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Archive for the ‘Identity’ Category

Question MarkI’m catching up, but still behind. Today we have two short letters that I have some thoughts about, but that I am unable to answer with much certainty, so I hope that readers can give these writers some additional information.

A reader writes: “I found your website while googling around on gender-neutral pronouns. My question, in brief, is this: Is it just me, or are gender-neutral pronouns mostly sought by people who were assumed to be cis women at birth?

“I love the idea of genderqueer and have happily appropriated the parts that work for me and read a fair amount of queer theory over the years. It occurred to me today that most of the third-way writing I have read is by people who no longer want to use girl-pronouns after being assigned she/her at birth, where as trans women tend to love getting access to (and perhaps ideally only using) the girl pronouns versus seeking some third way.

“I googled a bit hoping to find some evidence to the contrary, but didn’t find much. Perhaps I’m insufficiently thorough. Thanks in advance for your reply, and also for your patience with my question and any parts I may have phrased inelegantly or insensitively.”

I don’t know whether or not this is true, but it appears to me, as well, that the majority of people who prefer gender-neutral pronouns are those who were assumed to be female at birth. I do know some genderqueer-identified people who were designated male at birth who use “they,” and I know some who use “he” and “she” interchangeably. But again, the majority of people who I have found to use “they” or “ze” were designated female at birth.

I’m not aware of any statistics on this, or whether or not any surveys or studies have been done (if anyone knows, please fill us in), so my answer is coming from personal experience.

If my personal experience transfers to the larger culture (and I don’t know if it does or not), and I had to give my thoughts on why this might be, I would say that I think that the “gendered” life experience is different for those who are designated female at birth and those who are designated male at birth, and this causes potentially different responses to any feelings of gender incongruity. (more…)

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Question MarkWe have two letters below regarding testosterone – first, from someone who can’t take it, and next, from someone who doesn’t want to. I hope readers will chime in with their suggestions and personal experiences.

A reader writes: “Though I have had top surgery, no doctor will prescribe me T because of my health problems, and I cannot find it through other channels. Add that to crippling bottom dysphoria, being five feet tall, and being universally misgendered, I am not a happy guy.

“I have a fantastic long-term boyfriend, a queer cis guy who sees me as I really am, but my own angst is magnified by the way the rest of the world treats us. Either I am treated as his ‘little lady,’ with waiters handing him the check when I give my credit card, gay men saying I’m a fag hag, being called a butch dyke, or being offered ‘makeovers’ to ‘look like the pretty girl stuck under the boy costume’ (oh, the irony).

“My boyfriend and I try to explain endlessly about me being a trans guy, and we get met with reactions ranging from puzzlement (‘I know a trans guy who really looks like a guy, but you don’t, and I can only think of you as a butch girl’) to laughter (‘You’re joking’) to hostility (‘You’re a crazy bitch and he’s a closeted fag’). I wish I could let all this misgendering go, because obviously our explanations aren’t making it better, but I just can’t.

“So, my question is twofold. Firstly, when I came out in 1999, we needed therapist letters (which I had for my surgery) to get treatment. Now, there are informed consent clinics to give you hormones even without letters, but they do require blood tests. Do you think in the future they will waive this requirement, too, or at least let people like me get hormones if we sign an affidavit indemnifying them from liability? There is no guarantee that hormones will worsen my physical issues, but my gender angst has gotten worse over the last 15 years to the point where I don’t know how much longer I can stand it.

“Secondly, do you have any tips to make going out in the public eye easier for the constantly misgendered trans man and his boyfriend, who himself is tired and hurt by the way his love for me, and also his own identity and motivations, are misconstrued? Am I being delusional in the first place to expect anyone to respect my gender identity when, despite my teenage goatee, big muscles, low voice, flat chest, and boyish style/haircut, I am still very short and not on T?”

In response to your first question, I think it is unlikely that even informed consent clinics will change their policy on blood tests, because there is just too much liability involved. Even if you sign a paper releasing them from all responsibility, that might not hold up in court. We have become a lawsuit-happy country.

We sue tobacco companies (and win), even though we choose to smoke. We sue McDonald’s (and win), even though we choose to eat junk food. So even though it is obvious that we are making our own choices, we can still assign blame and win in court. Doctors and clinics are aware of this. Even when a person’s blood tests come out fine, that person still has to sign something saying that he/she/ze understands the risks of hormones. If medical risks are obvious, as determined by blood tests, regardless of what you’ve signed, medical malpractice might be an issue. (more…)

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Question MarkIn these two letters, we look at the confusion around, and intersections of, sexual orientation and gender identity. Here we go:

A reader writes: “I’m dating a trans man now and it’s been amazing. I’m still slightly confused as I have always considered myself as a straight female and have always seen him as male, but at the same time I’ve accepted that for the moment he is still female and am willing to do stuff with him (obviously, haha).

“I know labels are not the best way to go about things, but I’m not sure of how else I can understand what I am feeling? I hope this doesn’t come across as naive or stupid. I’m just a little bit confused.”

It’s not uncommon for those who are dating trans people to become confused about their own sexual orientation. For you, it seems pretty straight-forward – you’re a straight woman dating a trans guy, so you’re a straight woman … because he’s a guy.

I would argue that he is not “still female.” I think what you mean is that he has not had any type of genital surgery. Maybe you even mean that he is not taking hormones. But if he’s living as a man, then he’s not female. And if you see him as male, then he’s not female to you, either.

Just because he has a different body type from what you might be used to doesn’t negate any of that. If you’ve been with several men in your life, you know that their body types vary widely, even though they all might have come closer to the particular prototype or representation that we have of a “standard” male body than your current lover’s body does. No matter. He’s a man, you’re a woman, and the label for that type of relationship in Western culture is “straight.” (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I recently started college, and I quickly came to the realization that I am transgender. I have been transitioning every way but physically (mentally, socially, etc.), and the process has been enlightening for me. The problem has mainly been with my friends and classmates.

“All of my friends have been as supportive and understanding as they know how. Some friends that I have known for years simply accepted my trans identity as if I came out as gay, telling me they love me, but showing no signs of changing pronouns or their mental perception of my gender. And other friends struggled to remember pronouns and try to shift their thinking from the binary, but it left me feeling discouraged around them and strangers. Additionally, most of my classmates only have my voice and clothing to go on, which convinces them I am a lesbian.

“And I worry that girls who would like me as a guy don’t because they think I am a girl, and others won’t be able to forget that I’m not the girl they thought I was (which happened last semester). I feel as if I am constantly trying to convince people of my maleness. I can count on one hand the number of people I feel 100% comfortable that they view me as male no matter what.

“I have thought of ways to lightheartedly correct pronouns in a way that convinces people I am just a cis guy with a high voice and soft skin, but constantly being misgendered has crushed my outgoing spirit. I don’t want to be “out” in a way that everyone would know I am trans before knowing me, and I don’t want to discuss it with every person I meet. I identify proudly as trans, but I don’t want to be trans first, I want to be male.

“Some people accept the trans label and he/him pronouns, but I can tell they still relate to me as a lesbian. I don’t want my manhood reduced to others trying to remember the right pronouns or something open for discussion and questioning by those who don’t know me. How can I find my confidence and voice in a way that is empowering for me? What advice do you have for pre-/non-physically transitioning guys who want to be seen, and respected, as men?”

This is a tough problem that I think many, or most, trans people experience when/if they are changing name, pronouns, and gender presentation. Transition is an ongoing process, both for you and for those around you. I realize how annoying it is to hear someone tell you to be patient with others when you’re the one who is experiencing the pain of being misgendered, but that’s what I’m going to tell you – be patient.

I don’t know how long it has been since you came out to your friends, but since you say you recently started college and came to this realization, I’m going to assume that it might be a matter of only a few months, and maybe not even that. And honestly, a few months, while it seems like an eternity to you, is really a very short time for your friends to permanently alter their perception of you. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I was hoping I could get your opinion on this issue. I recently read a diatribe by a cisgender gay man stating that those who identify as girlfags are being disrespectful to cisgender gays and lesbians, as well as gay transmen.

“I agree that the term does sound pejorative, and it would be better if a new term was coined. But I believe that it is a legitimate identity. What do you think?”

I had never heard of this term before, so I had to look it up. On Urban Dictionary, “girlfag” is defined as: “A woman who is very attracted to gay/bi/trans men. She may (or may not) also feel she is (fully or partly) a ‘gay man in a woman’s body.’ Girlfags identify primarily as queer, and are often attracted to more types of people than just gay/bi/trans men.”

I think every identity is legitimate. I also think that reclamation of negative or harmful language can be beneficial in certain circumstances. However, I have three criteria for reclaiming pejorative language, and I feel that all of these criteria need to be met before a word or words can be reclaimed:

1. The people reclaiming the language must be aware of the history of the language – the word or words to be reclaimed – and how that language was used against people in the past (and still today). What is the origin of the language? How did it come into general use and how did it come to be used against a group of people? What were and are the ramifications of that use? The people reclaiming the language need to be fully aware of this and make a conscious decision to reclaim the language based on their thorough knowledge of the past. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: I’ve never felt like I fit in until I started to dress as a male at University a few year ago. Before I left University, I threw away my small collection of male clothes because I was scared of what my parents would say/think.

“When I was 16, I was forced by my sister, in particular, to wear a dress. I did tell my sister at the time (who is three years older than me) that I didn’t feel right in a dress, but she said, ‘You’re a woman, so act like one.’ Now I’m settled in a job I really enjoy, I feel it’s time to start to transition, but I’m scared of my parents’ reaction.

“A few years ago, they found out I self-harm, and my Mum didn’t know what to say, but one morning my Dad suddenly wrestled me to the ground and shouted and spat at me, saying, ‘Do you want someone to talk all simple to you? Do you want a straight jacket? Just stop it.’

“I never sought professional help, because I felt like I needed my parents’ support. I stopped self-harming a couple of years later. I want to start to wear male clothes again, to begin the transition, but I’m scared that my parents won’t support me, especially after their reaction to the self-harm.

“I try to dress as androgynous as I can, and I’m being read as a male a fair bit already. Dad keeps on lifting my top up to see how many layers I’ve got on. I feel humiliated, but if I tell him to stop, he still does it.

“My other worry is work. If I suddenly wear male clothing, people may ask questions. Would it be better to make an announcement before I dress as male, so everyone knows what’s happening?”

I don’t know how old you are or whether or not you still live with your parents, but it sounds as if you might be out on your own. You have graduated and you have a good job. If you’re not out on your own, you might consider saving the money to do that fairly soon, if that’s possible.

You do not need your parents’ support to start therapy if you are able to pay for it yourself or have some kind of health coverage that will pay for it. I suggest you start therapy, regardless of what you decide to do. Even though you say you stopped self-harming two years ago, there is a possibility that this could start again as you become more stressed, and some professional support might be able to prevent a setback.

A therapist can also help you make decisions about how to come out at work and what to do about your parents, as well as helping you deal with any negative repercussions that might come from coming out or transitioning in any way, if that’s what you decide to do. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I was inspired to write by a question you posted recently from a parent asking about their genderqueer teenager. I felt like that teenager could have been me if I was born a couple of decades later.

“I started to have issues with my assigned birth gender at about age 13, but the message I got from so many people was that I was just going through a normal adolescent phase and I would grow up to feel comfortable being a woman. I spent some years thinking I must be a trans man, but that didn’t really fit either. By the time I was 19, I was pretty sure I wanted to change my body to create something androgynous and knew that meant taking hormones.

“But this was the 1990s and everything I read and heard about transition was that it was only open to binary-identified people who could complete a ‘real life test.’ My brief experiences with therapy where I tried to bring up gender issues did not go well – my therapists took the ‘normal adolescent phase’ tack I was hearing everywhere else. So I did my best to push my issues aside and accept living in the body I was born with, because I didn’t think I had another choice.

“Fast forward to the past couple of years. I started hearing about non-binary and genderqueer folks who were pursuing partial transitions to achieve androgynous bodies. They were finding therapists and gender specialists who were supportive of this, even managing to get their transitions covered by insurance. I’m re-evaluating my decision not to seek transition in light of this.

“I’m really wishing I could go back and tell my 19-year-old self this was an option, but of course the past is the past. I have to deal with the present, and the present I live in is one in which I know I could have hormones if I decide I want them, but in which I have the weight of nearly two decades of convincing myself I didn’t need that weighing down on me (I’m 37 now). So I guess the question is, if I’ve lived without T for the better part of two decades, do I really need it?

“On the other hand, if I’ve lived without it all this time, but the feeling of wanting it never went away, maybe that means I really do. Complicating this decision is the fact that I am married. My spouse identifies as agender, but to him that means he just expresses himself however he wants and if other people project gender onto him that’s their problem and not his. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I have a question about how to support my teen daughter. She is 19 and decided this past year that she identifies as genderqueer, which she describes as ‘being neither male nor female, but only herself as an individual.’

“Until she was 18, we saw no sign of this; for example, she used to wear very long hair and dresses at 17, but now is dressing and wearing her hair ‘butch,’ to use her words. She did not express discontent to us with her gender when growing up. She also identifies as bisexual, which we have been aware of and supportive of since she was in high school.

“She says that she has great discomfort with her biologically female body so has decided to go onto testosterone hormones in order to have a more gender ambiguous body, ie, to look and sound less female. She is not interested in transitioning to becoming male. However, she does want to drop her voice to sound like a man and hopes to change her facial structure.

“Her father and I support her feelings about her gender identity – at least we think we do – but we are very concerned that she is apparently being given medical permission to go onto male hormones so quickly. We would like for her to slow the process down and take more time to decide.

“One reason is that she is struggling with other mental health issues, such as depression and ADD, with which she was just diagnosed this past year and still has not yet found the right combination of therapy and medication to treat either one. We’d like to see those under control before she adds any hormones at all to the mix. She seems OK with this part of our objection and says she will give it two months.

“A second concern is that she seems to have identified so recently as genderqueer that we wonder whether she can really know whether this is a deep-seated identity issue that must play out with hormonal therapy for her to feel comfortable in her body, or if it is part of normal exploration of what gender means to her in a culture that has pretty rigid and narrow expectations of what it means to be female. She also has never dated or kissed anyone (either male or female) and seems to fear vulnerability of her body within the context of a romantic or sexual relationship, and we wonder if that is also relevant.

“When we expressed these latter concerns to her, she told us we were being ‘transphobic.’ We think there is a difference between being transphobic and telling your child that we think she needs more time to discern. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I’m an FTM, 18, and I came out to my mum about two years ago. She didn’t take it very well.

“She told me that she didn’t believe that I was transgender because I feel uncomfortable talking to her about sex (I’ve tried telling her multiple times this is normal and that my friends feel the same way with their parents, to no avail), and that I’m stuck in a phase that I just haven’t grown out of.

“Since I came out to her in 2011, thing have slowly gotten better and I’ve put in a lot of effort so that we could reach common ground. She is a lot less hostile about it, she’s fine with me wearing a binder, she tries to use gender neutral pronouns when she can, and I had a talk with her earlier on in the year about changing my name when I finished high school later in the year and she seemed all right with it.

“A few days ago, however, I was talking to her about my name change again, and she told me she thought changing my name would be a mistake, but that I’m an adult and she won’t try to stop me. As we continued talking I also discovered that she still thinks that I’m not transgender, and for the same reasons she told me when I first came out to her.

“While I do appreciate that she won’t try to stop me, my relationship with my mum is very important to me. I love her very much, and I just wish she would be supportive. I don’t want to try to move out, and when we’re not arguing about me being transgender, we get on very well. But I’m not coping well with the realisation that she still doesn’t think I’m transgender.

“I have a psychiatrist (so I can start medical transition) who is willing to approve me for testosterone. I asked my mum if she would be interested in meeting my psych, and she refused and was very negative about the whole thing. Not having her on board makes everything so much harder for me. There aren’t many things that I want more in my life at the moment than for my mum to see me as her son.

“So essentially, what I’m asking is do you know what else I can do to try to make my mum realise that I am transgender, and that the emotions and feelings I have because I’m transgender are real?”

I had to edit your letter a great deal for length, but from the entire letter, it sounds to me as if you’ve done just about everything you can to convince your mother that you are trans, including asking her to talk to your therapist and providing articles and information that she won’t read. She has chosen not to believe this and to dismiss any evidence to the contrary. This is a classic defense mechanism called denial, and she has decided to use this so she doesn’t have to deal with information that she doesn’t want to deal with. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “So I’m FAAB (female assigned at birth), I was a tomboy for some but not all of my childhood, and now that I’m in high school, I came out as genderqueer to my family and some friends a few months ago.

“I have dysphoria about my breasts but mostly not about my genitals (though I’ve always hated periods so much that I just tried to ignore them), and the chest dysphoria is actually somewhat recent. I’ve gotten some people to call me by ‘they’ pronouns, but increasingly now I’m not so sure that I am actually trans.

“I’m so confused about this and I feel like I’m in a constant state of questioning. I know that sometimes I like to be feminine and sometimes I like to be masculine, and when I came out as genderqueer that helped explain to my family why I wanted a binder, but now I kind of miss who I was before I decided to use trans* labels for myself.

“Before, it was okay for me to be feminine because, after all, I was a ‘girl,’ and it was okay to be masculine because I’d always been a ‘tomboy,’ but now when I’m masculine my family always makes comments about my gender identity to me and I can’t be feminine for fear of them not taking my (current) identity seriously.

“I can’t even tell if I’m feeling icky because I don’t identify with the masculine and gender-neutral language I’ve told my parents to try using for me right now, or whether I feel icky because of the sarcastic tone of voice that always seems to go along with ‘they’ and ‘young man.’ I’m not comfortable with ANY gendered OR ungendered pronouns and stuff for me right now and I don’t know why not!

“Anyway, do you know any good way to really figure out what one’s gender identity is? If I want top surgery, does that definitively mean I’m not cis?”

It sounds to me as if you are going through a questioning period, and when people go through a questioning period, often nothing seems right. Even with the proliferation of labels that has come about recently in gender communities, there still aren’t enough to fit everyone.

You might be trans and you might not. It depends on how you define “trans” and “trans*” for yourself. There are many definitions out there now. There are people who would say that you are trans*, whether you use that label or not, simply because you don’t fit neatly into the binary gender system. But I am really opposed to putting anyone under an umbrella who does not want to be there.

I know some genderqueer people who also identify as trans or trans*, and I know others who do not. I know some who use a male pronoun, some who  use a female pronoun, some who use both interchangeably, and some who use a gender-neutral pronoun, such as “ze” or “they.” Sometimes you have to experiment to know what’s right for you, and sometimes that means going back to the people you came out to and telling them that you have changed your mind on one issue or another. (more…)

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