The Gendered History: A Follow-Up

Talking with my metamour recently made me think of and reread my Gendered History series. I feel like it implies that now, I’m completely happy in my body, that I don’t ever question my gender or my pronouns or my presentation, that I never wish I were something different, that I don’t ever have any negative thoughts related to my gender.

Spoiler alert: that’s not true.

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Outside Questions: How can someone tell if they are transgender or genderqueer?

For the first time, I’m tackling a question someone asked elsewhere and posting it here. It’s not an uncommon question, it’s not an easy question, and it’s not even a completely clear question, terminology-wise. How can someone tell if they are transgender or genderqueer?

The first thing I want to address is what may be implied by the “or”. A person can be both transgender and genderqueer. I am one such person! I sometimes shorthand it to “transqueer”, but I also sometimes shorthand “speed limit” to “splimit”. I am genderqueer because that is my gender. I am transgender because my gender does not match my assigned at birth sex, and because I say so. It’s important to note that not all genderqueer people are trans; you only are if you say you are. This is a word you can choose for yourself, not a word you can choose for someone else (excepting cases of choosing for a fictional person, though I know writers who would argue that even the fictional person is choosing for themself and that you’re just writing down their choice).

Second: how can you tell if you’re transgender? Like I said, this is a personal choice. Most people look at the definition of “gender different from the sex assigned at birth” and then, if the definition fits, choose if they wish to use this word. Some people use it for a while and then stop using it for various reasons, none of any more or less value than others. This word is a choice. This word is for YOU to choose for YOU. Not for someone else to choose for you. Not for you to choose for someone else. For you to choose for yourself, and for you to respect another person’s choice regarding whether or not it is used for them.

Third: how can you tell if you’re genderqueer? This is even more personal, I think. This is your personal journey with your gender identity and gender expression and even in what words you like best and least. If you’re not sure, I would start by reading other people’s accounts of their own journeys, or of their feelings and perceptions and experiences of being genderqueer. Here’s mine. Google (or another search engine of your choice) will help you find more, I’m sure.

An extra note: how can you tell if someone else is transgender or genderqueer?

By listening to what they say. By reading what they write in their online profile, on their Facebook page, in a letter or email, on their forehead in Sharpie if that’s how they choose to tell others. If you suspect but aren’t sure, don’t tell others that they are. I would even caution against a straight question, unless you’ve already expressed multiple times (sincerely, honestly, understandably) that you are supportive of this person regardless of their gender. If you haven’t expressed that but want to ask, start expressing it. Make your friendperson feel safe with you, and they’re more likely tell you whether you ask or not. Make them feel unsafe, insecure, or unsure, and they’re not likely to tell you at all.

Being Out (As Trans) At Work

I work in geriatric healthcare with a personal speciality of dementia – which, all in all, means I spend 40 hours each week hanging out with people who are living in the 40s as literally as one can in 2015. I live in a conservative state with people who are living in the 40s. This is … not conducive to being out at work in any sort of to-the-patients sense. I’ve talked about this before, and largely my feelings on the matter haven’t changed, but there’s a new dimension I never thought about before: coworkers.
Now, in most jobs, I wouldn’t be out to my boss or my boss’s boss or the person with more experience who has the boss’s ear, just because there are no protections for me if that’s why I’m tossed out of a job. It doesn’t matter how cool a boss seems about things; you pretty much don’t know until it’s too late to back out if you can safely come out or not. This also means I’m wary about being out to coworkers – who would tell the boss without thinking, who would tell the boss with the intent of getting me fired?
But there were two people at work who I trusted a lot – let’s call them T and E. I told T once when I was in her car for a 30-minute drive and very drunk. T was incredibly amused by my drunk self’s need to talk about everything, especially compared to my sober, early-morning, don’t-know-how-to-make-words self. The next day, T asked how much of the night I remembered – all of it – and if I had been serious about what I said about gender. I rambled a bit about how all of my gender theory is very wibbly-wobbly and I don’t always believe the same thing for more than an hour and I can believe totally contradictory things at the same time and yes, I am transqueer. T said, “Okay. I’m going to keep calling you ‘she’ to the patients because I don’t know what else to say and they definitely won’t. Let me know if I need to change anything like that, or if you tell someone else.” (The only change I told T was to never gender me before a patient did and to never disagree with that gender, whatever it is.) Nothing else changed in the slightest. If you’re wondering how to be a good ally – here’s your example.
Now, if you’re wondering how to be a bad ally, let’s talk about E. When I told her, she nodded and put on a very obvious “whatever you say, drunk person” face. When I confirmed the following day, she laughed. And then she started to make fun of my gender. And then she started to make fun of my gender in front of coworkers. And then she started to make fun of my gender in front of patients. I asked T what to do; T eventually stepped in and said “this is completely inappropriate but especially in front of patients.” (which, yes, it definitely was, and while me saying things had no effect on E, T at least got the mocking-in-front-of-patients to stop.)
E hasn’t said anything to the boss, per her own report, and I haven’t either, because I don’t know where the boss would fall on this. E’s side, against the queer? My side, against the blatant mockery? Other coworkers are largely staying out of it, which to me says that they are choosing not to join the mockery OR haven’t figured out what the mockery is about. T is staying out of it on my request – neither of us are sure where the boss would fall, and I can deal with E’s shit better if I’m not wondering “have I just signed my own pink slip or brought in another ally?”
I shouldn’t have to wonder that, though. It should be as clear-cut as when one coworker started badgering another about marriage – you’ve been dating for ten years, why aren’t you married, I’m getting married after dating for 3 years, why aren’t you getting married, being single is ridiculous – and the boss stepped down with a polite but firm smackdown of “her personal life isn’t yours to interrogate” and “how would you like it if she were acting like this to you, saying that getting married is ridiculous?” It stopped. Immediately. I should be confident that if I went to the boss with E’s badgering, the same thing would happen, but I could be fired instead.
And that needs to change.

Cishet – Insult or Innocent Descriptor?

There’s been some discussion lately in a group I’m a part of about the term “cishet” – short for “cisgender and heterosexual” – and whether it’s an insult or just a word to describe a group of people. I’ve actually seen three sides emerge in this debate:

1. It’s an insult. Queer people (and, as it’s often grouped together as “white cishet men”, female people and people of color) use it to attack an entire group of people, disregarding the fact Not All White Cishet Men are against the values of the queer, female people of color. It alienates the allies among cisgender heterosexual people by reducing them to the same level as the attackers, and it should not be used.

2. It’s used as an insult to give the insulting group some sort of power over the majority, seeing as how A Lot Of White Cishet Men participate (knowingly or not) in the oppression of a variety of minorities. Depending on context, it might not be an insult, but it needs to be available to give back some of the power when necessary. Allies should recognize their privilege and be willing to admit to it, part of which is owning their part in the cishet-centric society, but they shouldn’t be attacked with it the way non-allies can be.

3. It’s just a word that describes a person or group of people. If you automatically take it as an insult, that says much more about you than it does about the person who used it. Even it were part of a phrase “white male cishet assholes”, it’s still not an insult – assholes is the insult, and the rest is just to be a bit more specific about exactly which kind of assholes we’re dealing with. Allies can be cishet, but so can assholes; cishet is not the most important word in that phrase.

Has anyone else encountered this debate? What’s your take on it?

Transgender Day of Remembrance

I feel very strongly about the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I believe that it’s not enough, but it’s what we have, a part of what we can and should be doing. I believe it’s important to remember our past and our siblings (yes, our trans* siblings, not only our trans brothers and sisters) even while we push ahead to our future. I believe it’s important to hold these in public and visible places, to invite allies, to support each other, to support the lost.

I wanted this to be a very different post. I hoped I could write a different post, I thought maybe I could move past this and talk about how much it means to me – as a trans* person and as a human being – to see the number of allies that showed up in the extreme cold and the wonderful supportiveness.

But I can’t. Someone made what I have to assume was a poorly thought out decision at my local Day of Remembrance. Someone thought it was appropriate to give a speech that was thinly veiled victim blaming, and they carried it on way too far.

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Baths: Apparently They Don’t Have To Be A Thing

When I was an infant, I was bathed in a plastic container in the kitchen sink by whoever felt I needed to be cleaned, with whoever was already in the room present.

When I was a rather small child, I bathed mostly with a sibling (on rare occasion, due to geographic limitations, a cousin) with rather often an adult in the room, depending on the age of the other child in the bath.

When I was a slightly-less-small child, I still bathed largely with a sibling, but the bathroom door was shut, and it was just the two of us. I don’t remember if this was because I hated to be alone or because the family was trying to save water or for someone other reason. Regardless, this was when I learned about genitals and, supposedly, the difference between “boys” and “girls” and the fact that genitals were the only thing that mattered when making this distinction; all other gender markers flowed from the crotch.

My family eventually taught me how to shower, and baths fell to the wayside because showering was basically the coolest thing ever invented. I could be like a grownup, my singing sounded better than when I was sitting down in the tub, and seriously I just like the feeling of warm water running over me that doesn’t get cold just from sitting in the air. I stopped taking baths because who wants cold water, and who wants to be a kid. (Oh, past me, everybody wants to be a kid, whether they admit it or not.)

Cut ahead to boarding school, where a long bath could make me angry like nothing else when I needed to pee or wanted to shower that night as well. Why in hell would I do something to my suitemates that I couldn’t stand them doing to me? Not to mention this was the time of What The Fuck Is This Body Doing (more commonly, or least more publicly, called “puberty”) and one roommate’s description of her mother washing dishes as “swishing them around in dirty water and calling them clean” that immediately made me think of how taking a bath is exactly that, and so. No desire to swish myself in dirty water, no desire to lounge around naked longer than necessary for cleaning. I did not need to see What The Fuck This Body Was Doing any more than necessary, because it was wrong wrong wrong — and you might guess (or already know) that this is about when I dug my feet in and started screaming to myself that “female” was just not on.

And then dorms at college were even worse, and then in apartments still there was this whole What The Fuck, Body thing, and so I just never even thought about it until one day, I found myself moving into a place where there was a shower, but the shower doors were not yet installed and a shower curtain was Just Not On with the landlady, and I had to take a bath or go dirty. And it was awful because there were no doors – not on the shower, not on the bathroom, not on the dressing room between the hall and the bathroom – and the water was gross at first because nobody had ever used this tub before, and I had to look at my wrong wrong wrong body way too long, floating in wrong wrong wrong ways in a tub full of water. As soon as those shower doors were installed, it was back to No Bath Land for me, no looking back.

I sort of thought I’d live there forever, but then the other week I had a terrible horrible no good very bad day wherein my afternoon calm-down-already shower wasn’t doing the trick and I ended up sitting on the floor of the tub with the water running over me, being grouchy, and then I accidentally kicked the plug and the water started to fill up in the tub, and then suddenly I was sitting in a bath. And I was already clean from the shower, so that wasn’t gross, and I was so frustrated from the day that I just shut my eyes and didn’t look and didn’t feel and just floated my mind as surely as my body in that warm water … and it was awesome.

Clearly, enjoying one bath in an uncommon state of mind isn’t enough to decide me that all baths are okay. So I took another one. For science. And because I was tired and didn’t quite feel like standing up under the warm shower any more. And it was weird, and I could see all the wrong wrong, but then I covered that with a warm wet washcloth and closed my eyes and it didn’t matter anymore.

So I took another one. For science, again, I tell you. Only this time, I didn’t shower first, and it was disgusting, so I drained the water, showered properly, and tried again. (When I say it was disgusting, I do not mean the water appeared disgusting; it was the same kind of disgusting that makes me suddenly remember that smelling shit means there are tiny shit particles in my nose, or that this meat used to be an animal that I totally would have snuggled, or that once I heard a story about someone eating a worm out of their apple. It’s all in my head, but I Just Cannot after those disgusting thoughts enter my head.) Post-shower bath: fantastic again.

So in order to take a bath, I have to appease science-brain by showering first, even if only quickly and vaguely. Then I have to appease gender-brain with my washcloth-covering. Then? Then it’s awesome. I think I need some bath toys. Perhaps with those, I can turn gender-brain back to kid, before it was brainwashed into ascribing body parts to gender, and I won’t even need the washcloth anymore.

Also, bath toys would just be fun.

Sex vs Gender … Again

It’s a common thing among trans people, especially genderqueers, to talk about identifying with our natal sexes. Some people seem to think that once you go GQ, you don’t look back on your binary past. Others identify as a male genderqueer. As you may imagine, these two views don’t always play well together, and I? I run the middle ground.

I am a FAABGQ – female assigned at birth genderqueer. While I find it overwhelmingly unnecessary (and indeed, sometimes damaging) to include the first part of that when introducing or describing myself, it’s still an important part of me. I’m not female, but I was raised as a female, and I still face many of the same things that females do.

If someone makes a post advising all women to read some important medical thing, I’m going to go and read that important medical thing, because I can be affected by many of the same medical things – problems and hooray-new-drug both – as many women. If someone makes a post called “Ten Things All Women Should Know Before Walking Alone At Night,” I will read it and (depending on content, of course) recommend it to people regardless of their genders. If my sister needs to know it, then I probably need to know it, and even though my brother is large and muscular and fast, it certainly won’t hurt him to know it. I’ve been socialized to expect that it’s more important for me to know it than him, and most people who would cause problems for a woman walking alone at night wouldn’t stop to ask me if I’m a woman before thinking to themselves “small vulnerable person! target!” And because that’s true, and because I was socialized to expect this to happen to me, I have a lot of the same worries that many women do. So women, I hope you don’t mind a GQMF hanging out in your spaces occasionally, looking out for sy health and well-being beside you. And I hope you don’t think that just because I look at these things, I must be a woman, too; my male cousin sent me the last female health alert I read.

I can understand wanting to leave behind a past full of bad memories and misgendering. I can also understand holding onto a past that wasn’t all bad, if a little misguided, because it made you who you are today. What’s right for you isn’t right for others. Let’s move past one invalidating the other and get to that point where we support each other’s differing needs, shall we?