I’m a youth who identifies as asexual. That isn’t my question. I was born female, and I’ve been binding for a while and identify as gender-neutral. But I’m afraid to tell others that I’m gender-neutral for fear of being told I’m wrong because I wear dresses. Does wearing skirts and dresses mean I’m not gender-neutral? I just think I look better in dresses than flannel.

Gender-Neutral Asexual Youth

Wear whatever you like, identify however you like, and refuse to engage with idiots who think they have a right to critique, dictate, or overrule your gender identity.

This week’s column on Savage Love has a letter from an “Asexual Youth” worrying about how to identify for other for fear of being criticized. Savages advice, given in his usual caustic style, tells her to screw everyone else’s opinion and do what she likes. In principle, I agree with him.

But the conversation made me think of the entire notion of gender identity, and the human need to identify themselves with other humans, with ideas, with groups. It is true that humans need to feel a sense of belonging. We are not made to be solitary and knowing our position relative to others provides us with a sense of certainty and comfort. But how important is it, really, that other humans understand and appreciate our identity and our chosen position in the groups we find meaningful? I am not sure.

I think this point is the main subject of the conversation between gender queers and the relevant status quo. Just like an adolescent rebelling against his parents, before a group can be recognized for its own unique characteristics, it must prove that it is independent of the reigning categorization. Ideally, gender neutral, male, female, dom, sub, top, bottom — all these categories of identity — can exist simply as what they truly are, but first it is important that they establish themselves as distinct from what they are not. I think that is why the conversation of gender identity with respect to gender neutrals or gender queers bothers me so much.

Gender is important because people need to know how to react to each other. It is important for me to know what my gender is so that I can predict how others will behave towards me. I am a woman. As such, I anticipate certain overtures from the men I work with in the office, and I anticipate a certain degree of background murmuring from the women I work with. It is unavoidable, but in knowing that I am a woman, it is also manageable. If I were a man, I would have to behave differently as the world men operate in abides a different set of rules than the world that women operate in. But what of the gender neutral world? I claim it does not exist. Inasmuch as the society we operate in has a binary gender, the world we will face only has social cues to respond to one or the other.

It must be frustrating for one who truly believes their self to be without gender. How should they present themselves at a company party? Should they “man up” or flirt with the men? Should they gossip or rain chivalry on the women? But there is another side to this story, and that is of the company. People who have no concept of gender neutrality do not know how to interpret the behavior of a member of this category. Should we interpret their unwillingness to flirt as an unwillingness to be social? The failure to participate in men’s bonding rituals as disdain? Forcing an understanding of gender neutrality on others puts them in a situation of discomfort. And I find myself often wondering, why? Is it really necessary to do this?

Some cultures have a notion of a third gender. Ours does not. It is every individual’s duty to learn who they are, but also to recognize that you do not exist in a vacuum. You are a part of something greater than yourself. You are a member of a society that cares for you and expects you to abide its rules in return. It’s how we live together in a semblance of harmony. If you wear a dress, you are a woman. That’s what dresses are: women’s clothes. Even the transexuals understand this. It is prideful and self-centered to expect someone you do not know to understand your gender neutrality when you communicate to them in the social language of femininity, or masculinity, or whatever. Respect for your fellow humans means you have to make choices and then hold yourself accountable for the outcomes of those choices, whether or not you like them.