Beyond Binary

I dreamt the other day that I wrote a blog post about my gender identity. I can’t for the life of me remember much of anything I said, but I can take a blatant hint from TPTB, thanks.

The Short Version:

I’m queer and genderfluid. My preferred pronouns are “She/Her/Hers”, my primary gender presentation is female, and I generally do not experience body dysphoria, so it’s fair to say I’m a woman.

That’s just not all I am.

The Long Version:

While I consider myself “cis sexed”, in the sense that I do not experience body dysphoria, I do not identify as “cis gendered”. The most appropriate common term that I know for my gender identity is “genderfluid”, in that my  gender is not static. Being a pedantic literalist, I prefer “Protean” because my gender sense definitely changes, but I wouldn’t say it does so fluidly. I don’t expect the term Protean to catch on as a gender identity any time soon, however.


I stick with “She” because it’s what I’m used to and I believe language is first and foremost for the sake of communication, so as long as folks know who you’re talking about when you refer to me as “she”, I’m good. But I recognize that some of why I’m comfortable with “she” is because “female” is still a significant portion of my gender collection, and the majority of my gender presentation.

More than that, letting go of “She” feels like a betrayal to some very strong and proud parts of myself. I’m not just a Woman, dammit, I’m a Redheaded Woman! I was raised 4/5ths of the time from when I was 6 years old on in a household with just my Mom, my Sister, and our three female cats. (The other 5th was at my Dad’s house where the women merely outnumbered the men 2 to 1.) I grew up with Feminism, a certain amount of matriarchal pride, and only a tiny dose of what most folks would call “femininity”. The part of my identity that is “Woman” is proudly and strongly so, in that “Hear me roar!” kind of way that says no one has any right to tell me that I’m not a woman just because my behavior and presentation doesn’t match their ideas of what a person-with-a-womb should be. I will absolutely own that I AM a Woman. But while my hair is long and my clothing is often soft and flowy, I’m really not that femme.


The Antler Brigade and some other gods have been working with me for a long time now on my Male self. In Otherspace, that self is male-bodied, (or, if you prefer, penis-enabled). I’m not comfortable getting too deeply into the details right here and now, but one of the things that has been increasingly important is that any major overt developments that I make that apply to me as a Woman I must parallel as a Man in the spiritual layer.

So when I ordained and took on new feminine names, and the surnames of my Grandmothers, I became obliged to do a related masculine naming, and accept the surnames of my Grandfathers.

My Male self is inevitably somewhat behind my Female self in development. He’s very shy, reticent, and introverted, where my Female self is assertive, loquacious, and outgoing. Granted, all of me is hypersensitive, and all of me is prone to depression, introversion, and anxiety – those come with the body, really.

But to the degree that I’ve learned social graces and performing arts, they’re almost all piled on the Female side. Some of that is because my Male side has become more and more hidden as I’ve gotten older and my puberty has shifted what clothing is comfortable and how the world treats me inexorably towards the Female. My Male side hasn’t been a significant part of my outward presentation since maybe 6th grade, at which time I identified not as Male but as Tomboy, because gender didn’t mean much to me, and I knew my sex was inarguably Female. I had some male names though. I’ve always had male names to go with my female names, it seems. I just hadn’t specifically noticed until the Powers ordered me to maintain that balance overtly.


The deepest part of me has no gender sense. It is the part of me that I understand to be my truest Self, to transcend this lifetime, this body, and thus this species, this place, this time, and any ephemeral parameters that go with it. Not that those parameters don’t matter, mind you, but they matter within this lifetime. That part of me is also why I will not make vows for myself that extend beyond this lifetime. Everyday conscious me lacks the authority to make vows on behalf of True Self, and True Self has no interest in making vows at all as far as I can tell.

So what of the rest of me? Well, most of my internal selves have no particular gender, because gender is not part of their function. The part of my mind that constantly plays one or more songs at me has no gender. The part of my mind that just sort of narrates everything all the time, translating all of my experiences and thoughts into linear language as best as possible, and occasionally offering emotionless decision-making advice also lacks gender. I admit, I parse the Radio as more of an appliance than a person, and the Narrator sounds vaguely male, but I can tell that’s an enculturated norm rather than an actual trait.


On the one hand, orientation is not gender. On the other hand, most of our words for orientation seem to presume gender, and usually binary gender. I consider myself “queer” for several reasons, not the least of which is that terms like “homosexual” and “heterosexual” are nearly meaningless if I am not myself a clear and singular gender to be sexually attracted to the same or opposite of.

I have thought we might do well to scrap that model entirely and use words that describe what kind of people we’re attracted TO instead of having it be relative to what we ourselves are (e.g. “I’m androphilic – I’m generally attracted to men”.) However, that’s only a third of the question, in my particular case.

In terms of attraction itself, I wrestled for years over whether I should call myself “bi”. I’m mostly attracted to complementary fertility in people with compatible personalities, regardless of their gender identities. There are several exceptions to the “complementary fertility” part, but so far all my actual romantic relationships have been with geeky cis men.

“Sapiosexual” is clearly true, but honestly “Freyrsexual” is more accurate, if five of my last six crushes are any indication. ;p

It actually took a long time for me to realize that “queer” was a fair term. I’m still working on owning that for myself. I agree that it’s an appropriate adjective to describe me, but I have trouble accepting it as part of my social identity – I feel like I’m not queer enough to claim it that strongly.

I have come to realize that I actually am heterosexual in a way. I instinctively shift to complement the gender of a person to whom I’m attracted. Since all my (physical world) lovers so far have been cis men (although many of them have been comfortably in touch with their feminine side, dubbed “honorary lesbians” by their queer and female friends) I have spent most of my time in sexual relationships in female modes. But I have also fallen in love with people of other genders, and I know I shift into a more male mode in the presence of the women I’ve loved. This gets downright confusing when I’m attracted to another genderfluid person, I have to say.

The Antler Brigade and Freyja have been working on me not getting stuck in any given mode in response to other people, so I’m not sure that form of heterosexuality is per se something I’m supposed to stick with in the long run. Ultimately, it’s all because the way my brain and body are wired around the topic of fertility is… less than useful.


Fertility is one of those things that has a lot of load on it. I’ve talked about it before, and I will again I’m sure. The Vanir are “fertility gods”, after all. I define fertility as “Living things making more of themselves, often by combining with each other.” On the one hand, gender is only distantly related to this. On the other hand, I don’t really grok gender as being A Thing at all, in this context.

That is, I understand intellectually, and even emotionally, that gender identity, physical sex traits, sexual orientation, gender roles, and whatever spiritual concepts may have been attached to each of these things are all separate issues that we need to respect aren’t as clear cut and tightly binaristic as Western cultural traditions would have us assume. I’m all for separating them out, and rejecting constraining social roles. I dare anyone to tell me what I can and can’t be, or who I am, based on what they happen to see on the surface. And really, where anyone else’s identity is concerned, this is all fine, and my only real challenge is in keeping up with the appropriate vocabulary and concepts to avoid hurting the more vulnerable, marginalized members of the extended gender diverse and queer community.

For myself, on a very deeply instinctive level, however, I start from “let’s make babies!” and dig my way stubbornly up from there. As far as my instincts are concerned, I am an ovaries-bearing, womb-enabled human animal who has to consciously resist the urge to hunt down testes-bearing, penis-enabled human animals, club them over the head, and drag them home for some rousing making-more-human-animals activities.

It’s not that I’m incredibly horny. The intense desire to make more humans NOW DAMMIT! doesn’t generally manifest as lust. Rather, it registers as the fundamental reason for my existence, that if I don’t figure out how to make babies and raise them to become adults who make more babies, possibly I have no reason for existing.

Again, I want to emphasize, this is NOT what I believe, it’s how a very deep part of myself feels. On anything above that deep, unshakeable level, I’m well aware that’s… well, crazy. And kind of primal. And also not very functional in an overpopulated world. And also not necessarily a very good idea for me personally, actually.

If you tried to tell me that anyone else was purposeless in their existence because they don’t have or don’t want to have children, I’d tell you you’re obviously full of shit, and that primal part of me would even agree that this doesn’t necessarily apply to anyone else. Hell, if you tried to tell me I lack purpose for this reason, and you’re anything other than my inner primal self, I’d tell you exactly the same.

Technically, that primal inner self didn’t actually ask my opinion, however. So… yeah.

There’s a reason I yell at my ovaries to shut up at least once a week. :/


About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
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4 Responses to Beyond Binary

  1. Silver Wolf says:

    I have a bit of the same issue with my own sexuality. I consider myself Bi sexual (I do strictly identify as a cis gendered female, but I can be a bit “butch” at times) but sometimes I wonder if it’s really appropriate. I do tend to go more for cis gendered men, sort of masculine, protective (Thor) types. I do on occasion find myself attracted to a woman but it’s gotten more rare these days. Been in a few relationships with other cis bisexual, or lesbian women, and one that was a bit more genderfluid and on the queer side (best way I could describe her). It’s just never worked out for different reasons, so I struggle with the “am I truly bi?” question.

    I totally understand the intense desire to make other human animals. For me personally, it’s a bit more of what’s referred to as baby fever. Just really wanting my own child and raise them. It does get a little overwhelming sometimes.


    • EmberVoices says:

      I do also want to actually have and raise my own children, if possible, yes. It’s a layered thing. But the layer that affects my gender perception is too deep to have a sense of “raising”, if that makes any sense.


  2. Thank you. As interesting as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • EmberVoices says:

      Oh good! “Interesting” is good.

      Unless we mean the kind of interesting that’s something we wouldn’t put in our mouths. That’s not the good kind…

      I worry when I write about this stuff that mostly what people will think is “Wow, she’s really messed up.”



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