Gender presentation, disability and intersections

A few months ago, there was a wonderful conversation in the blogosphere about gender presentation and disability. Jumping off from bfp’s what is butch? (check out the comments for some interesting disability discussion) a range of commenters and bloggers had something to say, and it evolved to have a strong disability focus. Here are extracts from some of the posts:

From cripchick’s on gender and disability:

our bodies are objects that are not supposed to belong to us and by recognizing our genders, it implies that we own our bodies, think about them, take pleasure in them. maybe this is a big jump but to me, affirming our gender also recognizes our personhood: it says we are human and have a right to not have our bodies raped, abused, sterilized, experimented on, harvested, and more…

From Wheelchair Dancer’s Butch/Femme – Crip:

My decision to wear impractical shoes is as much a consequence of me not having to walk in them as it is a decision to participate in a particular understanding of femininity. But what do you see? A sad attempt to look normal? A pair of high heels on a woman? Or something so over the top that it slides into the devotee/fetish view of disabled female sexuality? Note that this is a risk that is only present for disabled women. It’s a long way for nondisableds to go through femme to fetish. Merely presenting certain aspects of traditional femme for a queer disabled woman puts her at risk of becoming a usually straight object of the devotee community.

From Goldfish’s Gender Presentation & Disability:

Myself, I like skirts and jewellery and what my stylist friend calls romantic clothes, but I can’t be doing with discomfort and material frivolity. I can’t cope with it in terms of pain and energy levels, and I can’t afford it. So I break the rules.

I don’t want to talk about my gender presentation as it ties in with disability, because it also interacts with race in some painful ways I am not in a space to discuss as well as some class issues I haven’t properly examined. And, indeed, I don’t feel right defining, settling into a particular mode of presentation, at least for now. But that’s no reason you can’t talk about yours. How does your gender presentation interact with your disability, your sexual orientation (or lack thereof, if that’s how you frame it) and your life history?


  1. My gender identity/presentation (and sexuality) have interacted with my disability in many ways, but one of the most difficult things for me has been my inability to bind. I’m trans and genderqueer, and my ideal gender presentation is of a person with a flat chest, but because of my back spasms it causes me a lot of discomfort to bind the way I want to. I’ve still tried it on a few occasions, and then I’m happier with the way I look, but I have to deal with being in a lot more physical pain. So I had to choose: Present the appearance that matches my gender identity, or have a bit less pain? I usually ended up not binding, trying to minimize my pain as much as I could, but I’d be self-conscious and unhappy with the appearance of my chest all the time.

  2. What I said in that post. I think I’m more femme (I ID as female), but I dress pretty practical most of the time, and I prefer to look kinda butch when I do (Why? Counterpoint to feeling fragile? Cheaper? Fuck-off vibes? Just is me?) but when I have the spoons and occasion to dress up, I go glam, fairly impractical, and more femme. (Feels like a celebration and a contrast.) I sure could do with more self-analysis about it all, though. Such a great topic to talk about!

  3. Argh, I meant I ID as femme and female, not to imply that there’s a natural link between the two.

  4. The thing my disability really did, I think, was make me okay with my body as a source of derision. I started using a cane at 21, and before that, I was always really afraid that people would look at me and judge me, so I dressed really conservatively and tried to be asexual. Then I got my cane–something possessed me to buy one that was electric blue. Suddenly everyone was looking at me and making judgments about my body, and it was somehow easier to deal with real people who made comments or gave me sidelong looks than the imaginary potentially mean people I’d always imagined when I got dressed in the morning. I could start to experiment with presenting as more feminine, and using makeup and jewellery. The other thing was, suddenly anything that gave me joy in my body was fucking precious. I learned that dressing well, and being pretty and getting attention for that, could balance out bad pain days when I felt like I was living in a broken meatsack.

    I’m fairly low-key in my femininity (I’m cis)–my Big Concessions are wearing a nice shirt with my jeans, and matching jewellery to which of my four hairstyles I’m wearing today. It wasn’t until my disability became a public thing that my body became a source of pride. I guess when you defend something against all comers, you figure out you’re actually right when you say there’s nothing wrong with it. On the other hand, my disability balances out how far I can go with my gender, since the more disabled I look, the less sexual attention I get. “Sure, this is a really low-cut shirt, but I’ll have my cane with me so nobody will notice anyway.”

  5. Lis, “asexual” is a bit of a problematic word in this context (unless you actually are asexual, in which case, I beg my apologies). But to say “asexual” in the sense of “not dressing in a sexually appealing way” or “trying to suppress my sexuality” is a bit…offensive to people who identify as asexual.

  6. Agh, I’m really sorry. That is not what I meant. It was a bad word choice on my part.
    .-= Lis´s last blog ..God, I can’t even. =-.

  7. Thanks, meloukhia 🙂

    My gender presentation has definitely interacted with my disability and my sexuality. I ID as pretty feminine, but thanks to AS I have a really, really difficult time telling what the connotations of various clothing choices are and am *terrified* of accidentally sending out some message I don’t mean to or know about by virtue of what I wear. As a result, I tend to always wear the pretty androgynous combination of jeans, T-shirt and hoodie because that’s a “safe” choice, even though I really like flowing skirts and other far more feminine clothing choices. Also, I simply don’t have the energy to manage things like make-up, jewellery or hair styling except on special occasions, and can often only just maintain minimum standards of personal hygiene let alone spend time on that kind of thing.

    Sexuality also comes into it, because I’m asexual and am really, really uncomfortable with people being sexually interested in me. It’s a type of attention I do not know how to deal with at all. So although I enjoy looking attractive (in an aesthetic sense) my usual dress is often more focussed on minimising my sexual appeal (e.g. baggy hoodies). Would like to point out since it came up above that this isn’t de facto standard for asexuals, I don’t think my discomfort at sexual interest is that usual and I think most asexual people dress pretty much like most sexuals, really.
    .-= Kaz´s last blog ..randomness =-.

  8. We will absolutely not ask you to be the Representative Asexual Person, Kaz, though we very much appreciate you sharing your views and experiences.

    It’s an interesting point you bring up, the intersection of gender and sexuality presentation and autism spectrum conditions — there’s a tendency in the BDSM community (especially in the queer leather parts of it) to presume that wearing something on the left indicates that the wearer is a top or dominant while wearing something on the right connotes bottom or submissive. It gets as granular as the way boots and shoes are laced; some tops like their boots laced with the left lace over the right when in the handmaid’s or poor woman’s lace pattern. (Before I developed a sensitivity to horsehair I was a competitive bootblack, so I’ve seen a lot of people’s boots up close and personal.)

    The way I lace my boots doesn’t have anything to do with my sexual, sex, or gender identifications. I lace my boots so that the laces are symmetrical across a mirror plane between my feet, either with an inside over outside handmaid’s lace or poor woman’s lace or a straight-across lace that doesn’t have the laces crossing visibly at all. Symmetry is a big issue for me and some asymmetries make for a lot of noise in my head. I wind up having to explain that way, way too much.

    Having mobility impairments almost makes my gender presentation (most days I present as somewhere on the femme side of androgynous) easier in some ways; I have a good excuse to not wear the very feminine shoes that hurt and to wear the big stompy boots I love. I can’t lift my arms above my head to wear complicated hairstyles and wearing makeup more than occasionally makes my sensitive skin unhappy — and I’m not all that interested in doing either. Fortunately for me, aside from my height I have a body that isn’t visibly marked as trans so I can get away with skipping some feminine performance without having my gender questioned. Much.

  9. wow. this is just way too big a question for me to answer here lol. But im definitely appreciating all the comments. It’s a great big thing, being a g/imp does weave in through all of my gender presentation, and sexual orientation, for both in ways i never expected. For sure.

  10. […] Gender presentation, disability and intersections How does your gender presentation interact with your disability, your sexual orientation (or lack thereof, if that’s how you frame it) and your life history? […]