"The Irrelevance Of Gender"

By Kythryne Aisling

When I was 14, I discovered girls.

When I was 17, I realized that I liked boys, too.

When I was 20, I decided I didnít give a damn about gender.

When I was 23, I found out that it didnít really matter anyway.

I grew up steeped in the humid ignorance of the Deep South, so itís no surprise that the word ďbisexualĒ is nowhere to be found in my 14-year-old vocabulary.  Oh, Iíve heard of fags and dykes, but those are words to be spat and hissed, like nigger, like whore, like cunt.  I shy away from these words, keep my head low, my eyes on the ground.

It is summer, all rain and slick heat, and my best friend has discovered boys.  I realize with some surprise that Iím not  jealous of her boyfriends in the usual possessive sort of way: no, Iím jealous of her boyfriends because they get to kiss her and I donít.  This canít be normal, I think to myself in the rare moments when I let myself think about it at all.

A furtive perusal of the library shelves reveals little, only a few thin dry volumes about homosexuality.  I slip them between more innocent books and hope the librarian wonít notice, hope no one will ask me what Iím reading this week.  At home, I devour the books late at night, and discover that I have only two options: I can be straight, or I can be a lesbian.  Ah, I think, straight girls donít want to kiss their best friends, so I must be a lesbian. 

At least thereís a word for it, I think.  I try say it aloud one day, but the word tastes like dry paper in my mouth and I choke back into silence.

A scant handful of years pass by, and I find myself madly in love with a man.  Iíve had fleeting attractions to men before that, but Iíve never paid them much heed; Iíve learned about the Kinsey scale and figure those attractions are just small blips on my radar, things that donít matter one way or another. A very nice theory, that, but it doesnít do a damn thing to explain why Iím suddenly extremely interested in fucking a man.  I am, after all, a lesbian, damn it, and that means I like girls.   Doesnít it?
With the assistance of an even-then-antiquated computer and a very sluggish modem, I encounter the internet, and a whole new world opens up: Discussion lists!  Newsgroups! Websites!  BBSes!  For a woefully sheltered teenager in a backwater town on the edge of the swamp, the internet is a revelation, an escape, an education. 

One afternoon, on a stark website in gray and black, I discover the word ďbisexual.Ē  From there I find the venerable BIFEM-L listserv, a discussion list for bisexual women, and a handful of keystrokes later, Iím immersed in the virtual company of hundreds of other women who donít fit neatly into the little boxes of heterosexuality and homosexuality.  Ah, I think to myself: Iím not crazy.  Iím not the only one.  Thereís a word for this. 

Move forward another three years, and a few hundred miles north; Iíve gratefully abandoned my teenage years and the backwater town, as well my confusion over my identity.  I fall in love with people, I say, not bodies or genders or labels.   I sit in my apartment in the city and write about bisexual theory in carefully measured words, and on the weekends, I stare lustfully at my best friend when sheís not looking. 

My homophobic male partner hastily assures me that this is just a phase, that this will pass once Iím older and wiser.  Later that night, he tells me that I like cock far too much to be anything but straight, and I laugh in his face even as the words sting and crackle against my insecurities.  Eventually, I will leave him for another man, hurling bitter words about his delusions over my shoulder as I go.
And so now I have another male lover, despite my increasing certainty that Iím not cut out for heterosexuality.  Ah, but this time itís different: this is a boy who likes boys, and obviously, he likes me too.  Another bisexual!  We giggle in bed, and I listen enviously to his stories of sex with boys, wondering yet again what it would be like to have sex with a girl.  In my journal, I write of his gentleness, his beauty, the way his long dark hair falls across my face. 

Barely a year later, this same boy wakes up one morning and announces his desire to become a woman.  I listen in not-so-stunned silence, nodding here and there.  In the afternoon, we sit at our computers, researching, adding a new lexicon of multi-syllabic words and phrases to our vocabulary: Transsexual.  Gender Identity Dysphoria. Sex Reassignment Surgery.  Real-Life Experience.  My head spins, but a small voice in the back of my head whispers that Iíve known this all along.

Within the space of a few months, my partner is living as a woman.  The neighbors are confused; friends and family shake their heads and express amazement we are still together.  They ask why I havenít run from the relationship, ask how I could possibly stay in the face of such a change.
The truth, I say to them, is that if my partner had been a woman and not a man when we met, I still would have fallen just as madly in love.   I smile and remind the skeptics that Iíve never given a damn about the gender of my partners, and I offer up this relationship as the proof theyíve sought: this transition from male to female is my validation, my affirmation of the irrelevance of gender.

Copyright  © 2003 Kythryne Aisling. All rights reserved.

bisexual About The Author:
Kythryne Aisling is a writer, activist, musician, and walking bundle of contradictions.  She lives her life as performance art while writing about social issues such as GLBT rights, the sex industry, gender issues, reproductive choice, domestic violence and abuse, and the effects of poverty.  She is currently working on her first book, a memoir entitled Inventing Amy: Two Years In Transition. She lives in New York City with three partners of assorted genders and the requisite two cats; various bits of her life can be found at http://kythryne.com.

bisexual About The Essay:
The preceeding essay was originally published in The Fence: A New Place Of Power For Bisexual Women, Spring 2003.  For more information about The Fence, contact Cheryl Dobinson.

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