Tag Archives: lgbtqia

Beards and bullying

Harnaam Kaur is a woman with a beard.

Alex Drummond is a woman with a beard.

What do they have in common, besides having copious facial hair?

  • They are both women.
  • They both live in the UK.
  • They have both been bullied.
  • They both deserve to have their gender identities respected.

Facial hair seems to be the last bastion of “manhood.” In many places, cis women can wear pants or neckties, have short hair, abstain from makeup or jewelry, or present in any number of other “masculine” or “androgynous” ways, and still be accepted as women without question. But dare to grow a beard, and suddenly you’ve crossed that line, because everyone knows that only men have beards.

Except that isn’t true, and has never been. As I posted yesterday, cis women with PCOS can grow full beards; Harnaam Kaur is one example. She kept her beard because shaving and hair removal treatments damaged her skin, and also because of her Sikh religion, which forbids cutting or shaving hair. She’s endured quite a bit of bullying for this.

Even female-assigned people without this condition often grow some facial hair. You just don’t usually see this, as women are socialized to remove all traces of it. I found this out in my 30s, when I began to grow some sparse hair on my upper lip and chin.  I’d been diagnosed with PCOS when I was younger, but after losing weight, all other symptoms of that condition disappeared. The chin hairs didn’t appear until years later. I shaved them as it looked odd to have hair growing from just one part of my face.

After a year and half on testosterone, I have a lot more facial hair but I still shave regularly, as it’s coming in very unevenly (much to my impatience). I do actually want to grow a beard and mustache, not because I love facial hair (I can take it or leave it) but because it will hopefully cut down on the number of times I’m called “ma’am” or “miss”.

However, I wouldn’t grow a beard if I hated facial hair. The pressure to conform to gendered expectations regarding appearance really bothers me, which is why I felt happy reading Alex Drummond’s story of why she decided to keep her beard and not opt for hormones or surgery. From the sound of her story she actually got bullied more before her transition, when she was living as a man. She is now living authentically, and doesn’t need to subject her body to procedures she does not want in order to “confirm” her gender.

It’s not just women (trans and cis) who are pressured to have a naked face; nonbinary people are too. Some people think being agender means having no visible sex characteristics, including breasts and facial hair, or even body hair. For some people, especially many who identify as neutrois, that might be true. But as I’ve discussed in my entries about being agender, male, and transsexual, it’s not true for me.

My sex is not neutral, it’s male. I personally don’t want to look like Peter Pan or a prepubescent child.  I started on testosterone therapy ready to accept whatever physical changes came with my second puberty. This so far has included growing additional body and facial hair, as well as developing male pattern baldness (my hairline is already receding). I’m fine with all of this.

Two nonbinary people I admire who wear varying amounts of facial hair are Tyler Ford (agender), who I wrote about in my article on agender fashion, and Jacob Tobia (genderqueer), who I found in the New York Times Transgender Today gallery, where I was also published. Tyler wrote about navigating the streets of New York as a queer agender person of color, deciding based on their schedule for the day whether or not they should shave, what they should wear, and which gendered restroom was safest for them to use. Jacob spoke about self-acceptance as a genderqueer person wearing both a beard and lipstick:

While I celebrate those who are able to live their authentic selves, I recognize that privilege comes into play. Harnaam Kaur and Tyler Ford, people of color, likely suffer more bullying and harassment for their presentation than Alex Drummond or Jacob Tobia. We cannot ignore the intersections of race, class, and gender. It is simply not safe in many places for everyone to “just be themselves.”

I hope that as more people transcend the artificial boundaries of gender expression, more of us will be able to live safe, happy, authentic lives.

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.

 

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.

Identity, equality, and oppression

[Image: Two men walk side by side carrying rainbow flags along a crowded Castro Street in San Francisco.]

Last week I posted some thoughts on marriage equality, as I was concerned by commentary I’d read that the legalization of same-sex marriage primarily benefits white cis gay men. While I still don’t believe that to be true, an article published today, “Will Gay Identity Really Disappear Now That We Have Marriage Equality?“, both infuriated me and shed more light on this issue.

This article contains quotes from other authors such as “What do gay men have in common when they don’t have oppression?” and  “There is something wonderful about being part of an oppressed community.” The author also opines that “Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion makes it clear once and for all that we are equal members of society.” He wonders, “Outside of the bedroom, will being gay become more like an ethnic identity?”

These statements are troubling on many levels. First of all, this whole discussion is centering gay men in an issue that affects people of many genders and orientations. As I pointed out in my earlier piece, it’s not “gay marriage” that was won, it’s marriage equality. This includes not only gays but lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, queer and trans people, all of whom may be in same-sex partnerships.

Second, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision in no way makes gay men “equal members of society”. Maybe a white, cisgender, able-bodied gay man who is “raising kids, caring for elderly parents, living in the (gasp) ‘burbs, working in office cubicles,” can believe that he is equal to his straight counterparts. That is , if he’s lucky to live in a city that bans housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The article does touch on this, but vastly underestimates the distance we have left to go, saying “it seems like the final chapter is being written.”

There’s also some pretty disgusting nationalism in the article, saying the marriage equality ruling puts America decades or centuries ahead of the rest of the world “with the exception of Europe,” and hoping that Americans will use social media to “help outcasts everywhere.” Marriage equality or not, I know that I’m sure not feeling patriotic about being a US-American right now.

The notion of nostalgia for that “wonderful” time when all gays could unite based on a common oppressed identity is frankly appalling to me. There is nothing “wonderful”  about being seen as a pervert, a molester, a person who is less than human. As I lived up until recently as a woman and have always had relationships primarily with men, I’ve been fortunate to avoid homo-antagonism directed at me personally. But once I am read consistently as male, there will be places where it is unsafe to walk hand-in-hand with my spouse. The fact that our marriage is now legal everywhere in the US is irrelevant to someone who thinks that homosexuality is a mental illness, a crime against nature, or a perversion of God’s will. (Nevermind the fact that neither of us is actually homosexual; I’m queer and my spouse is bi.)

Perhaps I would feel differently if I were a gay cis man who was active in the movement in earlier decades. But I can’t imagine that many black people who were active in the civil rights movement in the 60s are now deciding that there’s no point in having a black identity. The Black Lives Matter movement has shown that racism is still thriving, despite blacks supposedly being legally equal to whites. And being black in the US is more than being oppressed; it is a culture, an identity of its own.

On being gay possibly evolving into an “ethnic identity”, as the author suggests, that sounds suspiciously like the whole Rachel Dolezal mess. Yes, sexual orientation is separate from gender identity (gender identity being the purported issue in comparing Dolezal to Caitlyn Jenner), though the two are often confused. But neither of these is an ethnicity, nor a race (terms that are also often confused).

So what do gay men have in common, besides oppression? What is the “gay identity”? I can’t tell you. Despite being legally male and married to a man, I’m not gay. I thought I might be a gay man when I was in early transition, but I realized that I’m not; I’m queer and agender. I personally struggle to fit into any culture revolving around gender identity or sexual orientation (or ethnicity for that matter).

But these cultures absolutely do exist, and will continue to exist for a long time. And so will oppression. Erasing identity is itself oppressive. Assimilation is not the answer to ending heterosexism. Marriage equality was a necessary, but not by any means sufficient, part of gaining full equality for all.

 

 

Pride and pictures at the Trans March

[Image: Pax, the author, is outdoors on a sunny day in a crowded park, back to the camera, looking over their shoulder. They are wearing round sunglasses, a faded black baseball cap, and a purple hoodie containing the words “trans march” and a star.]*

Last week’s landmark Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality came just in time for the annual Pride celebration here in San Francisco. I’d attended Pride weekend festivities numerous times, often marching in the parade. I had a great deal of fun dancing on a float with the Bisexual contingent years before my transition, and singing along with the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band while carrying the Transgender flag last year.

But each year after I finished marching down Market Street and waving to the thousands of cheering onlookers (which, I’ll admit, felt awesome), I would be overwhelmed by the crowds, corporate branding, and abundance of alcohol. (I haven’t had an alcoholic drink in over six years.) I felt that Pride had become a giant beer-soaked sellout, catering more to gawking tourists than to the needs of the LGBT community.

So this year, I did not attend any official Pride events. Instead, I went to the Trans March, an officially safe-and-sober event organized and run entirely by volunteers.

Chris and Pax at the Trans March[Image: Chris and Pax, the author, smile for a photo along the route of the Trans March, on an overcast evening in San Francisco, with many other marchers in the background. Chris is wearing a pink V-neck T-shirt with the words “HAPPY HEN CHICKEN RESCUE” in black and the silhouette of a chicken. Pax is wearing a faded black baseball cap, round eyeglasses, a purple hoodie with a star, and neon rainbow striped arm warmers.]

I’d first attended the Trans March last year with my partner Ziggy. This year he was out of town, but my friend Chris came along (and also took the two photos of me in this post). I was particularly interested in getting good photos of the pre-march performances on the stage this year, as my friend Diana was playing a set.

Diana Regan performing at the Trans March[Image: Diana Regan plays ukelele and sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. She has long black hair, rectangular black-rimmed eyeglasses, a black tank top with a colorful design and black polka-dotted camisole underneath, and multicolored bracelets.]

Another highlight was this adorable little girl, Emmie, singing “Popular” from Wicked.

Emmie perfoming at the Trans March[Image: Emmie, a young girl with long blond hair and a frilly blue dress, sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. She is smiling with her left arm uplifted, while people in the background smile and applaud.]

Dancers from AsiaSF gave an energetic and exciting performance.

AsiaSF performer at the Trans March[Image: A woman outdoors in the sunshine leans back with her eyes closed and her mouth open in a big smile. She has long brown hair and is wearing a silver headband, long earrings, necklace, and a low-cut sparkly white bodice with black trim.]

The headliner was Ryan Cassata, trans male singer/songwriter and activist.

Ryan Cassata performing at the Trans March[Image: Ryan Cassata sings and plays guitar on an outdoor stage, with a harmonica around his neck. He wears a rainbow-striped headband, black-rimmed eyeglasses, and a red muscle shirt with the words LOVESTRONG and Gay-Straight (with other words obscured) in white. His right upper arm is heavily tattooed.]

But my greatest delight was a surprise appearance by the talented and inspiring Laverne Cox, trans actress and activist. She gave a great speech about the realities and hardships of being a trans woman of color.

Laverne Cox at the Trans March[Image: Laverne Cox smiles while standing in the sunshine, holding a microphone. She is wearing large sunglasses, a long-sleeved navy blue top, a navy blue buttoned skort, and fishnet stockings.]

I’ve made all of my photos from this event available under a Creative Commons license, so they can be shared freely for noncommercial use, with attribution. I’ve posted the full set to Flickr (Laverne Cox photos are in a separate gallery), and uploaded a few to Wikimedia as well, to support the Wiki Loves Pride 2015 campaign.

I’m glad to live in a city where events like this can happen. Trans and nonbinary people need more visibility, so that we can get the rights, respect, and resources we need and deserve.

Pax wearing rainbow stripes. Photo by Chris[Image: Pax, the author, is sitting outdoors on the grass in a crowded park on a sunny day. They are smiling and wearing round sunglasses, a faded black baseball cap with the AIDS Walk logo, black T-shirt and off-black cargo shorts, chain necklace with metal rainbow-colored triangles, and neon rainbow striped arm and leg warmers.]

* Inspired by Everyday Feminism, I am using extended image descriptions to make my blog more accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

Welcome, and thoughts on marriage equality

[Image: A rainbow flag partially covering an American flag.]

Welcome! This blog is a new home for my writing and photography, superseding my blogs on LiveJournal and Tumblr, as well as my longer posts on Facebook and Google+. Unlike those sites, this web hosting (at pair Networks) is paid for and controlled by yours truly, and will contain no advertising. (Though I will be exploring a new crowdfunded model to support my photography expenses; I’ll post about that separately.) My primary focus is currently disrupting the kyriarchy, including but not limited to cissexism, heterosexism, racism, and speciesism. So let’s jump right in.

Last Friday, June 26, marked a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling: Nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage. As I chronicled the fight for marriage equality in California for years, and later (thanks to gender transition) wound up in a same-sex marriage myself, this was big news to me. I wanted to celebrate, but my feelings were tempered by those (correctly) pointing out that same-sex marriage is only one part of the struggle for LGBT equality, particularly for trans people like myself. Some felt that a disproportionate amount of resources were poured into gaining access to an oppressive institution, that allies will now abandon the LGBT community, and that marriage equality primarily benefits privileged cis gay men.

I share the first two concerns, but not the third. I do now agree that too many resources were focused on gaining marriage equality, though I didn’t realize this before my transition. (My spouse and I donated a significant amount of money to HRC back in 2008, when I was still gainfully employed; I now regret supporting this problematic organization.) And I agree that married couples should, ideally, not have benefits over unmarried people, particularly with regard to health care. I sympathize with those who feel that the legal institution of marriage should be abandoned entirely, as personal relationships should be none of the government’s business. (Though as an atheist, I would also not want religious marriage to be the only publicly recognized form of romantic commitment.)

I also recognize that many straight cis people will mistake marriage equality for full equality, much as many white people decided that electing a black president meant that racism is no longer an issue in this country. Such people are not actually allies, as far as I’m concerned, even if they might grant themselves that title.

We cannot do much about money and resources already spent. But as a queer black nonbinary trans person, I am highly motivated to make sure the myriad other issues facing LGBT people – including but not limited to violence, homelessness, employment discrimination, and inadequate healthcare – are not ignored, going forward. Indeed, that is a large part of the purpose of this new blog.

When it comes to the claim that marriage equality primarily benefits cis gay men (and some have qualified that even further to white cis gay men), however, I cannot agree. I refer to “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage” or even “same-sex marriage” for good reason. This decision means that people in the United States can get married independent of gender or sexual orientation. Lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals (yes, some asexuals have romantic partners), queer, and transgender people (regardless of legal sex) all benefit, in addition to cis gay men.

Regardless of race or income level, many couples now have rights that were previously denied to them. Marriage isn’t just about fancy weddings or tax write-offs; legal marital status conveys hundreds of benefits. Yes, many of these benefits should be available to all people regardless of marital status. But it is simply unfair to grant these privileges to some couples and not others, and that particular aspect of discrimination has now been formally addressed in this country.

To my mind, the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling is as significant as Loving v Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage nationwide. My parents were married in 1969 and I was born the following year, a mere three years after the Loving decision. In many states, my parents – a black/white couple – could not have been legally married before that time. They were young college students, and not well-off financially.  Many same-sex couples today, including interracial couples, are in a similar situation. These couples may still struggle financially and be oppressed in countless other ways, but at least now they have the option to marry, anywhere in the country, and not have an existing  marriage invalidated simply by crossing state lines.

So I do celebrate marriage equality. And I continue the struggle for true equality for all.