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Androgyny is a State of Mind

Androgyne (pronounced AN-dra-jine) is the term used to describe persons who are androgynous. Androgyny, first and foremost, is a state of mind, not just an attitude or fashion statement. The notion that only androgynous-looking people can be or are androgynous is a misconception. Androgynes can be said to have the gender identity of both a man and a woman -- or neither. Some identify with both traditional genders, while others see their identity as more of a synthesis and consider themselves to be agendered, as in "other" or "none of the above." Some androgynes go as far as to call themselves "gender outlaw" (a term popularized by Kate Bornstein).

Not All Androgynous People Are Androgynes

Contrary to popular belief, having an androgynous appearance does not necessarily make a person (an) androgyne. Many transsexuals are transsexual without looking at all like the opposite sex, and many androgynes are androgyne without looking the part. The word androgynous can apply to both superficial and psychological characteristics, whereas the word androgyne pertains almost specifically to gender identity, not to looks. Just as all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, all androgynes are (psychologically) androgynous but not all androgynous(-looking) people are androgynes.

Many psychological androgynes do not understand who and what they are. They may agonize for years, wondering how it is that they can feel androgynous if they don't look that way. Self-perception and self-identification are often problematic for androgynes because, in many cases, their androgyneity is not readily apparent.

Androgynes Are of a Non-Polarized Gender

The term transgender tends to confuse androgynes because it is generally polarized into crossdressers (formerly known as transvestites) on one side and transsexuals on the other. Setting the two categories up as opposites implies that transgender individuals either want to wear the other sex's clothes or else want to change their anatomy to match the other sex. Androgynes, however, may well want to wear the other sex's clothing, but they do not want to change their anatomy to match the other sex -- although some may opt for partial changes to make themselves more physically androgynous. What differentiates androgynes from crossdressers and transsexuals is that they do not identify fully with either masculinity or femininity: they are either somewhere in between the two, or they consider themselves to be something else entirely. Other names for androgyne (Greek for man/woman) are agendered, ambigendered, epicene, gender gifted, gender outlaw, intergendered (a term coined by intersex people), non-binary gender variant, nongendered, the third gender, and the fourth gender. Related but non-synonymous terms would be eunuch, bigendered (which applies mostly to crossdressers), gender bender, genderqueer, gender variant, hijra, neutrois, the third sex (which is usually a misnomer), transgenderist, and two-spirit.

The terms crossdresser, transgender, queer and even the seemingly more focused terms gender variant and genderqueer tend to be too vague in that they all have macrocosmic (umbrella) and microcosmic (specific) meanings. The term transgender is especially problematic in that it can imply that one changes from one gender to another, which in the case of androgynes generally does not apply: once androgynes find themselves, masculinity and femininity often cease to be polarities for them. At first, newly self-aware androgynes may feel a need to explore those aspects of themselves that they have long repressed due to peer pressure or self-censure, but once absorbed, the aspects are re-incorporated into the individual's identity -- which is a solitary persona.

Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity are Three Different Things

Key to understanding androgyneity is a schema wherein sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity are three separate and different things. Sex denotes one's gonadal makeup, where one can be male, female, or intersex (previously called hermaphrodite). Sexual orientation reflects the sort(s) of person to whom one is attracted for sexual purposes, where one can be attracted to males, to females, to intersex people, to any combination of the three, or be asexual. (The terms heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual are problematic for the intersexed because the intersexed are not always clearly male or female.) Gender identity refers to how one views oneself. A person can consider themselves to be a man (masculine), a woman (feminine), or androgyne (man/masculine and woman/feminine simultaneously, or neither).

Although sex and gender identity are two very different things, it is interesting to note that androgyneity, when conceptualized as intergender, can be seen as the psychological counterpart to intersex. Androgynes are intermediate in gender, while intersex(ed) folks are sexually intermediate. Basically, sex refers to what's between your legs, while gender refers to what's between your ears. That said, some intersex activists opine that androgynes have intersex brains (and that transsexuals are intersex on account of the relationship between their brains and their genitalia).

Pinpointing the sexuality of transgender people is difficult because there can be a double-vision situation in which one partner self-identifies and interprets the interplay of genders and sexes one way, while the other partner self-identifies and interprets it another way. An example of this is the non-op transsexual who considers relations with a same-sex partner to be heterosexual because of their gender identities, while said partner considers the relationship to be homosexual because of the sets of genitalia involved. An alternative to constructions of this nature is offered in the 2007 book, Bisexual Health: An Introduction and Model Practice for HIV/STI Prevention Programming, where bisexuality is defined as "the capacity for emotional, romantic and/or physical attraction to more than one sex or gender. That capacity for attraction may or may not manifest itself in terms of sexual interaction." This formulation could prove to be revolutionary because it not only distinguishes between sex and gender while combining the two, but eliminates the need to resort to the terms pansexual and queer.

There are Four Components of Gender

A misreading of the 1989 book Gender Trouble by Judith Butler is responsible for the widespread misconception among academics and activists that all gender is just a performance. As Riki Wilchins points out in the 2004 book Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer (pp. 132-34), what Butler really said was that gender is performatively produced. Performative is defined as an utterance that performs an act or creates a state of affairs, an example being the use of the phrase "I now pronounce you man and wife" to create a marriage. Butler herself refutes the notion of gender being just a performance. The phenomenon of transsexualism refutes it, too.

There are actually four components of gender: identity, presentation, performance, and role. Gender identity concerns how you think about yourself, gender presentation describes how you look physically and sartorially, gender performance pertains to how you act or comport yourself, and gender role refers to what you do for a living and what you contribute to the domestic sphere. Taken together, the last three components comprise gender expression. Gender identity is internal, whereas gender expression is external, and that is why not all androgynous-looking people are androgynes.

Getting People to Accept Androgyne as a Gender Identity Isn't Easy

For most people, the idea of an androgynous gender identity goes in one ear and out the other; it simply doesn't register. They see no evidence of it, never heard of it before, and assume they never will again, so the concept is rejected almost as soon as it is articulated. This cannot be emphasized enough. Even when the idea is reiterated, the reaction is usually the same: it is assumed to be faulty data. Society at large dictates that gender is binary, and androgyne is not one of the two binary genders. Convincing someone that androgyne is an authentic gender identity is difficult because people are programmed to believe that it isn't.

Even LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) people tend to assume that a third gender does not exist. Hate crimes against LGBT people are primarily based on perceived violations of gender norms, not sexual transgression, so you'd think that convincing LGBT people would be easier, but it's often not because they tend not to see the connection. Even androgynes have trouble discovering and affirming their own nature, no thanks to society's insistence on the gender binary.

Some Transsexuals are Not Really Transsexual, but Androgyne

There is such a thing as a transsexual androgyne or androgyne transsexual, but they are transsexual by virtue of GRS (genital reassignment surgery), not gender identity. One cannot claim to be a man or woman and still be (an) androgyne, because androgynes are of a third gender: they are either a combination of the two binary genders or the absence of both of them. They can't be (just) one of the two binary genders. One reason why the terms male-born and female-born are applied to androgynes is in deference to different sets of life experience, but another is to differentiate them from post-operative androgynes, who are not (trans)men and not (trans)women.

Some transsexuals are not actually transsexual but androgyne, yet because they don't realize nor understand it right away (if ever), they view androgyny as little more than a distasteful intermediate stage of transformation, until they discover the underlying androgyne nature within themselves, which often causes them to reevaluate their situation to the point of renouncing transition.

Androgynes Can Be "Tranny" and "Transamorous" at the Same Time

At one point, the common nickname for transgender individuals was "tranny," but the term has since split, creating a situation where most people use the term to describe gender variance in general, whereas TSs (transsexuals) tend to think the term applies only to them. The T community's (largely derisive) term for those who are attracted to trannies in the wider sense is "trannychaser," and it is indeed a problematic term (especially since it has been theorized that chasers are transgendered themselves) in that it seems to imply something akin to "skirtchaser," "ladykiller," "ladies' man," or other such "womanizer," but it has been euphemized as "admirer." The trouble is, there is as yet no commonly accepted term for those who have romantic feelings for transgender people, although the term "transamorous" seems viable. The partner of a transgender individual is referred to as a TGSO (TransGender's Significant Other).

It has been observed that androgynes do not have a "gender-based opposite." In light of the fact that many reincarnational theories hold that souls have no gender (they are neither male nor female, and that's why we reincarnate as both men and women), it can be argued that mutual attraction between androgynes is deeply spiritual.

Interestingly, this lack of a gender-based opposite frees androgynes to be both tranny and transamorous simultaneously. For example, when a male-born androgyne who doesn't know that sie is androgyne finds hirself attracted to drag queens and/or M2F (male-to-female) transsexuals and daydreams of dressing like a woman hirself, the situation can be frustrating because drag queens and transsexuals are generally attracted to single-gendered straight males. The androgyne mistakenly thinks that sie is attracted to male-born TG (transgendered) people when, in actuality, sie is not attracted to male-born TGs per se but to their androgynous aspects. It's not unusual for an androgyne to confuse a TG's external traits with idealized internal traits.

If You Think You Are Androgyne, You May Well Be

How do you know whether or not you're androgyne? It really boils down to what you yourself think. Do you consider yourself to have masculine character traits and feelings as well as feminine character traits and feelings to the extent that you feel repressed if you deny either of these for any extended period of time? If so, you may well be androgyne. It is a common truism that no one is entirely masculine or entirely feminine, yet androgynes' feelings of identity run deeper than this. For them, it is not a vestigial or incidental overlap of traits, but an inherent, vital component of their being. There are several online tests for gauging gender identity, but this site does not endorse them because it has been argued rather convincingly that the tests are skewed and deeply flawed. Nevertheless, these tests can be helpful in giving people at least something to go on in their quest to find themselves.

For female-born androgynes, it is often difficult to distinguish between "andro," "boi," "butch," "genderqueer," "F2M" (female-to-male transsexual), "queer," and "tomboy" because society's taboos against relatively masculine presentation and/or traits among females have relaxed over the years, as have injunctions against their wearing clothing of the opposite sex. When a gender variant female does not think of hirself as being androgyne, sie may nevertheless be androgyne; hir reference points and nomenclature come from a different place from that of male-born androgynes. One would think that there would be more commonality between male-born and female-born androgynes, but the two groups tend to grow up with different life experiences and perspectives.

Androgyne Awareness is Elusive

Androgynes are not easily quantified due to the vagueness of the nomenclature: no one seems to be able to agree on what to call them, but the terms genderqueer and non-binary gender variant are gaining prominence. Not only are the talk shows unaware of them, but most androgynes themselves are not aware of who or what they are. Much has been written and said about crossdressers and transsexuals, but little research has been conducted on androgynes.

In a way, androgyny is a double-edged sword. Those born with androgynous looks -- especially if they are not androgynes -- often wish that their gender presentation was unambiguous so as to not be teased, harassed or mistaken for the opposite sex, while androgynes born without androgynous looks (i.e. psychological androgynes) often wish that their gender presentation was markedly ambiguous so as to convey outwardly what they feel inwardly.

It has been argued variously that androgynes are not transgender(ed) in that they do not change their gender but remain the gender they were born with, that they do not crossdress unless they dress like men or women, and that if you define androgyne as someone who is half man and half woman, that could be interpreted as meaning that the person is neither man nor woman since 50% of one thing and 50% of another is neither.

Are Androgynes Genderqueer or Two-spirited?

There is the possibility that the term "genderqueer" might replace "androgyne." Like transgender, genderqueer can be an umbrella term or it can refer to something more specific. Generally, transgender can be said to encompass gender variance from crossdresser to transsexual, or else it can be used as a synonym for transsexual. Similarly, genderqueer can be said to encompass everything from crossdresser to transsexual, or else it can be used to describe non-binary gender variants specifically. Many argue that androgyne reinforces the gender binary by invoking the two polar genders in its very name. Some genderqueer and gender variant folk say that there are as many genders as there are stars in the sky. Genderqueer is a political term which strives to transcend and dismantle the gender binary both in concept and practice. And yet, androgyne has an inherent specificity that genderqueer does not because it directly addresses the man/woman dialectic and could therefore prove to be more durable in the long run. Non-binary gender variant is more specific, but it's a mouthful and pre-supposes familiarity with academic concepts.

The non-native temptation to use the Native-American term "two-spirit" (instituted in 1991) is great, but has generally been frowned upon by Native Americans, even though the term was created in tandem by native and non-native anthropologists. Historically, most two-spirits (then referred to indiscriminately as berdaches by non-native anthropologists) had the gender identity of an androgyne, displayed the gender presentation of androgyne, and lived in an androgyne gender role, and some even exhibited androgyny in the remaining component of gender (gender performance). Maybe sometime in the future, after the term's misappropriation by the native and non-native gay communities is sorted out, Native Americans will come to recognize non-native androgynes as two-spirits, even though the shamanic elements of the term tend not to be embodied by non-natives.

[In early 2005, an article about this website appeared in Transgender Tapestry magazine, which is a publication of IFGE (the International Foundation for Gender Education). The article is a more concise version of the essay above.]

Preliminary Links

click here to open folder Primary Links [click on folder icon to expand this section ] (over 100 additional relevant links)

click here to open folder Secondary Links [click on folder icon to expand this section ] (some related TS and TG links)


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This page first created 4/20/01. Copyright © Stephe Feldman, 2001, 2007 & 2013.
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