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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 MarkHere, we have two coming-out posts reflecting very different situations. As always, I encourage readers to chime in. Here goes:

A reader writes: “I identify as a genderfluid/ genderqueer FTM transsexual who presents and lives publicly as male. I’ve been in a relationship with a cissexual, genderqueer person who presents and lives publicly as female for about a year and a half.

“She recently came out to her parents as queer. I’ve been out to my family as queer and trans for years, but I’m not out to her family (and most people in general). It simply doesn’t come up/isn’t any of their business, combined with an intense fear I have of people knowing I’m trans, in part due to an experience of coming out to someone I thought I could trust and his reaction being to rape me to try to prove to me that I’m female. I don’t trust many people with this information.

“My partner and I just got engaged, and everyone is happy for us and all is well and dandy. My concern is that folks in my family (who all know my gender history) will tell other people at the wedding, perhaps even tell everyone at once during a toast. I can’t really imagine a worse way for me to come out to her family.

“The options I see are (1) tell her family ahead of time, (2) keep our families apart/elope, and (3) ask folks in my family not to out me and just hope they are able to do it. Do you see any options I’m missing? I’m just so uncomfortable with all of these options. I imagine this information will eventually make the rounds, but I’d feel much more comfortable if it came up naturally and not as a big announcement.”

That’s a tough one. But there’s one thing missing from all these options, and that is – what does your fiancée think? It’s not her decision when and how you come out, but I think under these circumstances, it’s definitely something that the two of you should discuss together (with you getting the final say if the two of you disagree).

My personal opinion is that you should tell her family ahead of time, and here’s why: The two families will probably have many interactions over the years, even if you elope. Expecting every member of your family to honor an agreement not to out you over the next fifty years might be more than you can reasonably count on.

Just expecting no one to slip up at the wedding might be too much. Even with the best of intentions, someone can easily make a mistake, and there could be one family member who thinks this bit of information might be too juicy to withhold – especially after a few champagne toasts. (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 MarkHere are some short questions and short answers. I (and I’m sure the writers) would love to get reader input on any or all:

A reader writes: “When someone says they are a transsexual man, does that mean that they are a woman contemplating their sex identity or a man contemplating their sex identity? Pardon me if this was offensive, it was purely out of curiosity so I don’t mess up in the future.”

No offense taken. It’s a legitimate question. (Here’s a link to some vocabulary terms that might also help: Trans-lations.)

In most cases, when a person says that he is a transsexual man, what he means is that he has transitioned in some way from female to male. In other words, he was assigned female at birth, and now lives as a man. When someone says that she is a transsexual woman, she means that she was assigned male at birth and has transitioned in some way to female.

This is particularly confusing when the press refers to a “transgender man” when they actually mean a “trans woman,” and vice versa. I could go into a long diatribe about the whole “transgender” and language thing, but I won’t (because nobody wants to hear it again).

Suffice it to say that when people refer to themselves as a man or a woman and any form of “trans” is in front of that, they will generally mean that they are living in a sex and gender that were not assigned to them by the outside world at birth.

A reader writes: “I’ve always felt like I was male from being a young child, and now I feel ready to begin my journey. My question is: I understand there is no guarantee with hormones, but do people who are younger when they begin hormones see results sooner?”

Hmm. That depends on the person. I don’t think there is any research behind this. In my experience, it seems to me that people who are younger when they begin often have “better” results. By that, I mean that I have seen young people masculinize relatively quickly when compared to older people (but “quickly” is just a matter of a few months), and it seems to me that they generally get better facial hair and muscle tone. (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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