When questioning depends on pulling together a basis of comparison, and when stories to compare against are few and far between, it’s hard to really get anywhere. That’s what this post is about, essentially: gender questioning that remains patchy and inconclusive in part because of a culture of definitions over stories.
As I’ve talked about a few times before, for people like me, questioning cannot function as a purely introspective process. For me, “questioning” also means a process of assembly. To “question” is both to ask and to search for an answer to what is asked; it means comparing reflections on personal experience against a patchwork of impressions, and in order to get anywhere with that process, that calls for assembling a patchwork in the first place.
Assembling that patchwork can be a problem, though, depending on what you’re provided to work with. Even if you’re tipped off to the existence of an identity or a community or a concept, that alone provides very little information. A real depth of understanding has to come from personal narratives — stories — and introspective writing or reflections more generally. These things are shared in varying different amounts by various different communities, and some more than others make an effort to round them up, to organize them, to make them easy to find.
For me, these discrepancies are a part of why my gender/orientation questioning process has crystalized around orientation labels even as it’s stagnated on gender. It’s not that it’s hard to find people talking about gender, of course, since there’s certainly a lot of that. In my case, the difficulty lies more in finding enough talk gender identity in a way that’s helpful enough in delineating specific gender identities from each other. What are people even talking about when they talk about “having” a gender? The picture is murky.
To make that picture any clearer, I’d need to process a large quantity of stories, to piece together a collage that gives me a more solid sense of what an identity “looks like,” so to speak, or is lived like. I’d need to be able to compare how various different people navigate these things, to trace what the commonalities are, to bring the bigger picture into focus. That calls for personal narratives (not just general definitions) — a lot of them — and for them to be easily tracked down in the first place, not just dumped into a roving feed cluttered up with noise in the form of other, less substantive stuff like a million flag designs.
So, as I said. Stagnated. Whenever I’ve looked, it’s often been too difficult for me to find where people are talking — actually, substantively talking — and so I just give up. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places. I wouldn’t know. More recently, I have occasionally used “quoigender” as a way to categorize posts like this one, but is that how most people use it? How does that compare? I wouldn’t know.
In this post, I am essentially lamenting a lack of access to stories, and so I have contemplated what stories of my own to share here. There were a few different ones I considered. For now, though, I’ll just keep it at this.
This is a general outline of how these things tend to go: I stumble across some term or concept online. I think, oh hey, here’s a promising lead. I wonder what else I can find out about it. And so I look it up, and the answer is nothing. There’s nothing. There’s a definition (and probably an unnecessary flag design), and that’s it. So I leave empty-handed, and once again I’m left exactly where I started.
The specifics here don’t matter, because the overall shape of the thing is what affects me. All these little lures feel like false promises to me, suggesting more to be uncovered, but ultimately opening the door on an empty room.
It’s lonely. I want people to know that. For every act of chucking an undercooked notion out there without follow-up or discussion “in case it helps someone,” there is the risk of baiting some poor wanderer with a mirage, and it feels lonely. Doing the wordsmithing part up front doesn’t help me. I want to find connections, not vacancy.
In the past, when I have tried to express a kind of neologism fatigue, I’ve run the risk of people misunderstanding me. It’s easy to mistake that kind of thing for just general opposition to labelsmithing, after all. I understand why, but that’s not actually what I’m getting at here.
What I’m getting at is that this is exhausting, even for someone who does earnestly consider many neolabels in the process of questioning. How am I supposed to differentiate between any of these things when — going by definition alone — it would seem like there’s so much potential for overlap between them? How am I supposed to figure out what to go with? It’s simultaneously too much and not enough information. Dozens upon dozens of these little splinters that create the false impression of leading somewhere, with not a single indication of why any of the people involved thought what we already had wasn’t enough.
Being kept in the dark about these things is disappointing because considering what identification means, if I identify with any given word, how am I supposed to know what exactly I’m invoking beyond the superficial level of aesthetics? How am I supposed to know what/who it is I’m describing myself in relation to? Where do I find the stories?
As I said, maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places. I wouldn’t know. All I know is I want to piece together more of an understanding than I have here and now. I want better than a maze of dead ends.