When I was 14 years old, I told my friends about my uneasiness regarding being a girl/woman, and how I wished I weren’t one. Fast forward a decade later and I still don’t know where to stand regarding my gender. I am definitely not cis-gender but I’m unsure about transitioning and going through a potential gender reassignment surgery. I am not trans either. Thankfully, I am not the only one. Recently, the singer Shamir has attracted attention for openly talking about having no gender or sexuality.
There are many terms for people like me: genderless, genderqueer, etc. Agender seems the most fitting. Agender people, by definition, are neither cis, nor trans. They have no gender identity, or one that is neutral. Agender is still a topic seldom talked about, and the only faces that represent the community are white.
Selfridges opened a pop up concept store a few months ago, selling gender neutral clothing designed by Faye Toogood, who has her own gender neutral brand as well, called Toogood. However, not every agender person can afford to buy clothes that cost a few hundred pounds. The other alternative (which I do often) is simply buying men’s clothes.
I decided to talk to other fellow Black and mixed-heritage people about what it is like to be agender. Among them is Naadu Enya, an Afrikan/white mixed, queer, agender artist, poet and activist.
“As an agender person”, she tells me, “I experience a lot of erasure in the trans* community and I am not always taken seriously when speaking to my transition since I don’t feel the need to access physical gender affirmation procedures. I feel safest when people around me are not assuming my gender identity and when I am in spaces specifically for Black trans* folks and BIPoC trans* folks (though these spaces are hella limited).”
“I have known that I am trans* for 5 or 6 years and have been out specifically as agender since the summer of 2015. To most people, I identify as trans* first then later identify as agender to those who I feel are worthy to know this information. When I discovered my trans* identity, I came out as ‘genderqueer’ and then to the realization that I was agender after a lengthy conversation with my partner who is genderfluid and their experience of having multiple genders. During this conversation. they asked me what my gender feels like. At that point, I was identifying as gender nonconforming without much internal or spiritual reflection. I moved away from identifying as genderqueer since this term no longer felt appropriate. My response to them was, “To be honest I don’t have a gender: I am just Naadu.”
Some agenders come out, others don’t. It can be mentally tiring to have to educate people on a subject most don’t know because it affects such a small part of the population. Indeed, I stress that coming out is in no way an obligation, and shouldn’t be considered if one’s safety is at risk.
Naadu came out, and for hir, like so many of us, it is an ongoing process. “I am constantly meeting and getting to know new people all of the time and so I am constantly sharing my queer & trans* experience. I don’t feel like it’s “coming out”, it is more as an attempt to shatter/dismantle the cis hetero patriarchal assumptions placed on all of us. I acknowledge that “coming out” is a privilege not all of us can access and I can speak to my queer and trans* identity openly/privately without fear of physical violence and other forms of oppression faced by my other queer and trans siblings, because of my ability to be read as cisgender, being able to pass as white and having nonvisible disabilities. I am grateful to be able to speak my truth as a queer and trans* person and continue to do so because I believe it is important for queer and trans* people, especially Black queer and trans* people, to see folks like themselves living unapologetically. The family I grew up with take my gender identity with a grain of salt. However, my chosen family absolutely supports and loves me.”
When it comes to gender, Black people are terribly stereotyped: Black men are supposed to be “hyper masculine”, the embodiment of patriarchy in a society where traditional gender roles makes little sense. As a result, many feel like their identity as men is under threat, and react by attacking women. A lot has been written on the devastating effects of hypermasculinity on black boys and men.
The gender stereotypes for black women are even worse: black women are supposed to be “too manly” as if we were some kind of too strong beasts. As a result, many tend to be hyper feminine, to reject these stereotypes.
It explains why some Black agenders have their identities invalidated because of such stereotypes as well as being afraid to not be taken seriously.
Being black and being agender is a valid identity, and even more so, because, like Naadu says, for thousands of years before the docking of the first slave ships to my Motherland, there had always been what the colonizers labelled as “gay, lesbian, queer and trans” people & we were valuable, loved and celebrated. I feel that being agender is a direct connection to my Blackness & Afrikan heritage.
Naadu tells me that “Being a Black/mixed person, I am still learning how to honour my Blackness and strive towards Black liberation and decentering white narratives in all that I do. Under whiteness, I am seen as exotic, sexually desirable and delicate; something to be owned and consumed. I don’t experience most of the stereotypes pertaining to my race and skin complexion that a darker skinned Black person would experience.”
Studies have been made about how the western notion of binary didn’t always apply to Afro-Caribbean people. There is the existence of a third gender in Africa. Ancient Egyptian gods such as Orus and Atun didn’t have a sex or a gender identity. In Kenya, the Shoga, (meaning “gay” in Swahili) describes men having sexual relationship with the same gender in exchange for money. However, the shoga’s status is complex. They have a high rank in society. Shoga tend to blur the gender lines and have “masculine” and “feminine” traits.
Gender is like a stamp put on us as soon as we arrive in this world and for those of us who try to challenge it, the road is long.
The beautiful thing about being agender, at least from my point of view is that, our feelings towards one side of the gender spectrum is constantly changing: one day we may feel more feminine, the next day more masculine despite the fact that we know how flawed these notions are. This is, at least for me, the reason why I am not cis nor trans because I simply want to go beyond the binary. I am myself, and even though I present as a woman and people see me as one, this is not my full identity.