Tag Archives: trans

South Dakota veto: Victory, but not progress

Yesterday, the governor of South Dakota vetoed a trans-antagonistic bill that passed in the state senate last month. While I am grateful to trans activists and allies for helping defeat this bill, I have no gratitude toward Governor Daugaard, who seems to be more concerned with saving money than respecting basic human dignity.

Preventing this discriminatory legislation  – which would have  limited school restrooms and locker rooms to students of the same “biological sex” – from becoming law is maintaining the status quo, not progress. Real progress is making laws to help protect trans people, like the Berkeley initiative to designate all single-stall restrooms as all-gender. If we’re to stem the tide of bullying and trans-antagonistic violence, we need to create a world where trans people are fully respected and accommodated, not merely tolerated.

I fear that these “bathroom bills” will only continue to surface. In a country where a substantial portion of the electorate believes that Donald Trump would be a good president,* we must be ever-vigilant of the assault on anyone outside of the boundaries of cisheteronormativity and whiteness. We cannot allow conservatives and TERFs to continue reducing us to our body parts and birth-assigned genders.

* As mentioned before, I am registered with no party and support no presidential candidates. Do not suggest or even hint that I am obligated to support a Democrat in order to keep a Republican out of the White House. There are plenty of places to stump for your favorite candidate; my blog isn’t one of them.

Weight, fitness, and body acceptance

Content note: Discussion of fitness and health issues. (Which, for the record, have nothing to do with veganism.)

Due to depression and dysphoria, I’ve spent increasingly less time in public over the last few months, canceling all of my regular commitments (volunteer work, voice lessons, etc.), and even putting off needed medical appointments like dental and vision exams. Sitting in front of the computer and TV most of the day, and often eating whatever junk food Ziggy brings home because I’m too tired to cook, have gradually expanded my waistline without me noticing, since I’ve been spending most of my time in my underwear or sweat pants.

This is not the first time I’ve gained a noticeable amount of weight. In my adult life my weight has varied over a 60 pound range. Because of this variation, I would always keep pants in several different sizes around. But when I transitioned I was near the lowest end of that range, so I have no larger pants to return into. (I gave away nearly all of my “women’s” pants and won’t return to them, as I much prefer men’s styles.)

Shopping for clothes is something I hated even before transitioning, and I hate it even more now. I could order new pants online and hope they fit, but I’d rather reduce my waist size. I did buy one larger pair of jeans at Out of the Closet recently, but for the umpteenth time was misgendered when they were rung up as “WMNS BTMS” (see previous link), so I really don’t want to go there again.

Reducing to a slimmer size for me isn’t about meeting standard recommendations for how much someone of my height, age, and sex (which is not a simple question due to my trans status) should weigh. In fact, I’ve decided the number on the scale is basically irrelevant; what I’m most interested in is the amount of fat around my waist, chest, and hips. Some say that body fat is irrelevant also, and I do agree that there are many other factors that contribute to health and disease. I had blood tests done recently, so I have a good general idea of my overall health and risk factors.

When it comes down to it, I just feel better when I have less fat on my body. I feel more energetic, more positive, and happier that I have one less thing to stress out about. Eating a healthy diet – which, for me, means high in starch and low in fat – and getting regular exercise are important parts of my self-care that I’ve been neglecting, and minimizing the amount of fat on my body is – for me – a reliable consequence of those actions.

But even independent of any health concerns, I cannot see fat on my body as irrelevant. Not as long as curves are associated with being female. I would love to live in a world where body shape and parts were not correlated with gender, but we are nowhere near that utopia right now. And while I can lobby for more diverse representation of trans men and non-binary transmasculine people – who are often depicted as overwhelmingly thin, white, and able-bodied – displaying a curvy body can put me in unsafe situations, especially in gendered spaces.

As I’m not willing to bind or get top surgery, having heavier, more obvious breasts is a liability. Even if I were rail-thin my breasts would not disappear entirely, and due to my large, dark areolae and nipples I likely still couldn’t go out topless in public safely. But I can keep their size down to minimize the amount of layering I need to do to hide them. I know from talking with and reading about other transmasculine people that even having top surgery is not enough to get gendered properly, but having a flatter chest appearance can’t hurt, especially as I’m frustrated with the pace of my hormonal changes.

I’m talking about all this because before writing this post I read a couple of articles by Melissa A. Fabello for Everyday Feminism: “5 Ways to Share Your Fitness Life on Social Media More Thoughtfully” and “What If Body Acceptance Doesn’t Work? How About Body Neutrality?” The former made some good points, in particular challenging the need to share specific fitness-related numbers in public posts, which I’d not considered an issue before. I also think it’s reasonable to give content warnings about fitness-related issues for my audience, and have done so accordingly.

But the second article bothered me because it seemed to assume a cisgender audience. Everyday Feminism is a very trans-positive magazine, so it surprised me that there was no mention or acknowledgment of the challenges faced by people who do need to modify their bodies because of dysphoria. I cannot and will not accept that the female-assigned body I grew up with is the one that I was meant to have. I don’t actually hate my curves (it’s my genitals and reproductive system that I have a serious problem with), but they are the manifestation of body dominated by estrogen, which is the result of a miswired brain. This is part of why I continue to refer to myself specifically as transsexual, though per this recent article on sex and gender I am realizing more and more how much the sex binary is also socially constructed.

Even in a genderless, completely body-positive world, I would prefer being slimmer, because, as mentioned, I feel better with less fat on my frame. But the realities of living as a trans person in a cissexist society give me additional incentives to minimize my curves.

Regardless, while eating junk food and watching TV give me pleasure in the moment, eating unrefined starches and vegetables and going for a run give me longer-lasting satisfaction. I don’t have to completely eliminate the former, I just need to put more emphasis on the latter. Getting outside at sunrise today and being under the blue sky, rather than glimpsing it through my window, reminded me what a privilege it is to live in this beautiful city, and to have the ability to walk and run on its many hills. I hope to keep up the momentum, for the sake of my well-being.

Honor us in life and death

[Image: Montage featuring trans activist CeCe McDonald, ReclaimMLK marchers with a BlackTransLivesMatter slogan, and a poster for BlackTransLivesMatter Day of Action.]

I’m finalizing my presentation on “Welcoming gender diversity” for next month’s Intersectional Justice Conference, and a sad but necessary component of my talk is highlighting trans lives lost to violence. (The image at the top of this post shows a preview of the relevant slide from my presentation.) With over 20 murders of trans people – primarily women of color – in 2015, and at least four so far in 2016 (one just announced this weekend), staying safe amidst trans-antagonistic hostility is an ongoing challenge and priority.

While trans women and transfeminine people are the primary targets of trans-antagonism, transmasculine people like myself are also affected. This recent article by Mitch Kellaway explores the murders of trans men in the U.S. and abroad, and the cissexist news coverage that frequently misgenders the victims based on their body parts and/or legal status.

Intentionally misgendering a murder victim is an unforgivable insult. The affected person cannot even speak up for themselves as the press and unsympathetic friends and family members strip their authentic identity, referring to them by their birth-assigned name and gender, and even dressing them in clothes and hairstyles more appropriate to that mistaken gender for their funeral. This ongoing farce constitutes the ultimate erasure and statement of cisgender privilege.

What  are some things that cis allies can do to help?

  • Always refer to us with our stated names and pronouns. Unless otherwise stated, these are mandatory, not “preferred”.
  • Correct others who misgender and “deadname” us, even out of our earshot.
  • Call out people who make trans-antagonistic jokes about our bodies or appearances.
  • Support trans-focused organizations like the Transgender Law Center in working to simplify legal name and gender changes and counter discrimination against trans people in public facilities, the healthcare system, schools, and workplaces.

Don’t allow trans-antagonistic violence to continue unabated. Speak out against cissexism, and celebrate gender diversity.

Trans storytelling with Bear and Scott

[Image: S. Bear Bergman speaks into a microphone.]

Last night I went to the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco to hear stories told by two trans men, S. Bear Bergman and Scott Turner Schofield. I’d been a fan of Bear’s since reading his book The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You when I was just starting my gender transition three years ago. I wasn’t familiar with Scott, but soon learned that last year he became the first openly trans actor to play a major role on daytime television (on The Bold and the Beautiful).

Bear and Scott speak[Image: S. Bear Bergman and Scott Turner Schofield perform on an indoor stage.]

S. Bear Bergman[Image: S. Bear Bergman speaks into a microphone.]

Reading Bear’s book really appealed to me because of his non-binary gender identity, though his current lived experience is that of a trans man, and he now uses he/him/his pronouns. He also wrote a great essay on raising a son with his husband, another trans man, and dealing with the overwhelmingly gendered nature of children’s products. Bear’s humor about Jewish family traditions, which was included in his stories last night, is also very appealing to me.

Scott Turner Schofield[Image: Scott Turner Schofield speaks into a microphone.]

Scott’s stories were also very funny and engaging, as well as poignant and personal. He was sweet and friendly when I asked him if it was OK for me to take photos. And now I can say that I’ve hugged a soap opera star 😉

Here’s a TED Talk Scott gave about sex, gender, and sexuality. I love where he points out that cisgender people aren’t “normal”, just “common”.

I was glad that this performance benefited the Center for Sex and Culture, which was in danger of closing and is dealing with a rent increase. I’ve been there several times for Perverts Put Out erotic readings; while nowadays I prefer my erotica in private, the next reading is this Saturday for any locals who are interested. I’ve met Dr. Carol Queen and Greta Christina there (Greta is on my links page); they are both highly talented writers and speakers. horehound stillpoint is another amazing performer who will be at the reading; worth checking out.

I’ve posted my full set of photos from last night to Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

South Dakota’s fixation with children’s penises

Yesterday, a bill discriminating against transgender children passed the South Dakota state senate. Of course, the bill didn’t mention trans people specifically. It simply stated that use of school restrooms and locker rooms is limited to people of the same “biological sex… as determined by a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.”

As I’ve pointed out before, chromosomes are not routinely tested at birth, and the appearance of our “anatomy” when we are born has little to do with our appearance later in life. Regardless, what this bill comes down to is what I stated in the title. The people supporting this bill really don’t want anyone with a penis to be in a girls’ restroom. The idea that these adults are even thinking about children’s penises should be seriously disturbing to anyone who cares about safety, privacy, and autonomy.

The bill is awaiting the signature of the governor, who has apparently claimed he’s never met a trans person and doesn’t want to, in order to not influence his decision. Because of course, the people who are actually negatively impacted by this legislation – the girls and women who are bullied, beaten, and killed for attempting to live their authentic lives – don’t count.

Transmasculine people like myself are harmed  by trans-antagonistic legislation too, of course. I still fear using men’s rooms, over two years into my transition, and seek out gender-neutral accommodations whenever possible. But I am not generally seen as a threat.

It’s trans women who conservatives and TERFs are convinced are men posing as women in order to spy on, sexually harass, and rape cis women. They have presented no actual evidence of this harassment happening, but continue to promote these hateful lies, which they are projecting onto children as well as adults.

Cis allies sometimes ask what they can do to help trans people. Here’s something you can do. Speak out against trans-antagonistic restroom bills, loudly. If your school or workplace has gendered single-occupancy restrooms, lobby to make them gender-neutral. Call out anyone making jokes about  a trans person’s appearance or “anatomy”.

We need to stop this fixation on the genitals of strangers. We just need to pee.

My birthday wish (with bonus recipe)

[Image: A smiling stuffed toy banana slug wearing a button reading “100% SLUG”, next to a muffin on a plate.]

I turn 46 years old this month. I’ve removed the exact date from social media, not for privacy reasons, but because I’m not interested in getting a bunch of messages from people I only hear from once a year at Facebook’s prompting.* I understand that other people really enjoy those birthday messages, but it’s not for me, though I do appreciate sincere birthday wishes from friends.

I have special plans for the day (which I’ll write about afterward), but I also have a request to make of my readers. My primary audiences appear to be 1) vegans and animal rights activists, and 2) members of the LGBTQIA+ community and our allies. As a queer vegan, I would like to see more overlap between these groups.

If you are vegan, please take some time this month to educate yourself about trans, non-binary, and intersex people, using materials produced by people in those communities. My links page has a number of resources where you can get started.** Even if you yourself are trans, non-binary, and/or intersex, I guarantee you have more to learn from others who don’t share your specific identity or life experience. I know I’m always learning myself.

If you are a member or ally of the LGBTQIA+ community and not vegan, please take some time this month to educate yourself about farmed animals. While my links page has a number of resources, the one I specifically want to point to is Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary. The caretakers there treat animals as the individual persons that they are, and do a great job of debunking “humane” farming myths.

I would be remiss not to mention that this is also Black History Month. I can’t help but be a wee bit cynical about that given all the negative reactions to Black Lives Matter protests, and “colorblind” tone policing on social media lately. If you want to help black folks like me make some history of our own, check out Black Vegans Rock.

So that you’ll have something to munch on while you’re reading, here’s an original muffin recipe, as pictured at the top of this post. In addition to being vegan, it contains no sugar, salt, oil, or gluten.***

PB Banana Slugmuffins
(no slugs were intentionally harmed to make these muffins)

3 large ripe bananas
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons water
1/2 cup peanut butter (peanuts only; no added salt or other ingredients)
1 3/4 cup oat flour (old-fashioned rolled oats ground in a blender)
6 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other nondairy milk)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Put the dates and almond milk in a blender, and set aside to soak for a few minutes.
3. Whisk the flaxseed and the water, and set aside to stand for a few minutes to thicken.
4. In a large mixing bowl, mash bananas, then add peanut butter and flaxseed mixture and mix thoroughly.
5. Puree dates and almond milk in blender, then add date puree and vanilla to bowl and mix thoroughly.
6. In a medium bowl, whisk oat flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
7. Add flour mixture to other ingredients and stir until just combined.
8. Fill nonstick muffin cups (I use silicone) with batter, 3/4 full.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

* I no longer post, comment, or “like” from my personal Facebook profile anyway, for reasons I’ve mentioned previously.

** The only cisgender authors currently in my “Trans/non-binary” and “Sexism / Racism / LGBTQIA / General” links sections are Ursula K. Le Guin, Greta Christina, and some of the contributors to Everyday Feminism.

*** While this recipe uses oat flour, gluten-free has nothing to do with veganism; I eat wheat and other glutenous grains all the time. Make sure to use certified gluten-free oats if you have celiac disease.

Trans athletes and challenging biological essentialism

This week, news spread of new guidelines that would allow trans athletes to compete in the Olympics without needing to have surgery. Trans men would have no restrictions on competition, while trans women would need to reduce their serum testosterone levels to below 10 nmol/L for a year before competition.

This development (which, as of this writing, has not yet been confirmed by the Olympic committee) is welcome progress. For trans men, I doubt whether anyone has challenged their inclusion in men’s events based on anything other than bigotry. Genuine concerns about unfair physical advantage have been levied almost exclusively at trans women, due primarily to the higher testosterone levels that male-assigned people generally have. But surgery is unnecessary to address this imbalance; hormone therapy is sufficient.

Some have questioned whether testosterone levels are actually a useful predictor of athletic advantage. This article on that subject was written with intersex and cis female athletes in mind, not trans women. Intersex athletes have endured invasive gender checks for decades; see this article for some history of Olympic sex testing (note: contains cissexist language). Regardless, the question of whether hormone levels should determine eligibility to compete applies to trans athletes as well.

What about other physical differences, like height? While in the general population, male-assigned people are generally taller,  elite athletes do not represent the general population. Many cis female athletes benefit from being taller or more muscular than the average woman.

Where does this all leave non-binary people like myself? Is truly gender-neutral athletic competition possible? If athletic events all became gender-neutral today, there’s no question that cis men would dominate. But how much of this is due to biology, and how much to conditioning? If we had several generations of female-assigned children taught that they are every bit as physically capable as their male-assigned friends and siblings, and male-assigned children were taught to truly respect them as equals, I predict we’d see a huge narrowing of the supposedly hard-wired gender gap.

While I can say with confidence that I will never compete at the elite level, I sure would like to run in my local club races without being misgendered. (My annual checkup this month revealed that my testosterone levels are currently much higher than the average cis male’s*, but no one in my running club has anything to worry about; I’m solidly back-of-the-pack.)  We should continue to challenge biological essentialism that exaggerates or invents differences between sexes.

* Overly high testosterone in trans males doesn’t help speed masculinization, as too much testosterone converts to estrogen. I’ll be seeking the advice of a specialist.

Some positive gender news

[Image: A transgender symbol with the word “they” underneath.]

Maintaining a social justice blog entails writing about a lot of heavy, painful topics on a regular basis. So it’s nice to acknowledge positive progress from time to time, even if the victories are small. Here’s some good news for trans and non-binary* people regarding “singular they” and all-gender restrooms.

Singular they

Last week, “singular they” was named the “Word of the Year” by the American Dialect Society. I’m often cynical about these kinds of announcements, but this is a positive development, as it will bring more attention to the growing acceptance of this preferred pronoun for (some) non-binary people (including myself).

Singular they has been in standard usage since Shakespeare’s time, but telling people that hasn’t stopped them from insisting that it’s not grammatical to use when speaking about a single known person. Hopefully these people will eventually stop complaining and start accepting our choice of pronouns.

Restroom equality

This week, the Transgender Law Center and San Francisco Board of Supervisors announced legislation to require that city businesses and buildings designate all single-stall restrooms as all-gender. This development is long overdue. Having gendered signs on single-occupancy restrooms makes absolutely no sense.

I’ve written frequently about the harassment trans people face when using gendered restrooms, even in places like SF where we already have the right to use facilities corresponding with our gender identities. And many of us non-binary people misgender ourselves whenever we go into either a “Mens” or “Womens” restroom. Opening up access will improve safety and quality of life for trans and non-binary people.

Other cities that have enacted similar legislation include Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, West Hollywood, Berkeley, and New York. I hope that more cities soon follow suit, and I look forward to a time when gender policing becomes a thing of the past.

* I state these terms separately because not all non-binary people identify as trans.

Men in skirts

[Image: Ziggy reclines on a sculpture in a park, wearing a purple shirt and blue -and-purple tie-dyed skirt. The Seattle skyline is in the background.]

There’s a great piece in Black Girl Dangerous today about femme clothing, gender expression and identity. In their article, non-binary femme author Jack Qu’emi Gutiérrez talks about Jaden Smith’s appearance in a womenswear campaign making the news, and explains that unless he states otherwise, Jaden is still a young cisgender man. He should be celebrated for showing that it’s OK for men – especially black men – to express femininity, but he’s not a “non-binary icon,” and he’s not mocking or taking anything away from trans people.

I’ve posted about this subject before, and agree with the author’s assessment. People of all genders – as well as agender people like myself – should be free to present themselves in whatever way feels comfortable and appropriate for them, without being hemmed in by binary gender assumptions. A male-assigned person wearing a skirt is not necessarily making a statement about their gender identity or sexual orientation. It is only because of our patriarchal society that casts masculinity and heterosexuality as the default that a man wearing a skirt is a more transgressive act than a woman wearing pants.

When I met my partner Ziggy, pictured at the top of this post, we were in those roles; I was living (pre-transition) as a woman, fairly ignorant about gender issues, who strongly preferred wearing pants, and he was living as a man who strongly preferred wearing skirts. I’ll admit that his skirt-wearing really bothered me at first, as I was prejudiced against femme presentations. But love conquers all, as they say, and soon his clothing was no more remarkable to me than any other man’s, even though I hardly ever saw another man wearing a skirt (even in the San Francisco Bay Area).

I’ve since transitioned to male, and Ziggy now identifies as genderqueer but cissexual; he has no desire to go through a physical gender transition. Our subconscious sexes are both male, independent of the clothes we wear or the pronouns we prefer (Ziggy still uses he/him/his; I prefer they/them/their for myself).

While Ziggy has been fortunate not to experience much harassment for his clothing choices, others have not been so lucky. Agender teen Sasha Fleischman had their skirt set on fire by another teenager who thought Sasha was a gay man. Other trans and non-binary people have told stories of what they wanted to wear but did not for fear of violence.

If anyone can wear skirts, what are the implications for male-assigned, femme-presenting people who actually are women? Trans women get the worst of gender policing; if they present as femme, they’re accused of parodying women, but if they present as masculine or androgynous (which in our patriarchal society is basically masculine), they are seen as men and treated accordingly.

My advice is to always assume that an individual knows their own gender better than you do. In other words, if someone is walking into a women’s restroom, assume that they belong there. If you misgender someone and they correct you, apologize and move on. Use gender-neutral language whenever possible. And stop using biological essentialism to justify bigotry.

Skirts are just fabric. Clothing has no gender. Celebrate diversity.

Addendum: Just after publishing this article, I read about the death of David Bowie, another gender “transgressor”. Check out this article by another non-binary blogger on Bowie’s legacy.

Milestones and hairy thoughts

[Image: Side by side self-portraits of Pax, at one and 24 months on testosterone.]

Today marks two full years since I began my physical transition with testosterone therapy. Looking at the above photo, contrasting how I looked after one month on T with how I look today, I can definitely see some changes. (My receding hairline might not be evident if you’re viewing this on my blog; here’s the full photo on Flickr.) But the pace of change has been frustrating, as I still haven’t been able to grow a full beard, and am still getting misgendered on a regular basis.

The most recent misgendering was this morning, when I went to compete in a 5K race. I was dressed nearly the same way as in last month’s race, and as with that event, was again misread as female. The mistake was just as quickly corrected as it was last time, but it still stung, especially considering this milestone date.

I’m well aware that there are ways that I can present myself to increase the odds of being read as male. But to craft an artificially hypermasculine appearance would not be living as my authentic self, which was the whole point of this transition. I’m not aiming for the middle of some (nonexistent, in my opinion) spectrum between “M” and “F.” Nor am I seeking  to embody a stereotypical “androgyny”, which to most modern US-Americans means thin, hairless, and usually white. I’m simply dressing in a way I feel comfortable, and accepting whatever changes come with my (second) puberty, just as a typical cisgender male would.

I do have more control over my hormone levels than a typical cis man would, however, and I plan to talk with my doctor about that this week. Increasing my dosage might end up making the hair on my back and shoulders grow faster than the hair on my face and chest (as has already been happening to some extent), but I knew that was a possibility well before I started on T. I don’t mind if the hair on my scalp recedes or thins out more quickly, either; if anything, I welcome baldness as an additional signifier of maleness. I usually wear hats when I’m out in public, however, so my disappearing hair might not be apparent enough to get me gendered correctly.

I hate that I feel I need to grow a beard to be read as male – as beards should not be linked with maleness in the first place – but since I don’t mind having facial hair, it seems like my best option. Since I can never realistically expect strangers to recognize that I’m agender, having my transitioned sex read correctly is the most I can hope for.