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Inside the ‘Masculine of Center Femme’ Oxymoron

Inside the ‘Masculine of Center Femme’ Oxymoron

Man with pink bow in long brown hair in blue dress with a men's bathroom sign pointing at him

Note: In December of 2018, a reader submitted an in-depth question about a piece I had written, titled “Too Girly to be Trans?”I wrote a series of deep dives into my thoughts on gender identity as a response. At the time, I was still in the closet — I came out as a transgender man, changed my name from “Mimi” to “Marty,” and started using he/him pronouns in June of 2019. 

So … what the fuck is “masculine of center femme”?

Why do I insist on looking just like a stereotypical woman — or, like my sister said once, looking “more girly than actual girls”, if I don’t even think of myself as female?

To make it even more confusing, why do I use she/her pronouns, thus making me pretty much the equivalent of a cis woman on the surface?

If you’ve been wondering these things during the course of getting to know me, it’s likely that a few of those questions have come up — so get excited! you’re about to get some #answers to your most burning questions about my gender identity.

First, we must define gender

It’s perfectly natural to be curious — I mean, I would be too, in your position. So when P asked me for a clarification, I was more than happy to provide one. I dug in and started writing …

.. and then realized that the topic was way more complicated than I had originally thought.

“Masculine of center femme” simply means “looking like a girl on the outside while feeling like a guy on the inside.”

But what exactly is the definition of “a girl” and “a guy”?

Biological anatomy? Invalid — there exist women with penises, men with vaginas, and intersex people with both characteristics.

Gender stereotypes, such as “men are horny assholes” and “women are hysterical pools of emotion” (which I disagree with, by the way)? Invalid — according to this extremely simplistic example, any dude who was in touch with his emotions would be, by definition, a woman, and any lady who enjoyed an abundance of casual sex would be, by definition, a man. [1]

Yeah, no.

Do you see my dilemma here? In order to define what my gender identity was, I had to first define what gender was, and that’s an incredibly complex topic to tackle.

I am no gender studies scholar. All of my opinions and explanations as of this article’s publication date (December 2018) are derivative of others’ and my own lived experiences.

Defining “gender” became super hard. The very concept seemed nebulous and self-contradictory. How could I talk about gender without invalidating others’ experiences that were different from my own?

My boyfriend, who witnessed my struggle first-hand, had an eloquent way of describing this: [2]

Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

In the end, after much deliberation, discussion, and Internet rabbit-holing, I came to what I believe to be the most accurate definition of gender, any biological considerations notwithstanding: gender is aesthetic presentation and conformity to gender roles, all of which can vary based on context. [3]

Let’s think about this for a moment. “Context” here refers to the environment that one is currently living in. “Aesthetic presentation” refers to that person’s physical appearance. “Conformity to gender roles” refers to how well that person matches a certain set of characteristics that is commonly associated with a certain gender.

If you live in the United States of America circa the 2010s and see a person with long hair wearing a dress, you will most likely assign the label ‘female’ to them, and expect them to fulfill ‘feminine’ gender roles, such as not being the one to pay for the first date. In this vein, their aesthetic presentation acts as a sort of signifier to what gender they identify as, which prompts you to assign them to a certain gender role.

Now for the ‘masculine of center femme’ bit …

With this definition of gender in place, I assert that I identify as ‘masculine of center femme’ because I wish to present in a way that is indicative of femininity, while at the same time conforming to masculine gender roles.

I like to wear my dresses with big-ass hairbows, occasionally with heels and bright pink lipstick. At the same time, I like paying for dates, holding hands with my hand in front, being the one to open doors for other people, and sending the first message on Tinder.

The idea of being shoved into a certain gender role based on how I look has always been very uncomfortable to me, so I specifically brought together two terms, “masculine of center” and “femme”, to illustrate that people like me do in fact exist.

It’s a total oxymoron. That’s the point.

Why I still use she/her pronouns

Now you know why I identify as masculine of center femme, but I haven’t explicitly explained why I still choose to use she/her pronouns.

P pointed it out here:

You also say this: “Whenever I go to stores, I’m referred to as “miss,” “ma’am”, or “she.” People I regularly interact with continue to casually refer to me as female, even though they know I’m out. And while one part of me is righteously peeved…” [source]

But you also say that you use she/her pronouns for yourself. [source]

But you also will say to people, “Hey, I wanted to let you know that I’m gender-nonconforming, and would have appreciated it if you’d asked my pronouns before referring to me as ‘she.’” [source]

This confusion is totally warranted. I mean, what’s the point of identifying as anything other than female at all if I insist on wearing dresses and using she/her pronouns?

Here’s where I have to be super honest — in a perfect world, I wouldn’t use she/her pronouns. I’d use he/him pronouns.

I would even be like “yes, Karen, I’m a transgender man who likes to wear dresses, and also your son identifies as a gay man because he’s dating me.” [4] That would pretty much make the rest of my life.


Society isn’t there yet. If I were to use he/him pronouns, I would have to deal with the automatic responsibility of having to explain myself and/or educate people on the spot. Because P is also right about this:

0.5% of people identify as trans, and, I imagine, you are one of very few folks who is biologically female and presents as ultra-femme but who identifies as male. Almost nobody is going to even think to ask you if you’re gender non-conforming. [source]

I love writing about my gender identity. I love talking to others about my gender identity. I love thinking about ways I could make educating people less judgmental and more inclusive from my end. But I don’t think I could do it every single time someone refers to me as “she” or “her”. At least not now. And, sadly, I’m not in that camp where I can just “ignore it” if I’m out. Ever since I’ve come out as a masculine of center femme, I’ve had to say something when someone refers to me as “female” or a “woman”.

I know, I know, I’m extra about it. For me, it’s about a refusal to compromise on my values.

It’s a pleasure to write and be open about this stuff, but when I have to explain the same thing and encounter skepticism and outright disrespect over and over, it becomes really emotionally draining. So, for now, I’d rather avoid that whole brouhaha and just go by she/her.

tl;dr I’m just fucking scared. ☹️

I know that’s not the “right” answer, but confident as I am about expressing myself to people, my feelings towards gender identity themselves are pretty delicate. As of right now, I’m not emotionally strong enough to be like “hey! I am a man who wears dresses!”

I hope you understand. For now, I prefer she/her pronouns. I hope that one day soon, society will be at a place where I can use he/him pronouns and feel totally okay in doing so.

There is one thing I can promise, though: I will be one of the forces that causes society to change in that direction.

Okay, but whole concept of “gender” sounds pretty problematic …

It is! I agree. This whole thing is super restrictive and reinforces toxic gender stereotypes ten million times over. I realized this when I started to dive into what “gender” really meant: if it just comes down to looks and arbitrary roles, it’s pretty shitty. And we should do something about it.

I don’t want to be forcing stereotypes down people’s throats when we can simply treat humans as humans, and refer to them as whatever they wish to be referred to as. Gender is fluid, and humans are always changing their minds anyway. It’s possible that I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel like identifying as a completely different gender. Unlikely, but possible. And in the case that I do, I want to be living in a context where it is acceptable for me to do just that.

So what’s there to do? What should the ideal society be like, gender wise?

For that, my friend, you’ll have to stay tuned for the second part. ♚


[1] Originally this said “men are rational” and “women are emotional”, but my sister thought that “men are horny assholes” was a more relevant stereotype. I don’t disagree.

[2] He can really can hold his own in a conversation about gender, despite being a cis dude. That’s hot.

[3] This is a flawed, simplistic way to view gender and I’m not going to deny it. I like thinking about this stuff, and I’m more than happy to read more books, talk to more people, and expand my views on this topic.

[4] This is what they call “fictional speculation”. My boyfriend’s mother is not actually a transphobic person named Karen.

All parts in this series

Introduction: A Two-Part Inquiry Into My Thoughts About Gender

Part 1: “Inside the ‘Masculine of Center Femme’ Oxymoron

Part 2: “In My Perfect World, Gender Wouldn’t Exist”

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao. All rights reserved.

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