A conversation my friend kaz’s journal recently struck me as a particularly great way of illustrating not just the diversity and complexity of gender, but also the way some nonbinary people navigate their genders. Progressive organizations using illustrations to convey gender diversity classically illustrate gender as a spectral line—here’s male on one end, and female on the other, and here are all those ‘others’ somewhere between. This simplistic analogy isn’t at all accurate, and creates a false perception of what it means to be not male and not female in Western culture; we don’t lie ‘between’ two points on a binary, but rather at different points on what I like to think of as a gender map, because that’s a more accurate description.
On this gender map, one of the largest and most heavily-populated areas is Woman City—Man City is also present and well-populated. A network of complex roads, byways, and country lanes sprawls out across the map, though, meandering through places like Neutroisville and Agenderton and Genderqueer Heights. Many of these communities are large enough to have multiple neighbourhoods and smaller communities within them; Woman City is not a single entity, for example, any more than Genderqueer Heights. Some people settle in a given place and stay there over the course of their entire lives; someone might live in the Butch neighbourhood of Woman City, for example. She’s very comfortable there, she has lots of friends there, she banks there and does all her business there.
Others of us may relocate at some point in our lives; we might move, say, from Man City to Agenderton. And some of us are also forced to commute for work, doctor’s appointments, and other tasks. As my friend put it, ze’s often in and out of Woman City, as am I; doing shopping, work, and other things there. Sometimes we travel into Woman City for social activities and to meet up with friends. We’re out of towners and our driver’s licenses don’t have Woman City zipcodes on them, but we still spend a lot of time there as visitors.
Some neighbourhoods are very comfortable and familiar for us. I spend a lot of time in Femme Valley, for example; sometimes I stay with friends for a couple of days, I have a favourite doughnut shop there, and I know a fair number of the people you see around on the streets during the weekends walking their dogs and picking up the papers. Yet, I’m always aware while I’m there that Woman City is not my home. I don’t have anything against the residents there or anything, it’s just not where I live, and I know that I will head back home at the end of the day and park my car in the crooked little country lane outside my house with a sigh of relief as I shed the defensive armour you’re forced to wear while traveling, because I am home at last.
The thing is, though, that even though I don’t live in Woman City, a lot of what happens there affects me. Policy changes like increasing the sales tax or requiring parking permits will have an impact on me when I travel there, so I keep track of politics in Woman City and even participate in political activism related to things happening in Woman City. I’m invested in what happens in Woman City because I’m a frequent visitor, because I have a lot of friends there, and because so much of my life happens there that major developments really matter to me. I have a rental unit there, for example, and I want to make sure I keep track of property rights issues.
Viewing gender as a map, I hope, expands people’s understandings of gender, because anyone can potentially travel along one of the roads between connecting communities and spend time in different places. People may move at multiple points during their lives, drift between several places couchsurfing, or feel conflicted and torn between two places. Gender is not a straight line with neatly fixed points, and all of these communities are under constant construction. Things are being torn down and built up, gardens are being planted, landscaping is being redesigned to be more environmentally friendly. Genderland is in a constant state of shift and flux because it’s a living, vibrant, real place, not a static entity. Borders move and communities radically change character because that’s the nature of groups of human beings.
I’m often assumed to be a resident of Woman City, and I’m affected by the policies put in place there, but I’m not actually a citizen. I just spend a lot of time there. If you wrap the metaphor back around to its real-world origins, my personal experiences as a genderqueer person involve a lot of time being read as a woman and forcibly passed as such, in addition to sometimes allowing myself to be passed as such for the sake of safety or convenience. That means that what happens to women affects me, even though I am not a woman, and it means I have a vested interest in defending women’s rights not just on an intrinsic basis because I support human rights and they’re important to me, but because things like legislation limiting access to reproductive health services hurt me, personally, on an individual level.
Every time I take a trip to Woman City, whether I’m hopping in the car to spend a weekend with friends or being stuffed into the truck of a sinister black car by some ominous men in suits, I’m venturing to a place that is not home, but is still, in many ways, very familiar to me. It’s my hometown. I grew up there. I can find the tree where I carved my initials when I was eight, and the swings I used to play on with my best friend. Some trips back are even a little bittersweet, and that’s okay. Ultimately, every time I go, the best part is coming back home to the place I really belong.