Gender Update: April 2019

I am going to start on a low-dose testosterone gel in two weeks, if nothing bad happens before then. This is a record of where I’ve been and where I am now.

I started questioning my gender late 2015 around my 19th birthday, and it mostly solidified when I met my first genderqueer person irl 3 years ago in April 2016. I started coming out to a few people and then more generally in July 2016. I started thinking vaguely about testosterone in December 2016.

My gender is genderqueer: a third gender distinct from and not a derivative of male and female. Green, if the gender spectrum goes from red to blue.  I feel this strongly and consistently. I am not transmasculine, and feel very little connection to masculinity. I feel significant connection to womanhood, and have more complicated feelings about femininity. I am neither “male-aligned” nor “female-aligned”; I am non-binary, that’s the point. I am also not “gender neutral”, I have a lot of gender, it’s just not male or female.

I use they/them pronouns, which all my friends at school do consistently. The adjustment period was very rough in 2017, when I thought that I was asking the impossible and being difficult for no reason and nobody would ever do it, but it’s all good now. It didn’t really feel right until most people started using it. It bothers me a lot more when people that I am out to use the wrong one than if they just don’t know, which made me think I was inventing the problem by coming out, but of course not. It doesn’t really bother me when people from school that don’t know use “she”, mainly because engineering is mostly men, and I’m really good at school, so it makes me feel good to hear people talk about “her” with admiration.. hahha.

I am out (and very loud about it) on Facebook, so new friends figure it out quite quickly. I’m also out to my parents and brother. I haven’t decided whether to come out at my upcoming 6-month internship in Denmark.

I suppose on some subconscious level I realised quite early on that I will get on T sooner or later, and most of the doubt was about whether I should do it now or wait 20 years to make sure I’m really sure. It’s also taken some time to translate the inexplicable draw into words and actual pros/cons that I can understand. I am going to lay out the exact changes and how I feel about them next, but understand that there is probably something deeper than just adding them up and seeing that there are more things I want than don’t want.

The main thing really is a change of subjective internal qualia that other people have reported. I have no idea what that will be like until it happens, but I feel positive about it for some reason. I mean, it will change how I look, and that’s good or bad, but that’s only a part of it for me. I think it will change how I feel, partly because I look different and people interact with me different, but also partly because of how hormones interact with my brain, I expect.

As for how I will look, right now my goal is to push towards androgyny, though I am open to this changing once I start and know what it actually feels like. For now though, I don’t really want to look super male and be read as male 100% of the time. If that does happen it wouldn’t be terrible, but it’s not what I imagine right now as the ideal. Right now I imagine that there’s a point between here and there that will work for me.

I am excited to look different and for my voice to be a bit different. I am very excited about shaving my face, though my genes are not favourable for that happening. I don’t dislike how I look right now, which is another thing I’ve heard often changes for people once they are further along, but right now, I think I look quite good, and I quite like the feeling of singing high notes. I like my softness. The major turning point for me was cutting my hair in 2016, which made me feel much better about how I look and start taking a lot more selfies. I take a lot of selfies. Once in a while I see my face from a certain angle and really dislike it, but objectively I think it’s a good face. I sometimes worry that I won’t like how I look on T, but I think I will, because it will still be my face, just different in good ways. I will still be soft in the important ways.

One thing I have reservations about is that I am used to being read as a woman, and it’s not all bad. I’m worried about the adjustment if that changes. I’ve gotten used to using the women’s restroom. It doesn’t really bother me anymore, I feel safer there, and I haven’t been confronted about it in some time, now that my hair is a bit longer. I don’t like people getting my gender wrong, of course, but becoming more visibly trans and gay will make discrimination and violence harder to avoid.

I have a complicated relationship with the concept of gender dysphoria. I am trying to get out of the habit of telling myself mean things about my body, a thing I started doing because suffering made me feel more trans. It’s weird balancing “don’t say mean things about yourself” with “don’t ignore what your body is telling you will make you happy”. Top surgery isn’t a decision I have to make in the immediate future, so I’m going with always trying to appreciate my body for now.

Mostly I don’t feel very strongly about my chest, I guess. It’s fine. I think that ideally I would get top surgery and that will make me happy, but maybe on T I wouldn’t feel the need anymore. Right now it’s not ideal but I’m not that unhappy. I think it could be much better, but I manage. Sometimes I like how obviously trans my chest looks in menswear. I don’t enjoy it though, and just ignore it most of the time, except once in a while when it makes me sad (usually right before my period when I have maximal bad gender feelings). I haven’t gone swimming in a long time.

Recently I have been very very sad about not having a penis. I haven’t always felt this way, but lately I have been discovering a very deep and dark Want. Thinking about it makes me sad. I feel a knot of sadness in my stomach. Looking at prosthetics makes me sad. Surgery isn’t really on the table because (content warning: skip this bit if you don’t want to read bad stuff about the surgery) the surgeries are so complicated and it isn’t quite the same (/content warning). I know it’s cis-normativity that makes me want a cis penis. Maybe at some point I will unlearn it enough to want what I can get from surgery. The strength of my desire and the impossibility of it scares me to confront, and this is still something I’m figuring out right now. I think I will be brave and try a prosthetic eventually. It will probably make me really sad but there will also be joy.

I usually feel assured and affirmed in my gender. I am happy and confident and I have friends who get it. Having those friends makes it much easier to not care how other inconsequential people read me or think about me. It takes up much less brain space than it used to, and I know what to expect when it does come up. A few days a month it’s crippling, and I know there are dark corners of my brain that I don’t really look directly at. Once in a while it stops me from doing something I would otherwise do, but it’s not dictating major life decisions. I am learning to be less tolerant to bigotry, and to put my own safety, comfort and privacy before feeling an obligation to make my whole life educational material. More and more I no longer feel the need to justify myself to people who aren’t going to listen with generosity, and I no longer feel the need to have all the right answers; just what feels honest and true to myself, as well as I am able to articulate it. I feel like there is space for me in this world. Sometimes that’s hard to see, but I know it’s there.

I thought a lot more in the months leading up to this but now I feel confident and calm. I am completely open to the possibility that in a month or two I will discover this is wrong for me and stop, but that doesn’t mean I’m unsure. I am 100% sure that now is the right time, and that there is no other way to find out.

Gender Update: April 2019

Against Diagnosis/Dysphoria

Whenever I catch sight of myself in a mirror I think about how excited I am to not have breasts anymore. If I think about how far away and inaccessible that is I get sad, but it isn’t a sad feeling inherently. I suppose the flip-side of wanting things is not having them, and so my desire for specific changes to my body is theoretically the same as my pain at the body I have now. Longing is a very particular kind of pain.

But of course joy and anticipation isn’t the same thing as pain. It is difficult for me to connect with the language of “gender dysphoria” because that’s a framing that just doesn’t work for me. I gain nothing from filtering my experience through a lens of pain, and yet that is what the medical establishment demands I do in order to access transition.

The language of gender dysphoria frames transness as an affliction: gender dysphoria is a medical condition and transition is a medical treatment empirically proven to alleviate your suffering, to be dispensed by medical professionals after you have proven, to their satisfaction, that you are indeed suffering.

I am ideologically opposed to this gatekeeping model of care. Not only is there no way to actually accurately diagnose the completely subjective internal experience of gender dysphoria, I believe that this is an issue of bodily autonomy, the same way we do not require 2 psychiatrists’ recommendations before we “allow” someone to get other largely irreversible body modifications like tattoos.

Reducing transness to a diagnosable condition falls into the same traps as the “born this way/queerness is not a choice” argument. I mean, it probably isn’t a choice, but so what? The expanded logic of that argument is “you should accept me because it isn’t my fault that I’m this way. If I had a choice I obviously would have chosen the much superior option of being cishet”/”they can’t help it, poor dears.” Here’s a thought: what if queer and trans and ace people are just as whole and valuable and deserving of love as you? What if queerness isn’t a defect?

The framing of transness as some amorphous ineffable condition of having a “gender identity” that causes “gender dysphoria”, both terms which are impossible to pin down with any exactitude is safe and reassuring to cis people. “You should accept me because I’ve tried my best not to be trans but I couldn’t, because it causes me unendurable pain.” Being trans without gender dysphoria that makes it impossible not to be trans isn’t acceptable to cis people because it positions transness as a viable alternative, not the last resort.

The diagnosis of gender dysphoria condenses gender into one unanswerable metaphysical question: “am I really trans?” Are you “really” trans, as if there is one answer written in the stars, and not just a series of decisions: What pronouns do I want to use? How do I relate to people of other genders? Do I want to be a sister or sibling? Does my brain and body function better being mostly estrogen-based or testosterone-based? How do I want to be read moving through the world?

Condensing gender into one discrete clearly diagnosable condition called “gender dysphoria” is comforting and easy because then we can pretend that the answers to these questions always match up. It preserves the binary worldview: some people are cis, other people are trans, this is how you can tell them apart. That transness in real life might be more complex is frightening and challenges that hallowed pillar of society, cisnormativity.

Recently I’ve found myself up against a very frustrating catch-22. My history of bad mental health apparently casts doubt on my decision to transition, but my current good mental health is evidence that I don’t need to transition. I resent that the joy I’ve found and worked for is being used against me, and I resent that trans bodies are so lowly valued that transition is supposedly only worth it if the only other option is death.

“Why do you need to transition when you’re already so happy all the time?” is a bizarre question in most other contexts. You wouldn’t require a person with diabetes to be outwardly and diagnosably sad before thinking they need insulin. Gender dysphoria as a diagnosable condition demands that trans people perform sadness in a clinically and socially legible way. Wanting should be enough.

Desire and happiness are independent agents. As long as transgender medicine retains the alleviation of pain as its benchmark of success, it will reserve for itself, with a dictator’s benevolence, the right to withhold care from those who want it.

My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy, Andrea Long Chu

Relevant readings on transness and desire:
On Liking Women by Andrea Long Chu
Transness as Choice by Ozymandias
Product Review: When every bra size is wrong by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

Against Diagnosis/Dysphoria

Just For Today (On Alcoholism and AA)

As of today I am 3 months sober. It’s been about 1.5 years since I started to realise that I have a problem and started drinking a lot less than I used to. Recently I went to some AA meetings, to have a look I guess. I didn’t feel like I really needed to go, but it was illuminating.

The contours of my relationship with alcohol are becoming clearer to me. At AA for the first time ever I heard from people who feel the same ways I do. Here are people who are like me, and who GET IT. A lot of these are things I’ve tried to talk to my friends about in the past, but I never really knew where the disconnect was and why my friends didn’t instinctively understand my addiction the way I do.

Here’s what I mean when I say I am an alcoholic:

1. It’s not about the substance or really the amount. I’ve had an addictive personality long before I had my first drink. Some people are wired such that their coping mechanism is to do something to excess in order to escape. Addiction is a disease.

2. I don’t drink like anyone I know. I reacted to alcohol differently from anyone I know. I went from having my first drink at a party to drinking alone in my room almost every night within one or two months. I didn’t see the point of drinking outside of my room. I drank with the sole objective of getting smashed, and having other people around would just get in the way of that objective. I didn’t know this wasn’t normal until I had friends over who saw my empty bottles of hard liquor and were incredulous that I had consumed them alone. I thought that everyone drank for the same reasons I did, and really didn’t understand why they chose inefficient ways to go about it.

Reasons other people drink in moderation: as a social lubricant, for the buzz, for the taste, as a bonding activity
Reasons other people drink in excess with friends: for fun, for the lolz
Reason I drink: I am feeling a negative emotion that I don’t want to feel anymore

(I know other people who aren’t necessarily alcoholics also sometimes drink to cope with things, and that’s normalised in our culture. I’m not sure if that’s a problem, and I don’t think I need to have an opinion on it. I just know that it didn’t work for me.)

Early in my recovery I talked to many people about drinking. I have no idea what “the buzz” or “the sweet spot” is. What do you mean you have one drink and that’s it???? Cannot relate. If I have one drink, my entire brain hyperfocuses on how I can immediately get as drunk as possible, as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters. There is no point in between sober and smashed that I would describe as “sweet”.

Drinking games! I’ve actually never participated in one, and the concept confuses me. Really, the whole “social activity” thing just felt like an excuse to me, and I assumed it was the same for everyone else. When drinking socially I was always trying to slow down to match the people around me. I didn’t understand why people took so long to finish their drinks, or the concept of *holding* a drink and not necking it. What are you waiting for??

When I stopped drinking I also stopped going to a lot of social things. I hadn’t even realised that I didn’t actually like those people, places or activities, that I was only there for the alcohol, and that my dislike of those people, places and activities was driving me to try to get drunk as soon as possible upon arrival.

I didn’t think any of this was a problem until I stopped drinking by circumstance in June 2017. It didn’t happen on purpose, but when drinking was completely off the table for an extended period of time, my life suddenly became so much better. I suddenly had feelings again, and… it wasn’t all bad!

According to received AA wisdom, the three ways alcoholism could end are: jail, institutions and death. My alcoholic brain finds these options very appealing. Objectively my life is quite good, but my brain is so eager to throw it away and do anything other than have to live it.

I have a lot of difficulty coping with negative emotions. I will do anything in order to avoid having to feel them. The extent of this “anything” frightens me. What sobriety has done for me is to remove one of my favourite escape routes. Now every time I feel a bad feeling and then nothing horrible happens, I learn that I am strong and I can do this.

I am committed to sobriety because it is has been really good for me. For several reasons I’m not sure if AA is the way for me right now, but it’s been really intense and everyone has been lovely. The two meetings I’ve been to are a LGBTQ one and a young people’s one, where there were a lot of queer people anyway. I was very worried that it would just be men in their 50s, because that’s the only kind of person I associate with alcoholism. It was a huge relief to find out that all sorts of people go to AA. Random positive story: at the end of the youth meeting the male newcomers rep stood up to introduce himself, then the female newcomers rep, and I started to panic when I realised what was happening, THEN THE NON-BINARY REP STOOD UP. *I* get a rep???? What!!!

I’m not aware of anyone I personally know who goes to AA, and all I knew about it before going were the weird stuff filtered down through pop culture.  I do know somebody who goes to Al-anon, and his talking openly about that set the groundwork for me thinking that AA might actually be a thing that normal people do. What pushed me to go was this video by the youtuber Chase Ross, who talked about how much it helped him, and hey, he’s not in his 50s (I also learned from that video that AA gives out sobriety chips, and I am a sucker for collectables). I am quite an underrepresented demographic, and a large part of why I took so long to name my problem was that I didn’t know anyone like me who has this.

I have learned a lot in the last 1.5 years, and one of the things is very slowly unlearning the shame I have around alcohol. AA has helped with this. It’s still not easy to talk about, but I think talking openly and without shame helps everyone.

Just For Today (On Alcoholism and AA)

COtB: Finding Words and Love

One of the greatest disappointments in my life is how FEW people have asked me about my sexual orientation. I have so many good, unhelpful answers prepared for the question “so do you like boys or girls?” Unfortunately, they never ask. Before I come out about my gender, I think most people (unless they’ve never met a queer in their life) assume that as a female-looking person with short hair, I must like women. After I explain my gender, most people seem to give up in confusion. I think that non-binary people are too confusing for the hapless public to imagine us having relationships. Like other groups of people outside of strict social norms (fat/disabled/non-white), we are either desexualised or hypersexualised.

The short answer is that my sexuality alternates between “no” and *vague hand gesture*.

I think my instinct is to be evasive because there aren’t really many good ways of succinctly summarising how I experience attraction. I find myself on the margins of many  identity labels, almost-but-not-quite fitting into them. Lots of things about me are nebulous and sometimes fluid, and I would much rather be not understood than misunderstood. These are important parts of my identity that I would like people to know, really, but I haven’t quite figured out how to fit them into existing frameworks of human communication without stripping away nuance that is important to me.

Most but not all of the people I am attracted to are men. There aren’t many good words for non-binary people who are not bi/pan/polysexual, since words like gay/straight/lesbian suggest yourself having a binary gender. Since I am attracted to more than one gender I am technically bisexual, but that doesn’t really feel right. If I were myself a man I would say homoflexible, but I am not. There are some non-binary specific words but I extremely do not like them. I quite like polysexual, and I am definitely queer, but they do not convey the “mainly I like men” part, which is important to me.

Oddly enough, gay feels quite comfortable to me. I feel like my gender is such that a relationship with either a man or a woman would, in the abstract, be “gay”. A relationship with a non-binary person would obviously be gay. I am gay in the sense of “not straight”, since my relationships are definitely that. But when discussing specific relationships, saying “gay” while dating a binary person would lead people to assume I am also that gender, so it is still a label that I hold lightly.

But Wait There’s More. When I say “attracted to”, it’s kind of complicated really, because I am some kind of asexual (mainly the grey-ace kind). I am also flexibly monoamorous and flexibly vanilla.

Before I started exploring my gender identity, I was quite strictly attracted to men only. The more I pushed the boundaries of what I understand gender to be, the less sense gendered attraction made. What does it mean to be attracted to men if men can be anything? As a gender non-conforming AFAB person, I also felt some weird pressure to be attracted to women (TERF voice: trans AFAB people are really just lesbians with internalised homophobia!!11!). Nevertheless, I am still mainly attracted to men, though there are occasional exceptions.

I didn’t date for the two years after I came out as non-binary because I did not feel like it was possible to be seen or loved as my gender. This is why when trans and non-binary people get together, we talk about dying alone with our cats. I felt like my options were dating:

A) straight/bisexual men and be read as a straight woman, or
B) queer women and be read as a lesbian, or
C) gay men or straight women who, even if they wanted to date me, would make me feel constantly inadequate.

All these options are unpleasant, B being somehow the least unpleasant, so I actually tried to do that despite rarely being attracted to women. It didn’t work out though, and for two years I thought of my sexuality as vaguely interesting but ultimately irrelevant, because I am unlovable. I thought this until I moved countries and met people who did see me as my gender, and liked me the way I am.

So here’s a funny story: in between starting this post and right now, I have acquired… a boyfriend! What! We’ve been talking about ways for him to refer to me. I looked at a bunch of “gender neutral things to call your partner” lists but didn’t like most of them for one reason or another. Partner works for me but seems more serious than boyfriend. I would like a direct equivalent to complete the form boyfriend/girlfriend/otherfriend. (Otherfriend is too funny to actually use imo.) This is an extension of the boy/girl/? problem, one solution of which is “enby” and “enbyfriend”, which I don’t like. For shorthand BF/GF/NF works quite well. I made a list of alternative words I like and want to practice using:

  • Koramiko: from Esperanto. Heart+friend. Gender-neutral but also used for boyfriend.  (koramiko/koramikino/koramiko)
  • Amorato: from Ido. (amoratulo/amoratino/amorato)
  • zefriend/theyfriend: Pronoun-based friends
  • norefriend: from the proposed boy/girl/nore
  • Imzadi: from star trek
  • Herzmensch: German. Heart+person
  • Freund*in: German. Pronounced with a glottal stop. (Freund/Freundin/Freund*in)
  • Goyfriend: Girl+boy. Doesn’t work for us, would be perfect for the Gentile part of a part-Jewish relationship. Especially good if people mishearing it as boyfriend so you can say that without having to Get Into It every time is a plus for you.
  • Birlfriend: not for me but leaving this in in case it works for you
  • (name): as in, “Have you met? This is my William”. Cute.

Koramiko is probably my current favourite because it has existing meaning, sounds quite good, and also has the possibility for the plural koramikoj when referring to our relationship. However, it sounds distinctly non-English, and other people will not know what we are talking about. For general purposes I see us mostly sticking with “partner”, and sometimes “boyfriend” if we want to leave no possibility of being thought to be straight.

If I think too hard about these things I get sad that there isn’t a ready-made word, and think about having to “round off to the nearest gender” for legibility, which sucks. I hate having no words for myself. It is very difficult to exist without language for your existence, and that we have no common words for non-binary people’s love and relationships speaks to my feelings of being unlovable because of my gender.

The problem with using a non-standard word is that it feels alien because it comes without existing emotional meaning and cultural connotations, and we have to develop them ourselves through our own use. I also felt this way when I first started using they/them pronouns, and still feel this way about lots of terms of endearment. (I wrote about that here.) I think like everything else, the solution is to just pick one and keep using it until it’s no longer weird.

PS: I spent way too much time researching gendered nouns in Esperanto. Here’s my understanding of the situation: Most nouns are gender neutral. Traditionally -in- is added for women, rendering the root word itself effectively masculine, but few people do that nowadays, and it can be quite rude, like saying “female doctor” instead of just “doctor”.  Eg: instruisto is now used for all genders instead of differentiating between instruisto/instruistino. Koramikino is somewhat of an exception, and people still rarely say koramiko for girlfriend, though they would not be wrong. So in practice koramiko is usually understood as boyfriend although it is gender-neutral. This works very well for me. For symmetry some people have suggested virkoramiko or koramikviro for boyfriend. Read more here (Esperanto) and here (English). On koramiko specifically here and here (both Esperanto).

This post was part of October’s Carnival Outside the Binary. A blogging carnival is when somebody proposes a topic and a bunch of people blog about it. This one is just starting out, I’m excited for future topics!

COtB: Finding Words and Love

Some Kind of Demigod (On Asexuality)

A year ago I wrote this post about Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve known for a while that I don’t really experience attraction the same way that allosexual people seem to talk about it, and that I identify as “some kind of asexual”. I am very confused by the concept of celebrity crushes, and get really stressed when people talk about other people being “hot”, and try really hard to say the right thing (“um.. yes! His face! is nice!”). I only recently realised that they’re just making casual conversation and not springing a test on me. Asexual awareness has helped me realise that there’s a name for the difference I feel, and that different is an okay thing to be.

Asexual: a person who does not experience sexual attraction. There are many common misconceptions. A lack of sexual attraction is not necessarily correlated with a lack of sex drive or capacity for arousal, and does not necessarily mean that asexual people cannot or never want to have sex. You can have, and want to have, sex without sexual attraction, and lots of people do for lots of reasons. Asexuals can also be kinky.

Demisexual: a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone. A common misconception about demisexuals is that they don’t want to have sex with strangers. This leads to the objection “everyone feels like that!” In fact demisexuals don’t feel sexual attraction to strangers. These are two different things. Lots of allosexuals don’t want to have sex with random strangers but do feel attraction.

Grey-A: this is actually difficult to find one definition of. Mainly it’s everyone who is asexual adjacent, and finds it a useful concept but also doesn’t quite fit. I’ve often seen it defined as “rarely” experiencing sexual attraction, which is just one of the many ways to be grey-A. It also isn’t “Asexual Lite”.

Attraction, like gender, is a subjective experience that is impossible to compare with other people since you only have access to your own feelings. But I do experience romantic attraction, from which I can extrapolate what sexual attraction might feel like, and I don’t think I experience it.

Allosexual people are not very good at explaining what they mean by attraction. They say things like “I just know”, and “I don’t really think about it”. They also sometimes get defensive if pushed. My understanding is sexual attraction is a feeling, or a feeling of potential feelings, they have about particular people which makes them want to have sex with them. I just.. don’t experience anything like that, and am quite baffled by the concept of “sex appeal”. I don’t find Leonardo DiCaprio any sexier than anyone else, for example. While this leads many asexuals to never desire sex at all, for me it means I could potentially have sex with anybody. My sex drive, of which I have an average amount, is largely disconnected from feelings of sexual attraction.

I get a variety of things out of having sex despite not necessarily experiencing attraction, and historically I’ve found that having sex with people I’m romantically involved with generally works out better for my health and safety, so functionally I behave quite similarly to allo/demisexuals, I suppose. I just relate to sex and attraction differently. While I am definitely somewhere on the asexual spectrum, I find the ace community difficult to relate to because of how much of a role sex plays in my life. One of the few sources I have found about asexuals who have sex (they do exist!) is Prismatic Entanglement’s How to Have Sex With an Asexual Person. That post put into words so many of the things I thought I was broken for wanting, and went a long way in validating my asexuality.

I might be demisexual. While I develop feelings of attachment, comfort and familiarity over time, and these are sexual feelings, I am not sure if they constitute “attraction”. I am also not sure that “emotional connection” is what it pivots on for me. I really relate to the term grey-ace, because the definitions of asexual and demisexual just don’t feel right in a multitude of ways that are tedious to enumerate any more than I already have. To go back to Siggy’s post linked above, I think that I “experience attraction that may or may not be called sexual, since it shares some characteristics with sexual attraction, but not others”.

I am many kinds of queer, but being ace-spec is the closest I get to feeling “broken”. “I’m not weird, I’m ace-spec” is a realisation that I hold on to a lot. Asexual is also the identity I am most hesitant to claim. While trying to write this I benefited a lot from other people who have written about being grey-ace/ace, and I hope to have added to our collective knowledge.

Some Kind of Demigod (On Asexuality)


We have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are, because for us, there is no elsewhere.

I’ve been trying to write this post all year: before going abroad in January, in Germany in April, and now in September with three months left in London. So many half-formed thoughts in various forms in my drafts, revisited every few months with increasing urgency. So many things; identity, belonging, dysphoria, are tangled up in my concept of home and feeling at home.

Something I like to do to amuse myself is to ask Google Maps for walking directions from wherever I am to home. 2,588 hours, 12,690 km. 2,705 hours, 8,365 miles. Warning: This route includes a ferry. Warning: This route may cross country borders. Warning: Your destination is in a different time zone.

When I ask myself where home is, I think, “Singapore, of course, where else could it possibly be”, and then I add, “for now”. Before coming to London I never imagined wanting to live anywhere other than Singapore, because where else could I possibly go? There are so many things about Singapore that I love and miss intensely. Singapore is where I grew up and where my family is. It is where home is to me, and I feel deeply and fiercely connected, in spite of everything. And yet, recently there’s been this claustrophobic dread that I feel settling on my heart whenever I think about going back. London has been a revelation. It is so much. The people and spaces I’ve been meeting and going to have accepted and understood me at a level I hadn’t realised was possible. It is as if all this time I have been slowly suffocating under the weight of everything, and I hadn’t realised until I came here and it lifted a bit. For the first time I can stretch out a bit and breathe a bit easier. All this makes recent events especially painful.

2 weeks ago on 6th September 2018, India repealed section 377, a colonial era law that criminalises same-gender sex. Today, 37 of the 53 countries in the commonwealth still has some version of this law, including Singapore. India’s repeal, along with Singapore’s upcoming Penal Code review, has sparked yet another round of “debate” in Singapore, with every garden-variety homophobe predictably coming out of the woodwork to parrot homophobic talking points while government officials predictably shrug and pretend to be helpless in the name of neutrality.

I woke up early the day after India’s repeal to a video of Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister Shanmugam calmly, coolly, patiently explaining how, while he personally doesn’t think gay people are criminals, the government’s hands are tied by popular opinion. Something about watching the video 7 time zones away from home, the Singaporean English acrolect accent, the deja vu, made me feel really sick.

None of this is new. We’ve been here before. Every two or three months, in fact, fresh moral panic over some dumb shit (rainbow cake? foreign sponsors at pink dot? couple photographed holding hands in public?) would launch another round of hot takes about whether or not the existence of gay people is obscene. Usually I would roll my eyes, brush it off, move on with my life (the obscene lifestyle isn’t going to live itself, you know), but this time it felt personal.

The other day somebody I had just met made the mistake of asking if I miss Singapore. Where do I begin? I miss it so much. I don’t want to go back. It doesn’t want me back. That’s what is hurting the most, I guess. Just as I am discovering that I have options other than living in Singapore, I’m hearing, over and over and over in various officials’ technocrat inflection, “We cannot, will not, do anything for you. Your rights don’t matter to us. You don’t matter to us. This country is not for you.”

I had never seriously considered emigration, because it scares me a lot and I feel so strongly connected to Singapore (also, I only really speak English and moving to a white country/the UK of all places offends my postcolonial sensibilities), but Singapore is such a long way from feeling liveable right now. I think that home is where I build it. It looks increasingly possible that it will not be in Singapore.

They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.


Stop Saying “Women and Femmes”

What’s wrong with saying “women and femmes”?

Nothing, if you know what that means, and that’s what you mean. It almost never is, though, and sloppy attempts at sounding inclusive does more harm than good. I know the title says STOP, but really I think that understanding what you’re saying is more important than following hard rules that you don’t understand, so maybe the rest of this will help.

I want to be inclusive! What do I replace the word “woman” with when I want to talk about feminism/hold a women-in-tech conference/hand out scholarships/recruit for my improv team?

First of all, admirable intentions. Thank you for wanting to acknowledge that gender is more than a binary. The bad news is that you have to do more work than that. This is a paradigm change, not just a cosmetic language change. You can’t just slap on “..and femmes” here and there and call it a day. Sounding inclusive is not the same as actually inclusive. There is no one single phrase that is appropriate in every context, that’s the point. To figure out which one you should use requires thought, clarity of purpose and precision of language.

Simply replacing every instance of “women” in your vocabulary with “women and femmes” is NOT “more inclusive”. This also applies to uncritical application of all the other variations on “women” that I’ve been seeing lately (female-identifying, womxn, women*, female-aligned, women and nonbinary, etc etc). You are still operating within the paradigm in which there are exactly two oppositional categories of people, exactly one of which requires whatever resource you are offering, regardless of what that resource is. You are saying that there are women, and then there are people who are …basically women? almost-women/women lite/women-but-more-complicated?

What is a “femme” anyway? Random misuse has eroded the word of its meaning. This word belongs to lesbians, queer women and trans-femmes. It doesn’t mean “feminine woman”, nor is it a more fancy way to say “woman”.

What do people really mean when they say “women and femmes”? Lots of different things, some of which can be expressed much more accurately and precisely, others of which are not coherent categories. Some things I’ve seen people use “women and femmes” to mean and why they’re bad:

  1. women = cis women, femmes = trans women. This is incredibly bad! Obviously, trans women are women. If you want a group of women, say “women”. If you want to explicitly include trans women, say “women (cis and trans)”.
  2. people who can get pregnant/breast-feed/etc. If you mean people with uteri, say that. Literally, just say what you mean! This is the most ridiculous use of “women and femmes”.
  3. feminine people who experience misogyny. Eck. Sometimes people ditch “women” altogether and just say “femmes” when they mean this. Misogyny doesn’t only happen to feminine people. Misogyny is about gender, not lipstick. Butch women experience misogyny. “Women and femmes” suggests that butch women somehow have male privilege or are exempt from misogyny, which they are not. Womanhood is not defined by femininity. Saying “femmes” instead of “women” pushes butch women out of womanhood.
  4. AFAB (assigned female at birth) people who experience misogyny. This is another misunderstanding of how misogyny works. Misogyny is about gender, not sex. Trans women experience misogyny. Some AFAB trans people experience misogyny, but that isn’t a feminine experience, and that experience doesn’t make them “women and femmes”. Trying to fight misogyny while defining womanhood based on assigned gender is called biological essentialism, and quite unproductive. If your feminism isn’t inclusive of trans women, what’s the point?
  5. gender minorities/marginalised genders/people who experience gendered oppression. I am a genderqueer person. It really irritates me when people make a thing for “women and femmes” and then tell me I should go. Like… didn’t you get the memo? I’m neither a woman nor femme? Did I come out for nothing?!

It is very important to say exactly what you mean, and to do that you have to think about what you mean. Using “women and femmes” or any other terms to refer to people who are not those things is obviously very rude. Offering resources only to “women and femmes” ignores the many other groups of people who experience gendered oppression and with whom solidarity would be productive. Anti-misogynist efforts CANNOT be solely for feminine/AFAB people.

I know some people are reading this thinking, “okay but so what should I say? Just tell me what to say!!” But this really isn’t a language problem, it is an understanding problem. Words matter because of the ideas they represent. There is no shortcut!

I’m always extra concerned when people ask me, their one trans acquaintance, for help writing copy for gendered spaces. Even if you got the phrasing right, how inclusive is the space itself? Are you going to assume that everyone there is cisgender after claiming to welcome all gender minorities? Will you police who can or cannot be in the space based on appearance? Will you be centering trans voices or are trans people just supposed to observe and not take up too much space? We need actual inclusion, not just better sounding labels on the same shit. I cannot emphasise that enough.

Addendum: Some assorted bonus gripes.

  1. Please immediately banish the term “female-identifying” from your brain. Please stop it. People who identify as female ARE FEMALE, and the word for that is WOMAN. It’s okay to say woman if that’s what you mean!!!! If it is not what you mean, see above. Dear god. This one is the most transparently uncritical attempt to “sound inclusive and fancy”.
    • bonus bonus mention to “female and female-identifying”. NO. nonononono. This implies that some people are female and others merely identify as female. What? JUST. SAY. WOMAN.
    • Seriously, “woman” is a very important category to have. Say it.
  2. Please stop categorising non-binary people into “femme/female-aligned/etc” and “masc/male-aligned/etc” unless that person personally identifies as such. I’m NON-BINARY, the whole point is that I don’t fit in the binary.
  3. Hey cis women, I know menstruating is a key feature of womanhood for you. That’s good, I support that. However, period-related puns when naming women’s events? Unfortunate implications. Uteri aren’t inherently female, womanhood doesn’t reside in the uterus for everybody.
  4. Have I mentioned that sounds inclusive ≠ actually inclusive?

Women Lite (TM) is a tweet by:
Do Butches Experience Misogyny?? is a whole exhausting Thing (yes they do), I especially like this thread on the subject:
Additional reading: Sam Escobar’s article On Being Non-Binary in Female-Centric Spaces
Kat Marchán’s On the Design of Women’s Spaces
If you want to read about gender theory, how gender/misogyny works, and the pitfalls of biological essentialism, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is a good place to start

Stop Saying “Women and Femmes”