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Posts Tagged ‘labels’

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 am a gay man and have no doubts really about that. I was late in coming out after being married and having children. However, 15 months ago I started a relationship with a guy who I had met several years earlier and who also was previously married with children.

“After we had been dating for six or seven months, he started to talk about how he really liked dressing as a girl and felt he should have been born a girl. I did know he was always quite fem and liked fem things and that was part of my attraction to him.

“Well, now he is well into transition to her, including name change and hormone treatments, and is fully out to family and work. I have supported this transition because I loved/love him/her and know that it was making her happy and it was what she wanted.

“Now, though, I am having a real problem in my head as to how can it be that a gay guy is still fancying a girl. Is it an identity issue? What is going on in my mind? Can this relationship continue?

“We have talked about surgery and I have said I would not like her to have reassignment and she says that she doesn’t want it anyway. However, will that change in a year or two? Just struggling with where I am in this relationship.”

Once again, labels are hanging us up. Remember that “gay” is just a label for your sexual orientation – it is not your sexual orientation. You have the label “gay” because you have a particular type of body and gender identity and you are attracted to people with the same type of body and gender identity.

Your attraction to this person started out in this way. It’s possible that if you had met this person after she had already transitioned, you would not have been attracted to her. But that’s not the case. So you fell in love with a person who a gay man (you) might have fallen in love with, and now she has changed, but you are still in love with her.

In my opinion, that does not mean that you are no longer gay. It just means you are in love with a particular person, and this person no longer meets a specific set of criteria that a gay man might look for when choosing a partner. But you’ve already chosen a partner – this person – and you are in love with her, so those criteria no longer matter. (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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Question MarkA reader writes: “I have been an out Lesbian for 24 years (I’m 44) and recently met and fell in love with a Trans guy. For obvious reasons, this was a little confusing at the start, and I am still curious about my changing ‘identity’ (which appears to have become a little more fluid and harder to define than previously!).

“What are your thoughts on Lesbians dating Trans men? Should we still even care about labeling ourselves? How do I (or do you think I should) raise this stuff with my straight friends?”

I think it’s fine for anyone to date anyone, including lesbians dating trans men. What I have found to be one of the biggest problems for anyone dating a trans person is that the person then starts questioning his or her own sexual orientation. This can be a huge challenge for people whose identity is strongly tied to their sexual orientation.

This is not a specifically lesbian-related phenomenon, although this is where I have seen it most, and I believe that this is because so many trans men have come out of the lesbian community. I have had straight women question whether or not dating a trans man made them a lesbian (of course not), and I have had straight men question whether or not dating a trans woman made them a gay man (of course not).

I have had lesbians worry that they are now straight because they are dating a trans man, and gay men worry that they are now straight because they are dating a trans woman (or even a trans man!).

All of this is fairly common in my experience, which is why I devoted a chapter to it in Just Add Hormones called “What Does That Make Me?” In this case, what it makes you is a lesbian dating a trans man. Or it could make you a bisexual woman dating a trans man, or a queer woman dating a trans man, or even a straight woman dating a trans man. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I am having issues determining my sexual identity since transition from female to male. Dating and having a relationship are things I consciously took off the table while I was in the early stages of transition. It is now three years into transition and the idea of having someone in my life is sounding pretty good.

“Although I am attracted to the male physique and enjoy the visual of a handsome, sexually attractive man, I just don’t picture myself in a sexual relationship with a man, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. I am attracted to women, especially lesbian women. But I am not so interested in overly masculine lesbians. If she is more masculine than I am, I feel feminine and that makes me uncomfortable.

“But the thought of having my face in close proximity of a vagina just makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t know if that is an act I could perform. I am not sure if that distaste has to do with the fact that even though I have had some surprisingly impressive changes, I still consider myself to have a vagina and I don’t like it at all and I am looking forward to the day I have lower surgery.

“I don’t really care about labels, but my brain wants desperately to find a category to place my sexually identity in. So what defines sexual identity? Is it attraction to femininity or masculinity, a particular type of genitalia or what? I like to believe my sexual attraction revolves around the individual as a whole and not just particular body parts. I am so confused. What are your words of wisdom on the topic of sexual identity?”

Once again, we run into the problem and the necessity of labels. We are a label-making, category-making species, and because of this, labels can be both friends and enemies. They help us define ourselves, but they also limit our choices. The problem with definitions, which evolve from labels, is that many people have many definitions for one label. You asked for mine, so here goes: (more…)

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Question MarkWe have two questions in this category – one asking about self-identity and the other about the identity of a child. So let’s get started:

A reader writes: “I’m a 17-year-old biological female dealing with gender-identity as far as I can remember. I’ve always thought I was psychologically a male. Even in my childhood dreams I was male. I’m 17 now and I still see myself as a male. Over the Internet and on websites I usually refer myself as a male. I want to be a male because that’s how I felt I should be. Yet, I like being a female physically, but at the same time hating it.

“I’m just confused about gender-identity. Before, I identified myself as transgender, but now gender-queer. I’m not quite sure what I am anymore. Most of the time I feel a male in a female body – sometimes a tomboy-female, others a gender that’s mostly male and physically a female. I’m just wondering – what am I?”

And another reader writes: “My daughter talked to me today to tell me how confused she is. She’s a girl by sex, but feels like she identifies more with boys. She has girlfriends and enjoys their company and talks about boys as teenage girls do, but is not interested in girl’s clothes, makeup, hates wearing dresses. She is sexually interested in boys, she says.

“To be a hetero female, attracted to males, yet feel more at ease in boys clothing and identify more as a male – is this transgendered? She’s feeling ‘lost’ and doesn’t know who she identifies with or who she is. She has some great friends and we support her and tell her we love her for who she is.”

I get asked questions like this a lot, and I think this recent post about labels and identities would be a good one to read for anyone who is thinking “What am I?” or “What is she?” or “What is he?” However, because this question comes up so much, I think we really need to break it down into manageable pieces before I wrap up by saying, in response to the questions above, “I don’t know.”

First writer, I don’t know what you are. Second writer, I don’t know if your child is transgender. But when we take it apart, below, you’ll see why. Here we go: (more…)

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