Defining Gender Inversion

A gender invert is someone whose gender is the opposite of the gender associated with their physical sex. Male girls. Female boys. I’m a male girl and I identify as a gender invert. Hi!

The other component of being a gender invert is accepting both one’s physical sex and one’s unexpected gender as natural and correct.

(I just realized the other day that although I’ve been blogging about this stuff since 2014, I’ve never done a blog post specifically about the term!)

Origin

Havelock Ellis popularized the term “gender invert” back in the late 1800s. At the time, he was promoting the notion that homosexual people of either sex were essentially people who possessed a bunch of characteristics of the opposite sex. That notion got challenged and discarded. Most researchers now agree that being a feminine male, or a masculine female, is not what causes a person to be a gay male or a lesbian. 1 So the term “gender invert” was basically discarded and left to rot on the sidewalk.

I’m reclaiming it. Just because it has nothing to do with causing sexual orientation doesn’t mean that gender inversion itself doesn’t exist. Or that it isn’t a useful term. Our society is now familiar with male-to-female and female-to-male transgender people, transitioners who address their situation by bringing their sex into compliance with their gender. “Gender invert” can refer to a similar person who continues to live a life as a male girl or a female boy, someone who embraces rather than seeks to fix the apparent disparity between sex and gender.

The Umbrella Thing

People often offer me other terms to use instead. I am told that I could refer to myself (and to people like me) as “nonbinary transgender”. As opposed to the binary transgender people who transition male-to-female or female-to-male. But as a gender invert, I am operating with some binary assumptions myself, for better or worse: in order to describe a person as having “the opposite” gender from the gender that normally goes with their sex, we’re sort of assuming two body types (male and female) and two genders (boy and girl), because only in a binary two-category system do you have an obvious “opposite”.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to intersex people or to people whose gender identity isn’t binary like that. But most of us who are alive today grew up in a world that uses a binary system for categorizing people by sex. And like most identities, the identity of gender invert exists against the backdrop of society and its existing library of categories.

Yes, I suppose “gender invert” is technically an identity that falls under the transgender umbrella, since anyone who is a gender invert would have a gender identity other than the one that other folks assume them to have. And “gender invert” also falls under the genderqueer umbrella, since anyone who is a gender invert has a gender other than the normative, expected gender, therefore is queer, gender-wise. And since you can’t express “male girl” in a strict binary system where everyone is either male (and hence a man or boy) or else female (and thereby a woman or girl), “gender invert” fits under the umbrella term “nonbinary” as well.

I now have all the umbrellas I need.

What I don’t have is enough specific recognition of my situation. Like lesbians who felt more erased than included by the use of the term “gay”, and preferred to see the word “lesbian” to reflect an awareness of them, I want to see “gender invert” spreading as a concept and as a terminology.

What gender inversion ISN’T — aka what not to say to a gender invert

• Being a gender invert is not another way of saying you have a masculine or feminine “side”. All of me is feminine. Side, back, front, top, bottom. I’m not less feminine in my gender than some other kind of person. A gender invert is not someone halfway inbetween a person who is cisgender and a person who is transgender and getting hormones and surgeries. I find the “side” thing and the assumptions that I’m only semi-feminine to be negating and insulting.

• Obviously, since we’re not living in Havelock Ellis’s time, we all know that gender identity isn’t the same as sexual orientation, right? Actually, weirdly enough, you know where you see these elements conflated with each other a lot? For gays and lesbians. Someone affirms a proud gay femme’s identity by saying “Oh sure I always knew you were gay, totally flaming” and then describes the person’s childhood femininity. Or speaks of their daughter’s incipient identity as a lesbian by describing how butch she was in fourth grade. Well, I should not attempt to speak on behalf of gay or lesbian people who also identify as gender inverts, but yeah, do try to separate the two components in your mind and think before you speak. Me, I’m a sissy femme girlish male whose attraction is towards female folks. I need the term “gender invert” because we don’t have a term for someone like me.

• No, this isn’t about committing genderfuck or cleverly trying to “undermine gender” and I’m not an agender person and I’m not particularly genderfluid either. Some people are. Here’s a respectful and sincere salute to those who are. Nope, I’m gendered. I’m differently gendered, I’m queerly gendered, but I’m genuinely gendered. I have a gender identity.

But why?

I suppose in some ways being a gender invert is a bit old-fashioned, like being bisexual instead of pansexual or something. Perhaps it appears to you like a step backwards, reaffirming those binary categories even as it tries to carve out a noncompliant gender identity from them.

I don’t think it is. I think it’s like coming into an ongoing argument about whether to allow limited medical marijuana use or keep it completely illegal — and saying it should be 100% legal for all uses, recreational and otherwise.

If it had ever already been established that it’s normal and healthy that some percent of female people are extremely masculine, and similarly that some portion of male folks are entirely feminine, it would be a different situation, but it hasn’t been and it isn’t. And since it hasn’t been established that way, proclaiming the desirability of androgyny and/or a gender-free world in which individuals aren’t encouraged to identify with either of those moldy old gendered identities is making that the goal post. For those supporting our side of the debate, that is. The other side maintains its goal posts in the traditional gender conformities. I’ve never been much of a sports fan but I’m pretty sure that means all the action is in between neutral territory and traditional territory.

I’m moving the goal posts.

But moving the goal posts isn’t why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because this is who I am. The fact that I think it’s progressive is just an added benefit. The fact that some may think it’s regressive and old-fashioned instead is just an added burden.

I’m speaking out about it either way.

You, when speaking about the many identities covered by the ever-expanding LGBTQIA+ acronym, or when compiling a list of identity flags for a pride day illustration, please make a mention of gender inverts. I’d appreciate it. I’m here, too.

1 See for example “Same-sex Sexuality and Childhood Gender Non-conformity: a spurious connection”, Lorene Gottschalk, Journal of Gender Studies, Vol 12, No. 1, 2003

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