What is Agender and What are Agender Pronouns?

Nessie Avery shares her experiences of a childhood feeling “different” and how she eventually came to understand the meaning of agender, realising that she’s agender, and began exploring the use of agender pronouns.

Agender Meaning and Definition

Agender (adj.) is not having a gender or a “lack of” a gender. Agender people see themselves as neither a man nor a woman, or both. They’re gender-neutral and often describe themselves as gender-free or genderless.

Agender Pronouns

Agender people can use a variety of agender pronouns, depending on what they feel the most comfortable with. Below is a list of common agender pronouns used by agender people:

  • They/Them
  • She/Her
  • He/Him

Agender people may also use a combination of agender pronouns, or even some neo-pronouns. If you’re unsure on what to use, be sure to ask.

“I’m Nessie, I’m 23 years old, and I’m agender.

So, what is agender?”

You wouldn’t know that just by looking at me. I have long waist-length hair, I have feminine features, and my voice is softer with a higher pitch. To the outside world, I am a woman. But what is agender?

I grew up in an authoritarian religious household with traditional views. We were taught that God made humans exclusively male and female. I was taught that anyone who was transgender, non-binary or otherwise gender-nonconforming was confused, psychologically traumatised, and needed therapy.

Along with these assumptions came expectations of strict gender roles: the man was the head of the household and the women were to submit to him. Women were to be the caretakers and the mothers, whilst the father was supposed to be the breadwinner.

My brothers were encouraged to go to judo classes every Wednesday, but despite my interest and enthusiasm for martial arts, I wasn’t allowed. I was instead taught how to iron clothes. An important life skill – but oddly enough, I don’t recall my brothers ever being taught this.

Discovering I’m Agender

Unfortunately for young Nessie, I never fit the mould of a “girl” much less a “woman”. I hated wearing skirts and dresses because they would get in the way if I wanted to climb a tree or ride a bike; I was never interested in boys or marriage.

Taking the role of a “mother” in play-acting as a child made me so uncomfortable. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.

By primary school, I decided that I wasn’t a girl, I was a tomboy. Somewhere between primary and secondary school, I decided that “tomboy” wasn’t good enough. I wanted to be an actual boy.

It’s Natural to Explore Your Gender Identity

The annoying thing was, not a lot changed for me to “be a boy”. I still wore my frayed jeans and t-shirts with hoodies. I still did all of the “boy things” I’d always been doing: running around at the speed of sound, getting into fights occasionally, and doing stunt jumps on my bike.

However, there were some changes that I could make: I started wearing my long hair beneath a red baseball hat. I gave myself a new name – Matthew. I tried to make my voice deeper and got annoyed when my face still looked feminine in the mirror and my voice never sounded male.

After a while, I thought “to hell with it” and ditched the hat and the name and the voice. It was too much effort to keep up the charade, and even though I wasn’t happy as a girl, it still felt too much like I was putting it on as a boy.

And I knew that if my parents caught me “being a boy”, they wouldn’t like it.

Growing Up Agender

I went to an all-girls high school, which upon reflection was possibly the worst school for me. I had absolutely no comprehension of this strange new environment of makeup, crushes on boys, jewellery, and perfume. None of my interests lined up with the rest of my classmate, and I was socially inept enough to escape the realisation that I was being bullied.

I insisted on wearing trousers to school, which immediately marked me out to everyone as different. Despite my protestations, my mother bought me “nice blouses” that didn’t button all the way to the top like the more unisex ones I preferred. She even hid my school trousers sometimes in order to force me to go to school in a skirt.

More often than not, I spent the whole day feeling so uncomfortable and self-conscious that I wished that the ground would open and swallow me whole. But I was a girl. I had to get used to it.

Find out more about non-binary identities

Realizing I Wasn’t Cisgender

More than once I told my father, “I don’t want to grow up.” That wasn’t entirely true; what I meant was, “I don’t want to grow up to be a woman”. It was jarring when the woman at the playpark chided her young son, saying, “Let the lady go past first”.

It made me feel sick whenever my mother and I would go shopping for “girls’ stuff” (and not just because I hated shopping). If I had to wear a dress for a wedding or formal event, the initial thrill of positive attention would soon give way to a deep regret that I’d not just worn my dark jeans, a shirt and a blazer.

My face didn’t feel like mine. I didn’t feel like I had any connection to my body. I wasn’t attracted to anyone romantically or sexually, so I didn’t have a marker there, either.

Deep down, I wasn’t a girl or a boy. I was just me: agender (but I didn’t know it yet). I didn’t even know the answer to “What is agender?”

One day I stumbled onto an inclusive roleplaying game community online, focused around games such as Dungeons and Dragons and Vampire the Masquerade.

I remember my first thoughts upon joining the community were “Ew, they make you choose your PRONOUNS to join? I’ll stay but I’m not letting them brainwash me into this gender nonsense.” I ticked “she/her” and started making friends.

Read More:

How I Found My Answer to “What Is Agender?”

One of these friends was the first non-binary person I’d ever met, and we really hit it off. Over many videogames, we talked about gender, politics, and movies, and we got to know each other.

I messed up their pronouns more times than I care to admit, but they were my friend and I was determined to get the “they/them” business down. Over time, another non-binary friend joined our group. I felt an immediate connection with them too: we liked the same music, we both were wondering if we had ADHD, and we were both asexual.

I remarked on how similar we were and made a prophetic joke: “It’d be funny if I was actually non-binary just to complete the picture”. In fact, I was agender, I just didn’t know its meaning and significance yet.

And the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether this could actually explain everything.

I did some research into the term “agender” and its meaning. The definition of agender, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a person who has an internal sense of being neither male nor female nor some combination of male and female”.

It gave me the words I’d been looking for all my life. I’m not a woman, I’m not a man; I’m not somewhere between the two; I’m just me, and I don’t fit in any of the boxes.

How My Close Friends Support My Identity

First and foremost, they can support you by appreciating the meaning of your experience and using the correct agender pronouns.

I am well aware of the fact that most people perceive me as a woman, so I still use “she” and “her” pronouns. But my close friends often use “they/them” pronouns for me and that simple recognition makes me feel incredibly happy.

Unfortunately, the struggle with gender doesn’t end when you’ve found the right label that describes you. We live in a world that, at best, misunderstands us, and at worst, despises us. One of the devastating effects of this pressure is that we subconsciously try to squash ourselves back into the binary boxes we’ve broken free from.

Almost every non-cis person I know struggles with imposter syndrome. We doubt ourselves, and we compare ourselves to others. Even when our gender describes us better than we could imagine, we don’t feel like we have the right to claim it.

This is the most insidious form of dysphoria, feeling like you don’t belong in your gender. Even writing this article is difficult.

Coming to Terms with My Past

With every word I type, I can hear my father in the back of my head insisting that I’m a mentally ill, traumatised, confused child.

It’s something people like me have heard all our lives, and that’s the true horror of transphobia. It doesn’t just mean that others reject us, it means that we reject ourselves.

Non-Binary Identities Need Love and Acceptance

Beyond tolerance, trans and gender-nonconforming people and agender people need acceptance and love. Beyond recognition, we need representation. Do your best to understand the meaning and significance behind the agender experience and be sure to ask about a person’s agender pronouns.

It’s absolutely vital for those who are struggling to find their place in the world. To date, there are almost no openly non-binary characters in media.

Agender in Transgender Representation

Transgender people also suffer this lack of representation, with trans narratives few and far between.

Discrimination against trans and non-binary people is lawful in many states. Terms like “agender” are still misunderstood in terms of meaning and are only just starting to gain recognision by the general public.

Without representation and acceptance, people like me will struggle unnecessarily with feeling broken, defective and in isolation, because we don’t fit into society’s moulds.

I’m also on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NessieAvery. If you have any questions about being agender, please feel free to DM me there.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash