Canned Gender Worms

Lately I have been thinking about worms and cans.

I came across this post about being cis-by-default, and that is definitely how I used to feel about my gender. I, and a proportion of cis people, happily identif(y/ied) as the gender we were assigned at birth because that’s what we were told, and we never had much reason to think about it.

If we define “having a gender identity that matches assigned gender” as being “true cis”, a significant amount of cis people are not truly cis in that sense, and are only cis-by-default. (The corollary is that defining cis that way, as most transpeople do, erases the experiences of and alienates cis people who do not experience being cis that way, and a better definition may be “not actively disidentifying with assigned gender”, an oft-conflated but non-equivalent alternative.)

Some survey results:

I only identify with my birth gender by default: 681, 45.3%
I strongly identify with my birth gender: 586, 39.0%

As for me, being female never bothered me until I started reading about gender theory and trying to put my finger on my gender identity, a thing I was told I should have. Since beginning to experiment with gender, I have discovered that I do have an internal sense of gender; it just hadn’t been announcing its presence too loudly, and I had to tune in to it with experimentation. In the process I also became gender-adjacent, and gender started taking up a lot of brain space and being very difficult to deal with.

My suspicion is that if many, or maybe even most, cis-by-default people spent a few months thinking about it intensely they might identify as something else. The flipside is that had I had less free time on my hands and been less motivated in trying to find accurate labels, I would still be identifying as cis. Would I go back to being cis? Had I never learned or tried out the word nonbinary, would I be happier, with less dysphoria, more accompanying cis-privileges and more mental capacity to think about other things? (And also, does this make me Fake Trans?)

Someone left a comment on my #31daysoftransvisibility series about ignoring their feelings about gender until “you find yourself married and realizing that you should have taken care of this before”. Then it hit me that unopened cans of worms are still there.

Lots, in fact the vast majority, of cis-by-default people live their entire lives being happily cis. But also some of them/us realise at some point that we are not, in fact cis, and adjust accordingly.

Canned Gender Worms

Stop Asking About My Girlfriend

The other day somebody asked if I have a girlfriend. To be fair we had been talking about my coming out experience without being specific about what I was coming out of (my human husk, obviously), and they had made a guess. That IS one step less presumptuous than that one time a total stranger I had just met five minutes ago up and asked “so where’s your girlfriend?”. So… good job?

It’s such a weird question to answer because the short answer is no, but that does not address the several misconceptions inherent in the question, but I also cannot clear those up for the average cishet, or even many queer people, without lengthy explanation. (This may come as a surprise to nobody, but it turns out both my gender and sexuality are slightly endangered species.)

So, here’s the lengthy explanation for anyone who wants to get all up in my business. You could also not care, which would be fair since it’s really not that interesting, in which case just reread the title of this post and you’re done. Continue reading “Stop Asking About My Girlfriend”

Stop Asking About My Girlfriend

I am a Transfreak

My mother wanted to know why I can’t “look like a normal person”, aka the gender-presentation/trans equivalent of “I’m okay with gay people but do they have to rub it in our faces?”, aka “I’m okay with queer people as long as I never have to see them”.

The short answer is that the “normal person” is missing out by not looking like me, tbh. The long answer is this: Continue reading “I am a Transfreak”

I am a Transfreak

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

Non-Answer #54128 to “But what is Gender?!!”

Guess what, gender is not (just) a construct.

If feminists believe that gender is socially constructed, then doesn’t that mean there’s no such thing as transgender people? Please pat me on the back for being the first person to expose this liberal hypocrisy.

Not so fast. Although it is surely true that believing gender is 100 percent socially constructed is not compatible with the view that transgender identities are 100 percent inborn, there are a great many ways to merge an understanding of the socially constructed aspects of gender with acceptance of transgender people’s innate desire to transition. As with most complex traits, there are likely genetic and environmental factors contributing to this thing we call gender. You have not blown anyone’s mind, and this is not an unresolvable conflict within liberal thinking. Next!


Answers to your questions about trans people by Evan Urquhart

If one more person tells me that “all gender is performance” I think I am going to strangle them. What’s most annoying about that sound-bite is how it is often recited in a somewhat snooty “I-took-a-gender-studies-class-and-you-didn’t” sort of way, which is ironic given the way that phrase dumbs down gender. It is a crass oversimplification that is as ridiculous as saying all gender is genitals, all gender is chromosomes, or all gender is socialization. In reality gender is all of these things and more. In fact, if there’s one thing that every person in this room should be able to agree on, it’s that gender is a confusing and complicated mess. It’s like a junior high school mixer where our bodies and our internal desires awkwardly dance with one another and with the external expectations that other people place on us.


Whenever I hear someone who has not had a transsexual experience say that gender is just a construct or merely a performance, it always reminds me of that Stephen Colbert gag where he insists that he doesn’t see race. It’s easy to fictionalize an issue when you are not fully in touch with all of the ways in which you are privileged by it.


Performance Piece by Julia Serano

Please follow the link to read Performance Piece in full. I cannot recommend it enough.

Gender is a complex and nebulous combination of too many factors. You don’t have to know exactly what it is to realise that each person is probably in the best position to understand their own gender. Surprisingly, it costs nothing to believe people when they inform you of their gender!

Luckily, you don’t have to know exactly what gender is to identify your own gender, either. If you are asking this question because you are questioning your own gender identity, here is my attempt to help. I have taken to comparing it to shoes. I have said this elsewhere but I love the analogy so much I am going to repeat it here: Gender is like a pair of shoes. Sometimes it’s obvious that those are not meant for you and will never fit, or you fit nicely into the pair you got assigned. Other times your current pair aren’t Great, but seem… fine, and you never had much cause to think about them. You could keep them, which is okay, or you could try something else for a while if that’s what you want. Maybe you’ll realise that the old pair still fits better and go back to that, or maybe a few months later you won’t be able to imagine how you had ever put up with them. Trying to pin down and explain where exactly it is that this pair fits better than the last is futile and pointless; it just FEELS correct, and trying it on and breaking it in for a while is the best and only way to know.

Cis and trans people and everybody: You don’t have to know why you are your gender. You can just be.



Non-Answer #54128 to “But what is Gender?!!”

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!

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