Paint chart

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I’m Fred and I’m transgender – my gender doesn’t match the ‘girl’ label assigned to me by society as a baby. My gender’s non-binary – neither ‘man’ nor ‘woman’ but a genderqueer mixture.

When I talk about this gender mixture, I’m not talking about stereotyped traits of masculinity and femininity, but something much less tangible about the internal self. Layered over this internal gender identity, people outwardly express their gender in many ways; this outward expression is often about a desire (conscious or not) to be ‘read’ correctly by other people. Gender presentation might include clothes and accessories, hairstyles, patterns of speech and body language, and the various signals might be mixed and layered to express the nuances of identity. The signals might be carefully thought through or not thought about at all at a conscious level. Most people think of themselves and present themselves as men or as women (or girls or boys); a significant minority (including me) think of themselves as neither or both, and might present themselves in ways that express that.

I perceive myself and present myself to the world as a mixture of man and woman, masculine and feminine, with a definite overtone of masculinity. If we think of gender as a spectrum like this (blue for man and red for woman)…

Eight splotches of colour, ranging from blue, through purple to red

… I’m somewhere between the second and third splodge from the left: not a man but nearer the masculine end of the spectrum.
Other people I’ve talked with about this have placed themselves at different points on the spectrum – some firmly at one end or another; some in different places in the middle bit.

Some people experience their gender identity changing over time, or being at different places at different times or in different circumstances. Some of those people might describe themselves as genderfluid.

Incidentally, I know people who identify themselves as very feminine and also as men, and people who identify themselves as very masculine and also as women. I’m sure there would be men and women who’d put themselves in the same place on the chart as me but would identify firmly with a binary gender.

(In fact there are way more layers and directions that the chart doesn’t address, because gender’s really complicated – but that’s also what makes it so interesting.)

Some people I’ve talked with about gender identity get confused about why I think it’s important. “I’m just me – I don’t really think about that stuff.” “I don’t know where I am on that spectrum – it doesn’t matter.” “I don’t feel like I’m not a woman, but I don’t feel strongly womanly or feminine either.” There isn’t a strong correlation between this and whether or not someone’s transgender: it’s not just that people whose gender identity matches the one assigned to them don’t have to think about it.

Some people – I’m one – have a very intense sense of gender identity. I don’t feel like the colours are irrelevant to me: I feel like I’m overflowing with my particular mixture of them.

Some people identify themselves as agender – not having a gender identity – so the spectrum of colours doesn’t work for them.

My working hypothesis is that the chart needs another dimension. Instead of the one line

Eight splotches of colour, ranging from blue, through purple to red

it should be more like a grid or paint chart:

A grid of colour splotches, pale at the top, intense at the bottom, ranging from blue, through purple to red

So identities can vary in …let’s call it “hue”
Gender paint chart one line
and also in intensity:
A column of purple splotches, pale at the top, intense at the bottom

I’m somewhere towards the bottom left: quite masculine, and intensely gendered.
The grid of splotches, with an arrow pointing to a pretty intense, purple splotch

The intensity at which people experience their gender identity can vary as much as the hue of their gender. Because we talk about variations in the hue and don’t talk much about variations in intensity, people with a less intense gender identity can feel as though intensely-gendered people are making a big deal unnecessarily, and people with an intense gender identity can feel dismissed.
I hope that by being more aware of the different directions of variation, I can be more understanding of other people’s thoughts and feelings about gender.

The King’s Cuppa

With many apologies to A.A. Milne

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Beekeeper:
‘Could we have some honey for
The Royal morning brew?’
The Queen asked
The Beekeeper
The Beekeeper
Said, ‘Certainly,
I’ll go and tell the bees
Now
Before they start to snooze.’

The Beekeeper
She curtsied,
And went and told
The Apiary:
‘Don’t forget the honey for
The Royal cup of tea.’
The Apiary
Said sleepily:
‘You’d better tell
Their Majesty
That many people nowadays
Prefer it
Sweet’ner-free.’

The Beekeeper
Said, ‘Fancy!’
And went to
His Majesty.
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a rosy hue:
‘Excuse me,
Mister Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But tea without is tasty if
It’s
Delicately
Brewed.’

The Queen said
‘Oh!’
And went to
Their Majesty:
‘Talking of the honey for
The Royal cup of tea,
Many people
Think that
Tea without
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little
Of it
Just to see?’

The King said,
‘Bother!’
And then they said,
‘Oh, deary me!’
The King sobbed, ‘Oh, deary me!’
And sank to their knees.
‘Nobody,’
They whimpered,
‘Could call me
A fussy Fred;
I only want
A little bit
Of honey,
In my tea!’

The Queen said,
‘There, there!’
And went to
The Beekeeper.
The Beekeeper
Said, ‘There, there!’
And went to the bees.
The bees said,
‘There, there!
We didn’t really
Mean it;
Here’s wax for their candlesticks,
And honey for their tea.’

The Queen took
The honey
And brought it to
Their Majesty;
The King said,
‘Honey, eh?’
And bounced up in glee.
‘Nobody,’ they said,
As they kissed the Queen
Tenderly,
‘Nobody,’ they said,
As they slid down
the bannister,
‘Nobody,
My darling,
Could call me
A fussy Fred —
BUT
I do like a little bit of honey in my tea!’

Name update

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I’ve added a middle name by deed poll, so my forenames are now Sharon Frederick, to reflect my mixture of gender better. (Last name stays the same.) I am transgender: my gender doesn’t match the ‘girl’/’woman’ label that society has assigned to me; I’ve been through transitions in my understanding and expression of my own gender and am continuing to transition. My gender identity is non-binary: I fit somewhere between “man” and “woman”, sort of both and sort of neither. I chose Frederick because I used the nickname Fred for a while when I was at school, so it’s a name some people already know for me and a name my mum used for me. You can keep calling me Sharon, or Fred, or initials, or any combination you like. [Update: Please call me Fred!] Pronouns: I prefer “they”/”them”.

If you have any questions, that’s fine, and if you don’t, that’s fine too.

International Transgender Day of Visibility

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Today, 31st March, is International Transgender Day of Visibility

– and this is me being visible as a transgender person. I’m doing this because it’s relatively safe for me to be open about my gender identity: my job’s safe; my family’s safe; my relationships are safe. Lots of trans people find that it’s not safe to be open about being trans, and I hope that each person who is open makes the world a tiny bit safer for the next person.

The words I use describe who I am are “non-binary gendered” and “genderqueer”. That means I fit somewhere between “man” and “woman” – sort of neither and sort of both.
I’ve been identifying as “butch” for a long time, but in the last few years as I’ve learned more about what labels people use and thought more about my own, the boxes of “woman” and “man” feel too inaccurate for me to occupy them comfortably.

I also describe myself as “transgender” or “trans” – my gender doesn’t match the ‘girl’/’woman’ label that was assigned to me when I was born. Transgender/trans is more of an umbrella term and can apply to men and to women as well as to people with a non-binary identity.

I’ve identified myself as genderqueer for a few years, publicly but without any big announcements – but I’m conscious that it’s a thing I drop hints about and skirt round the edges of, and I prefer to be clear and direct.

None of this means I’m a different person from who you thought you knew: I’m still just Sharon. These are just more accurate words for describing me.

Extra information in case it’s useful:

Some transgender people change their name to something that feels like a better fit for their gender. I’m sticking with Sharon (at least for now! It’s a question I revisit a lot.)

There are several options for third-person pronouns which are gender neutral— i.e. not ‘he’ or ‘she’. “They” is the one that ‘s most commonly used by non-binary people (“Have you met Sharon? They’re the IT officer.”) – but I’m also comfortable with people using “she” (“Have you met Sharon? She’s our IT chap.”)

An estimated 0.4% of the UK population has a non-binary gender identity.
It’s not currently possible in the UK for identity documents such as passports and driving licences to show a non-binary gender, although there is an early day motion to facilitate that, currently supported by 80 MPs: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/47
Where it is possible for records about me to accurately reflect my gender, I’d like them to, and I’m working on this.

Further reading, if you’d like it:

Evidence for the 0.4% figure: http://practicalandrogyny.com/2014/12/16/how-many-people-in-the-uk-are-nonbinary/

Trans Media Watch has a good introductory document: it’s made for people in the media but I think it’s a pretty good general introduction: http://www.transmediawatch.org/Documents/non_binary.pdf

And a related recent news story: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/02/04/scotland-law-society-will-let-solicitors-register-as-gender-neutral/

Panto! Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Royal, Stratford East

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A selection of my extended family went today to The Theatre Royal, Stratford East to see their panto production of Beauty and the Beast. It was really, really good.

It had all the essential panto elements: the dame was on the edge of too lewd (but just on the right edge, and very engaged with the kids in the audience as well as the grownups); there was a principal boy (who wasn’t actually the principal, but that’s fine) (ooh, and she’s doing a PhD in performance and disability!); the baddies were great; the singalong and shoutout bits were great. There was even (only essential if you’re from exactly where I’m from) someone dangling in the air.

The script and adlibbing were interesting, funny, accessible and not patronising. The making it work for a modern context (and still be fairytale) was done really, really well.
(Unusually for a pantomime) the baddies had understandable motivations and that allowed happy endings all round, not just for the goodies.
There was a plot strand lifted straight from Buffy, but that’s fine because it was so well done.

What I loved about it, though (and this only worked because the rest was done so well) was that it was totally upfront pro-queer, pro-immigration, anti-racist, anti-transphobia. I didn’t have to switch off any of my sensitivities – it was with me all the way. Thank you, Theatre Royal Stratford East and all who sail in you.

Thoughts after Britain Yearly Meeting

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Last weekend was Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain,  held at Friends House in London from Friday afternoon (24/5) to Monday afternoon (27/5).

During a Yearly Meeting “we aim to create a truly gathered community who can go to the heart of who we are and what the world needs of us”. Our discernment and time together should be
“an inspiring event which takes us into and out beyond ourselves, and also carries us back, strengthened and grounded, to our local meetings and daily lives”.
[from minutes of Yearly Meeting Gathering 2009 Planning Committee]

 

Some of the business of the meeting is to make administrative and procedural decisions, but lots of it is “seeing one another’s faces” – meeting together as a national community. 

This year’s meeting didn’t make any big, outward-facing decisions. It felt like an opportunity to pause; to spend quality time together; to concentrate on who we are together and how our relationships work as an organisation and as a community; to consolidate our Quakerness. It felt like an opportunity for me to do some of that as an individual too.

I made some new friends and spent time with old friends, without some of the intense kaboom friendships that sometimes happen at these things – interactions at this BYM felt gentle and comfortable. A couple of the new friends introduced themselves to me because I looked like familiar sort of people. Some of my friends from my old meeting in Sheffield introduced me to people I’d met but not got to know from my new meeting in Wanstead; I chatted a bit more with some other Wanstead people and feel like it’s time to let go of some of my reservations (and shyness and homesickness) and get to know people there better.

Yearly Meeting prompted me to think about some aspects of the way my life’s been arranged that have been sitting uncomfortably with me (mostly relating to how I go about activism; a bit about social stuff and scheduling) and to make some adjustments so things fit better with what I think is right and with what I think is sustainable. (Nothing big! Just small-scale life-changing.)

This year’s Swarthmore Lecture (on the Saturday evening of Yearly Meeting) was one person talking about their own life and personal experience – rather than big philosophy or politics. I appreciated that, this year, and it prompted me to read the Testimonies published for this Yearly Meeting (short Quaker biographies of people who’ve died recently). I’ve enjoyed hearing and reading about a huge variety of ways of living as a Quaker, especially when it’s clear that all these people are/were fallible humans. I like fallible humans.

On Sunday evening my friend Mark led a singing session and I enjoyed being part of it. [Here are Mark’s own thoughts from Yearly Meeting.]

I’m still feeling quiet and gently introspective, and starting to get to grips with the next things on my to-do list (and looking forward to summer holidays).

Cabaret

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David and I saw Cabaret at the Savoy Theatre last night – the second half of our sort-of-exchange (I’d seen I Am A Camera before but not Cabaret; he’d seen Cabaret but not I Am A Camera; they are based on the same set of stories). I didn’t know, mostly, what the differences were before yesterday evening.

I was a bit surprised to find that the musical engaged me more than the play; I was really hooked in by the central love story of two older characters, one of whom doesn’t exist in the play and the other is a more minor and more comic character.

In IAAC Chris (Cliff in Cabaret) is essentially asexual; in Cabaret he’s bi, and/so the audience’s avatar is embroiled in the inter-war decadence rather than being a passive observer, which I think enhances all the emotional responses to the changes of atmosphere at the end of the first act and through the second.

The whole thing’s more explicit and enlarged, too: the sexuality and the Big Bad of Naziism, which is absolutely in your face in Cabaret, whereas in IIAC it’s going on outside, more removed and less developed because IIAC is more tightly tied to the actual timeline of Christopher Isherwood’s presence in Berlin.

It’s interesting that Chris/Cliff is made American in Cabaret – maybe to be more similar to its first audiences? (I wonder whether this is why he’s bi rather than gay, too.) In some ways it seemed to be played to make him seem more legitimately naive – more of an outsider to Europe.

My subjective experience: I found IIAC very interesting and thought-provoking, whereas Cabaret had me weeping buckets.

Performance-wise, Will Young was great as the MC, but I think there was an issue with his microphone as he was much less audible than the others.

Michelle Ryan worked much better than I expected as Sally Bowles – she was excellent. She worked the gradual disintegration of the shiny very well.

Matt Rawle was a great Chris Cliff – he reminded me a bit of John Barrowman in the extravagance of his performance, and that fitted well in the production.

The star, for me, was Sîan Phillips, playing the funny and the heartbreaking parts of Fraulein Schneider perfectly and singing much more for believability of the character than for note-perfection.

So yes, it was brilliant, and I would go again (with more hankies next time).

Out at work?

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Written in response to Love is Infinite’s post on coming out at work, and to Silicone Valley’s response.

I’m out as poly as well as being out as bi at work (in a medium-sized third-sector organisation), and I was at my last job (in a small, private software firm) too. I’m aware that there’s no legal protection for being poly, but I also know that my colleagues are basically nice people and that they like me, and that they understand or try to understand that polyamory works for me and that both my partners are very important parts of my life.

I don’t talk about polyamory all the time, any more than I talk about bi activism all the time, or being a Quaker or being vegetarian – and I probably haven’t used the word ’polyamory’ more than once or twice – I just talk about my life in the way my colleagues talk about theirs, and if they ask me questions about how any of it works I answer them honestly.

I know I’m lucky that I’ve found a job where there’s community spirit and where my colleagues care about each other’s wellbeing. In that situation, I believe that being open about what and who is important in my life gives me an easier ride and more protection than trying to keep my relationships secret.

Frankly, if I found myself in a job where I couldn’t be myself and where the 9-5 was just paying for the ’real life’ in the evenings and at weekends, I’d be looking very hard for another job. I want my real life to be happening all the time.

Quaker decision-making

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This weekend, I was asked twice by different people to explain the Quaker business method/Quaker decision-making, and I thought the written version of my response might interest some folks here, so here it is, copied and pasted from a comment I made elsewhere.

The Quaker business method is an example of compassionate, co-operative discernment.

Quaker decision-making usually happens with people meeting in person, but most of the principles can be transferred to an online context and some decisions are made this way.

Essentially, it’s based on an intention to find the best way forward, rather than the way I prefer or the way you prefer; in traditional Quaker language it is ‘seeking the will of God’, but some non-theist Quakers prefer to describe it in different ways.
A clerk (kind of secretary-cum-chair) introduces the agenda item to be discussed, giving as much information as they can either in writing in advance or in a spoken introduction (or often both).
There is a period of silent consideration, and then people can add information or thoughts that might bring the meeting closer to a decision. One person speaks at a time, and there’s a period of silent consideration after each contribution. It’s not adversarial: if I disagree with something a previous contributor has said, I will structure my contribution around what I feel is the right way forward, not what’s wrong with what the previous person said.
Contributions are addressed to the clerk rather than to other people present.
Participants are encouraged to try to find the truth in each other’s words and to trust in each other’s good intentions even when there is disagreement.

When it seems as though there may have been enough contributions, the clerk (usually with at least one assistant clerk) writes a draft minute to record ‘the sense of the meeting’ – jargon term – the jist of what’s been said and the decision that the contributions have moved towards, if that has happened. The minute might record that the meeting has been unable to find unity on the decision. The clerk reads the draft minute, and there may be further contributions to refine what has been recorded, after which a revised draft would be read. The clerk asks ‘is this minute acceptable’, and when it is, the people present say ‘I hope so’ (because any one individual can’t speak for the whole meeting).

There’s no voting, and it’s not exactly consensus decision-making either.
The aim is to write a minute that records what the meeting has discerned in relation to the agenda item, rather than the aim being to reach a decision no matter who gets hurt along the way.

I’ve experienced this method in meetings ranging from five people to a thousand people, and seen decisions made on big and controversial topics. It works as long as those present are willing to approach the process in a spirit of co-operation and compassion, and to trust the meeting as a whole to make a good decision, even if it isn’t the one they would have preferred.

One of my friends from Meeting has just posted a link to this article on Quaker decision-making, which is interesting to me partly because it’s written by a non-Quaker.

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