It’s true.

First, there’s the fact that no one can agree on which one of “genderqueer” and “nonbinary” is the umbrella term, and which one refers to people who identify specifically outside the gender binary (instead of as both men and women or whatever).

There are well-behaved words like “genderfluid” which have a fair amount of predictive power, insofar as I can expect a genderfluid person to have “girl days” and/or “boy days” and/or “nonbinary days”. These are, tragically, the exception.

There are words like “agender”, which seems to have at least two different kinds of people in it. There are agender people who don’t really care about gender: they just go “meh” and move on with their lives. And there are agender people who feel incredibly shitty whenever anyone calls them any gender or treats them like any gender. Those two groups seem, to put it lightly, like they have absolutely fucking nothing to do with each other whatsoever.

And then there are words like “bigender” and “trigender” and “pangender” and “androgyne” and “intergender” and shit, where people who clearly have different gender experiences are identifying as the same word, and people who have the same gender experiences are identifying as different words, and it’s a total goddamn mess and I can’t predict anything about how someone experiences gender based on what words they like.

And then Tumblr happened and a bunch of fourteen-year-olds started using extremely elaborate metaphors for their genders and deciding that they’re “voidgender” because their gender is so nonexistent it’s like T H E V O I D. This is very nice from an aesthetic perspective but doesn’t exactly help the “no one has any goddamn idea what they’re talking about” problem.

I’m not sure this problem is actually fixable. Gender feelings are, by their nature, very hard to talk about– I can’t feel exactly what you’re feeling, so how do I know if we’re experiencing the same thing or not? And the way we experience our genders is so influenced by our race, our disabilities, our sexualities, our class, where we grew up, our assigned sex at birth, our parents, our childhood friends, the books we read, and so on, that getting at the raw feeling itself is nigh-impossible.

I guess the take-home message of this post is that you cannot assume that someone is not dysphoric because of the words they identify with. If someone identifies as stargender, it gives you information about some things– for instance, that they probably have a Tumblr– but it doesn’t tell you whether they have to dissociate to get through sex, or whether they avoid mirrors because they can’t stand their body, or whether it feels like a icicle in their gut every time someone calls them “she”. You have to go with the base rate of those traits among people who use gender-neutral pronouns, which is “high”. The whole fucking situation is entirely too messy for anyone to conclude things about a person’s gender experiences from their chosen labels.