20 January 2008

What am I beyond human?

I suppose there's no point in being abstract and cryptic about it when 95% of my audience already knows exactly what I'm talking about.

This blog was intended to be about who I am, not what I am. Those of you who knew me before already know what I am, and those of you from the Whatever didn't need to know because who any of us are (other than Scalzi) is more or less irrelevant. I've carefully avoided specifying because I want my words and actions to be considered completely separate from any preconceived notions based on knowledge of whats.

But then we (the Whateverite side of the crowd) started having Group Blog Incoherence. And then we became Collaborating (Co-conspiratory?) Founders. And then it was only a matter of time before the Big Question came up to the spotlight. Am I "he" or am I "she"? Because of course gender matters, of course it's important. And of course there's a difference. A lot of people would like to pretend otherwise, but then it's unnerving not to know, isn't it? At some point as you want to know me better as a person, you start quietly digging around, scrutinizing and analyzing my posts, hoping to figure it out - or in one case, emailing me. Not that there's anything wrong with that, or with you - it's natural and human. Gender is one of the three basic defining characteristics of a person you've just met - so much so that it's part of a standard greeting in online chat ("ASL?" - stands for "age/sex/location?"); it covers what would be immediately obvious offline. There are people wandering around online who are actually incapable of proceeding with a conversation until ASL is first answered, whose minds are blown at the concept of doing such a thing. That's how basic it is.

So what am I? I thought I knew when I was two or three. That's when children first become aware of gender. But then everyone else told me I was wrong, and even my own body agreed with them. When I was eight or nine, I assumed I was one of those mutants that hadn't developed quite right, and when puberty hit, all would become clear. I would no longer have to play along.

Puberty hit. It didn't turn out to be the ending. It turned out to be the beginning of something that had no end at all. My body betrayed me again, everyone else went along with it, and the only reason I'm not dead at 16 is because I'm too much of a coward when it comes to physical pain.

There used to be a voice of protest in the back of my mind. It insisted that I wasn't what they told me I should be. It got quieter after puberty, and then it was overriden by the voice insisting that I merely didn't want to be what I should be. Fifteen years later the first voice had more or less succumbed. By then, when I finally discovered that transsexuals aren't, in fact, merely insane, that there are actual physiological bases underlying the condition - I'd been playing the part for so long that what I knew as a toddler was no longer right either.

So am I he or am I she? Sometimes I wish that English was one of those languages where the third-person pronoun was gender neutral. (I certainly could've evaded doing this post for far longer.) Neither sounds right to me anymore. Along the gender gradient between masculine and feminine, I'm pretty close to the middle overall.

I think at this point I can only conclude that I'm human.


Random Michelle K said...

That's a very difficult thing to deal with, and I wish you continued courage in your search for yourself.

FWIW, I'd guessed F, because very few males make a point hide their identity. They don't have fears of stalkers, so they'd never think that it mattered if people know if they were M or F. So the fact you were not stating your identity outright made me automatically assume F.

That said, your writing itself has never struck me as M or F. It simply is.

Nathan said...

I'm the one who (inadvertently), opened this can of worms, by defaulting you to male in one of my comments. I haven't the slightest idea what made me assume "male", since, in hindsight, you're right, you've posted in a neutral voice. Once again, don't know why I assumed, I just did. If I've caused tumult, I didn't mean to and I apologize. The last thing I had in mind was to cause anyone discomfort.

I'm fairly new to the whole idea of internet friends, but I consider you part of my inner circle. Since I'm not using the internet as a dating resource, the whole ASL thing is mostly irrelevant to me. I want to talk to people who I enjoy talking to. You're one of them. My criteria for who I want to talk to online is that they be (when appropriate), amusing, interesting, and thoughtful. I also like speaking with people who maintain a level of civility. ASL doesn't really have much bearing on any of those things.

Since I've lived (mostly) in Boston and NY for the last 30 years, I probably have more personal experience with openly transgender people than some others. Its not something I consider odd or surprising. I'll happily identify you any way you choose to be identified. After reading all that's been written, by you and the rest of us, I still have no idea about what gender you are. It really doesn't matter.

Writing this, I'm keenly aware of the how difficult it is to convey meaning and attitude online. Hopefully, I've conveyed that, as far as I'm concerned, you've made yourself welcome in my world by your words, and hopefully, I'll continue to be welcome in yours.

Anne C. said...

I'm one of the ones who quietly looked around for self-identification (more important than what you were born with, IMO), so I apologize for any sense of privacy invasion, if there was any. I found something you said about your appearance not matching who you are, and that's when I realized your identity was not related to your body's plumbing. And from that point forward you became MWT to me and not a he or she.
FWIW, I actually do not think gender is as important as some people think. Partly because of your example, but primarily because on of my pet-peeves is stereotyping. It's a shortcut, and like any shortcut, can make you miss out on a lot of interesting landscapes.
Thank you for this post, not because I needed to know (I figured that out), but because you are sharing something that must have been difficult for you to experience. I know you don't like hugs, even virtual ones, so I'll give you a big virtual smile instead... :)

Janiece said...

MWT, first let me say that I admire your courage in posting this. You have chosen to take what is essentially a very private matter and make it public. In doing so, you ask the larger question of how important gender identity is in our culture. It's an important question to ask (and answer), if we are to be honest with ourselves and root out our own preconceived ideas and stereotypes.

I will admit that I was the one that e:mailed MWT regarding this issue. I did so because I had made an assumption, and then had my assumption challenged by another poster's use of a gender-specific pronoun. I chose to ask directly rather than to inadvertantly offend by the use of a gender specific pronoun that may not have been appreciated. There was no offense meant, and to MWT's credit, none taken, at my directness.

As I previously communicated privately, being a decent human being is the only meaningful yardstick on which to measure a person. Based on what I know, you fit the bill, and your gender identity is clearly secondary.

Like Nathan says, you're welcome in my world, and I hope you continue to visit, as I hope I continue to be welcome in yours.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing something this personal about yourself, and your identification struggles.

I actually noticed your careful lack of gender identification, shrugged, and figured it wasn't important in the overall scheme of things.

You're interesting, you're accomplished, you're articulate, you have integrity... those are so much more important in a friend than whether you're a he or a she or an MWT.

I wish you well in the journey you're describing, and that the middle ground you've found has given you peace.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to note that you gathered a nice bunch of people around you and your blog Ner. (hm, my comment seems strangely out of place amongst the other articulate and caring one).

You guys are as fun as Ner's posts are to read!

Eric said...

I'm not sure what I can add to what's been said by others, except that I did want to be supportive, for whatever that might be worth, if anything.

I don't really consider myself a part of the "Whatever crowd," though I read Scalzi's blog and comment there a lot. You've very kindly posted to my blog, and I've added yours to my RSS collator so I regularly receive your updates. You seem--from your posts and blogs--to be a very cool human, and I hope that is sufficient: it does mean something, and being a decent human is much harder than you might think (trust me on that: my job brings me into contact with a lot of people who have managed to botch the whole "decent" part).

So, anyway, for whatever it's worth, you have my support and best thoughts, and my hope that you're okay and content.

MWT said...

Thanks for all the supportive words. At the moment I'm fairly comfy with who I am, and it's been more of a fun discovery than a struggle. I've actually explained my perspective on it before. ;)

Also, I want to make clear that I wasn't offended. It was going to come up eventually somewhere. Even if everyone here had gone by Janiece's method of emailing me, or quietly dropping all pronouns like Anne, someone would've still come along at some point to put it out in the limelight. It happens whenever people thinking "he" and people thinking "she" run into each other. ;) And I didn't really want to go the route of being all mysterious forever, as that has its downsides.

I've also not put any effort into genderizing/degenderizing my posting style (other than omitting pronouns, etc.). What you see is who I am. ;)

Michelle: So the fact you were not stating your identity outright made me automatically assume F.

Alas for all the females of the world who thought they could hide by doing that. ;)

Nathan: Jim Wright has been defaulting to male since the beginning, so you probably just went along with him. That'd be my best guess anyhow.

Anne: yay virtual smiles! :)

Janiece: Yeah, gender is more important at a subconscious level than people are really aware. But it's one of those things that looks seamless and invisible when you don't have the viewpoint of seeing it broken and not working right. It's hard to convey what I see, except by attempting demonstrations via purposely not specifying and watching how people react to it.

Jeri: :)

bakho: Yep, they're awesome. :) And if you've got time to poke around on other people's blogs, they're also all linked under "Whateverites."

Eric: I lumped you in under the Whatever crowd because that's where I first encountered you. You were giving history lessons to some idiot in a Heinlein thread, and from that I decided you sounded intelligent enough to keep track of. ;) But I'll stop calling you a Whateverite if you'd rather I didn't.

Shawn Powers said...

Miss a day, miss a lot! Please don't see my absence as anything more than not being around a computer yesterday. :)

First off, whether you knew the post was inevitable or not, it's one of those types of things that is very revealing and opens yourself up in a scary (albeit possibly freeing) way.

Secondly, thank you for clearing up the issue. For me, although I joke (me? use humor?) about things like the gender guessing program -- it's not really anything I need to know at all. I was just going crazy because you so consistently, seemingly by happenstance, omit any textual clues, that I felt silly not knowing. And, I figured it was just me. :)

Thank you again for your post, and I'm really glad you felt comfortable enough to share. It's a neat group of folks we have here, and I'm sure you realize any comment flak you might get anywhere will be met quite quickly with Janiece's shovel. We'll all take turns with it. :)

Oh, and enjoy your day off today. I had to come into work early. And when you normally go to work at 4AM -- early is friggen insane. ;)

MWT said...

I was just going crazy because you so consistently, seemingly by happenstance, omit any textual clues, that I felt silly not knowing. And, I figured it was just me. :)

Bwahaha! My evil plans are coming to fruition! >:) (Hmm. Now would be a good time to have a zombithrobbified Poofy...)

Random Michelle K said...

So the fact you were not stating your identity outright made me automatically assume F.

Alas for all the females of the world who thought they could hide by doing that. ;)

Well, I'm not sure that males have necessarily caught on; as I said, they'd never think of it. So as long as we don't tell anyone, they're fine. ;)

Eric said...

Nah, you can call me whatever you want. Whateverite, Jerkwad, Meatbag, etc. As long as there's not some kind of weird "Cult Of John" thing going on--the last thing we need is another science fiction writer deciding the easiest way to get rich is to start his own religion....


Nathan said...

Tania's gonna be on Jeopardy!

MWT said...

Heheh - I don't think Tania reads here. ;)

John the Scientist said...

Hmm. Like Nathan, I don't use the internet as a dating service (I'd be quickly neutered if I did - the second date with my wife was to the pistol range) so I actually never wondered much. The signals were a bit mixed, I guess, and your writing style is somewhat reminiscent of my friend Sean, so I guess you could say I assumed "gay male", but honestly, it isn't important.

You are you who are, which is one of us. That's good enough for me.

Tom said...

MWT, I'm another who assumed you were female based on how your posts felt, then was surprised when someone else referred to you as male. I just liked, and agreed with what you posted.

Then I came here and saw Siram. I said "Ah Ha! That's Maris backwards." Or maybe not. Just because I use Snave doesn't mean others use backwards names. And then I thought, "Sir AM? Aw hell, I don't know."

Now I think I don't care. I mean I do care, but not about what gender you are. Your posts felt female, but if you want to make some that feel male, that's all right with me. Or even just take the general human point of view.

I'm a male who likes women (a lot), but most of my relationships with women are non-sexual, friendly, and some even intimate. I've thought I have a bit more "female" in me than other guys, which may explain why I'm who I am. So I may join you in that general human point of view, sometimes.

And these "e" people (the CFU), I keep finding out things I really like about them (or, dare I say, us).

MWT said...

Oh, is that what Snave means? Neat. ;)

Siram actually started out originally as "Mars" spelled backwards, then modified a bit. I explained it back last September.

but if you want to make some that feel male,

Just to make it clear, I'm not consciously attempting to write as any particular gender. I'm just writing as me. Given the wide variety of interpretations from the rest of you, it seems my assessment that I'm somewhere about halfway between masculine and feminine is pretty accurate. ;)

Tom said...

After I posted, I reread, and it sounded like I was giving you permission. "I don't mind..." Not what I was thinking.

Since I was originally surprised when the gender I'd assumed for you was contradicted by what someone else had assumed, now I won't be surprised if some of your posts "feel" like they're from a male or a female, or if they don't have a feel one way or the other at all. Kind of hard to put what I meant into words. Not about your intentions, or any permission, more about my previous expectations and how they're now different.

So Siram is "kinda sorta" backwards. I like that. When I was looking for a domain name, backwards Evans was the best available, but only as snave.org, not .com or .net. When I would tell people snave.org, they'd go to .com or .net and complain that they couldn't find me. So I started telling them that snave was evans backwards, and org was gro backwards. That seemed to help.

My "e" all about me post was "Mot is Tom backwards." People have commented that backwards is pretty appropriate for me. Oh well.

All I really wanted to say was I liked and agreed with your posts. I don't need to know much about you to consider you an on-line friend, and that's good enough for me.

MWT said...

Thanks for coming back to clarify. I've done that before too, with the inadvertent permission-giving tone due to not being able to come up with better phrasing. I figured that wasn't what you meant. So no worries. ;)