Category Archives: LGBTQIA

Issues about sexual orientation, trans and nonbinary people

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.

[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.

What not to wear for Halloween

[Image: Drummers wearing face paint march in a Dia de los Muertos parade.]

Halloween is not one of my favorite holidays. I’m really not into the occult, I don’t much enjoy playing dress-up, and most mass-marketed candy is not vegan (and, in the case of much vegan chocolate, possibly unethical). Lots of people do enjoy this holiday, however, and will be celebrating this weekend. Some are likely still deciding what costumes to wear.

Unfortunately, many will choose to wear a costume that is insensitive or downright offensive. Such people will often decry concerns for cultural appropriation and oppression as “political correctness.” But asking people to be aware of the impact of their clothing choices is simply asking them to treat others with respect.

Here’s a primer from Kat Blaque on why cultures are not costumes:

And a spoken word performance by Raven McGill about white people who thought it was funny to put on blackface and dress up like Trayvon Martin:

Finally,  some more thoughts by Kat Blaque on what’s wrong with the costume based on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover:

With infinite choices of what to wear on Halloween, there’s no reason to parody someone else’s culture, ethnicity, or gender identity. “Free speech” does not mean freedom from the consequences of that speech. For those who live every day with oppression, the negative impact of converting their lives to costumes is very real.

ETA: Also see this article with suggestions on how to talk to someone who is wearing a Native American costume.

Healthy Hermit conclusion, diet and sex thoughts

I’ve decided to formally conclude my Healthy Hermit diet, and reintroduce other whole plant foods besides fruits and vegetables. This is not because of my recent illness, but for practical reasons. My partner doesn’t share this way of eating, and it’s inefficient for us to eat separate meals all of the time. As he hasn’t had time to cook he’s been buying more packaged products, which negates much of the environmental benefit of me shopping from farmers markets. While I have made a few dishes we can both eat, we’d have a wider variety if I could use beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, which I can do without compromising my nutritional goals.

During the 24 days of this diet I lost ten pounds and about two inches of fat off of my waist. That’s quite rapid weight loss for someone who wasn’t heavy to begin with, though having a lower appetite due to the flu was also a factor. I currently weigh 120 lbs and have a 28 inch waist, which on a 5′ 4″ body is considered by many to be downright scrawny for a male, but would be considered chunky for a female in many circles, which just goes to show how arbitrary beauty standards are in our society.

I don’t, however, feel that body measurements are entirely useless. Rather than arbitrary height-weight charts or body mass index, I believe waist-to-height ratio is a better indicator of health risk, but that too is only one factor among many that must be considered. And regardless, as I’ve written before, no one’s size besides my own is any of my business.

An issue I have with all of these health charts is that they normally ask for a binary sex to be specified. Unlike with some web forms where sex and gender are clearly irrelevant, there are legitimate differences in height and weight for cistypical male and female bodies. I, however, do not have a cistypical body; I have a transsexual male body. I’ve been on testosterone for enough time that my body has “masculinized” to a certain extent, but it could be several more years before the changes are complete. My height is fixed, but my muscle mass and many other characteristics are not.

So when I filled out my nutrient profile, I specified male. But had I specified female, different target numbers would have come up for calories and various nutrients. These differences aren’t completely arbitrary; a menstruating woman will have a higher need for iron, for example. But not all cis women menstruate, and some cis men may have higher iron requirements for various reasons.

Even in the medical realm, when it comes to sex differences, lifestyle choices cannot be ignored.  When I elected to begin testosterone therapy, I needed to sign a consent form that said, among other things, that by taking this hormone I might be taking five years off of my life expectancy. I asked the nurse practitioner how much of this discrepancy might be due to men engaging in more high-risk behavior (smoking, drinking, violence) than women, rather than internal physical differences brought on by hormones. She said she honestly didn’t know because there hadn’t been studies on FTM patients in this area.

Regardless, I intend to keep my body as healthy as reasonably possible. Avoiding smoking, drinking, recreational drugs, and junk food isn’t a matter of personal purity for me; it’s a matter of finding pleasure without resorting to artificial, short-lived highs. Whole plant foods, clean air and water, exercise, and sunshine can provide what I need to be fulfilled.

Spirit Day – Stop the bullying

[Image: Pax wearing a purple Trans March hoodie. Photo by Chris]

Today is Spirit Day, a day to speak out against the bullying of LGBTQ youth. Supporters are encouraged to wear purple.

I was prompted about this day when I received a message from the White House in response to a petition against conversion therapy I signed in January. The petition met the minimum number of signatures needed for an official response, which was supportive and encouraging. Today’s message announced the release of a report on conversion therapy, making the case for eliminating this practice. The White House will also be holding a Q&A on their Tumblr this afternoon.

Let’s work to create a world where children are given the freedom to identity and express themselves without conforming to arbitrary gender expectations.

Happy National Coming Out Day

[Image: A person marches in the San Francisco Pride Parade with a T-shirt reading “I Love People Not Their Plumbing.”]

Happy National Coming Out Day! I’ve posted previously about coming out as bisexual, which was back in ’91, as a direct result of National Coming Out Day activities at Northwestern University. So I didn’t want to miss making a quick note.

I now identify as queer rather than bi. But however you identity – including straight – is OK with me. What’s important is that we all work to grant everyone the freedom and safety to live authentic lives.

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.