Fangirl Friday: Musings on the Binary

Hi, friends —

I’ve been on the road and haven’t had much time to watch anything, but I am reading something that I will most likely fangirl in a minnit, but for right now, I wanted to do some chit-chatting about gender.

So pull up a chair and grab a beverage. Let’s think about this.

I bring this up because I just had a convo with a colleague of mine who makes and sells cosplay equipment as a hobby. Like, you know, cool-ass cosplay space opera-ish guns and the like.
She said that she has a client that she’s been working with and has realized that this client — who is cis and male — thinks she’s a fellow guy. Probably assumes she’s another cis man, and he seems to be relating to her that way, and calls her “bro” and the like.

This cool-ass gun modeled on the game Fallout 4 is one my colleague made.

My colleague identifies as cis female, but presents as a little more masculine as I do — I think of myself as gender nonconforming. She has a photo of herself on her web storefront, but if you’re steeped in the binary, you might assume, as her client seems to have assumed, that she’s a cis guy from her physical appearance.

So we chatted a bit about this and she said it makes her feel awkward, not necessarily because he’s misgendered her (she and I both get misgendered quite a bit and we roll with it, for the most part), but rather because she feels in a way that it’s dishonest that she not correct him but then she wonders if he’ll get weird about working with a woman if she does so.

To which I responded along the lines of “fucking binary.” Because, I pointed out, feeling dishonest that HE misgendered HER is another product of the binary, that there’s an expectation that a woman is expected to take responsibility for a cis man’s mistake about his misgendering of HER.

I thought about that for a while, that it can also be dangerous to make a man feel like he’s been made a fool of. What’s that Margaret Atwood quote? “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Granted, for those of us who move in fandoms — especially spec fic fandoms — there is a more open atmosphere and greater acceptance, perhaps, regarding gender identity and sexual orientation. Not to suggest that it’s happy happy joy joy and there are cute fat pink unicorns prancing around a field farting glitter across spec fic fandoms.

It’s not. There are in every corner of any fandom people who hold far more conservative views about those issues than, say, I do. And there are those in fandoms who exhibit far worse behavior than others.

In that regard, I’ve been told by my geek friends who game who are cis female or identify as female that they’ve experienced a lot of misogyny in gaming culture (hell, let’s be real — going online these days as a woman pretty much guarantees you’re gonna be targeted). Point being, no, it’s not an ol’ skool Disney movie up in here in some aspects of geek and gaming culture.

I thought about that as I chatted with my colleague, because she does weapons modeled after a specific game (she’s an avid gamer), which means there are assumptions that she’s a guy, since gaming culture tends to be more male than female (and weapons are gendered, too), and the games themselves tend to skew (white cis heterosexual) male while female characters are sexualized, tokenized, and trope-ified. Women who dare to intrude on what has been a much more cis male-identified space than other aspects of geek culture generally face a whole lot of harassment. Historically, that’s always been the case. If a space is gendered male, then anyone who isn’t coded as male who attempts to enter it or participate in it is often met with violence.

That’s a discussion that can go on for days, the absolutely horrific abuse women are subjected to online just for being women. And the abuse isn’t necessarily directed solely at cis women. It’s directed at those of us who don’t fit the binary, too. Cis women who go online and attempt to participate in gaming are also in violation of the binary because they aren’t keeping to “their roles” as women. Which is to stay out of certain gendered spaces. And those spaces are not online — or so the binary wants you to believe.

Nevertheless, historically, geek culture and fandoms have attracted those of us who don’t feel we fit in with the larger world, and I’d argue that for LGBTQI people, geek culture and fandoms offer respite in a lot of ways from dealing with the damn binary every freaking day and the weight of its expectations. “People squarely in the binary don’t realize how easy they have it,” my colleague said as we went back and forth about this client of hers who may or may not have an issue with her pointing out to him that she’s not a dude.

She’s right.

There are lots of us who are LGBTQI who don’t fit the binary: the strict, hegemonic demarcation of male OR female and how those are presented in very specific ways to the public; how a specific sexual expression and identity is expected to be fixed directly to one or the other; how privilege is constructed within the rubric of the binary.

But for those of us who don’t fit it, we still have to learn it, for our safety. We have to learn to speak it even if it doesn’t apply to us so that we recognize the codes, and we understand how it works and doesn’t work. It’s a mask many of us wear, which is why it’s so freeing to be in truly queer space, where people understand what it is to wear an identity stretched far too tight across our bones. But even those of us who are able to wear, speak, and be who we feel we truly are remain cautious, always vigilant, because we are always at risk of punishment — sometimes death — for transgressing.

And I don’t want to pretend that the binary hasn’t created ripple effects across queerdom, if you will. Because even there, you can find people who want to affix labels to others, to categorize even within queer spaces, and to create hierarchies of privilege therein. We suffer the effects of marginalization within a toxic culture. No one gets out unscathed.

My colleague and I talked about how interesting and possibly great it would be if there were no binary, if gender — which is a reflection not only of our own personal interpretations of ourselves, but also of the cultures in which we’re immersed — wasn’t something that was used on which to categorize and build social hierarchies, if it wasn’t weaponized to punish those who don’t adhere to its rules or reward those who sit at its apex and, in turn, cling to its toxicity and continue to buttress it.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like, if societies weren’t built on the binary, and what’s freaky is that when you start to really think about it, you realize how deeply embedded it is.

I think that’s part of why I’m drawn to fandoms and geek culture, because within them I’ve found the room to explore not only metaphorically but literally. Some of the most intriguing conversations I’ve had about sex, gender, and sexuality have been with fellow fans, and I’ve learned a whole hell of a lot about representation and media from them. I’ve also met a lot of fellow queerfolk who are teaching me every day, whether they know it or not, how to live my truth and work to slough off as much of the binary as I can.

Or at least to peer beyond it and consider possibilities that transcend it.

Food for thought, y’all. Happy Friday and remember, no matter where you go, there you are.


  1. Great blog Andi! Enlightening and thought provoking. I need to add a comment on your last remark – “No matter where you go, there you are”. It reminds me of my deceased partners favorite question/answer. “Do you know why we’re all here? Because we’re not all there.”

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  2. Yes, really thought-provoking article. My teenage son games a bit, and often chooses a ‘female’ character, as he reckons their bodies are smaller and harder to shoot! How I wish the binary would indeed ‘fuck off’! And so does my ‘tomboy’ girlfriend, who rocks a moustache sometimes for dinner dates 🙂

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  3. Very thought provoking piece. I think that when we know a lot more about gender there will be a lot more genders, (as defined above, ie, self-identities), It seems really limiting to confine ourselves to two, I wonder if this came about because there seemed to be two distinct sexes and women had to be defines as non-men, therefore certain attributes became feminine and others masculine, as if the two, could not exist in the same person.
    My partner of decades is a butch woman and has had a lifetime of misgendering. But, perhaps this could be better described as missexing, as the gender people see is masculinity and they attribute that to men, so they think she must be a man. Or is her perceived masculinity actually a female trait that we have not been allowed to own. ‘Butch’ is certainly a female identity. One I love!
    Separating sex from gender is proving to be a fascinating and rewarding breakthrough for all of us.


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