Beyond Gender

Words by Maxine Hyndman


“Can I help you, young man?” Inwardly I cringed. The comment would not have struck me were I a Maxim not a Maxine, but, smile pasted on my face, I reminded myself that at least the person serving me was kind.

Why did he call me “young man”? But more importantly, why did I cringe, wasn’t I sure I was a woman? What was I feeling? Defense, indignation, insulted, humiliated? Why?

“Why is it that the prerequisite for being unconsciously recognized as female is a D cup, long, flowing hair down your back and lush curves?” I asked my sister-in-law. She said, “Maxine, that isn’t what made the man assume you were male – it was your energy. That intangible quality that is ‘you’ that he felt before he looked at you.”

I hear a lot of talk in perfumeland about how gender shouldn’t or doesn’t matter in perfume, but that isn’t always the truth in the real world.

This made sense to me. We, each of us, project a sort of vibration of the totality of who we are that is felt before we are seen, be that male, female or any combination thereof.

It’s been two years that I have chosen to wear my hair almost completely shaven. I have always had a strong personality that some would even call brash or abrasive, a petite frame, an unmistakably deep, wholesome laugh that is now something of a hallmark, feminine facial features, and small breasts. What category of perfume would I fall under? Masculine? Feminine? Who or rather what defines that? Is gender in perfume more than aesthetics? Is it about a mood, a quality, a feeling?

I hear a lot of talk in perfumeland about how gender shouldn’t or doesn’t matter in perfume, but that isn’t always the truth in the real world. More than a label, it seems people are reaching for states of being that they can inhabit at will and effortlessly when they reach for a bottle of perfume.

It was a recent conversation I had with my sister-in-law that brought to mind that incident many years ago. We spoke about a sample cologne I made and sent to her and my brother to sniff and evaluate. Turns out my brother’s in love with it and says it smells great on his skin whereas she’s in need of something much more “femme” as she puts it.  My sister-in-law is very feminine, so what is she looking for in choosing to wear a “feminine” perfume? Does being feminine imply a lack of strength?

In reaching beyond male/female definitions in perfume, I think what she is wanting as a personal communication of femininity is a sense of malleability. Perhaps it’s a sense of melting, softening, yielding, surrendering and a certain sort of acceptance. These are qualities that any gender can assume at any time for any length of time, in the same way that I “wear” my more masculine, assertive, brash, unyielding qualities on occasion and on others choose not to.

As an aspiring perfumer, this conversation interests me because it has helped me construct the bones of what I believe – that perfume, like music, can serve a higher cause, to lift a soul beyond its present state of awareness or acceptance. When we move beyond a title or a definition, we aren’t ignoring its intrinsic qualities nor are we pretending those qualities have no influence over how we choose to present ourselves to the world. Moving beyond gender means complete acceptance of the totality of what being female or male is so we can shift between states of emotions without guilt, shame, denial or defiance thereby giving us greater freedom of expression. For this reason I believe perfume truly is a gift.

Maxine is a Canadian author and aspiring perfumer living in Italy. She create scents for love. You can find her at

This article appeared in ODOU issue 2
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