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. 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:

  • I’m agender, which is a subcategory of nonbinary, which is a subcategory of transgender.
  • They/them are my pronouns.
  • I go by Adrien now. Adrien is my middle name, which I prefer to my legal first name, Laura. I also use a gender-neutral artist pseudonym, Lurm, which friends use for me as a casual nickname.
  • It’s OK if you have questions.

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.

I get that the lexicon around gender, orientation, and sexuality can be overwhelming, 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, and typically, at some point in their life, will transition to their real gender. This transition has a social component, and sometimes a medical one. 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 lines up with the gender they were assigned at birth based on their biological sex.

Nonbinary

This term includes the community of people whose gender is something outside of the traditional gender binary (strictly man or woman). It’s a subgroup of trans. It’s often used as the word enby (which comes from the initials NB for nonbinary), which is the gender-neutral version of “boy” or “girl.”

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. (Gender fluid 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.

I learned what airs I had to put on, 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.”

This pronoun use isn’t totally normalized yet, so it can be tricky for a lot of people to get used to. It doesn’t offend me when people use the wrong pronoun for me, but because language really does shape thoughts and minds, I try to do my part in helping normalize they/them pronouns.

There are two main reasons I think 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 like the idea of being part of 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, but when you use them, it feels like you see me and know me.

Gender-neutral names

Lots of transgender people change their name as part of their transition. I sort of did. I changed the spelling of my middle name from Adrienne to Adrien, and have asked people to call me that instead of Laura.

I’ve kept Laura as my legal first name, because growing up, I always just thought of it as my name. That means I just didn’t think of it as a gendered name. Unfortunately, just about everyone who isn’t me thinks of it as a very feminine name. I’m pretty committed to not adjusting my identity based on what other people think, though.

I prefer the name Adrien to Laura, but I don’t mind Laura as part of my legal name. Especially because that name comes from an especially awesome aunt of mine.

I also use a gender-neutral pseudonym as an artist (Lurm).

Summary: call me Adrien (or Lurm as a casual nickname if you want).

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.

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