How Do Bi-Gender People Experience Their Genders?

I’m conducting a survey of bi-gender people to help learn about and spread the word about what it means to be bi-gender. If you haven’t read about it elsewhere on this site, “bi-gender” (also written “bigender”) means having two genders, often but not always male or female, and experiencing them at the same time or at different times.

In other words, some bi-gender people experience their gender as a combination of two, others experience them separately, and still others sometimes do one and sometimes the other. That’s the topic of one of the questions in the survey.

gender identity experience among bi-gender people

For anyone who has read my book, you’ll know that I’m in that small green section, people who pretty much go back and forth between two genders without really ever finding themselves in the middle. As it turns out, that’s unusual among my survey sample: most people sometimes or always experience both genders at the same time.

The one response under “other” was from someone who wasn’t sure if the question meant to ask about gender identity or gender expression. My intention was closer to gender identity, though I meant gender identity in terms of how it feels at different times rather than in terms of how we define ourselves overall. Of course, I can’t say whether other respondents got this intention from the way I phrased the question.

There are other terms that can encompass the idea of being two genders at once: “genderqueer,” sometimes “genderfluid,” and just plain “nonbinary,” for example, could all potenitally cover it. Yet I don’t think it makes sense to try to insist that the term “bi-gender” not include people who might also be described in other ways, even if it were possible to make that change. First, “bi-gender” emphasizes the duality of our genders, which for some of us is a central point. Second, while for some of us, our gender experience may be consistent over many years, for others the experience of being bi-gender can change over time: gender proportions can shift, and the way we experience our genders can change as well. Not expecting the term “bi-gender” to give a specific account of exactly how we feel and present our genders leaves latitude for a range of gender experiences. There’s no point getting out of the gender binary box only to be trapped in another box of expectations.

My sample size is still small, although it’s growing. As of this writing, there are 18 respondents, which seems small unless you consider how difficult to find we bi-gender people currently are! I’ll post more results from the survey in posts going forward.

Bi-gender FAQ, Part I

Over the course of the past six months or so, I’ve been lucky enough to be in touch with several dozen bi-gender people scattered around the world. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but we’re extremely hard to find: not many people currently identify as bi-gender … though that may change.

Here are a few common questions and answers about bigenderism.

Q: What does bi-gender mean?

A person who identifies as bi-gender experiences two different genders. Often the two genders are male and female, but one or both of the genders could be something entirely different from either of those. Some bi-gender people move back and forth between genders, some move here and there on a spectrum between their two genders, and some mostly stay in one state combining their two genders.

Q: What are some examples of bi-gender identities?

1. A person who was designated a female at birth, who has had “top surgery” to gain a flatter chest, and who generally speaking feels mostly male but also partly female
2. A person who was designated a male at birth, who has male anatomy, and who moves back and forth between being female and male on an irregular schedule.
3. A person who was designated female at birth and who sometimes identifies as female and sometimes as having no gender.

Q: Do people decide to be bi-gender?

The short answer is no. Bi-gender people generally experience their genders first and only later are able to make sense of them. For many of us, our gender identity never made complete sense to us until we discovered the term “bi-gender” and that there were other people who were like us. As a rule, a non-bi-gender person can’t decide to be bi-gender, and a bi-gender person can’t decide not to be. Many of us have spent a lot of effort in our lives trying and failing not to be bi-gender, simply because it can be confusing, difficult, poorly understood, and sometimes badly-treated.

Q: What research has been done on bigenderism?

Virtually none. As of this writing, I’m conducting a non-scientific but careful survey of bi-gender people in an attempt to assemble some basic knowledge of what bigenderism is and how people experience it. If you’re bi-gender, I’d be deeply grateful if you add to our knowledge by taking the survey, here.

Drs. Ramachandran and Chase of the University of California, San Diego have studied a small minority of bi-gender people who reportedly switch back and forth between male and female involuntarily, a condition Ramachandran and Chase have dubbed “Alternating Gender Incongruity,” or AGI. However, it does not appear that AGI is at all common among bigenders. Of the dozens of bi-gender people I’ve spoken to, zero have reported having this condition. One individual portrayed in an episode of the radio program Radiolab who had AGI apparently suffered from a neurological condition and, when treated, experienced a gender identity shift to transwoman.

Q: Is it “bigender,” “bi-gender,” or “bi gender”?

Both “bigender” and “bi-gender” are used, but I advise “bi-gender.” It looks a little more awkward, but the term is unfamiliar to most people at the time of this writing, and “bigender” is too easy to read as “big ender.” Some of us may have big ends, but it’s considered polite not to consider this a defining characteristic.

“Bi gender” is a misspelling: it’s just one word, so there should be no space.

Q: What’s the difference between bisexual and bi-gender?

Bisexuality is a sexual orientation–that is, it’s about who you’re attracted to. Bigenderism is a gender identity–who you are. A bisexual is like a person who enjoys and listens to both hard rock and opera, while a bi-gender person is like a professional musician who plays both hard rock and opera.

Bi-gender people can be (and often are) bisexual, but they can also be attracted only to men, attracted only to women, pansexual (attracted to people of all genders), agender, etc.

 

I’ll continue this FAQ in an upcoming post. Any questions, complaints, improvements, or corrections? If so, please get in touch through my contact page. Thanks!