On being your agender friend

This post was originally written as part of my process of coming out as agender. I shared it with family and friends on January 1, 2019. Coming out is an evolving process, so I’ve since adjusted it to keep the details up to date.


You might have known me since I was a kid. You might have just met me in the last few months. Either way, it’s likely that until now, I’ve let you assume that I’m someone I’m not. As tough as it is, I want to be real with you.

The thing people assume is that I’m a woman. I’m not a woman, and I never have been. I’m something else entirely.

This fact is confusing to many people. We don’t yet live in a world that’s very willing to accept people like me. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. If you care about me and are interested in understanding, I wrote this for you.


A few TLDR points:

There’s more about all this stuff below.


What does it mean to be agender?

Agender simply means “having no gender.”

I’ve heard other agender folks describe their experience like this: there’s a part of peoples’ minds that tells them “I am a man,” or “I am a woman,” and for an agender person, that’s just absent. There’s no sense of belonging to either of those groups.

To agender people like me, gender feels like a performance that humans seem to require of each other for no comprehensible reason.

Agender is a specific identity that fits under several umbrella terms.

You might be unfamiliar with the lexicon around gender, orientation, and sexuality, so let’s cover a few major definitions that will help you engage in the dialogue.

Transgender

This term includes the community of people who were assigned a gender that isn’t really them when they were born. It’s often shortened to trans, and it’s represented by the “T” in the term LGBT. It’s the antonym of cisgender, which is someone whose gender does line up with the one they were assigned by doctors when they were born.

Nonbinary

This term includes the community of people whose gender is outside of the gender binary (strictly man or woman). It’s a subgroup of trans.

There are binary transgender people (people who transition from male to female, or from female to male), and nonbinary transgender people (people who transition away from binary gender).

Agender

Agender is one of many different nonbinary identities. It’s unclear how many nonbinary identities there are—they’re still being uncovered. (Genderfluid is another you may have heard of, in which someone’s gender varies depending on the day or situation. This is an extremely different experience from my gender, which has never changed a bit my entire life.)

How did I know I was agender?

Typically people associate gender with biological sex. But gender and sex are two different things. Gender is a social role construct, and sex is biology.

You might think that anyone born in a female body (like I was) is a girl. As I’ve heard many cisgender people say, “those are the facts.” But facts aren’t always so conveniently black and white. Like most things, with gender, there’s nuance, and there are outliers. (Not to mention the biology isn’t so straightforward either—many people are born with combinations of male and female sex characteristics.)

When sex and gender line up and confirm each other, it’s easy to think of them as the same. And those things seem to line up just fine for most people.

But for many people, those things are at odds with each other.

For example, in my case.

As a kid, I’d be trying to just go about my life, but I’d be constantly getting in trouble for not acting like a girl. I didn’t like the right things, move in the right way, say the right words, put on the right clothes. I had to act completely unnaturally at all times if I was going to avoid punishment. My gender was constantly being policed.

I learned what airs I had to put on to avoid being mistreated, but my real self didn’t go away.

I never had a word for what sort of person I was growing up, and I didn’t know there were other people like me.

As confusing and complicated it might seem to cisgender people, I’m so grateful to live in a time when we’re actually developing language that helps us describe gender identities that aren’t just man or woman. Otherwise I would probably have to keep my real self in hiding my entire life. (And I know that’s what nonbinary people in the past usually had to do.)

Gender-neutral pronouns

A big issue among nonbinary people is pronouns. The English language has “she/her” and “he/him.”

There’s been a movement to adopt the singular “they/them” pronoun as a gender-neutral one. For example, “Adrien forgot their wallet.”

Not everyone is accustomed to using this pronoun, so it can take some getting used to. It’s not that it offends me when people use the wrong pronouns for me, but it always hurts a bit. I could just take the hit, and I often do—that’s actually a lot easier to do than asking people to use my correct pronouns—but because language really does shape thoughts and minds, I try to do my part in helping normalize they/them pronouns. Not just for myself, but for others like me.

There are two main reasons it’s best when they/them pronouns are used for me:

  • They aren’t dishonest. “Her” or “him” just have a strange sort of fakeness when I hear people refer to me with them. (Yes, people do think I’m a man sometimes. It feels just as weird as it does when people think I’m a woman.)
  • I care about helping the English language evolve to be more accepting and friendly to people like me.

It’s OK if you struggle to use they/them for me. I’m not judging you if you get it wrong. It just hurts. I can take it, and usually do, but it’s nice when I don’t have to.

I wrote an article to help people learn about using they/them pronouns.

Gender-neutral names

Lots of transgender people change their name as part of their transition. I changed my name to Adrien.

I also use a gender-neutral pseudonym as an artist (Lurm). I started sneakily using that name for a while before I even came out as agender.

We’re part of something bigger

I’m an individual human in a subgroup (agender) of a subgroup (non-binary) of the transgender demographic, which is already only 0.6% of the population.

Add to that the fact that a lot of my connections were made in environments that those 0.6% of humans stay far, far away from, often for their own safety — conservative evangelical circles being a prime example.

That means I might be the only transgender person a lot of people in my life have ever known (let alone the only agender person).

I care about spreading love and acceptance. I’m hoping I can help share information that helps eat away at the ignorance that often leaves trans people shunned and demonized.

That’s why I want to help break down vocabulary, thoughts, and explanations for friends who want to understand.

Thanks for reading, and for your friendship, interest, and care. By engaging in this topic with me, you’re helping to carve out space in the world for people like me to exist.

7 comments

  • Wow you are such a beautifully courageous person! Thank you for this eloquent and clear explanation. I am humbled by your honesty and humility and I hope to do my best in helping to carve out a world for you and other nb people to exist. Keep shining!

  • This may sound weird but how do you know you’re the gender you are? This has been bugging me for a while. I mean, the concept of male or female (when not refer to biological sex) is ambiguous to begin with, or maybe that’s just how I feel. Nowadays boys and girls sometimes have some traits, normally found in the opposite sex, and does that necessarily mean they’re trans? Like, are those traits even restricted to that gender or is it just common concept? I don’t really know how to express myself and I’m sorry if I offended you, but to me there’s no such thing as ‘mental gender’ in the first place and everyone is equal to each other.

    • You know, you might be agender, too. It took me a while to think of gender as a real thing, because I’ve never experienced it. I had to talk with a lot of people who had really powerful gender experiences—especially gender fluid people, before I was able to understand that gender is a real thing. It’s different from just masculinity and femininity; there are feminine men and masculine women, but they’re still men/women (respectively). It’s complex and mysterious. Talk to other folks about how they experience gender. I bet you’ll learn some interesting things. I sure have.

      • Thank you for your comment (I really mean it). Maybe you’re right, I’m still young and just too conscious of everything. I had always somewhat admired boys and wanted to be a boy, but as I got older, I realized that it was just something I wanted and not something I was. So I started to wonder, what makes a ‘boy’? What is the difference between a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’, if not refering to physical traits? I’ve constantly thought about it, and I’ve also talked to a lot of people, but none of them seem to really think about things like that. I don’t know if it sounds like I’m taking this too lightly – if it does, it might be because I lack the knowledge and experience, but believe me, I really want to understand.

        • It doesn’t sound like you’re taking it too lightly. It sounds like you’re genuinely curious, and are pursuing real answers instead of accepting whatever you’re told. Keep it up!

Recent Posts