Don’t know much biology

[Image: A honeybee perches on a red flowering plant with waxy leaves.]

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book…

When it comes to talking about people’s bodies, there are certain words and phrases I would like to see stricken from the dialogue. When we say that someone is “biologically,” “physically,” “anatomically,” or “genetically” male or female, or that they are male or female “bodied”, we are reducing their identity to physical attributes that have little to no bearing on how most people live in 21st century human society.

Reducing a person to their reproductive organs under the guise of “biological reality” conveniently overlooks the reality that many cis people do not reproduce. Whether through choice, chance, or infertility, a cis woman who does not become pregnant is still a woman. A cis man who does not impregnate anyone is still a man. Even the most reactionary, anti-birth-control person would not likely question this. So why is it relevant, to anyone other than a doctor or potential partner, whether a person has a uterus and ovaries or testicles?

The same goes for penises and vulvas (the latter is what most laypeople are actually referring to when they say “vagina”). Under most everyday conditions, these body parts are well-hidden. Many trans women and nonbinary people who have penises are terrified of anyone seeing that part of their body in a women’s restroom or locker room. They are at far more risk of violence in those situations than the cis women who conservatives and TERFs falsely claim trans women are preying on. There have been no studies proving otherwise. And the same goes for trans men and nonbinary people with vulvas, as I can attest to from the fear I still feel whenever entering a men’s restroom, a year and a half into my physical transition.

Describing someone as “male-bodied” or “female-bodied” based on secondary sex characteristics is even more problematic. As I discussed in an earlier post, people of all sexes have breasts unless they’ve had them surgically removed; breasts, areolae, and nipples vary greatly in size, shape, and position for everyone. People of all sexes grow varying amounts of body and facial hair. Cis women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can grow full beards. Gender policing based on visible physical characteristics like this hurts cis people as well as trans people, as any masculine-presenting cis woman who’s been harassed for entering a women’s restroom can attest. This policing is also a good part of why “trans panic” is still a legal defense for murder in 49 out of 50 US states.

Chromosomes are the last resort of those who acknowledge all of the above, yet are still desperate to force us into the binary boxes we were assigned at birth. XX = female and XY = male, they say; that’s a reality you can’t change even with genital surgery. The irony is that many of the people insisting on this “genetic reality” don’t know much about biology themselves. Plenty of variations on chromosomes exist; to say otherwise is to contribute to intersex erasure. (And intersex people are also harmed by cissexist legislation, even if they are ipso gender rather than trans.) Some have questioned whether we should even refer to “sex chromosomes” at all.

But ultimately, chromosomes are completely and utterly irrelevant when it comes to everyday social interactions. I can guarantee you that the overwhelming majority of people reading this entry do not know what their own “sex chromosomes” are, nor do they know those of any of their friends. People do not routinely submit to genetic tests, whether for the purposes of birth sex assignment or for determining which gendered facilities they can enter. Even for elite athletes at the Olympic level, genetic testing has been a poor predictor of advantage, as outlined in this essay (note: contains cissexist language). So why on Earth do many insist on labeling people as “XX female” or “XY male”?

Following my own advice of using “I” statements, I will not tell a trans, cis, or intersex person how to refer to their own body. If a trans woman wishes to refer to herself as “male-bodied” or “biologically male,” that is her right. But I really wish people would stop forcing these labels on others. On the rare occasion that it is useful or necessary to speak of something other than a person’s self-identified gender – and cis people self-identify as well, they just aren’t questioned for it – the preferred phrase is “assigned fe/male at birth”.

One trans activist who has been doing a great job of deconstructing the sex binary is Sophie Labelle, illustrator of the Assigned Male web comic.  While the central character in her comic is a trans girl, she also features trans male, nonbinary, and intersex characters. Sophie is one of the artists I’m supporting on Patreon. She has lots of great, gender-affirming art in her shop, including coloring books for children. Highly recommended for people of all ages and genders!

If we could all be accepting of everyone’s gender identities and expressions, and not insist on reducing each other to body parts…. what a wonderful world this would be.

Telling our own stories

[Image: Screenshot of the Transgender Today section of the New York Times, featuring images of and quotes from many people, with the headline Transgender Lives: Your Stories.]

A couple of months ago, I learned that the New York Times had created a space for trans people to tell our own stories through text, images, and video. This month I decided to share my own story. Being limited to 400 words, I wrote and rewrote, agonizing over every syllable; there was so much more I wanted to say that wouldn’t fit. I even debated how or whether to list my occupation, eventually settling on “Photographer”, as I don’t (yet) consider myself to be a professional writer. I uploaded a photo my partner Ziggy took of me wearing the Kat Blaque T-shirt and matching mug, then submitted and hoped for the best.

Yesterday, the New York Times published my story! I was elated. Not a single word was altered.

As trans people, it’s crucial that we be given the opportunity to share our own stories. The mainstream media often gets everything wrong: Deadnaming us, ignoring or mocking our pronouns, sensationalizing our bodies. Occasionally a mainstream source will get a story about binary trans people mostly right, but do we really want cis comedians like John Oliver to define the trans experience?

The media celebrates those of us who fit into one of the acceptable trans narratives: The trans woman who knew she was a girl from the age of five; the trans man who felt “trapped” in a woman’s body. Many trans people do have these experiences, but many more of us do not, and we are every bit as legitimate in our genders (or lack thereof).

Nonbinary people especially suffer from poor representation in the media. There are a lot of mistaken assumptions about nonbinary people, even within the trans community. Explaining and defending our own identities can be exhausting, and this is only compounded by well-meaning allies sharing faulty information that they’ve picked up online. We often ask cis people to educate themselves about us by searching the Internet, so that we’re not constantly forced to be educators. But if the first stories that pop up reinforce the classic trans narrative, that’s not really helping our cause.

I’ve found this especially frustrating as a Wikipedia editor on the LGBT studies task force, as published articles about nonbinary people in reliable sources are sorely lacking. We need greater coverage in the mainstream media, and we need to hold reporters to a higher standard of accuracy.

I am grateful to the New York Times for providing a prominent space for trans people to tell our own stories, in our own words. I hope that more major publications follow suit.

 

White vegans need to check their privileges

[Image: Poster reading “Black Lives Matter: A Vegan Praxis”. Features a silhouette of a person with their hands up in the air. Their torso is the head of a bull with a bullseye between the eyes. Poster design: Alise Eastgate of Eastrand Studios.]

I’ve been talking about veganism a lot less lately because I’m frankly embarrassed to be associated with many of the prominent vegans in the “animal whites movement.” We have foodie vegans singing the praises of expensive juice cleanses, nondairy cheeses, and gourmet vegan restaurants. We have activists like Gary Yourofsky and the Non-Humans First movement saying that oppressed humans can speak for themselves, and nonhumans have it worst than anyone else on the planet, so all efforts need to focus on them, and no tactics are off-limits. And we have white vegans co-opting the BlackLivesMatter hashtag to focus attention on nonhuman animals, and calling black people racist and/or speciesist when we complain about this.

Black vegan chef Bryant Terry summed up the situation thusly in this Facebook status:

Bryan Terry quote on BlackLivesMatter

[Image: Bryant Terry Facebook status: If you have shared innumerable posts about how humans can be more compassionate towards animals and you have not said one peep about police terrorizing and killing little black girls and boys, a terrorist killing 9 black people in a church this month, 6 black churches being burned to the ground in the past week, and the myriad ways that anti-black racism manifests, I encourage you to think long and hard about how you might expand your “compassion” and fight for justice for all living beings.]

Blacks and other people of color don’t have the privilege to ignore racism, whether inside or outside of the animal rights movement. I can’t blame black people for caring more about the bodies of their loved ones being violated and killed by police and terrorists than the bodies of nonhuman animals being violated and killed by farmers and slaughterhouse workers. And given the mainstream media’s slant on the events highlighted in Terry’s quote above, it is laughable to say that we have a voice, while nonhuman animals do not. We have the ability to speak, but our voices are ignored and silenced.

Fortunately, more of us are speaking out on racism in the animal rights community.  [Edit, October 2016: I had embedded here a video by black vegan Rachel Richards, founder of the “Check Your Activism” channel on YouTube, but the video and the channel itself seem to have been deleted.]

I linked to the sites of some other activists who get it in my blog entry on activism with DxE. [Edit, June 2018: I left DxE in September 2015.] One I want to highlight today is Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper of Sistah Vegan Project. I read her Sistah Vegan anthology several years ago, before my transition to male. I was excited to see an entire book of essays by black female vegans. I also felt a kinship to Dr. Harper as a practitioner of Buddhism; while I don’t currently identify with Buddhism as a religion, the Buddhist concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence, is central to my ethics (which is why I chose Ahimsa as my middle name). Her blog is filled with excellent, thought-provoking essays on racism, sexism, food justice, and many other issues, in addition to (and in conjunction with) veganism.

Dr. Harper organized an online conference, “The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter“,  which I attended earlier this year. It was an excellent, interactive series of talks, covering racism, sexism, cissexism, and many other issues that are usually ignored by the mainstream vegan and animal rights movements. Recordings of the conference are available for purchase, and a book will be forthcoming.

I’ve contributed to the Sistah Vegan Project’s fundraising campaign on GoFundMe, which has been running for over two years now and has raised just over $10,000 to date. In contrast, when the popular high-end vegan restaurant, Millennium, announced that they had to leave their San Francisco location and started a Kickstarter campaign to fund their move to Oakland, they raised over $100,000 in less than a month. This is, to put it bluntly, fucked up.

I’ve seen this racism and classism in the the trans community as well. From the linked article:

…in a popular queer group a white trans man posted his fundraiser for top surgery and raised roughly half his funds within a day. He also garnered a lot of support from members of the group. A trans woman of color posted her fundraiser for living expenses because she was fired from her job due to discrimination and she was asked to promptly remove the post because it violated “community policy”.

After reading the above, I gave money to the Free CeCe documentary campaign, to elevate the voices of black trans women. Even with the backing and promotion of Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, that project is not yet fully funded.

If animal liberation is to succeed, the movement must address the concerns of oppressed humans as well as nonhumans. The BlackLivesMatter movement must not be co-opted or ignored by  white vegans. Black voices, vegan or non-vegan, need to be heard.

 

Follow your bliss?

[Image: Jonathan Mann plays guitar and sings into a microphone.]

Back when I was first contemplating transitioning, I attended a couple of peer support groups for transmasculine and genderqueer people at the Pacific Center in Berkeley. One group discussion rule that I really liked was: Use “I” statements. That is, don’t give other people advice, just say what has worked for you.

I am spectacularly unqualified to give personal advice on most issues. I am also quite cynical by nature. Hence the question mark in the title of this post. “Follow your bliss”* is advice I hear given to artists a lot. Do what you love, and the money will follow. But will it really?

Being a financially successful independent artist, writer, or musician takes a huge amount of work, along with a fair amount of luck. Most need another source of income, either from another job or a family member. I envy those who can work a full-time or part-time job and still have the energy to do creative work on the side.

Partly due to worsening clinical depression, I found it impossible to do many hired photography gigs while still working a day job. I was fortunate to have family support for my living expenses and health insurance while I tried to get my career off the ground. Ultimately I realized I could not make a living as a photographer. But at least I didn’t go bankrupt trying, and as I still have spousal support I can try to pull in a little income through crowdfunding, as detailed in my previous post.

Lately I’ve also begun to realize that most of the people I’ve seen give advice to “work for love, not for money” are able-bodied cis white men. These privileges can be so invisible that most people don’t even realize they have them. It’s a lot easier to rely on the good will of others, to say “the universe will provide”, when you are self-confident, full of energy, and your appearance doesn’t ring any alarm bells.

One white cis male artist who does recognize his privileges is Jonathan Mann, the first person I supported on Patreon. He’s frequently written songs and essays about social justice issues. His dream is to make a living entirely from user contributions, but for now he has to write corporate songs to make ends meet. I admire Jonathan, who I saw in person several times when he was living in the SF Bay Area; the photo at the top of this post is from his performance at Macworld Expo in 2011, where we first met. I also had the fun of collaborating with Jonathan and dozens of other people in a video last year:

Later this week I’ll write about some of the other artists and writers I’m supporting, on Patreon and other crowdfunding sites.

* Follow Your Bliss is also the title of one of my favorite songs, by the B-52’s.

Trying a new funding model

[Image: Montage of three people singing and playing instruments with the funcrunchphoto.com logo superimposed.]

Brief summary: If you like my writing and/or photography work, please consider supporting me with a monthly pledge on Patreon or leaving me a one-time tip.

Back in the year 2000 I acquired my first digital camera. I began taking photos of anything and everything. By 2008, I had gotten enough praise for my photos that I decided to launch an official photography business, Funcrunch Photo, the following year.

Unfortunately, I was a terrible salesperson. And as any artist will tell you, making a living from art is 90% sales and marketing. While as an event photography specialist I considered myself more of a photojournalist than an artist, trying to convince people to pay for my work when more and more people were content with amateur snapshots was becoming increasingly difficult.

I also felt I had no control over my work once it was posted online; Facebook and many other social networks stripped metadata, some people cut out or cloned out my watermarks, and some gave me pushback even when I simply asked for attribution for my work. While in the USA, a photographer owns the copyright to their work the moment the shutter is pressed, trying to explain that just made me look greedy in an age where many expect anything digital to be freely available to all, without restriction.

So in August 2012 I stopped taking on new gigs, choosing to focus on volunteer work in food justice instead, as my partner Ziggy was earning enough to cover our living expenses. I continued to license my existing work and do occasional shoots, hoping to bring in enough income to at least cover my business expenses, but I became more disillusioned with the state of the photography industry. My output dropped precipitously; my Lightroom catalog for the year 2011 contains over 25000 images, while for the year 2013 there are fewer than 4000.

Still, I could not bring myself to shut Funcrunch Photo down completely, and I was beginning to miss shooting events. I still wasn’t accepting hired gigs, but I began taking photos at animal liberation actions and other events, and posting them online in full resolution, without watermarks. I also started contributing more high-resolution photos to Wikimedia, such as the ones I took at the Trans March, as more free photos are needed in this area. Especially as my food justice volunteering wasn’t working out (more on that in a future entry), I felt that I should use my photography talents, in addition to my writing talents, to advance social justice causes if I could.

Meanwhile I was noticing that more and more artists were using crowdfunding to support their projects. I was supporting several such people on Patreon, and decided that might be a way to cover my photography expenses. I hate advertising, and liked the idea of having users support my overall work directly, in writing as well as photography.

So I’ve set up a page on Patreon for that purpose. For those who don’t want to commit to a monthly pledge, I’ve also set up PayPal buttons so you can leave a one-time tip.

While my photography work going forward will be released under a Creative Commons license for free noncommercial use (with attribution), I’m treating my older galleries a bit differently. I’ve made all low-res images free for download, cut the price of high-res image licenses in half, and eliminated print options on all but my art prints.

I hope this new funding model will help me fit in better with the evolving expectations of the digital age.

Are we male yet?

[Image: Pax , the author, runs on a trail, grinning and making a “V” sign with their fingers. They are wearing a “no meat athlete” shirt and race bib. Photo by comerphotos.com]

Today marks one year since a San Francisco judge granted my court order to change my name and gender. (Although I’m agender, my sex is male, so I wanted that legally recognized.) I’ve had nearly all of my various identification documents updated now, with the notable exception of my birth certificate, as my home state of Pennsylvania currently requires surgery for that.*

And surgery is something I am not willing to have at this time. When I first contemplated transitioning, I felt that I wanted a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. But after I went on testosterone and my monthly periods finally ceased, I eventually decided I didn’t want to undergo the risk and expense of surgery. As long as I’m not bleeding, I’m not actively thinking about those internal organs.

I would still prefer to have a cis-typical penis instead of a vulva and vagina, but that kind of surgery is really problematic and expensive. Testosterone therapy has helped there too, as my clitoris has grown to the size that I now think of it as a penis, albeit a very small one. I no longer feel the need to get a prosthetic, which is another thing I thought for sure I’d want before going on T. (I did wear a packer at home for awhile, but don’t currently feel the need to do so.)

One of the more disturbing things about my transition is that while my physical dysphoria has decreased significantly thanks to the hormones, my social dysphoria has actually increased. Part of this is due to my breasts. Unlike the vast majority of trans men and nonbinary female-assigned people I’ve encountered, I do not bind and am not seeking top surgery.

I neither love nor hate my breasts, but I do hate the feeling of constriction. After I lost a significant amount of weight a couple years back, I stopped wearing bras, even for running, and it felt great. I felt a little bounce at the beginning of each run, then didn’t notice them anymore.

But I’m sure other people do, as you can see in the featured photo at the top of this post (which this blog theme conveniently cropped to focus on my chest). This was at last September’s Beat the Blerch half-marathon, near Seattle. I was wearing a tank top under that thin shirt, but it was cool out, and I have rather prominent nipples regardless.

So every time I go for a run, I’m convinced that everyone is staring at my chest. This, plus my continued resentment that I can’t run topless without facing additional stares and harassment on top of the misgendering, has resulted in me running less and less frequently since my transition. I ran today for only the second time in a month, and only because I got up early enough to get out by 7 a.m., when there were few people about.

My therapist, who has been listening to me complain about not being able to run topless (safely) since well before my transition, finally said that I can either change the world, or I can change myself. At that point, I was starting to consider top surgery. But I simply do not want to surgically remove parts of my body that I don’t have a problem with.

Having breasts does not make me female or “female-bodied”. Cis men have breasts too, unless they’ve had them surgically removed. Cis men can get breast cancer. Cis men can suffer from gynecomastia, which causes breast enlargement independent of body weight. In fact, some of the most popular binders for trans men were designed for cis men with this condition.

The only difference between my chest and that of a typical cis man’s is the size, shape, and position of my breasts, nipples, and areolae. The “free the nipple” and “top freedom” movements point this out, though they are geared toward cis women, not transmasculine people. The problem with how I’ve seen these important movements marketed is that most of the people pictured are thin, light-skinned, and small-breasted, with small areolae and nipples. Look at this widely-circulated photo for example, which I believe originated on the Instagram page of Cara Delevingne (though it’s not clear if she’s the one in the photo):

"Male" and "female" breast comparison
[Image: The torsos of two people with words written on them labeling breast tissue, areolae, and nipples.]

Notice in the above photo that both chests are hairless, both have fairly small nipples and areolae, and the person on the right has their arm lifted which makes their breast appear even smaller. A lot of breasts, belonging to both assigned-male and assigned-female people, look nothing like the above. See this gallery of self-submitted, non-sexualized breast photos for example (geared toward cis women; contains cissexist language). Top freedom means freedom for everyone with visible breasts, regardless of their assigned sex or appearance.

Ironically, in many cities, including here in San Francisco, it is legal for women to go topless in public, but few do so. In New York City there’s a co-ed topless book club (some of their photos contain full nudity). I’ve mused about arranging a topless fun run, but the permitting process and security would probably be a nightmare.

So, do I change the world or do I change myself? If I didn’t want to change the world, I wouldn’t have become an animal rights activist, and I certainly wouldn’t have gotten involved with DxE (Edit, Sep 2016: I left DxE a year ago). I’d just be content to be vegan. But this kind of activism – top freedom – has more risk to me personally, and is probably not as important from a global perspective, though it’s something I care about deeply. Regardless, the idea that I should cut off parts of my body that I’m not personally dysphoric about is really unacceptable to me at this stage.

For the time being, I think I’ll  just stick to running in the early hours when I’ll encounter fewer people, but I’ll keep my shirt on. For now. Stay tuned…

* Edit, Sept. 2017: Pennsylvania removed the surgery requirement in August 2016.

Transgender vs transsexual

[Image: Side-by-side self-portraits of Pax, the author, wearing a black tank top, holding a camera and looking in the mirror.]

This summer marks several milestones in my transition. Last week, July 3, I passed a year and a half on testosterone; a photo comparing my current appearance with that on the day of my first injection is above.  Tomorrow, July 10, is the one year anniversary of getting my court order for legal change of name and sex. And next month, August 23, marks my second anniversary of publicly going by the name Pax Ahimsa Gethen and identifying as gender-neutral (later amended to agender).

In the course of my transition, I’ve been reading a lot about gender terminology, and tweaking my self-description to better match my identity. One of the most influential authors for me was Matt Kailey, a gay trans man who sadly died last year at the age of 59. Matt, like me, did not realize that he was trans until middle age. He was exclusively attracted to men, and (unlike me) had a very feminine presentation pre-transition. Matt had a great advice column, Tranifesto, and in it he helped me decide how and when to reveal my new name.

In Matt’s book Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience, he explains that transsexual people “change their physical bodies to match their gender identity.” In the FAQ on his web site, he explains that not all transsexuals identify as transgender; transgender refers to anyone who deviates from binary gender norms, whereas some transsexuals simply identify as binary men and women post-transition, and don’t want to be known as trans.

I’ve since read a number of comments suggesting that we should get rid of the term “transsexual” altogether, as it is stigmatizing, outdated, and presents a medical-centered view of gender. In contrast, I’ve read people who are sometimes known as “truscum” or “transmedicalists” saying that only people who wish to physically transition from one binary sex to another are trans; they want nothing to do with the expanding “umbrella” of transgender, which may include people who do not experience physical dysphoria at all.

My opinion, which is still evolving as I’m always learning, is that anyone who does not identify with the gender corresponding with the sex they were assigned at birth can identify as transgender.* This can include nonbinary-identified people, although some such people identify as neither trans nor cis. This can also include people who do not experience dysphoria, physical or otherwise. (This article by Sam Dylan Finch helps dispel misconceptions about dysphoria and identity.)

Ultimately, it’s not up to me to decide who is or isn’t transgender. I can understand the pain and frustration of trans people with binary identities and significant dysphoria who just want to be recognized as the “opposite” sex, and don’t want to be lumped in with people who have a much different experience of gender. That’s where I feel it makes sense to have a separate “transsexual” label, but again, it’s not up to me to decide who can claim that term.

While I mostly agree with Matt Kailey that most transsexuals “change their physical bodies to match their gender identity,” many are not able to access hormones and/or surgery, for financial, health, or other reasons. Also, I have a different conception of gender identity than most people I’ve read on the subject. When I say I’m a transsexual male, that’s what most would call my gender identity, but I actually see that as my sex identity.

The distinction between gender identity and sex identity is made in the article Gender in 12 Dimensions.  I don’t agree with some of the assertions in this article; I no longer see masculinity and femininity as opposite ends of a spectrum, and changing gender appearance is certainly not as easy as putting on a dress or a tie (especially here in San Francisco). But this article provided a more useful way for me to think about sex and gender than what was generally presented in the mainstream media. In particular, being transsexual is defined as “having a sex identity that does not match your sex appearance,” which suits me; I am male, but I currently have physical characteristics that make me appear to be female.

So if I am a transsexual male, how can I also be agender? I’ve seen few other people who have a distinct sex and gender identity in the way I describe. Marilyn Roxie is one; their sex is male and their gender is genderqueer. (Their site is one of the most useful I’ve found on nonbinary identities.) Identity is separate from gender expression, however. As I talked about in my article on agender fashion, having a nonbinary gender does not presume having a neutral or androgynous presentation.

I have sometimes wondered if I should just drop one or the other of my identifying terms, to make things less confusing. If I’m male, why can’t I just be a gender-nonconforming man? Or if I’m agender, why can’t I just be that and not also insist on a binary sex identity?

The answer is that defining myself as an agender transsexual male just feels right to me. I realize that many people will always think that I’m a special snowflake, and many others will ask why we need labels at all. To the first group, I say that each one of us is unique, and no one can define anyone else’s identity. To the second group, I say that is coming from a place of privilege, similar to the (mostly-white) people who say “I don’t see color.” Labels for gender identity (and sexual orientation, as I wrote about yesterday) are useful to help us understand ourselves better, and to find other people who are like us for mutual support.

I expect that my understanding of gender, sex, and my own identity will continue to evolve, as I’m always learning. What’s most important is recognizing that each of us should have the right to define our own genders, and express ourselves in the way that we see fit.

* But see also this article on intersex identity by intersex trans professor Cary Gabriel Costello, who makes the distinction between “cisgender” and “ipso gender” for intersex people.

 

Bi, pan, queer, ?

[Image: Smiling people parade along Market Street in San Francisco. They are holding a large banner reading BISEXUALS, in pink text on a black background, with pink and blue triangles.]

It seems not a week goes by that I don’t see the Bisexual vs Pansexual debate flare up somewhere on social media. I have many thoughts on this issue, but they are too detailed and nuanced to share as comments whenever this topic comes up. Hence, this blog post.

Soon after I entered puberty at the age of 11 (while being raised as a girl), I realized that I was physically attracted to both typically-male and typically-female bodies. This was 1981 and I was living in West Virginia; I didn’t know any openly gay or bisexual kids, and I couldn’t just jump onto the Internet to learn about sexuality (or gender identity for that matter). We moved to Pittsburgh the following year, but even in high school I didn’t make any openly non-hetero friends. I also realized that romantically, I was really only attracted to boys.

By senior year of college, I had still only dated men, but my attraction to women hadn’t abated. I decided to come out as bisexual. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1992, and began dating women as well as men. I also came out as polyamorous. I became active in the local bisexual community, attending meetups and marching in the Bisexual contingent of the Pride Parade.

All this time, I understood bisexual to mean “attracted to men and women”. This definition did not necessarily exclude trans people, as binary trans people are simply men and women with a different birth designation. But I knew very few trans people at the time, and nonbinary identities weren’t even on my radar. However, I did know a few people who identified as pansexual, which I understood to mean “attracted to people independent of physical sex characteristics”.

Remember, this all was before widespread Internet access; I couldn’t just browse Tumblr or other social networks to learn how others defined these terms. But I was also living in the San Francisco area, not West Virginia anymore, so I wasn’t completely sheltered from people with non-mainstream sexual orientations or gender identities.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t having much luck with women romantically, and realized my attraction to women almost purely sexual, and limited at that. Living as a cis woman, I might more accurately have described myself as heteroflexible. But the word “hetero” just did not work for me. I simply could not imagine myself as straight. And trying to break down my orientation into components like “bisexual but monoromantic” seemed too cumbersome.

By the year 2013, I realized that I was not a cis woman; I was a trans male with a nonbinary gender identity (which at the time I described as genderqueer and transmasculine, before later amending that to agender). As I still thought of bisexual as meaning “attracted to men and women”, I saw that label as unacceptably binary, for myself. Coupled with the fact that my attraction to women was almost purely physical, I decided that term didn’t fit me anymore. For purposes of sexual orientation, I announced, I was basically a gay male.

Only then did I start seeing bisexuality defined as “attracted to same and other” or “attracted to two or more genders”. I saw some bisexuals saying that there was therefore no point to the pansexual identity. I also saw some bisexuals saying that pansexual was an identity under the umbrella term of bisexuality.

This bothered me, not so much that bi people had this expanded definition of their orientation, but that some implied that bisexuality had always been defined this way, and that anyone who thought otherwise was being biphobic. I could see a young person who never knew life without constant Internet access maybe thinking that way, but I was middle-aged and hadn’t grown up with this privilege.

I especially didn’t like bisexuality being defined as an umbrella term that encompassed pansexuality. People who defined their orientation as pansexual under the thought that bisexual is a binary term might not so readily embrace the idea of being labeled as bisexual. It seems similarly problematic to using “genderqueer” as an umbrella term for nonbinary-identified people, though in the latter case there is the added problem that “queer” was a slur, and not everyone has reclaimed that word. I’m fine with bisexuality being defined in the ways that it is now, but I think that it is still valid to have a separate pansexual identity.

In my own case, I finally decided to just identify as queer. Gay male was too limiting, given my nonbinary gender identity and the fact that I am still physically attracted to typically-female bodies. It’s sort of academic as I’m not seeking new sexual or romantic partners currently, though my spouse and I remain polyamorous. But I’m not willing to throw out all the labels. Labels for sexual and gender identities are useful, but they must be self-chosen.

Agender fashion, or lack thereof

[Image: Pax, the author, stands on a balcony wearing a colorful print shirt and holding a matching mug. A cable car goes by in the background.]

I’ve been really getting into Kat Blaque‘s videos on sexism, racism, and gender issues. Check out her latest, explaining (among other things) that gender expression is not the same thing as gender identity or sexual orientation:

In addition to what Kat explained in her video, people need to understand that having a nonbinary gender identity (a more inclusive umbrella term than “genderqueer”*) simply means identifying as something other than a man or a woman. It does not mandate or preclude any particular gender expression.  As an agender trans male, I reject associating clothing or hairstyles, mannerisms, or hobbies with gender. I’m a trans male because my body functions better on testosterone, not because I prefer to wear jeans instead of dresses.

An intersex trans blogger from the UK explained the over-representation of DFAB androgyny in nonbinary communities, coupled with a “beard + dress” aesthetic that is the main representation of male-assigned nonbinary people. I could definitely see this when I first came out as trans and spent a lot of time on Tumblr, and saw that genderqueer communities celebrated female-assigned people who dressed like this:

Jacket and tie[Image: Pax, the author, poses on a balcony wearing a black hat, purple shirt, colorful tie, and black pinstriped jacket.]

But while it can be fun to wear a suit jacket and tie for special occasions, that’s really just playing dress-up, not  a reflection of who I am. I normally prefer dressing like this:

Denim jacket and T-shirt[Image: Pax, the author, poses in front of flowering red bushes wearing a denim jacket and navy blue T-shirt.]

The denim jacket in the pre-transition photo above was bought in the women’s section of a secondhand store, and is still one of my favorite pieces of clothing. I don’t wear it to look androgynous. I wear it because it’s comfortable, fits well, and has lots of pockets. I switched to wearing “men’s” jeans for the same reason: Deep pockets, enabling me to finally stop wearing a fanny pack after 20 years. Plus, sizing for men’s pants is based on waist and inseam measurements, rather than some completely arbitrary number.

Basically, I don’t care about fashion, but I do care about comfort. I’ve resisted wearing more button-down shirts, even though they hide my breasts quite effectively; I find T-shirts much more comfortable, and I have a lot of trouble with small buttons. I refuse to bind or even wear a sports bra, but I have compromised by wearing more crew-neck T-shirts rather than the lower necklines I prefer. And I nearly always layer, with a men’s tank top like this underneath:

Tank top[Image: Pax, the author, poses with their arms folded, wearing a black ribbed tank top.]

I recently learned of another female-assigned agender person, Tyler Ford, who, like me, has mixed black and white/Jewish roots, and like me has also struggled with gender expression and identity. It’s difficult to live in a society that conflates expression, identity, and sexual orientation so relentlessly. I’d love to live in a world where there were no “men’s” or “women’s” clothing sections, and everyone just wore whatever the hell they liked, without worrying about being taunted, attacked, or kicked out of gendered spaces like restrooms. (Restroom policing is another topic entirely…)

Meanwhile, I’ll keep wearing my jeans and T-shirts. For a colorful unisex selection, check out Kat Blaque’s all-over print shirts. She featured a photo of me wearing the one at the top of this post in a recent sales promo. Show some support for an awesome black female vlogger and graphic designer!

* “Genderqueer” should not be used as an umbrella term for nonbinary identities for the same reason that “queer” should not be used as an umbrella term for LGBT+ people: Queer was a slur, especially against gay men, and that word has not been reclaimed by everyone. I identify as queer in terms of sexual orientation, but as far as gender identity, I prefer the terms agender and nonbinary.

We are all animals

[Image: A group of people holds up signs with photos of animals, the words “WE ARE ALL ANIMALS”, and the Direct Action Everywhere logo.]

Update, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (as has Saryta Rodriguez, who is in the top center of the above photo.) My points about animal liberation and the intersections of oppression still remain.

Yesterday my partner and I participated in an action with Direct Action Everywhere. I’ve been involved with this animal liberation group for about a year now, ever since having a falling out with Gary Francione, whose writing first got me interested in becoming an animal rights activist. Though I’ve been vegan since 2011 and vegetarian since 1992, it wasn’t until last year that I was convinced I should actively speak out against animal exploitation.  Welfare reform isn’t the answer, as “humane farming” is a myth. The answer is abolishing the property status of animals, or to put it in a more positive way, animal liberation.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Whole Foods Market[Image: A group of people marches outside a Whole Foods Market, carrying a colorful banner reading “WE ARE ALL EARTHLINGS” and featuring the eyes of human and non-human animals.]

I like Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) because the people I’ve met in that community are more diverse and outspoken against human oppression than many of those in larger animal rights organizations. I’ve learned that all oppression is interconnected, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and speciesism. I won’t support animal rights groups or individuals who use sexist campaign tactics, like PETA, or say hateful, violent things about women or ethnic groups, like Gary Yourofsky. The ends do not justify the means.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people hold signs with photos of animals and the words “WE ARE ALL ANIMALS”. A woman in the foreground holds a white rabbit. Another woman speaks into a megaphone, a large dog standing next to her.]

Total animal liberation means everyone, humans and non-humans alike. Other writers and activists outside of DxE who get this include A. Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan Project, Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society, lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project, Corey Wrenn of Vegan Feminist Network and The Academic Abolitionist Vegan, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters of Vegan Publishers, and Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people stand outside a Chipotle restaurant, holding signs and a banner. In the foreground a man is speaking into a megaphone. Behind him a woman is holding a large white rabbit.]

As a queer black trans person, I feel safe and respected at DxE. In addition to taking photos at their events, I’ve written several entries for their blog, The Liberationist, on the topics of masculinity and aggression, dairy and racism, and gender identity and respect. I also participated on a DxE-hosted panel of queer-identified activists discussing the links between LGBTQ and animal rights. The organizers and most of the panelists were people of color. It was an empowering experience.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people stands outside a Chipotle restaurant, carrying signs including a colorful banner reading “WE ARE ALL EARTHLINGS”.]

Lately, I haven’t been as active in DxE or other animal liberation activities as I would like, as depression and dysphoria have made it difficult for me to leave the house much of the time. I’m glad I made it out to this weekend’s action though, as it was in downtown San Francisco (so I could walk there and back), and I wanted to get photos of the companion animals the activists were encouraged to bring along. I especially couldn’t get enough photos of my friend Lisa with one of her beautiful rabbits, Aster.

Lisa pets her companion rabbit, Aster[Image: A woman with straight brown hair, rabbit-shaped earrings, and a blue T-shirt smiles while petting a large white rabbit sitting in a carrier.]

Rebeca and her dog friend Lexie[Image: A woman with curly brown hair and a blue T-shirt smiles while kneeling and petting a large brown-and-white dog.]

Pat and her dog friend[Image: A woman wearing a straw hat and brown jacket smiles while holding a small white dog.]

I’ve uploaded the full set of images to Flickr under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared for noncommercial use with attribution. (I also posted the photos to Facebook, but I’d rather not drive traffic to that organization currently, in light of their harmful, ongoing “real names” policy.) Looking forward to spending more time with my friends, human and non-human, at DxE.

 

 

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