[Image: Left: Pax stands wearing a name tag and holding a mug with their name taped on it. Right: Aph Ko, Pax, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters, and A. Breeze Harper (Black Vegans Rock advisory board members) stand outside with their arms around each other. Photos by Ziggy Tomcich.]
One month ago today, I gave a presentation on gender diversity at the Intersectional Justice Conference at the Whidbey Institute, Washington State. Videos from that conference are now beginning to be published. Thanks to Photon Factory for the videography, and to Marnie Jackson-Jones for enabling community-contributed closed captioning to help increase accessibility to these videos. (Try it out!)
My video is below, along with a transcript that I generated by exporting the captions I created. The text is lightly edited for clarity and to include links to the slides from my presentation and other resources. Enjoy!
Welcoming gender diversity – video transcript
Aubrie Rose Keegan:
So I’m here to introduce Pax, and I had something prepared actually for Pax, and I’ve been able to spend some time with them over the course of this weekend, just a little bit. And I would say that from reading their blog, and also from talking with them and their partner Ziggy, that I totally love Pax! They are just… you’re just amazing! You’re just amazing.
And if you haven’t read their blog, funcrunch.org, you definitely should. I’m so ready for this talk so I don’t even want to stand up here. So please, without further ado, welcome Pax.
Pax Ahimsa Gethen:
Thank you for that very sweet introduction.
Hello, I’m Pax Ahimsa Gethen, I’m a queer black trans vegan activist, and this is my presentation on Welcoming gender diversity: Trans, non-binary, and intersex inclusion in activist spaces. I will be reading out all the text on all these slides so if there’s anyone who’s visually impaired either here, or watching or listening to the video later, they should be able to hopefully follow along.
Just some basics. Gender and sex are terms that are often used interchangeably by people who think, well, if you’re a male you have these parts and you’re a man, if you’re female, you have these parts, and you’re a woman, that’s it.
But what really matters when respecting people is their gender identity, or what trans activist Julia Serano has referred to as the “subconscious sex:” our internal sense of self. And what people use to express this identity can be things such as clothing, hairstyles, or mannerisms, but these are not necessarily all in alignment with the identity; they can be separate.
Also often confused with gender identity is sexual orientation, but that is who you are attracted to. That is not related to who you are.
So these are all separate things: Gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, can be completely separate. This talk is going to focus specifically – or, primarily on gender identity.
So a transgender person like myself, we do not identify with the sex that we were assigned at birth. Virtually everyone is assigned at birth a sex of male or female. We like to say assigned or designated at birth as opposed to biologically or anatomically or genetically female or male, or male or female bodied, because this honors our own sense of identity rather than one that was assigned to us without our consent.
A cisgender person does identity with that sex that they were assigned at birth, male or female. The etymology or origin of the word cis is that is Latin for on the side of, as opposed to trans, on the other side of. It is not a slur, although some angry trans people, justifiably so because of the transphobic and cissexist environment we are in, have used it as a slur, just like sometimes some people of color use white or whitey as a slur, but you don’t get people saying “Well, white’s not a word,” or “Don’t call me white.” I have heard that a few times, but not nearly as much as people complain about the word cis.
So, just gotta get it out there, it’s not an acronym, it’s not short for sissy, it’s from Latin, it’s a prefix. I’ve heard “Oh, it means Comfortable In Skin.” Like who came up with that one? No.
So, a non-binary person is a person simply who identifies as something other than a male or man, female or woman. Non-binary is an umbrella term that can include many identities, such as agender, not having a gender, that’s what I am; bigender, having two genders; or genderqueer, which is often used synonymously with non-binary. Not all non-binary people identify as genderqueer, but they are both considered to be umbrella terms.
Now an intersex person on the other hand is a person who has physical characteristics that vary from the expectations for a binary sex. So this could be different genitalia, hormones, or chromosomes than one would expect from a male or female. An intersex person can be any of the above: Transgender, cisgender, non-binary, genderqueer.
Now when we talk about gender identity, we often talk about pronouns that people use, such as he, she, or they. Unless otherwise stated, people often talk about preferred pronouns, and we’ll go over this in my session later today, but unless someone specifically says that they have a preference, just assume it’s mandatory. I have a ranked preference; I prefer they, but I accept he. But for most trans people, just use the pronouns that they say, because again, that’s respecting their identity.
Some non-binary pronouns that are in common use are singular they, so they/their/them; that’s even accepted on numerous places online, like Facebook has that as an option now. But there are other non-binary options as well. Zie and hir is one other common pair.
It’s a little harder for salutations, such as Mr. or Ms., Mrs., Sir or Ma’am. Especially in the United States, it’s really hard to get around those. But there is Mx. Mx is gaining popularity in some places. Like in the UK, it’s actually accepted on some government forms now. So you don’t have to specify a gendered salutation.
And the thing to do if you make a mistake on someone’s pronoun or salutation or gender, just apologize and move on. Don’t say “Oh my God I’m so sorry, I’m the last person who would ever do that.” Just don’t make a big deal about it, because that just makes it more awkward.
And, even worse, don’t have an attitude about it. Just say, “I’m sorry,” use the correct pronoun, and just try to remember it next time.
So here’s an example relevant to the animal rights community on misgendering. This is a comic strip I love called Assigned Male, by a trans woman named Sophie Labelle. And the title is Misgendering, and in the first panel we see a child walking a dog, and an adult talking to the child, and it says “a pet:” and the adult says, “He’s such a cute dog, what’s his name?” And the child says, “Her name is Emy.” And the adult says, “Oh I’m so so sorry, she’s so pretty!”
And then in the next panel we have “a trans person:” same humans, no dog. The adult says, “What’s your name little girl?” The child says, “My name is Sam, and I’m actually a boy.” The adult says, “Um, well that’s unique, I’ll try to remember… gotta go.”
So, this is sadly common. We have people in the animal rights community especially, who say, you should always use a gender appropriate to an animal, never call an animal “it,” which I wholeheartedly agree with. But we have to remember that trans people also need to be gendered, and we, unlike non-human animals, can actually say what pronouns we prefer in our human voices. So it’s really inexcusable not to honor those.
Now for events like this there are often registration forms to fill out, and usually surveys to fill out afterwards, so here are some best practices involved,because often these ask for gender in a way that ignores people like myself.
If you are asking for someone’s gender on a form or survey, first of all ask, “Do I really need this information? Why am I collecting this information?” Because a lot of times advertisers are collecting it, and I’m like, Do you think that if I have one set of genitalia, which is what most people think gender is, that I’m going to play this game or use this object differently than if I have another set? No.
Now for social justice spaces it can be useful to collect gender information.But just remember that there are people who are neither male nor female, man nor woman. So if possible, please include a fill in the blank option for gender.
I know not all software allows this, but if at all possible, design your forms in this way, so that people can fill in their own options for their pronoun, title, and salutation. If it’s not possible, one other option if possible is to include Other or Decline to State options, and this could also be useful for cisgender people who just don’t want to disclose their identity. Just say Decline to State.
And when you’re doing this, I’ve seen people who are trying to be aware of transgender people’s existence, which is always welcome. But then they list transgender itself as a gender, which it is not for the vast majority of people. And I’ll illustrate that with a page from Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello; he’s an intersex trans male professor who writes about transgender and intersex issues.
And the first panel of this has three checkbox options, that say Christian, Jew, and Convert.The second panel says, “Does this checklist seem bizarre to you?” “That’s how I feel when I see this one:” And the third has three checkboxes that say Male, Female, and Transgender.
So, again, there are some trans people who do identify simply as trans, but it’s rare. Usually you are a trans woman, or you’re bigender, or you’re genderqueer, etc. I actually when I accidentally got mistaken for a woman earlier today said, “I’m not a woman, I’m trans,” just because I was tired and not thinking. But that’s ridiculous, because of course, many trans people are women. I should have just said “I’m not a woman” and left it at that, because when I start to say “Well I’m agender, but I’m also a transsexual male,” then people just look at me weird, so [laughs] sometimes I just take shortcuts. [laughs]
OK, so privacy and safer spaces. A lot of trans people have not had their official identification documents updated, either because they haven’t had time, they’re below the age of 18 and they can’t yet, or it’s expensive, or many other reasons. But you should always honor a person’s name regardless of what’s actually written on their official identification documents.
So if you require, for example, people to sign up online for an event like this,allow them to put a name that’s not exactly the same as the name on their credit card, for example. And if you need to check people in in a secure space by looking at their IDs or credit card or something, to verify registration, please do not read that name out loud, because you could inadvertently out someone.
You could also embarrass a cisgender person who just doesn’t go by the same name that’s listed on their credit card. I’ve met a lot of people who use a nickname or a middle name and don’t go by that name. So it’s a best practice just not to read off the identity document and assume that’s their actual daily use name.
If you’re having a women’s event, which is very common in social justice spaces, and you want to make it clear that you invite transgender women,and you honor transgender women as being just as much women as cisgender women which they absolutely are, a good way to say this is “trans and cis women welcome.” Because often I’ve seen people use woman-identified language, like “women and people who identify as a woman.” But that kind of separates people, because really, everybody identifies; you either identify with the sex you were assigned or you don’t, whether you’re cis or trans or non-binary.
So, it would just be better to say if you want to emphasize that you are including transgender women, say “trans and cis women welcome.” I’ve gotten this from talking to trans women because I’m not one myself. I would assume it would be the same for men’s events even though I haven’t attended such events myself.
And I’ve noticed, I’m very grateful that the restrooms, at least for the duration of this event, have been labeled as gender-neutral. This is a huge thing for trans people. I don’t know if some of you are aware of the transphobic bathroom bills that are going around the country. First they tried it in Texas, then South Dakota, then Tennessee, and now North Carolina has actually succeeded in basically criminalizing people like me who are trying to go to the bathroom. I mean, that’s how bad it’s gotten.
So, the safest space, especially for people who are newly transitioning, and don’t “pass” as cisgender yet, is a gender-neutral space. And this is especially important for single-occupancy restrooms, because, when I see a single-occupancy restroom that’s gendered, it’s like, why? What’s the point. So if you have any control over the space your event is in, this is a huge help to trans people.
And if you have an overnight conference like this, and you’re arranging shared rooms, please realize that there are non-binary people, and there are non-heterosexual people. So if you’re trying to match up genders for the purpose of rooms, keep that in mind.
So I’ve mentioned awareness of non-binary people a lot, and some other suggestions in that regard: If you’re having a fun group activity where you’re dividing people into two groups to compete against each other for something not gender-related, just general, please don’t divide into men’s vs women’s groups, Again, you’re excluding people like me, and it just doesn’t really help anybody.
If you’re addressing a group like this, instead of saying Ladies and Gentlemen, which again excludes non-binary people, you could just say “Hello everyone,” or if you want to be more formal, you could say, “Honored guests,” or “Distinguished guests,” or less formal could be, “Friends” or “Folks,” or I kind of like “Comrades.” But that has some political implications some people are not too comfortable with, but I’m gunning for it to come back. [laughs]
Now this is a big one. I say “You guys” all the time, so I’m not saying anybody’s a horrible person for saying it. I use it all the time. But I’m really trying to train myself out of it, because “guys” is no more a gender-neutral term than “gals” is. It’s only because of our patriarchal society that we see “guy” as a gender-neutral term. Just like, wearing pants is androgynous, but wearing a skirt is always feminine. It’s just patriarchy.
So, “You all,” or if you’re Southern-inclined, “Y’all,” that’s a very gender-neutral, inclusive thing to say instead of “You guys.” And if you’re referring to a married or romantic couple, you could say “spouse” or “partner” instead of husband or wife or boy or girlfriend if you’re not sure of the gender identity of both parties involved.
So for outreach to transgender communities, most of these tips apply to any marginalized community that you’re not a part of. Spend time learning about the issues that affect the community. Read and listen more than you speak. Always acknowledge your cisgender privilege. And understand why some trans people just might not be interested in veganism or animal rights.
I’ve got a montage here of images from the Transgender Day of Remembrance, BlackTransLivesMatter Day of Action, and the ReclaimMLK march in Oakland, California, that had a large trans presence. We had over 20 trans people murdered last year, most of them people of color; and seven so far, I hate to say so far, but it seems inevitable there will be more this year. And again, these are mostly women of color. Trans women of color that are being murdered. This is what’s on our mind, and this is why people are going to be resistant if you start to bring animal rights into their community without understanding these things.
I have an example here from a Facebook page that was started by a transgender woman to talk about transphobic violence, but she expanded into intersectional social justice, which is the title of the page. And there’s a screenshot that she shared, that says, “Tfw” – I think that means ‘that feeling when’ – “animals suffer more than what poc suffer.” “Tfw animals give more to the world as well.” And the moderator shared that and says, “Comments like this will get you banned, it’s also why we don’t give a fuck about veganism.”
And this is the prevailing attitude in communities where people who don’t understand the challenges facing the community come in and talk about animal rights. And they don’t have a right to without doing the research first. So this is why you need to understand what’s facing trans people, especially trans women of color.
I wish I had more time but I’m going to, you know, talk a lot more in my session,and you can check out my blog like Aubrie said. But you know, there’s going to be a lot of questions about transgender people. There’s a lot of curiosity about us. But as I said during Dr. Harper’s presentation, it’s exhausting to live this life and also be an educational resource, so we want to tell people to “Google it.” But I feel like the best thing to do is to talk to trans people like me directly and learn about us.
But when you do that, you have to realize some questions are off-limits. And if you think about it, most of these questions would be off-limits to a cis person also. Such as questioning whether somebody is “really” male or “actually” male or female, asking about someone’s sex life, asking about someone’s genitals, asking if someone has had “the surgery,” or asking someone what their previous name was.
Even if it’s someone that you know pretty well, be careful when asking any kind of questions like this, because they’re really invasive and inappropriate.
So, I wish I had more time, but I’m already over. But I hope to be able to answer more of your questions in my session. And please do check out my blog, because I do have, as I was talking about during Dr. Breeze’s session, a curated list of resources that I feel comfortable recommending that talk about these issues. So, thank you very much.