It’s two years since I legally changed my name. It took a couple of months from then for my preferences to become clear, but now feels like a good time for a reminder or clarification of what they are.
At the end of last year, my Local Quaker Meeting made a public statement, welcoming and celebrating gender diversity, including transgender and/or non-binary people. I’m delighted that this has since been adopted by our Area Quaker Meeting and came to Meeting for Sufferings (our national representative body) this weekend.
I’ve been asked to publish online the glossary and tips for welcoming gender diversity that I have shared with Friends in my area: please feel free to use these wherever they are helpful.
I want to take this opportunity to clarify that these words are not categories to divide us, but vocabulary to allow us to talk about ourselves so that we can know ourselves and one another better.
I am grateful that I’ve found words to describe myself (genderqueer, non-binary and transgender), because they allow me to move away from the mis-labelling that feels so very uncomfortable (when people guess my gender and get it wrong). Knowing words that describe this aspect of who I am also allows me to know that I am not the only one; that there are others like me in this way, which is very comforting.
So, as promised, here are some of the terms that might crop up in conversations about gender diversity, and their meanings. Please remember that these words carry a lot of emotional weight: only describe an individual in terms that they use themself. Some other practical tips for inclusion follow the vocabulary bit.
Some gender terms explained
Gender identity: An internal sense of being a man, a woman, neither of these, both, and so on—it is one’s inner sense of being and one’s own understanding of how one relates to the gender binary.
Gender binary: A system of classifying sex and gender into two distinct forms—male/man/masculine and female/woman/feminine—and assigning all bodies, identities, roles, and attributes to one side or the other.
Sex: A combination of features, including chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics; typically male or female, but a significant minority are intersex.
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is expected based on their sex characteristics at birth; includes non-binary people.
Transsexual: A term sometimes used for people who are changing their sex characteristics (i.e. their body) to be more congruent with their gender identity.
Transition: Changing aspects of one’s life to present oneself in a way congruent with one’s gender identity (could include name, body, pronouns, clothes, legal status).
Trans: An umbrella term for transgender and transsexual people, and an adjective:
- Trans man: A man who is trans (who has transitioned or is transitioning to be recognised as a man).
- Trans woman: A woman who is trans (who has transitioned or is transitioning to be recognised as a woman).
- Trans non-binary or genderqueer person: A person who is trans and doesn’t identify as a man or as a woman.
Nonbinary/non-binary; Genderqueer: Terms for people who identify as not exclusively a man or a woman, or as something outside of these two concepts.
Cisgender: Identifying with the gender that is typically associated with one’s designated sex; not transgender.
Agender: Identifying oneself as having no gender.
Gender fluid: Shifting between different gender identities or expressions.
Androgynous/Androgyne: Having both traditionally masculine and feminine characteristics and/or identifying as between male and female.
Intersex: Having physical sex traits that are not distinctly male or female. Intersex is a physical state, rather than a gender identity.
Some practical tips for transgender inclusion
Use inclusive and gender-neutral language – Quakers have the advantage here! Just call everybody “Friend”!
Don’t assume gender based on appearance.
Respect people’s statements of identity and call them what they want to be called. Ask, if you’re not sure. Practice offering your own pronouns on introduction. “Hello, I’m Fred – my pronouns are they/them’”; “Hello, I’m Sally – my pronouns are she/her”.
If you get someone’s name or pronoun wrong, apologise briefly and sincerely. Then move on.
Avoid asking about people’s gender history unless they invite you to. Do not share information about someone’s trans identity or gender history unless they have given you permission. Remember that for many people a gender transition is something that happened in the past to correct a problem and can now be happily forgotten.
Do refer to people by the correct name and pronoun when they’re not there! It makes it much easier to remember when they are there.
Designate a gender-neutral loo and label it as such.
Talk to others about transgender inclusion and about ways to be more welcoming. Practice thinking about it so it comes easily when planning events or publications.
Create expertise among non-trans people, so that trans people are not always the ones being asked questions, and so that others can ask questions that they’d rather not ask of trans people directly.
Make sure that women’s groups or events are inclusive of trans women, and men’s groups or events are inclusive of trans men, and consider how non-binary people can be included.
Thanks for reading!
Please feel free to ask questions here. The most important bit is to respond to each individual as an individual, and not to make assumptions.
I did a guest post at Neutrois Nonsense, about being out at work as a trans, genderqueer person, as part of their Featured Voices series.
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)…
… 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
it should be more like a grid or paint chart:
So identities can vary in …let’s call it “hue”
and also in intensity:
I’m somewhere towards the bottom left: quite masculine, and intensely gendered.
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.
With many apologies to A.A. Milne
The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
‘Could we have some honey for
The Royal morning brew?’
The Queen asked
I’ll go and tell the bees
Before they start to snooze.’
And went and told
‘Don’t forget the honey for
The Royal cup of tea.’
‘You’d better tell
That many people nowadays
And went to
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a rosy hue:
For taking of
But tea without is tasty if
The Queen said
And went to
‘Talking of the honey for
The Royal cup of tea,
Would you like to try a little
Just to see?’
The King said,
And then they said,
‘Oh, deary me!’
The King sobbed, ‘Oh, deary me!’
And sank to their knees.
‘Could call me
A fussy Fred;
I only want
A little bit
In my tea!’
The Queen said,
And went to
Said, ‘There, there!’
And went to the bees.
The bees said,
We didn’t really
Here’s wax for their candlesticks,
And honey for their tea.’
The Queen took
And brought it to
The King said,
And bounced up in glee.
‘Nobody,’ they said,
As they kissed the Queen
‘Nobody,’ they said,
As they slid down
Could call me
A fussy Fred —
I do like a little bit of honey in my tea!’
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”.
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 me. 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 my old name (at least for now! It’s a question I revisit a lot.) [Edit: I have since changed my name – please call me Fred! I’ve edited the following paragraph to reflect my newer name and pronoun choice.]
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 Fred? They’re the IT officer.”)
– but I’m also comfortable with people using “she”
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/
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.
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).
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).