I wrote a guest post for Inclusive Church: you can read it here.
(I wrote this privately a few months ago and have decided to share it now.)
I retweeted kraken_syllabub:
“Just saw that @NetflixUK has Boys Don’t Cry under “lesbian films” fml *exhausted*”
My comment was: “This phenomenon is why it took til my thirties for me to realise that I was trans.”
This had such a strong effect on my teenage experience that I can’t imagine where I would have been (or when) if the world had been set up differently. ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ came out in 1999, when I was twenty, at university. I read about it in Diva, described unambiguously as a lesbian film. Every time I read or watched someone who felt like a man or a boy and had to deal with that in a female-coded body, I was told that that was butch dyke experience. Idgie Threadgoode (in the book of Fried Green Tomatoes) is a butch dyke; Stephen Gordon in The Well of Loneliness is a butch dyke; Leslie Feinberg was a butch dyke; in the short fiction I found, P. Califia and others with similar self-descriptions and presentations were butch dykes.
Some of the real-life people came out as trans later on; some of the fictional and fictionalised characters have been re-examined and some position themselves or are claimed as ‘maybe’s in more than one category – and gender identity and sexuality are complicated and interlinked and did I say complicated? But the fact that I never heard any of these figures described as even maybe-trans, as anything but butch dykes, meant that I had no other box to put myself in.
There was one trans man on TV when I was in my late teens – Stephen Whittle, seeming like a nice chap but not like a role model for me at all, because our lives and experiences were so different.
Of course, I was a weird butch lesbian because I persisted in being attracted to men and having relationships with them as well as with women, but that didn’t (and doesn’t) feel incompatible to me. I was a butch dyke (who happened to be bi), because people who carried around buckets of sadness at not being seen as boys or men were butch dykes. (I was aware of butch dykes who were happy being women too; they were not the ones I identified with and I didn’t think about them a lot.)
In some ways it’s not a problem that I only came across genderqueerness as a concept at the end of my twenties, and through it broader understandings of the possibilities of trans masculinity, and ultimately an understanding of myself as trans… because I wasn’t utterly miserable that whole time. I wasn’t in a well of loneliness. I was generally accepted as myself in my boys’ clubs and my girls’ clubs, and my times of discomfort were mostly around trying to be a girl in the girls’ club rather than an exception to the rule. And I am butch; I’m just definitely not a dyke.
I am so much happier, though, now that I have the vocabulary to explain who I am, and know the granular options for a transition that’s me rather than a set menu, and can ask to be seen and acknowledged not as a slightly-off version of other things but as a real and true me.
Some people don’t want to wear a gender at all. Any gender that’s put on them ends up in a heap on the floor by the sofa or left on a peg in the hall.
Some people who feel moved (or compelled) to wear a gender
are happy with the one their parents picked for them, or a uniform one they got at school,
or they pick one from a catalogue, smart, ready-made.
Some people read about gender pattern-making, and carefully measure, cut, pin, stitch, adjust to fit.
Some of us pick up second hand parts of genders from swaps or shops,
trim the extra off and re-hem; layer this shiny one over this smooth one; let the holes in this one fray; use the bits of this for patchwork; unravel and re-knit.
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.
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/