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Gender Expression: An Interview with Corin Carpenter


Black-out poetry from fixing-bad-posts.tumblr.com

When I get overwhelmed, I sometimes lose the ability to speak. I might think a million things to say, but it’s as if the wires between my brain and my tongue have been severed. It doesn’t matter whether the sensations I’m overwhelmed with are positive or negative. I’ve been left speechless by sheer exhaustion, and by elation. On occasion, I can pull myself out of this state, temporarily, by borrowing the words of others. I once sat in complete silence at a party for nearly twenty minutes, with all my friends chattering around me. I was only able to excuse myself by trying to copy the words and casual demeanor of a friend, who had left earlier in the night.


Gender is utterly overwhelming for me. I’m enthralled by it. I want to pick it up, kiss it, throw it against a wall. I want to lay on my stomach, kicking my feet and giggling like a schoolgirl while I talk about it to my best friend on the phone. Our conversations about gender are so wrapped up in words, and I am perpetually in search of the right ones.


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Q: How would you describe your gender? Feel free to be as literal or as poetic as you’d like.

A: Well, I was assigned female at birth and I feel like I align with that in a sense of, like, a woman in a sense of… like, I do not align with all of the expectations that were put on me when I was born and I really resent them. If that makes sense.


A: Whenever someone asks me what my gender is, my first instinct is to go, “I don’t know” [laughter]. It depends on the day, which I guess, would legally make me genderfluid. I’m a boy, but I’m not a man. But somedays I wake up and I’m like, I’m a woman, but I’m not a girl. Does that make any sense? I just, I tend to say nonbinary because it’s the least committal. So I guess that’s how I would describe my gender.

From Gender Failure by Rae Spoon & Ivan E. Coyote, Chapter Title: Gender Failure

A: Nonbinary is the closest word, but I only use that for the sake of translation. I… I very much understand my gender in terms of feelings rather than in terms of labels. I feel like I have gender feelings as opposed to… y’know… any alliance with one term or another.


A: Um… I, I feel like I put so little thought into it, which is different than a lot of other people. It’s just like, I just sort of want to be… undefined in an interesting way of, like, I don’t want people to look at me and see… one thing. But I also don’t care if they do, you know what I mean? Like, it’s just not… it just doesn’t feel important, and the reason that it is important is because of that. Does that make sense? Oh my god, I don’t know what I’m trying to say.


A: I’ve been every letter of LGBT so this is a little complicated for me. [laughter] Um… linguistically speaking, I’m definitely a man… he/him, brother, boyfriend, all those things, but… I guess if I were to use a label for my internal experience I would, I would say butch? For me it really describes the affinity and appreciation and love I have for masculinity, while still allowing me to… to sit with, the ways I’m impacted by my childhood of femininity. Y’know, I was a girl for a long time. Or, I was treated like a girl?


A: My gender is the gender of the universe. Um, my gender is the gender of an electron. My gender is a bit like a cosmos flower that’s emerging from a cracked sidewalk, possibly in a heavily industrialized area, where smog and smoke blanket the sky. Very bright pink, frilled edges. Um… my gender is quite delicate, and soft. Um… it’s very ethereal, light, diaphanous, even. And elegant, I’d like to think. And alien, very alien.


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Instagram @ britchida

Sometimes, this search for words has taken the form of an obsession with a label. I like to collect things, but I’m bad at it. I was never very discriminatory in the books I added to my shelves, or the rocks I shoved in my pockets. The same could be said about the words I’ve collected as well. I’ve tried so many of them on – demigirl, nonbinary, trans man, trans masc, genderqueer, genderfluid – if I rattled them all off, we’d be here forever. I thought if I could find a single word to sum it up, I could escape something. I thought if I could just find the right one, people would stop trying to tell me what my gender meant. Or at least they’d be right about it when they did. That’s not really how language works, thought, is it? A representation can never fully convey the gravity of the real thing. We have to make do with close enough.


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Q: Has anyone ever made an assumption about you based on your gender or what they perceived your gender to be?


A: They get a lot of “You’re strong, you do it.” Setting up for their sister’s graduation party, there’s a lot of work to be done. Chairs and tables to be set up, decorations to be hung. It’s her big day! She deserves a little pomp and circumstance. But the folding tables are heavy, and it’s sort of a pain to carry them out into the yard. Their mom wants to pass them down from the deck, nearly ten feet off the ground.

They’re not so sure that this is a good idea. “Mom, do you think I’m strong enough?”

“You’re a boy! You’ll be fine.”


A: She’s in theatre rehearsal for the musical. She’s the lead, and she’s the only one who’s off book already. She’s been practicing with her friends a lot, having them read off the script while she repeats her lines until she’s got them right or close enough. They’re practicing a scene and she mixes up the order of the words in one line, but the meaning is preserved so she tries to keep going. That is, until her male castmate pipes up. “Um, the line is actually…” it doesn’t matter what he says next. She knows what the line is already. He does this – he keeps doing this. She doesn’t know if it’s because she’s a girl, doesn’t know if he only does this with her and not the other cast members, but it sure feels like it. Maybe it’s unfair, maybe she’s just had someone assume that she’s stupid because of her womanhood a few too many times, but trying to treat the situation with charity doesn’t make her feel any less condescended to.


A: He’s a freshman in college and like everyone else he’s trying to make friends. In some ways, it’s easy. He’s an athlete, so that’s a built-in group of people that he has available to him. He even gets a girlfriend pretty quickly, and although it wasn’t the best or longest relationship it offered some amount of satisfaction. But it’s harder to connect with other people. When he crosses paths with them in the halls of Hoosac, they tear their eyes away. For some of these people, he eventually gets an in – they have a mutual friend, or they get introduced at a party, or they’re forced to talk because not many people bothered to show up to the event the RA was throwing. Usually when this happens, they start to like him at least a little. He knows how to be friendly. Some of them express their surprise that they get on so well. He is told, “You look like someone who would beat me up in high school.”

It’s not that he doesn’t get it. He’s an athlete. He’s a pretty average height for a guy, which means he’s taller than most of the people who say this to him. If he wanted to be, he probably could’ve been someone who beat up people like them in high school. But to them, he looks like he wants to, too. Why? Because he doesn’t paint his nails just to show everyone else that he’s not straight? Because he doesn’t know and doesn’t care what the colors of the bisexual flag are? He starts to assume that’s why people don’t really want to be friends with him. Junior year, at a party, one of his friends is absent, but comes up in conversation. He starts talking about how he never expected to really be friends with them, and says, “Freshman year they probably thought I looked like someone who would beat them up in high school.”


A: They’re out on the train tracks, just talking and smoking, when she says she’s really cold. The two of them, they’re not quite ready yet, but if she’s cold, she should leave – she doesn’t have to wait for them. She decides not to because, unknown to them, she’s nervous about walking past the nearby restaurant alone. Men have called out to her there before, ignoring her no thank yous and her my ride will be here soons. When they do get home, she starts typing away at her laptop. When she looks up, she says, “I have a poem, but… I don’t want anyone to be mad at me.” They promise they won’t be. It’s a ridiculous promise. They can’t possibly know what’s in the poem, or if it’ll make them angry.


A: In retrospect, he knows she didn’t mean it the way it felt. But the first time she reads it out loud, all he can hear is, “You don’t know what it’s like to experience misogyny.” But he does. He does. Doesn’t she know, that when strangers look at his body, they see a girl, a woman? She called him one of the boys, and he is one. But he’s had to earn that term his whole life, will have to keep earning that term. For once, being one of the boys leaves a sour taste in his mouth.


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Being a gendered body is an incredibly strange experience. That’s about the best I can sum it up, without delving into a laundry list of personal experiences that may or may not have a through line. How could I possibly sum up the anxiety-inducing and excruciatingly pleasurable experience of knowing that you are not what people see? No one else is quite sure either. When I ask my friends, and the friends of my friends, there’s a lot of ums and does that make senses.


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Q: Is there anything about, or related to your gender that brings you joy?


A: I love that peace that I, I’ve found in… in just the namelessness of it all. Last year I was just – I was obsessed with trying to figure it all out. Do I want to go on testosterone, do I want to transition, do I want surgery, all of these things. But then, y’know… allowing myself to be divorced from constructs and rules and just allowing myself to feel what I feel is in itself euphoric. But I guess specifically, um… I take great joy in the fluidity of my experience and that, y’know it feels different every day. I wake up and I enjoy getting to tailor my aesthetics and my demeanor and my behavior to that, y’know, that inclination, to those gender feelings.


A: I think one of my favorite things about it is when I’ll say my pronouns and someone has this look on their face like, “Oh I trust you now”. There’s this, there’s this moment of like, I have this thing in common with you and that, that I really like. Like, um, especially working with kids, there was plenty of – I worked with kids over the summer – there was plenty of moments where I’d be like, these are my pronouns, and a fourteen year old kid would be like “Oh my god!” and be so excited to talk to me about it. And I’ve been there and I’ve needed these mentors and now it's like, I’ve grown into that place, which is really cool.


From Gender Failure by Rae Spoon & Ivan E. Coyote, Chapter Title: Drag Failure

A: [pause] Um… I guess, depending on what you describe as being related to my gender. I like finding button ups that no sane human being would ever wear and then wearing them, and that gives me gender euphoria. [laughter] Um, honestly, this is gonna maybe be the most trans fem thing I say here, but when I buy feminine clothes that makes me happy. That princess hat that I bought at Claire’s… [laughter]


A: Absolutely. I feel like… playing dress up, is a huge aspect of the way I present my gender to the world and it’s super fun because when I want to be feminine, I can really play it up and be hyper femme. And I find so much joy in putting it all on and presenting in that way. And… I feel like… I have crocs and I decorated them to be very like, girly and pretty and almost like, cartoonishly feminine and I love being able to wear them.


A: I really take joy in…sort of just, gender fuckery? Um, y’know, I use he/him pronouns, almost – I don’t care if people use they/them but I pretty much exclusively use he/him and, y’know, my body looks very feminine to most people that I’ve met and… I think that sort of confuses people. I like to wear my packer and, like, I don’t know, I just like to imagine people seeing the outline, and seeing my chest, and being like, “What?!” and just sort of being confused by me? Um... I guess that makes me a little bit of a gender contrarian. I don’t know, I like it. That’s one of my favorite things about my gender presentation… Oh! This is… maybe a little stupid, but I like feeling chivalrous?


When me and my housemate go shopping, I always push the cart. I… sometimes when we’re like, at a friend’s house together, she’ll [laughs] get ready to go and she’ll, she’ll look at me and she’ll blink expectantly and I’ll be like, okay guys, gotta walk her home. I, I enjoy that.


A: So much of my gender identity, I think, anything – any edges that it has, any way in which it’s defined is very much in the ways that it leaks and spills and breaks its way out of the things that have been placed upon me. So I feel like I experience a tremendous amount of gender euphoria when I subvert, especially intentionally and with love and care, I subvert and… um, reject notions of masculinity and toxic masculinity and when I am able to, as best as I can… pull myself away from complicit-ness in oppressive systems.


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Playing with Gender by Suzanne Shifflett

Being speechless is not an unpleasant experience – at least not when left alone. I have, at times, reveled in my silence. It is only when speech is demanded of me that it becomes distressing. This is even, and especially, when I demand it of myself. So I try to make do with what I have: text-to-speech applications, some rudimentary ASL in the right company, pencil and paper. I try to worry less about getting the words right – especially about the things that set my mind on fire. I laugh at myself, just a little, when I decide that I need to stuff a packer into my pants for an outfit to be complete. It doesn’t really matter what I call that, even if I still keep all the words in my back pocket.


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