Tag Archives: trans

Be a Man

It’s now been nearly two years since I began my physical transition with an injection of testosterone.  Since then, I’ve changed my legal identification to male. In the eyes of the state government, the Social Security Administration, and my doctor, I am a man.

This would be all well and good, except that I am not a man. I am agender.

I transitioned to male because I came to know that I’m not female or a woman, with the same conviction that I know I don’t have blue eyes. There’s nothing wrong with having blue eyes, but my eyes are brown. This is obvious to the vast majority of sighted people, and if there were an English word meaning “blue-eyed person” no one would address me with it.

Unfortunately, being agender is not only invisible but impossible for me to communicate with any visual cues (short of wearing a sign around my neck). And regardless, having a non-binary gender is unacceptable in the USA at this time, where folks like me are curiosities at best and, to many, people to be pitied, belittled, or bullied.

While the physical benefits of having a body fueled by testosterone rather than estrogen are enormous to me, “passing” as a man is a reluctant compromise in a world that refuses to take my existence seriously. In an interview at my doctor’s office prior to starting hormone therapy, I was asked the question, “What is a man?” It’s a good thing that my hormones were prescribed on an informed consent basis and that all responses were optional, because I truly could not come up with an answer to that question.

Here are some men of various ages on what it means to “Be a Man”:

I cannot “Be a Man.” I can play the part of a man in public, when it’s too exhausting to explain why my preferred pronoun is “they,” not “he,” or why I don’t want to be called “Sir” or “Mister” even though those words are preferable to “Ma’am” or “Miss.” Online is the only place I feel that I can be my authentic self, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. This is likely why so many people seem to think that non-binary identities are limited to confused teenagers on Tumblr.

Fortunately, more non-binary people of all ages are speaking out, being visible, being heard. I take heart in people like Tyler Ford, Jacob Tobia, Justin Vivian Bond, S. Bear Bergman, Sam Dylan Finch, and others who have the strength and conviction to live as their authentic selves, despite society’s insistence that they “pick a side.” The gender binary has been the bane of my existence for the last three years, and the only thing that gives me a sliver of hope is knowing that there are others like me, struggling to be taken seriously.

Celebrating trans resilience in San Francisco

[Image: San Francisco City Hall, lit in the pink and blue colors of the transgender pride flag.]

Last night I attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance event at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. While the ongoing murders of trans people motivated the creation of the TDoR, this occasion was both solemn and uplifting, with numerous musical performances as well as speakers.

BAAITS at TDoR SF
[Image: Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits drum and chant at the Trans Day of Remembrance, SF.]

Donna Personna at TDoR SF
[Image: Donna Personna performs at the Trans Day of Remembrance, SF.]

StormMiguel Florez at TDoR SF
[Image: StormMiguel Florez plays guitar and sings at at the Trans Day of Remembrance, SF.]

Several spoke to the need for trans people to stop infighting and pull together. One read from a letter she’d just received from President Obama, honoring the Trans Day of Remembrance and speaking positively about trans and gender non-conforming people.

CeCe McDonald at TDoR SF
[Image: CeCe McDonald speaks at the Trans Day of Remembrance, SF.]

The keynote speaker was CeCe McDonald, a last-minute replacement. She referred to the aforementioned letter, expressing the same skepticism as I was thinking myself, with one of my favorite phrases of the evening: “We need more than a letter.” Another speaker also echoed my thoughts with another favorite quote: “Fuck tolerance! I don’t need you to tolerate me.”

I’m glad I attended this event, which gave me hope that outspoken trans activists can overcome the hurdles to receiving the full equality we deserve. As usual, I’ve uploaded the full set of photos to Flickr.

Tolerance is not acceptance

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to mourn the lives lost to transphobic violence. With at least 22 trans women, mostly women of color, murdered to date in 2015, our community has a great deal of mourning to do.

This continuing violence is the flip side of visibility in our supposedly progressive times. No trans person, anywhere, is immune. Just this week here in San Francisco, a trans woman was assaulted for a second time. Having moved here from Georgia, she lamented, “I came here to be safe, but we’re really not safe anywhere.”

Many cis people who would never dream of physically attacking a trans person are nonetheless contributing to the violence against us in more subtle ways. Every time someone deliberately misgenders or deadnames a trans person – no matter how famous or problematic that person may be – they are fostering an environment of mistrust and mockery. Every time someone tries to keep us out of restrooms, usually under the guise of protecting (cis) women, they are painting trans people as deviant and dangerous. Every time someone excludes or erases us from participation in online or offline spaces, they are telling the world that we are not worthy of being seen and respected as equals.

Merely tolerating trans people is not enough. We must be respected and treated as fully equal partners in society. That includes non-binary as well as binary trans people. As genderqueer activist Jacob Tobia points out:

The reality is that, even for transgender people who identify as women or as men along the gender binary, when you are mid-transition, you are going to most likely be read as gender non-conforming. So until all gender non-conforming people—whether that’s a place that you’re in temporarily or if that is where you are all the time—are safe, then every trans person is going to encounter discrimination, even if they identify as a trans man or as a trans woman.

Not everyone has the ability to be an activist, but everyone can pay more attention to the cissexist assumptions that fuel transphobic violence. Learn more about trans and non-binary people from the source by reading and sharing our stories.

Sharing trans stories on Medium

[Image: Banner reading “We the T! A Matter + Gender 2.0 Collaboration”]

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now officially a co-editor of the Gender 2.0 publication on Medium, which I’ve been contributing to for the last two months. I just sent out a letter about our project to our 1100+ subscribers, co-written by fellow editor Meredith Talusan, who wrote that Buzzfeed article on restrooms I was featured in last week.

We’re always looking for more good stories from trans people, so please contact me if you have something to contribute! I’m liking the Medium web site more and more for reading, writing, and commenting on quality stories.

More buzz on restrooms

[Image: Pax self-portrait in a bathroom mirror.]

After I re-posted one of my restroom equality blog posts on Medium, the Gender 2.0 co-editor asked if I would share a personal account for a BuzzFeed article she was working on. I shared an incident that happened in January (adapted from a Facebook post I made at that time), when I was called out in a men’s room in a San Francisco park. She asked me to take a selfie in a restroom, public or private; I did so wearing the same clothes that I wore at the time of the incident (ten months ago).

The BuzzFeed article was posted today. The accounts from the other trans people range from humorous to heartbreaking. Some of the comments are horrible, as expected, but I signed up for a BuzzFeed account just to leave my own feedback. (I’m glad they don’t require Facebook to be used for the comments.)

We must keep on sharing our stories. Trans and nonbinary people, take to social media!

Houston votes for hate

[Image: Emmie, a young girl with long blond hair and a frilly blue dress, sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage, with onlookers smiling and clapping in the background.]

When I cast my vote yesterday, the many San Francisco ballot measures were my primary reason for going to the polls. As usual, some results went my way, and some did not. But from my perspective, one of the most important defeats was not in my own city. It was in Houston, Texas, where voters defeated a proposed equal rights ordinance that would have banned discrimination against oppressed people, including trans people, in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

The reason? Hate campaigns that convinced voters that men would take advantage of the legislation to prey on women in restrooms and locker rooms. Because once again, transmisogyny rules the day. Many people simply refuse to believe that trans women are actually women, and not men dressed as women. Despite a complete lack of of evidence that allowing trans people to use the correct restrooms has resulted in any increase in sexual harassment or assaults (which are already illegal in any case), cissexists refuse to acknowledge that we just need to pee.

The growth of anti-trans sentiment is the flip side of visibility. Trans people – trans women of color in particular – are not immune from violence or discrimination anywhere. In the wake of the Houston defeat, the Transgender Law Center has alerted supporters to fight a trans discrimination initiative here in California.

The victims of this hate have done nothing to deserve their fate. Look at the little girl pictured at the top of this post, singing at the Trans March. Her name is Emmie. I don’t know much about her, but I do know that she is a girl, and that she would be very out of place in a boy’s restroom. Who cares what her chromosomes are, or what genitals she has? What kind of warped person wants to know what is between a child’s legs before they’ll allow them to use a restroom?

Trans girls are girls. Trans women are women. They use restrooms for the same reason as any other girls and women do. Let them go in peace.

Gendering and subconscious sex

[Image: Pax runs in a road race, wearing a long-sleeved brown T-shirt, black shorts, white cap, orange shoes, and a purple jacket tied around their waist. Photo by myEPevents.]

This week, I finally got around to reading Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. This book is considered a classic in gender theory; I’d known about it for years. I put off reading it for a couple of reasons. First, given the topic in the subtitle – “A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity” – I wasn’t sure how well I could relate as a transmasculine person. I was also concerned that there would be too much academic jargon.

Fortunately, I was delightfully wrong on both accounts. I devoured this book voraciously, highlighting many passages (using that Kindle feature for the first time), and will be discussing the topics of particular interest to me over several blog posts.

As anyone who’s been following my blog knows, I’ve had a lot of difficulty explaining my gender identity to people. I identify as both agender and a transsexual male, but to most people those terms seem contradictory. Serano’s book used the term “subconscious sex” to describe how she feels about being female: It’s a an intuitive feeling that is centered in the physical body, and not directly connected to gender expression. She wrote that it was very difficult to communicate in words, but she could best explain it as “on some level, my brain expects my body to be female.”

This is how I feel about my physical body. If I could wake up tomorrow with a cis-typical male body, without any of the expense and trauma of surgery, I would be delighted. I knew from the first injection of testosterone that I had made the right choice to begin hormone therapy. I still don’t mind having visible breasts, however, but that’s another topic.

Having a male subconscious sex describes my feelings about my physical body only, not my clothing, mannerisms, hobbies, or beliefs. Serano noted that “my female subconscious sex had nothing to do with gender roles, femininity, or sexual expression – it was about the personal relationship I had with my own body.” Serano did not dress or act in a particularly feminine way when she transitioned; she wore the same clothes and acted the same way as she always had. Aided by her relatively small stature, once she began hormone therapy she began to be read as female rather quickly and consistently, despite not having any conscious change in gender expression.

Serano identified as genderqueer and bigender before finally adopting the identifier of “woman.” She didn’t like the baggage associated with the word “woman,” which “seemed to be too weighed down with other people’s expectations.” She wrote, “At the time, I preferred the word ‘girl,’ which seemed more playful and open to interpretation.”

I feel very similar about the word “man.” I can easily and comfortably refer to myself as a “trans guy” in casual conversation when I don’t want to get into a lecture on gender theory.  But I still can’t bring myself to say that I’m a man, because there are too many assumptions built into that word that really don’t suit me.

Ultimately, Serano did come to identify as a woman, largely because of the dramatically different – and sexist – way she was treated by society after her hormonal transition. Here’s one place where our experiences differ. While I’m not out in public much nowadays, I’m probably getting “Sir’d” more than 75% of the time at this point. But the part of male privilege I’ve been most looking forward to gaining is invisibility when I’m out and about. People not remarking on my appearance or harassing me (not that I ever got cat-called much before) doesn’t make me feel more like a “man,” it just makes me feel more respected, which is something that people of all genders should be able to enjoy.

I’m still relatively early in my transition, and have already changed labels and preferred pronouns (currently they/their/them) once, so I can’t say for sure that I won’t change again. But for now, I still feel that “agender transsexual male” is the most accurate label for my identity, even if other people don’t understand or agree with it.

It’s really remarkable, if you think about it, that most of us assume we know a person’s gender just based on the barest of glances. Serano wrote, “I call this process of distinguishing between females and males gendering, to highlight the fact that we actively and compulsively assign genders to all people based on usually just a few visual and audio cues.”

Case in point: Today I went out for a rare pre-dawn run. While I enjoyed the solitude, I generally don’t like running in the dark, especially along paths away from the road. So I tensed up when I heard someone coming up behind me on a hill out of visual and shouting distance from the street. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a long, swinging ponytail, and in that instant gendered the person as female, and felt less threatened. I then questioned how I could make that assumption given such a small visual cue.

The runner passed me and said “Good morning,” thus giving me additional audio and visual cues to reinforce my initial guess that this was likely a woman. But without asking them, there was no way to be sure. They might have been non-binary or a trans man. The few seconds of contact told me virtually nothing about this person, other than the fact that they’re likely in better aerobic shape than I am as they easily passed me on that hill.

As I’ve posted before, I’m super-conscious of my appearance and how people will gender me whenever I’m out running. On today’s run, I wore the same clothes as pictured at the top of this post, minus the jacket and running bib. This photo was taken at the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon this February, after I’d been on testosterone for approximately 13 months. (I was legally male by then, and registered as such.)

What can you tell about me from this photo? Is my gender (or lack thereof) obvious? Do me a favor: Show the photo to someone who doesn’t know anything about me and ask them “What gender is this person?” (Please don’t phrase the question as “Is this a man or a woman?”) Post a comment on what they say and how long it took them to respond. I’m genuinely curious.

Whatever the response is, unless they’re an experienced profiler, they’re not going to know much about me just from looking at this photo. And that’s my point: Transitioning to male did not change the most fundamental things about me, which are my values. While violence and aggression are usually associated with men, I don’t think of pacifism as a feminine trait. Nor do I associate atheism with masculinity, even though men dominate the atheist movement.  These aspects of my personality have been with me since my teenage years, when I was clueless about trans issues and only knew that I hated having a menstrual cycle and didn’t like wearing feminine clothing.

As Serano pointed out, “the sex we are assigned at birth plays almost no role whatsoever in day-to-day human interactions.” The fact that the letter next to “Sex” on my state ID now says “M” rather than “F” is entirely irrelevant when someone glances at me and makes an instant judgment about my gender. Getting a court-ordered change of gender put my legal sex in line with my subconscious sex, but it did not change or define who I am.

We the T

[Image: Banner reading “We the T! A Matter + Gender 2.0 Collaboration”]

I’m happy to announce that I am now an official contributor to the Gender 2.0 collaborative project on Medium. I wrote this week’s newsletter for the project, “Our lives, our stories,” highlighting some of the stories trans people have shared about our lives. Follow me on Medium and join in the conversation.

What I wanted to wear: Performing masculinity

[Image: Side-by-side self-portraits of Pax. On the left they are wearing a V-necked shirt with cap sleeves and an ornate black-and-white pattern. On the right they are wearing a short-sleeved peach-colored button-down collared shirt.]

I’ve written a story on Medium to contribute to the experiences shared there by transgender and nonbinary people. Please check it out and join in the conversation!

Language and transgender activism

[Image: A transgender symbol with word endings “-ed,” “-er,” and “-ism” arranged around it.]

I love language. Reading and writing have always been among my strongest skills and interests. I’m fascinated by the richness and evolution of the English language, and how it differs from the other languages I’ve studied.

But I’m aware that not everyone has the knowledge and education level that I do, especially when it comes to language about transgender issues. So while I make efforts to educate people about the questionable accuracy and potential harm of certain word choices, I am concerned when people – including some within the trans community – take an overly narrow stance on acceptable terminology.

Trans activist Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl, talked about this in a recent post about the terms “trans*” and “transgenderism.” She explained the history of these terms, and how they were not always looked upon as negative or exclusionary in the way that many see them as now.  She especially questions the recent notion that “trans*” is inherently transmisogynistic. As she laments, “the trans community seems to have a historical memory permanently limited to only 2-4 years back.”

Another trans author and activist, the late Matt Kailey, also discussed this issue regarding the term “transgendered.” He insisted that this construction is grammatically correct, and said that it did not begin to be seen as negative or offensive until relatively recently. He ultimately gave up the battle, but said he would never change his mind on this issue.

A commenter on Serano’s blog linked to another post about the term “trans*” that talked about “inclusion theater,” which the author, Natalie Reed, described as follows:

“Inclusion Theater” is a term I use to refer to any instance where exceptional energy is being put into presenting an outward PERFORMANCE or APPEARANCE of inclusion or “progressiveness”, while neglecting (or at the expense of), actual meaningful ACTIONS and MANIFESTATIONS of inclusivity or intersectionality.

She went on to elaborate:

Putting an asterisk on the end of “trans” is INCREDIBLY EASY. A lot easier than actually working towards making spaces, events, projects, organizations or instutions [sic] GENUINELY trans / genderqueer inclusive.

I feel this way about correcting people on using words like “transgendered” or “transgenderism.” I will correct this usage in Wikipedia articles and the like, but especially when educating cis people, I’m much more interested in them putting in the work to make trans and nonbinary people safe, welcome, and fairly represented. Restroom use, access to gendered spaces, recognition of trans people of color, and many other issues besides respectful language need to be addressed.

Words have power; words are important. But so is action. Trans and nonbinary people need to take the lead both on the words used to describe us and the actions necessary to allow us to lead safe, authentic lives. In doing so, we need to understand the history of our language, and recognize the intent behind the words.