What I Want

No, I don’t want strangers to read me as a man. I’m not a man, why would I want strangers to think I’m a man? Would you (hypothetical non-male participant in this conversation) want people to read you as a man?

“oh, but I thought…”

I want people to read me as genderqueer. I want them to look at me and decide, hm, genderqueer. Isn’t that also what YOU (hypothetical binarily gendered participant in this conversation) want, or even expect? You expect people to read you as your actual gender, not something “close enough” that isn’t actually even close, don’t you?

“but realistically… people are only going to pick from male/female. Don’t you prefer one over the other?”

Say you have green hair. Would you prefer people think you have blue or red hair? Would you, (hypothetically) a binary cis woman, prefer people think you are genderfluid or genderqueer?

Why do I have to choose? I want people to read me as my gender, is that too much to ask? Apparently it is if I’m not a binary gender. But you asked what I want. I want to live in a world where my gender is an option on lists, and I want people to select that option for me. I want my gender to be affirmed every day in the thousand little ways that binary genders are affirmed, in bathrooms and honorifics and pronouns and “welcome, how may I help you, SIR”. I want to experience the relief and joy and affirmation my binary trans friends experience when they begin to transition and the world starts to read them correctly at last. Confusion is not good enough. Avoiding referring to me is not good enough. Being read half the time one way and half the time the other, and wrong all the time, is not good enough.

So, no. I don’t want to be called sir by random people. It’s not “close enough”. It’s NOWHERE near close to what I want, and you asked what I want.

What I Want

Gender Break

In which I take a break from taking a break from thinking about gender to bring you: Week One Update.

I have identified as trans for at least half a year, but never quite settled completely into it. A shakeup is due. For a while now I’ve been feeling a building amount of angst about my labels. I started on the daily blogging series #31daysoftransvisibility to find out if that would help me feel more secure in my trans identity, but it did not. Eventually, last weekend, I had a minor gender crisis (actually a rather regular occurrence), jettisoned all my gender words, abruptly left my trans support group which I talked to A LOT, etc. So I have been on gender break.

Not being in the support group group-chat has given me much needed space and time away from constant trans Discourse. (The group has grown in recent months, and slowly moved in that direction, with very clear lines between “us” and “the cis”.) I also took down this blog for a few days. Both of these things removed the regular reminder/pressure that I’m “supposed” to be trans, and that a significant part of my identity and social life has grown around that. I have also put myself on a mental gender break, during which I will not scrutinise, attempt to label, or put pressure on my gender feelings, I will use my brainspace for other things, and I will focus on the non-gender related aspects of my identity.

My gender is <comfortable silence> . I have been much gentler with myself and things are a lot quieter in my head, which is a huge relief. Today out of the comfortable silence words (nonbinary girl) tentatively emerged for how I feel, but I’m still not putting pressure on them yet. Am I trans? <shrug, more comfortable silence>. I feel strongly that people can claim the label “trans” if they want, and that nonbinary people are “by definition” trans. And so I had claimed the label, and had always been political about it, because lots of people would deny us that right. But hey, maybe it just doesn’t fit right now? That is perfectly fine, and we are all good, and it is going to be okay.

(This blog is pretty much now a gender blog, which was not the original intention when I started it… I might decide to write about other things here, in view of the gender break. Apologies to everyone who only follows me for Gender Talk :P)

Gender Break

On Standing Up

Every time I hear someone correct someone else on my pronouns, usually after I had decided to let it slide, I learn that my gender and comfort is important enough to interrupt people’s sentences about, and I deserve to be gendered correctly, and correcting people every single time and bringing it up again and again is not being overly pushy or unreasonable aggressive, and feel braver about correcting people myself. Continue reading “On Standing Up”

On Standing Up

Wanted: My Name

One can only question so many things at one time. I am now confident in my gender, but frequently no pronoun set or name feels correct.

A name is kind of like a shield from the world. An easy, small, uncomplicated answer to “who/what are you?” that you can hold onto. Having no name is like being out in the world with no skin. Vulnerable and raw. It’s weird that we use a few syllables to refer to the entire amorphous mass that is a person. And when I can’t find the right combination of syllables to refer to myself, it quickly escalates into an existential problem.

Occasionally, when I have no pronouns and no names, it can feel like I’m not supposed to exist. I find myself floundering and drowning in wordless darkness. Wiser people have pointed out that one does not follow from the other, which is a great comfort; I can still take up space without having something convenient to call the space.

In The Name of the Wind, Kvothe names the girl living in the sewers. Auri. Her name glows in her chest. Something to hold onto on the darker days.

I don’t have a name yet. There are a few things I will respond to, but aren’t quite right. But it is okay, and it will be okay. It will come to me sooner or later.

I exist. I am here. I am loved.

Wanted: My Name

The 3 Functioning Levels of Me, Your Friendly Neighbourhood NB

(CN: discussion of afab body dysphoria, body parts, suicide mention with linked resources)

I realise that the english language is sadly devoid of names for people like me and I try to cut the world some slack for this, every day, all day, and the day after that too.

But the truth is that every time I am misgendered like that I am reminded that I do not fit, I am not this, I am not that, I am not seen, I can’t be recognised. I have no name. I am invisible.

And a tiny little sliver of me disappears. Just a sliver. Razored most days from the surface of my very thick skin, but some days, I don’t know why, it comes straight off my soul. Sometimes it’s felt so deep but most days simply just shrugged off, but still, it’s a sliver, and all those slivers add up to something harder to pretend around.

– Ivan Coyote in Gender Failure (link to spoken performance)

Sometimes things hurt more than they should. I am told by people who love me that I shouldn’t let things get to me. I am told by other people that trans people are shrill and unreasonable.

I know it’s not “reasonable” to expect everyone to immediately get used to my pronouns, and I know that it doesn’t help anybody to be angry about it. I know that the world is still only beginning to wrap its head around the existence of NB people, and I should “understand where people are coming from”, and that it’s not “healthy” to cry every time a form doesn’t include my gender identity.

But sometimes I can’t help it. I resent the fact that something not bothering one trans person at one particular time is sometimes used against other trans people. Obviously I would be more functional if I could, but sometimes I cannot, because dysphoria is a thing that sucks, and you can’t really logic your way out of pain. Here I attempt to describe the 3-4 mental states that I personally move between from day to day, in answer to the question “how do trans people feel about (thing)”. I love being reasonable. But sometimes I cannot.

Level 1A: No dysphoria, or slightly more binary female/male-identified.

Body: I have one, and as a healthy functional person, I don’t have to think about it much. I wear comfortable clothes that fit me.

Pronouns: Call me whatever, it is A-OK, don’t worry about it. Please, go back to telling me about your cabbage plantation! Damn, why did I trouble people with my pronouns, I don’t actually mind, and I feel bad when people go out of their way to correct themselves.

Gendered situations: Yes, I would like to pee; I feel okay about using the female/male bathroom, and might be annoyed if people stare at me, but am likely to take that positively as affirmation of my NBness. Oh, this form only has two options for gender? I know people who will be annoyed by that, but it’s fine, I can humour you.

∧: toilet anxiety for me comes from two separate things- having to pick one, and potential confrontation. Here the former is low, and the latter I have emotional capacity to deal with.

AKA: “Wait, am I really trans??” (The answer is yes. Yes, even if you only ever experience this stage, which I did for a long time. If you identify as trans you are trans.)

1B: NB gender euphoria.

Body: I wear a binder occasionally and it makes me feel good about myself, but it hurts my back so I don’t usually. I try to reclaim my body, with mixed successes. I am okay with having boobs because they are NB boobs, not female boobs. I am happy with and actually quite like my body!

Correct pronouns: Oh you got it right! Good job, thank you, awesome person.

Trying: Thanks for trying, I know it’s hard and I appreciate trying

Incorrect pronouns: It annoys me that this person isn’t trying, but it doesn’t affect me much

Gendered situations: *cringe, pick one, try to forget about it asap*. OMG a gender-neutral toilet/form with an ‘other’ option, God bless this great nation.

AKA: “Yes!! they/them is me! It me!! I love being trans, #livingmytruth”

2: Gender dysphoria.

Body: What is pain? Life is pain. Being trans is pain. Suck it up and wear a fucking binder, it doesn’t really help, but the back pain gives me something else to focus on. It’s hard to get dressed, and some days I don’t.

Correct pronouns: Why, thank you for not stabbing me in the gut, excuse me if I don’t enthusiastically celebrate your having Common Fucking Decency

Trying: It hurts. I know you are trying and I appreciate that but it’s a reminder that my existence is inconvenient for everyone involved and it hurts and I can’t help it.

Incorrect pronouns: Oh, are we going to step painfully on my foot every few sentences? That’s the activity of the day? Okay. Fuck you, person whom I have notified of my pronouns 278 times so far. This might be unfair to you but also fuck you, person whom I have not notified of my pronouns, but who did not ask because of cisheteronormativity. Some days I don’t interact with anybody because the potential misgendering isn’t worth it.

Gendered situations: *angry sobbing*, and peeing stops being worth the anxiety. Thank you world, I really needed that reminder that I don’t fucking exist and there is no space for me here.

∧: Anxiety about picking one is high and ability to deal with confrontation is none, so anxiety about confrontation is also high. If there were absolutely nobody around, my ability to pee goes back up to “cringe, pick one, forget about it asap”.

AKA: “Fuck being trans this is the worst shit”

3: ???

Body: My skin is literally melting, like it hurts to HAVE skin, and my bone structure is WRONG, and, like, I just noticed that I have HIPS, WTF. Being IN this body is pain. The whole world is pain.

Pronouns: What are pronouns; you think WORDS are going to help?! Call me whatever, what does it matter, there are no “correct” pronouns, everything is WRONG. What did I tell people my pronouns were, and what was I even thinking? Nothing is correct. I have made a horrible mistake. There are no pronouns I prefer. Everything BURNS.

Gendered situations: rarely encountered because I am in fetal position in my room.

Real talk tho: I have been suicidally dysphoric and it sucks, and dear trans friends, please read There are some things I need to tell you. (while we are reading, please also read 25 Things I Do To Make My Body Dysphoria Feel Smaller and Quieter and Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation)

Conveniently, this also helps explain how I feel about pronouns. This article could be alternatively titled “Thanks for asking about my pronouns, it’s actually kind of a long story…”, but I went and got all up on my soapbox, so we have this postscript instead.

As you can see, there is some fluidity in my gender feelings. My gender is clear to me: I am genderqueer and NB. But what pronouns I prefer seems to vary a bit from day to day, between “anything is fine” and “nothing is fine”. That’s pretty inconvenient, and I’ve just been telling people to use they/them. That makes me feel like a fraud when people go out of their way to use they/them on days when I prefer she/her, but it works on other days.

What pronouns would I use if people would actually infallibly use them? Maybe one of those rotating pronouns where you use ze/she/they/he in rotation, a different one every time it comes up. Or primarily ‘they’ in writing etc, but different ones in person depending on day, so ask me. These are too much trouble for most people, and also too much trouble to explain, so expedience usually outweighs discomfort.

So the short answer is “they/them”, but you could also do either of the above two things.

The 3 Functioning Levels of Me, Your Friendly Neighbourhood NB

What My Body Means

(CN: discussion of body shape, and ~curves~)

Today I was at Uniqlo looking for winter pants. Tried on a dress that looked cool; one thing led to another and I was trying on a bunch of dresses. They fit really well and felt nice and looked nice and all of a sudden I had all these Feelings and had to leave and go sit down for a while.

I’m not very good at identifying and understanding how I feel about things, so here is my attempt at processing that. A disclaimer: As far as I know, as of now, I don’t want top surgery or hormone replacement therapy. This piece may read as advocating some sort of psychological change over medical transition. That is not what I am saying at all. This is me processing my feelings as a non-binary person who doesn’t want to medically transition. The science is good on people who do want to medically transition: it is the best and only relief for certain forms of gender dysphoria. Alright.

I still don’t quite know how I actually feel about the shape of my body. It varies from day to day. On some level I (falsely) believe that I can’t really be trans unless I hate my curves and all the trappings of femininity, and have a lot of dysphoria about all these things. (Thanks, truscum and Dominant Trans Narrative!) I feel like I’m supposed to hate it, but I usually don’t.

Mostly I feel okay with my naked body and relatively-flat but not flat chest, but can’t get it to look right with clothes. Some days nothing fits quite right and I can’t leave my room because I can’t get dressed, and I stare enviously at everybody else’s pecs (I have never been jealous of other people’s breasts though). Wearing clothes designed for cis-men with a binder is okay, but doesn’t fit over my hips, is extremely uncomfortable in the tropics, and makes my back hurt a lot. Clothes designed for cis-women on the other hand just doesn’t usually appeal to me unless it is a skirt.

I have a complicated relationship with skirts. Growing up AFAB and not particularly girly, I was subjected to the usual gender policing where friends made a sick game of forcing me into things they thought were feminine. Examples: people who go around at prom applying makeup onto everyone whom they think are girls, protests unheeded. People who find the idea of their less girly friends in dresses to be inexplicably hilarious, and gleefully look forward to occasions when they may be forced by convention to wear one. It’s insidious social conditioning. Nobody else ever seems to find it disturbing that a large group of people are deriving joy from making somebody do something that they are clearly uncomfortable with.

But I like skirts. They are pretty and cute and fun to wear. To the adversary though, this is something of an own goal. Wearing a skirt anywhere would earn me over-dramatic shock and amazement and congratulations from all quarters, and also seem to prove them right in some contest I hadn’t realised we had been having. These were my closest friends who are otherwise reasonable people; thinking about it now still makes me shake with indignation. Social order will always try to preserve itself; it isn’t always recognisable as physical violence.

Anyway, so I have several chips on my shoulder, and so many things to prove to other people and myself, “I can be feminine if I want to” and “Being AFAB doesn’t mean I have to be feminine” being two big conflicting ones. Femininity has always been something I perform both for others and for myself. I like wearing skirts but going out in a skirt is exhausting, for reasons I could never properly articulate. Thoughts of “reclaiming” and “queering” are still performative, and never really worked either. It has been easier to just give up on skirts entirely.

Dresses, on the other hand, I never even wore enough for it to be performative. I tried a few at various times and never could fill them properly, what with my relatively flat chest. I now know that the vast majority of people are not the magical proportions that mass produced clothing come in, but growing up I was so convinced that there was something wrong with me: specifically, that I wasn’t woman enough, and developed complexes about shopping and clothes.

Today I put on a dress and it made my boobs look good. It fit perfectly on my waist and hips, as if designed for my body shape. I had not internalised the fact that clothes are supposed to fit. The last time I tried a dress it did not fit and left me convinced of my failure as a woman. Today it fit, and I no longer cared about being a woman. In that moment, in the fitting room, trying, purely for fun, a dress I had no intention of buying, the dress wasn’t a performance of femininity. The dress had nothing to do with femininity. It was an ungendered piece of clothing that fit my body, and made no demands of it. My chest was an ungendered body part that for once, somehow, didn’t seem to stick out awkwardly. My curves were an ungendered body shape that is how MY body happens to be shaped. And it felt… nice.

What does my body mean? What do my curves mean?

I am non-binary. My body is non-binary. My curves are non-binary. My breasts are non-binary. My dresses are non-binary. I am not male or female. Ergo, none of these things are male or female.

I did end up buying a dress. I don’t know if I will wear it. You can’t really logic your way out of dysphoria in one day. There is so much emotional and cultural baggage that I can only try to work on. I don’t know if I will ever recreate that feeling of absolute synchrony. Already I am back to feeling vaguely uncomfortable in my skin.

But today was like listening to the first song in a genre you were so convinced you hated, and liking it. The world opens up. A belief about how the world is is shaken. It is a beautiful revelation. There are so many things to try!

whatsapp-image-2016-10-27-at-15-22-42
I lfeel like one of the dubious scientists in Divergent

Footnote: interestingly, I rarely have difficulty with thinking of nail polish as ungendered. I love painting my nails in odd colours. Yet my wardrobe is currently primarily dark blue and black t-shirts. I am working on it.

What My Body Means

Feels

(CN: depression, self-harm, suicide, alcohol)

Watching gay wedding videos and wanting to cry. I don’t see any of NB people getting married, but gay is close enough. The whole #itgetsbetter movement: yes, watching gay people get married is reassuring and it really, really, helps.

I turn 20 in two weeks. I didn’t always know that I will get here. I don’t know that I will live through the next two weeks, but the odds are very good. Sometimes it hurts and it hurts and it hurts but I held on, and I hold on, and I will hold on.

It hurts to just live from one day to the next, as a human being. Had I been cishet, I would probably still be depressed. It also hurts that I am just trying to figure out who and what I am, and there are all these people shouting about how I am a freak and wrong and disgusting and a travesty and just looking for attention. It hurts that who and what I am takes so much explanation.

There are days when I look around and am so glad that I live. Taking the bus when it is just about to rain, and the colours are somehow brighter, and everything makes sense and is lovely, and in that moment, everything is worth it. Taking the train through Malaysia and leaning out of the door and wind rushes through my hair. Watching the sun rise in the early morning on a remote mountain that took a hell lot of climbing to get to. Playing in water and drying off in the sun. These are moments I hold onto.

Depression first emerged shortly after I turned 16, entering junior college. I know the statistics about queer people and mental illness. For me queerness and depression seem to be separate phenomena that converged. I didn’t identify in any way with queerness until several months ago and was nevertheless depressed and suicidal, but identity has rapidly wrapped itself up with my mental health; I suppose it is a rather significant stressor in people who are otherwise predisposed to mental illness anyway.

I am still learning. I don’t cope with things very well. I could stand to drink less. There are probably better ways to deal with things than self-harm. I am learning to talk to people, to ask for help, preferably without drinking first. I am making my way through Kate Bornstein’s “Hello, Cruel World: 101 alternatives to suicide for teens, freaks and other outlaws”.

I wish I could skip to the part where it gets better, and I find the chosen family that so many people have promised, who understand and respect and support and love my gender and me, and small things stop bothering me so much. I wish that life wasn’t so much pain, all day everyday. But I KNOW that it will happen, if only I will give it time, and give myself love and patience in the meantime.

I still think of suicide a lot. Lots of things that should be easy, from buying a train ticket to making a new friend, are not. Often it feels easier to just not be anymore. Often I am a transgender teen in crisis. Often I feel like Other People Have It Worse, and Who Am I To Complain. But I deserve help and I deserve happiness, and I deserve to ask for it.

I know that many people love me, and I have to take care of myself, even when it hurts.

I don’t know what this life has in store for me. It is only just now beginning.

Feels