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by Stephe Feldman
This article purports to be a comprehensive explanation of who and
what androgynes are. It took over twenty years for me to recognize my
androgyne nature, and much of the reason for that is the dearth of
information on the subject. Subsequently, I created a website,
Androgyne Online, at http://androgyne.0catch.com, to fill the void, so
that others might come to understand themselves and not have to go
through months of soul-searching and anguish like I did. Most of the
conclusions I reached are the result of exchanges with subscribers to the
firstname.lastname@example.org internet mailing list.
Twenty-five years ago, I became infatuated with David Bowie and
resented the fact that resentful because I didn't look androgynous
myself. Back then, I didn't realize that I was indeed androgynous
because I had assumed that one couldn't be androgynous without looking
the part. I realize it now, and yet there is no literature to support my
conclusions, only a grateful dozen or so people who have e-mailed me to
say how the my essay at Androgyne Online described them to a "T."
The following, then, is a description of a type of transgender
person called androgyne, -- unsupported by academic rigor and scientific
corroboration, yet warranted by the emergent visibility of a very real
class of people who fall outside the gender binarism of man and woman.
For those with a nagging need to know, I am a male-born androgyne.
With the recent ascendancy of the term genderqueer threatening its
currency, it has become necessary to explain the term and category of
androgyne before it's too late. Androgyne has existed as a term in art
history and religious studies for at least 200 years, and in alchemical
circles for perhaps 500 years. Up until the last century, the term was
used mostly to indicate hermaphrodism, but since in the abstract it was
symbolic of unity and transcendence, it was related to androgyny, too.
Androgyne (pronounced ANDRA-jine), from the Greek for man/woman, is
the term used to describe persons who are androgynous, but androgyny [it
is odd that this section was removed] can be 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 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, "other," or "none of
the above." Some even go as far as to claim Kate Bornstein's term gender
outlaw. Out of all the categories of transgender, androgynes are the most
misunderstood, because nearly everyone thinks that one must decisively
identify as either a man or a woman.
Having an androgynous appearance does not necessarily make a person
(an) androgyne. The word androgynous can apply to both superficial and
psychological characteristics, whereas the word androgyne pertains almost
specifically to gender identity. Indeed, it can be said that all
androgynes are (psychologically) androgynous but not all
androgynous(-looking) people are androgynes. Much in the way that many
transsexuals are transsexual without looking at all like the sex they
perceive themselves to be, many androgynes are androgyne without looking
the part. Unfortunately, most psychological androgynes do not understand
who and what they are and they may agonize for years -- if not their
entire lives -- wondering how it is that they can feel androgynous if
they don't look that way.
Psychological androgyny -- which is basically just another way of
referring to the state of being androgyne -- can be maddening. Trying to
display outwardly what is inside can be difficult, and the results are
often interpreted by outsiders not as "androgynous," but as "novice
crossdresser" or "non-passing transsexual," i.e. the dreaded "man in a
dress." Being born with androgynous looks is one thing. Trying to make
oneself appear to be androgynous is another. I myself can attest to
this, I assure you.
Androgyny is a double-edged sword, of sorts. While 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 another sex, those psychological androgynes who
are born without androgynous looks often wish that their gender
presentation was markedly ambiguous so as to convey outwardly what they
feel inwardly. It amounts to a case of the metaphorical grass being
greener on the other side of the fence, where psychological androgynes
and mono-gendered androgynous folk envy each other for attributes they do
not share. Some fortunate souls, however, both look and feel
Most androgynes do not don't realize their androgyne nature. This
is because there is not isn't a lot of data on androgynes as yet,; with
there are few studies, virtually no tabloid TV, and no movies on the
subject, but also mostly because androgynes generally don't experience
a mental breakdown or epiphany of self-realization like many transsexuals
do where they suddenly decide they either have to live their lives as the
"opposite sex" or do themselves in. Most androgynes live lives of quiet
desperation, never realizing who and what they truly are: neither men nor
Sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity are three separate and
different things. Sex refers to what's between your legs, while gender
refers to what's between your ears. Since gender identity refers to how
one views oneself, a person can consider themselves to be a man
(masculine), a woman (feminine), or androgyne. It has been observed that
since androgynes do not have a "gender-based opposite," they are
therefore attracted to each other, and if this is so, it frees androgynes
to be both "tranny" and "trannychaser" simultaneously. I suspect that
androgynes are predisposed toward trannychaserdom (or should that be
trannychasing?) because they identify with neither or both traditional
genders and therefore feel an affinity with people of mixed or unfixed
gender and/or sex. This allows androgynes much freedom, and in a way
lends weight to the term third gender, because since androgynes are
neither men nor women, sexual orientation isn't really an issue.
This corresponds nicely with some intersex individuals' claims that
intersex folk cannot be gay nor bisexual because they are neither male
nor female, -- which is interesting because androgynes can be said to be the
psychological counterpart to the intersexed. The term intergender(ed)
has been coined to reflect this, and some people go even further, saying
that androgynes have intersexed brains.
In the transgender community, a lot of lip service is given to
gender being a spectrum, continuum, or sphere, but in reality, these are
little more than glib statements that all too few people question or
otherwise examine. Transsexuals generally display a pattern of avoiding
contact with and otherwise invalidating androgynes because they view
androgyny as an intermediate stage (i.e a necessary evil) in transsexual
transitioning. Androgynes, by association, draw unwanted attention to
possible self-perceived defects in transsexuals' gender presentations,
and since most transsexuals want nothing more than to blend into the
woodwork as their intended sex, this inevitably creates problems.
That said, some transsexuals are androgyne but don't realize it due
to pressure from within themselves and from the transsexual community.
Although transsexuals tend to buy into the "binary" categories of man and
woman even more than straight, non-gender-conflicted people do buy into
them, there is such a thing as an androgyne transsexual: a person who
changes their physical sex (or otherwise lives as their preferred sex)
yet retains an androgyne identity. Discovering an underlying androgyne
nature within themselves has caused some would-be transsexuals to
drastically reevaluate their situation to the point of swearing off
genital reassignment surgery permanently. Other androgyne transsexuals
decide to embrace their androgyne nature and live as transgenderists or
hormone-enhanced non-operative transsexuals, and there are even those who
proceed with genital reassignment surgery despite their realization, and
-- this needn't be viewed as a tragedy. It is a matter of one's sense of
How does one ascertain whether or not one is 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. ¶While it is a common truism that no one is entirely
masculine or entirely feminine, 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. In fact,
once androgynes find themselves, masculinity and femininity often cease
to be polarities for them.
There is the possibility that the term genderqueer might replace
androgyne. The term is very new (no more than four years old), has overt
political and activist aspects, and -- derived as it is from women's
studies -- is skewed towards college-educated female-born androgynes, but
it might yet turn out to be little more than a euphemism for genderf**k.
Androgynes as a whole don't wish to be any more confrontational than the
next person, and that is perhaps the difference between androgynes and
Quite often, a stranger will view as confrontational an androgyne
who is trying perhaps unsuccessfully to portray their inner self, but
that is the stranger's own preconception superimposed onto what the
androgyne is really doing, which is trying to be their true self in a
world that assumes that there are only two categories of gender.
Genderqueers, however, often appear driven to dismantle the gender binary
categorically, so I think it might eventually prove necessary to
distinguish between the genderqueer movement and individual genderqueers,
much in the way that Christianity as a whole is not indicative of
individual Christians. In such a context, one might imagine androgynes
as secular genderqueers.
Shorn of politics and radical agendas, androgynes are non-binary
gender variants, plain and simple.
Stephe Feldman is a graduate of Brown University with a B.A. in semiotics
and from Simmons College with an M.S. in library science. Sie created
Androgyne Online in April of 2001.
Stephe Feldman has a B.A. in semiotics from Brown University and an M.S.
in library science from Simmons College with an M.S in library science
[sic]. She writes: "It took more than twenty years for me to recognize
my androgyne nature, and much of the reason for that is the dearth of
information on the subject. To fill the void, in April 2001 I created a
website, Androgyne Online, at http://androgyne.0catch.com, so others
might come to understand themselves without having to go through months
of soul-searching and anguish like I did. Most of the conclusions I
reached are the result of exchanges with subscribers to the
email@example.com internet mailing list."
For those with a nagging need to know, Steph [sic] is a male-born androgyne.