until I realized that the only thing I wanted to be abstinent from was sex with BOYS. =) In either case, I think the bottom line is that we don't want you to bug us about it. Let it be and trust that your kid is starting to make all those wonderful independent decisions (and mistakes! and newly realized dreams!) about what makes them happy in life.

My roommate in college was (and remains) asexual. It was hurtful to hear from her mother that it wasn't "a real thing", or to bemoan the lack of future children, or consider her "deviant" in some way. Don't worry about her missing out on any thing: my roommate was and is very happy and fulfilled, a generous, funny person who is an incredibly involved auntie to adorable nieces and nephews, a creative writer, an animal lover and activist, a compassionate human being. She doesn't waste her time on "drama" or romances, but shares her passions and efforts with friends and family alike. These are great people who will surrounded by loved ones, co-conspirators, and comrades their entire life.

On the other hand, I was staunchly "abstinent until marriage" until I realized that the only thing I wanted to be abstinent from was sex with BOYS. =) In either case, I think the bottom line is that we don't want you to bug us about it. Let it be and trust that your kid is starting to make all those wonderful independent decisions (and mistakes! and newly realized dreams!) about what makes them happy in life.
Treat other people how they want to be treated. If my friend wishes for me to call them by a specific name/pronoun/whatnot.... i will do my best to do it. But that same friend better not throw a fit if habit gets the best of me from time to time. There seems to be a correlation between a person's need to be universally accepted on their own terms and their ability to get incredulous about it when those terms are not met. If we are not allowed to make assumptions on anything....daily life is going to get even more tedious than it already is.... Personally, i don't think it is disrespectful to make assumptions based on someone's outward appearance. Its only disrespectful if that person gives you their preference and you choose to ignore it.
@64 "The Mistress does not understand what all the fuss is about."

Listen kid, you want to stay in character out here in the real world, have fun. Don't expect anyone to play along, but knock yourself out. But you finished it off with some straight up bigotry, and that shit is not welcome. It is especially unbecoming from someone who is evidently in the BDSM community. Learn about gender identity and learn about gender expression, because you need to tighten up right now.
It may help to have a post specifying that abstinence is when you manage sexual urges without a partner, and asexual is the lack of sexual urges.
How is this revolutionary, as a poster claimed above?
Nothing about this rejection of ones own sex( not roles etc), but ones sex, just seems a bit sad to me.

@85 my understanding is that asexual people don't experience sexual attraction to others, but some of them do enjoy masturbation:…
Dan, you fucked up with this one. I'm often a fan - I've been reading your column since high school, am friends with your friends, hung out with your dog, worked with my pal Tracey with your son at Bumbershoot, my girlfriend works with you, and I'm sure you've seen me around. I'm hella gender neutral (though that's shifted in my life because gender is weird and we get imprinted with all sorts of contradicting internalized expectations), and, for the record dear jerk commenters, I'm gluten free because when I have gluten, I get really fucking sick. Why does anyone care how other people operate their bodies?

People in the gray zone of gender need more support and validation, not less. Looking through so many of these comments was absolutely excruciating, and you're the one who gave the assholes who aren't okay with anyone outside of rigid binaries the green light to feel justified in that feeling. Yeah, some folks are poser jerks who are loud, but those will show up in every scene. Giving them focus really does everyone else a disservice. You fucked up. Fix it.

Also, Terry cut me off at a stop sign at Aloha last week. Can you let him know that right of way yields to the person who was actually at the stop sign first? Actually, I don't care, it was kind of funny. Just one point -- I'm your neighbor. I'm disappointed. Fix this. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I'm a small half-caff, half water-process decaf soy latte, extra hot in a large cup, no foam, no whip with nutmeg and cinnamon and a shot of sugar free hazelnut syrup. Please address me as such. What? You're just a regular coffee?
@86 cont; Must remember to not post before morning coffee.
" nothing about this rejection of ones sex, seems revolutionary to me".
@88 how cosmic is that? Coffee, is a great word.
That's it. I'm outta here. Meant @89.. Though 88 is such a great looking number.

Asexual female here to let you know that it is entirely possible to be born libidoless, without any trauma or pathology involved.

40 years into this existence, my quality of life could hardly be improved. I do not lack for deep, fulfilling social connections or have to grope to find meaning in my career path. While I respect the importance of sexual relationships to those around me, I never feel like I'm missing out, or somehow incomplete, by not having them myself.

As many other posters have said, there's a broad range of healthy, stable options in the grand spectrum of human sexual preferences. The preference to opt out is certainly among them.

Pronouns are one of the greatest sources of ambiguity in the English language. If gender-whatevers can help eliminate them they will be doing it a great service.
@57 I am delighted to do my best to answer interesting and well-meant questions. I only represent one nongendered person. But I do think one example is better than none.

I think of myself as a person. I don't know why from a very early age I didn't feel like a girl. Primarily, my brain just doesn't like gender. I spent years asking people what makes someone a man/woman? What is masculine/feminine? I was totally on-board with throwing out gender altogether. But... I got better about trans rights. Ironically, being genderqueer made me worse about trans rights for a long time. But, in my defense, I grew up during a time when "transgender" wasn't even a term I ever heard. I had trouble understanding how someone could "feel like a (wo)man", and mtf and ftm seemed deeply rooted in wanting to be one or the other. To me, being female meant precisely two things: I might have the capacity to become pregnant and bear a child and being attracted to men. (LGBT rights - not a big thing during my childhood. I got better.) So, I didn't understand being transgender, because surgery wasn't good enough to change which gametes you made or to give people the ability to get pregnant, and while I did understand it for people who were attracted to the sex they were identified with at birth, I heard of transgender people who were attracted to the sex they weren't born into... which made zero sense to me. But then I started talking to people, mainly cis people, and it turns out, many of them do have some attachment to their gender. Many do "feel like a woman" or "feel like a man". It's even a meaningful part of their identity. And I don't see why they'd lie about that. I have zero clue what it means to "feel like a woman", but I know that my friends who are women mainly do seem to do so. And I know that those who "feel like a woman" do not become uncomfortable when referred to as one. I figure there is some sense of gender some people have and I do not. But I don't think the lack harms me; it's just a difference.

I know that when people were explaining mtf and ftm people to me, I heard the question, "Well, imagine if you woke up and suddenly were in a man's body... how would you feel about it?" And my reaction was either, "Who cares?" or "Well, my partner would no longer be attracted to me, so that would be a mess, but other than that..." or maybe a bit of, "Well, I might want to be able to get pregnant some day, so losing that ability would be unfortunate, but on the other hand, not having a menstrual cycle would be awesome." Apparently not the expected reaction that makes the point about how significant it is to be seen as the man or woman that you are. I've got a body, and it is usually identified as a woman, but that feels very arbitrary and unrelated to who I am. I've always really felt more like my body was the home I lived in than that it was me. So, putting so much importance on some physical details feels wrong. I just don't feel like I'd be any less me or all that different if I had a penis and testicles. And I have gotten far enough in trans acceptance to understand that body parts do not define gender. So, there's really nothing about me that pulls me to either gender. Nor do I know what would, other than the societal norms that I don't think make sense anyway. (splitting into two comments as it won't let me post due to length..)
... The only reason I accept gender for other people is that I find it highly implausible that there is a vast conspiracy to create an artificial notion of gender with countless people lying to me about feeling like they have one and countless people going through tons of hardship to switch from being viewed as one to the other. It just doesn't make sense to accept so much discrimination if gender doesn't actually have meaning to some people.

As to biology, I am XX, although there's no way to rule out more than one set of DNA. But I am probably not that weird genetically.

As to pronouns, I'm fairly flexible. I prefer people not always use she/her with me, because it feels too much like just forgetting that I'm not a woman. I'm fine with people flipping randomly between she and he for me. I'm fine with they (if the singular "they" was good enough for Shakespeare and the King James Bible translation into English, then it is good enough for me... and the backlash against the singular "they" is actually historically based on the rejection of feminism, when people started to rewrite history to pretend we hadn't been using the singular "they" for centuries, so fuck that), and with modern invented gender neutral pronouns. I'd probably be fussier about pronoun usage if I were younger, but I feel like trying to be accepted as nongender by people my age and older is enough of an uphill battle (although some of my friends are great!) that fighting for pronouns is more than I want to do. As people mention here, the younger folk do discuss and embrace this, and the older folk do mainly laugh about how silly it is to think you're genderqueer (if they have even ever heard of the concept).

And I'm on board with the "it's exhausting". And I'd say, it's even more exhausting for those of us who aren't cis. And I don't want it to be exhausting, not for cis people and not for me. I hope someday society moves past the exhausting early steps of acceptance. I hope that answers questions... I don't have a lot of practice trying to sum this up in words and explain it to others.
Labels, I hate ' em. Hetero, Bi, Gay, Queer, White, Black, men, woman, on and on. Hey, being in the right, place at the right time, with the right person, you'd be surprised what you may do. I'm sexual. I'm human. That's enough for me. Get over it...
Uncreative. Surely how you feel is how it feels to be a woman?
Because you are a woman and you feel.
I think that the whole "attention seeking" thing is a little unsympathetic and unlikely. I am transgender, but that doesn't give me any sort of special super powers when it comes to interpreting all of the different gender identities out there, however, it does give me some insight as to why there are so many different terms.

I am female bodied but have identified as a guy my entire life, but have no plans to physically transition as it does not suit my purposes. I am extremely integrated into the gay male scene, but that said, rather than identifying as a football player or macho type guy, I fit in best with the more effeminate theater major types.

For me, it's pretty clear guy that I identify as being a guy and fit in with the theater major types, but I can easily see where someone else in the same situation might find it a bit murky that they don't want to transition their bodies and are hanging with feminine guys.

I think that when people use all of these different terms for their gender, they are just struggling to find a language to either interpret or to describe very nuanced situations that aren't black and white. Gender is, after, more of a spectrum than a binary, and I think that the proliferation in terms just comes from an attempt to articulate something that we don't really have a language for, yet.
@99 I considered that argument, except that I feel absolutely zero attachment to being a woman and an active rejection of it. And I feel exactly as much a man as I do a woman. So, on what basis am I not a man? I can find no argument for how I am a woman that does not apply equally well to how I am a man. So, how does me being a woman make any sense?
Looks to me like your ignorance has trumped any real experience or education on these matters (again) I suggest doing some more research.

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