My kneecaps are bruised and scraped and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Some might say I’m getting too old for This Shit. This Shit being the impulse of jumping into mosh pits mostly full of sweaty, thrashing men. I should know better. But I do know better. I know what it’s like to watch on with yearning while others express their true selves.
When I was a kid, my second grade teacher recommended I see a doctor for ADHD. They disagreed with her diagnosis but whatever “affliction” I have, I reckon it’s the same as other creatives who find real life too boring. They didn’t succeed in medicating me. And I never stopped daydreaming. Reality always seemed so unnecessarily confined. It was always hard for me to accept that the worlds I couldn’t stop imagining were equally unimaginable to others.
I can’t help that I find myself easily bored and distracted, often caught up so much in the world going on in my head that I lose track of what’s going on around me. I unconsciously fidget. I have to move to think. Yet I rarely feel connected to my physical body. It feels like a conduit for my excess mental energy but something I simultaneously don’t feel kinship with.
Since my very first show, I’ve been drawn to the pit. It’s involuntary. There’s something so cathartic about drowning in a sea of bodies. I’m stubborn as hell, but the surrender of control has always comforted me. Even when I emerged roughed up from punches, elbows, and one time a headbutt, I didn’t feel a thing except pure exhilaration. Well, until the next day.
Growing up doing ballet, jazz, and tap dancing helped expel a lot of my excess energy but it wasn’t until I found punk and all its iterations that I experienced true release. I was cautioned against diving into the mosh pit by a more experienced girlfriend before the first show. They were mostly made of men, well boys really, who loved violence and titties (specifically grabbing them if they invaded the territory). But I didn’t let that stop me. I didn’t think of myself as separate from the guys in the pit. Or from the rarer women who’d show up too.
The danger of some mosh pits come from how women appearing people are treated not that some people enjoy rougher dancing. You were often more of a target if you had the audacity to join that space. “If you want to act like a man you’re gonna be treated as one” has been said to me more than a few times as if I’ve lived a violence free life when I tried to act like a “woman”. Violence has been a frequent part of my life regardless of my gender or sexual presentation because I can’t correctly perform either. I’ve thought long and hard about the gender politics of pits and I could bore you all with an analysis but I won’t. I don’t recommend petite, nonmen jump into something that could cause them physical damage. But it’s not something I’m good at avoiding whether with pits or anything else.
This isn’t about mosh pits is it?
It’s always been difficult to accept the way my body has been treated by others because I don’t experience my body as gendered. I don’t really experience my body much at all and I prefer it that way. I’ve had rare feelings of connection to it but mostly we’ve been at odds my whole life. I resent the fact that it has such control over my life at times. I resented it even more when it would inflict physical pain on me every month that confined me to a fetal position in bed for days. I easily forget I have something called a uterus until it attacks me. The thought that something could potentially grow inside me because I have certain parts has always horrified me. I was never taught or socialized into not wanting to bear children, quite the opposite actually, but every fiber of my being has rejected it for as long as I can remember. I’ve exhaustively researched ways to safely prevent this permanently but the medical options available to me have severe side effects I’d rather not experience. I desperately wish there were better ways to avoid menstruation entirely and also the ability to get pregnant. The latter is much easier, thankfully.
Since I was a kid, I’ve never had an internal understanding of what being a “woman” is. I just did what I did and had a variety of “interesting…” hobbies. If I only had to go based off of how I was treated, I’d assume certain bodies are just public property and I lost the roll of the dice. It’s been confusing as hell because I don’t think of my hips or breasts until they are groped and it’s always a reminder that regardless of who I am on the inside, my body is up for grabs because it looks a certain way.
When I was a teenager, I hated the way my body grew parts I regarded as extraneous and attention grabbing when all I wanted to do was be left alone to make art. I hid my body under baggy band shirts and jeans. I didn’t cut my hair for years because it provided me a blanket to hide my body even more, awful middle part be damned. As I got older, my body kept getting curvier and jeans now drew even more attention to unwanted parts so I switched to frumpy skirts and dresses not because I strongly identified with femininity (as those clothing articles are categorized) but because they made me feel more in line with my mental state of bodily disconnection. I didn’t have to think of my body as much on a physical level despite still being treated in ways I hated. Even though it made me appear more feminine to people, to me it felt like wearing a sheet where I didn’t have to feel certain aspects of my body as much. I stopped shaving when I was 15 and infrequently do so now. I cursed like a sailor, smoked like a chimney, could cuddle like a cub, give advice like a therapist, and performed as a hula hoop dancer. But I didn’t think of any of my preferences as gendered.
My nonbinary status is a topic I’ve been hesitant to write about. People have told me I’m confused or just jumping on some bandwagon. I’ve had long, reflective conversations about whether or not my nonbinary-ness is really just a form of internalized misogyny. I’ve thought hard about how the way my body has been treated by people has affected my gender orientation. Maybe I just don’t like the way women appearing people are treated but that doesn’t mean I’m not a woman or that I am a man. Maybe I just have penis envy. Maybe I can’t possibly know the struggles men face so how dare I pretend that I’m not a woman, as if “man” or “woman” are the only two modes of existence. Maybe I just want attention or am “mentally ill” (as if that’s supposed to mean something). Maybe, as some people think of sexuality, I made the choice to be genderqueer. Dear lord, if gender and sexuality were choices, you really think I’d choose the combo breaker of genderqueer and pansexual? Yes, god, sign me up for the fun and exciting game of dodging violence and discrimination from a species that acts like feral animals when their genitals get confused. There’s no criticism I haven’t examined and no one is going to surprise me with new arguments.
While I’ve spent a ton of time deconstructing and re-constructing my own gender crap, I always find myself back where I started similar to finding out about the terms “bisexual” and later “pansexual”. It was very much the same feeling of epiphany: wow, that’s me, that’s what I’ve always been. Finally, there was a word for something I’ve felt my entire life; it was crystal clear. It’s not something I can change. It explains a whole lot of my impulses and past behaviors, my frustrations with communication as a kid, my warring relationship with my body, and my anger.
I spent a long time trying to perform being a woman and failing until I realized I wasn’t one. And I don’t mean in a “not like the other girls” kind of way — I’ve long admired very femme women and wished to find that ease they seem to have in their femininity. I’ve likewise admired men who are comfortable in their bodies. That comfort has evaded me and it wasn’t until I found about nonbinary genders years ago that I understood why. I had to dive right in even if it would brutalize me because I was dying on the outskirts trying to be something I wasn’t.
So maybe this is kind of about mosh pits.
I rarely present as very femme but generally am coded as a “woman” in public spaces. The language we use to discuss this topic is so confined by binaries. And I accept that I live in a society illogically based on binaries, that I will be treated how I am perceived. I have called myself a “political woman” in the past because that is how I am forced to operate in the world, that is a large part of the social conditioning I’ve experienced, and that is how I will be affected by policy. It’s not an inherent trait. I don’t like it, but people still don’t understand connotative vs. denotative uses of language and terminology. And people avoid trying to understand things that make them uncomfortable. So while I find very little use for the terms “masculine” and “feminine” I’ll use them to more effectively communicate with those who have a less flexible view of language.
Is it “masculine” to be drawn to potentially violent dance pits? Is it “masculine” to dominate a conversation, to drink whiskey, to wanna fight and fuck a lot of the time, to want a career instead of a family? I don’t know. I don’t think so, but language and culture limit how we think of gender and behaviors. There are plenty of women-identified people who do all such things and feel secure in their womanness, likewise there are male identified people who feel secure in their maleness even if they engage in behaviors society has coded as feminine.
It’s interesting we accept behaviors that deviate from gendered expectations more and more over time yet most people still reject the concept of nonbinary. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to call a cis woman who engages in “masculine” behaviors a woman — in fact it’s offensive to call her a man if she doesn’t identify as one. So why is it so hard to believe people exist outside binary gender classifications?
I don’t know what its like to feel secure in my body because I want my mind to be able to supersede any biological functions specific to the body I have. This would be the case if I had a different body as well. My body has always felt like a prison. And I can’t convince a large percentage of people that my outward appearance does not in any way reflect who I am internally. I can’t agonize over it anymore either. Rejection has been a huge part of my life because I’ve always existed in a nonbinary state when it comes to gender and sexuality. I’m comfortable in the grey areas of the spectrum; I have to be because I can’t be something I’m not. Wearing “feminine” clothing makes me feel like I’m wearing a costume. “Ok time to perform as a ‘lady’ today whatever that means.” If I could be nude most of the time I would but Americans are perhaps even more well hanged on that topic. Based on all the bullying I went through, other kids picked up that I was queer (in all the ways) long before I did. My efforts to blend in have always been futile.
But I don’t get to escape classification no matter what I wear or do. I’ve been violently corrected for behavior that seemed at odds with my gender presentation, though less so than my friends who have been coded as “masculine” in body but displayed “feminine” traits. Much of the violence I’ve experienced has been because the perpetrator wasn’t ok with who they were and it had nothing to do with who I was. My queerness brought out something in them they hated — perhaps the thought that they might not be fully heterosexual. Because there’s nothing worse than being gay.
But as language evolves, we have better terms for things that have always existed. Nonbinary people have existed throughout all of history, the only new thing is we have words to describe them better. Much like those of us who exist outside of sexual binaries, they’ve had to mostly accept being erased or forced to perform one gender or another. And much like you can tell when someone doesn’t conform to traditional notions of sexuality, you can likewise get the same vibe from people about gender. It’s just one of those facts there’s no sense in denying and takes a lot of mental gymnastics to consciously reject. Just as when you can tell when people are more dominant or submissive (or somewhere in between), Androgyny exists, cis identified men with “feminine” energy exist, cis women with “masculine” energy exist, people who don’t fit into our human conceptions of what “men” or “women” are exist. Children know this long before there is terminology to describe it as evidenced by the way they prey on other kids who are GSM and adults are lying when they say people can only exist in one of two categories. Gender is a spook.
Bodies can be embraced, rejected, modified, or disregarded. We don’t give tech billionaires endless shit for “biohacking” their brains and bodies however ill-advised it seems. Peter Thiel can inject blood harvested from teenagers into his eyeballs and we’ll laugh it off as being eccentric but someone politely asks to be called “they” and it’s an attack on All We Hold Sacred. Well, I’ve been deep frying sacred cows my whole life. And don’t get me started on people who try to hide their thinly veiled bigotry behind an embarrassing misunderstanding of grammar. The debate’s done, hon.
More bizarre to me than harvesting teenager blood to live forever is that we treat people vastly differently based on these arbitrary, limited classifications of what humans can be. It’s always been weird to me, like I was from another planet examining a barbaric species. I’ve struggled repeatedly with having brilliant ideas disregarded because I was treated based on how I appeared (instead of the merit of the idea) and the subsequent stealing of those ideas by other m̶o̶r̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶s̶c̶u̶l̶i̶n̶e̶ ̶p̶e̶o̶p̶l̶e̶ men only for them to be lauded as geniuses. I saw no differentiation between me and my male counterparts when it came to intelligence and I see it happening all the time with other people perceived as women. The opposite effect has been documented thoroughly by trans men:
Now that society saw him as male, his ideas were taken more seriously. He was able to complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man. A colleague who didn’t know he was transgender even praised his work as “much better than his sister’s.”
It gets tiring pointing out the obvious. And it’s not as simple as saying men have all the privilege and women are always devalued. The piece linked above dives into this well: this culture devalues humans in different ways based on gender, although statistical evidence shows disproportionate rates of violence coming from one type of gender specifically.
My mind-body disconnect is less of an internal problem and more of an external one based on how I’m treated; I don’t think of my flesh suit until someone makes it a problem for me. I experience existence as a detached mind 99% of the time until I am reminded of the flesh suit. I regard my body as an inconvenience or a tool but don’t feel it is strongly connected to my personality. Sometimes I forget to eat or push it past its limits because of this disconnection. I’d like to live in a world where we don’t make assumptions about people based on their flesh suits but realistically I don’t know that we’ll ever get there. But I’m not broken because I’m different. Neither are you.
I honestly can’t wait until some of us start becoming robots. That way I can really get in those mosh pits and worry less about busting my knee caps. It’s harder to bash a human with robot parts, too. As technology progresses, gender lines are only going to get blurrier, bucko. Much of what we take as established truth will get blurrier. Maybe we’ll have to accept that binaries are pretty useless and treating people based on their individual merits makes more sense. The horror!
There are more people identifying as gender nonconforming than ever before and this will continue as people shrug off the shackles of binaries. In the same way that I feel at odds with having a body that’s been gendered by others, I feel similarly disconnected with the broader societal need for binary categories and the insistence that we operate on outdated ideas rather than explore the limitless possibilities of the future. I’m an alien robot having a human bodied experience and it’s rather tedious dealing with the bullshit that entails. One day, maybe I will be able to construct the body I want. For now, I’m just doing some biohacking of my own but with less teenager blood.
Alas, I’ll continue to talk about gender and will begrudgingly deal with assholes intentionally misgendering me, believing I don’t exist, or treating me like shit because I look or don’t look the way I’m supposed to, whatever supposed to means. It’s not something I can really escape. I have just “dealt with it” my whole life. I’m pretty forgiving about pronouns when there’s no malicious intent. If there is, well I’ll just find better company. You can call me They/Bitch/Your Highness/Daddy or if you must “she” just don’t call me before noon. And if you’re wondering whether being attracted to me makes you gay, the answer is yes. That’s on you to deal with.