Category Archives: Trans

Transgender issues, including nonbinary

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.

Best of funcrunch 2015 – gender

[Image: The left side of Pax’s face next to the words: Pax Ahimsa Gethen | queer • black • trans • vegan • atheist | blogger • photographer | gender & animal liberation | pronouns: they • them • their]

Since launching this web site six months ago, I have composed 103 blog entries. Here are the entries I consider to be most important on the topic of gender, regardless of how many hits or comments they received. For new visitors, reading these entries should give you good insights into my lived experience and philosophy.

If you read nothing else, please read “Don’t know much biology,” which I consider to be my single most important statement to date.

Kat Blaque shirt and mugAgender fashion, or lack thereof

Explaining why gender expression is not the same thing as gender identity or sexual orientation.


Bisexual contingent at San Francisco Pride ParadeBi, pan, queer, ?

On the bisexual vs pansexual debate, and  defining my own sexual orientation.



Pax - 18 month transitionTransgender vs transsexual

Explaining my distinction between gender identity and sex identity (which I later came to understand as “subconscious sex“).


Pax at Beat the Blerch half marathon. Photo by comerphotos.comAre we male yet?

On breasts, nipples, and what constitutes a “male body.”



Bee on flowerDon’t know much biology

On biological essentialism in dialogue about gender and sex. My most important blog entry to date.


Laverne Cox at Trans March San FranciscoWomen’s spaces are for women

On transmisogyny, trans-exclusionary radical feminism, and transmasculine intrusion into women’s spaces.


Restroom sign, alteredWe just need to pee

On the necessity of safe and equal restroom access for trans people. (Currently one of my most popular stories on Medium.)


Facebook signnup pageNonbinary erasure

On the need to include non-binary gender identities on forms. See also: Follow-up articles on MTV and Wikipedia. Wikimedia has also now added an “Other” gender option to their annual survey.

Thanks to my readers for learning about gender with me this year. Next up, I’ll post about my most important entries on the topics of veganism and animal rights.

Tag, you’re male

[Image: Pax, smiling and making a “V” sign with their fingers, approaches the finish line of a race on a rainy day at the San Francisco waterfront. Photo by Ziggy]

After spending much of the last two months sitting in front of the computer or TV in my apartment, I knew that I needed to move my body for the sake of my well-being. Several months ago my doctor actually wrote me a prescription, with my encouragement, to run at least twice a week, as running is the one activity that has consistently improved my physical and mental health. But I simply haven’t had the motivation to go outside and face the world.

I decided that signing up for a race would be a good incentive to run. I had my eye on the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon that I’d run twice previously. This race features a flat, scenic course, and was normally held around the time of my birthday in early February. Due to the Super Bowl, this coming year it would be held a bit later, on Valentine’s Day. This would give me enough time to train up to the 13.1 mile distance.

Before committing to that race, however, I decided to run a 10K (6.2 miles) with the DSE Runners club, as the course was familiar to me and the starting line was only a mile from home. I didn’t get much sleep the night before, thanks to a rare night of socializing in honor of my partner Ziggy’s birthday, but I still managed to head out the door in plenty of time to sign up for the Sunday morning event.

And here came the awkward bit I’ve faced ever since beginning my transition. As with virtually all athletic events, competitors in DSE club races are separated into male and female. I actually have no problem identifying as male for this purpose, especially at this point in my transition; I’ve been on testosterone for nearly two years. It’s the assumptions that male is equivalent to “being a man” that I have an issue with.

Regardless, I’m still not consistently read as male, and yesterday was no exception. As I approached the registration desk, the volunteer had a white tag – indicating a male runner – in hand. But as I began signing the waiver and getting my cash for the race out, he switched to an orange tag – indicating a female runner. I said, in as even a tone as possible, “No, white tag.” He put the orange one down and handed me a white one. I thanked him, grabbed a safety pin to attach the tag to my clothing, and headed off to get ready for the race.

As misgenderings go, this went about as smoothly as I could hope for. No awkward, stammering apologies, just a swift correction. Wouldn’t it be great, I mused, if we could handle gender this way, with a colored tag that each person requests to identify themselves. No assumptions, no guessing, just a strip of paper that immediately shows the world who you are.

Pax race November 2013
[Image: Pax, early in transition, stands at the waterfront holding a green tag. Photo by Ziggy.]

Of course, male and female are not the only genders. My club does have a green tag for those who choose the “self-timer” option. I tried opting for this early in my transition so that I could run without specifying a gender, but found out that I could not cross the finish line or get an official finishing time that way. As the adrenaline rush from accelerating toward the finish line is the highlight of racing for me, I decided to stick with the white, “male” tag for future club races.

Despite getting the proper tag with minimal fuss, I couldn’t help but take an assessment of my presentation, as I do whenever I’m misgendered. I know it’s not my fault if I’m read incorrectly, but I’m curious what visual cues I’ve given off that cause people to assume I’m female. As seen in the photo at the top of this post, I was wearing an oversized purplish-blue rain jacket, white cap, long black pants, and a fanny pack. While not obvious in the photo, I hadn’t shaved that morning, so had a bit of stubble. My sideburns also came down below my ears.

Surveying the other runners, most of the men were wearing shorts, and most of the women were wearing leggings. (It was about 45 degrees and overcast outside at the start, for the record, with rain on the way.) Almost no one else was wearing a fanny pack, but I like to carry water with me even for a short race, and I don’t have a car to stash my keys and cell phone. (Some runners leave these in boxes at the registration desk, but I’m not that trusting.)

In any case, I crossed the finish line with my slowest time in three years for this race distance, thanks to my months of inactivity, but at least I finished the race. (I set a PR on this course exactly one year ago, so my fitness has taken a nosedive since then.) I’ve signed up for the half-marathon, and look forward to running it with Ziggy as a Valentine’s Day date.

Pax and Ziggy at Kaiser Half Marathon
[Image: Ziggy and Pax pose with their finishing medals at the 2015 Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon in San Francisco.]

Flying while trans

[Image: An egret, partially reflected in water, glides in for a landing.]

This time of year, many people travel by air to go on vacation and visit their families. I’ve never enjoyed traveling myself, and dislike flying in particular. My gender transition only exacerbated the nervousness I experience whenever I go to an airport. I’ve only flown once so far since changing my identification documents, and fortunately was not harassed or selected for additional screening.

But as today’s article in Everyday Feminism illustrates, many trans people are not so lucky. I’ve read countless stories about trans people setting off alarms for wearing binders or prostheses, and being outed and humiliated by TSA employees.

This situation is simply unacceptable. The burden should not be on trans people to disclose the configuration of our bodies and educate staffers who should already be receiving training on trans issues. This isn’t just a matter of “sensitivity” (as such training is often termed); outing trans people can put our health, jobs, and very lives at risk.

If we’re to reach a “transgender tipping point” that actually makes a difference in the lives of all trans people, as opposed to just celebrities on magazine covers, we need to address discrimination in all facets of life. That includes our transportation system.

Cisgender definitions

Living as a trans person for the last two and a half years, I sometimes forget that much of society does not have any clue about the definitions I take for granted. I’ve been assuming that most regular readers of this blog understand that “cisgender” is a term that simply means “non-transgender.” It comes from the Latin prefix cis, meaning “on this side of,” as opposed to trans, meaning “on the other side of.” Cis people agree with the gender identification they were assigned at birth; trans people do not.

Cis is not a slur, though some trans people have used it as such, just as some people of color have used “whitey” as a slur. When an oppressed person uses such language, it is “punching up,” not “punching down,” and use of such language should be policed within the community, not by outsiders.

Some cis people have pushed back that they are simply “normal,” and that the term cisgender is politically correct. Some ask how we can expect our own identities to be respected when we force a label on them.

Here’s the thing: Cisgender is not a gender. When I say that someone is cisgender, I am not defining or labeling their gender identity. I am simply stating that they agree with the gender identity they were assigned at birth. They might not consider being a man/boy/male or being a woman/girl/female to be an identity because they’ve always lived with one of those labels without question, but cis people “self-identify” just as much as trans people do. They just aren’t questioned, mocked, or attacked for it. The same is true of preferred pronouns.

As far as cisgender people who consider themselves to be simply “normal” while transgender people are “abnormal,” the hope is that being trans will come to be considered just another human variation. More people are coming to accept varieties in sexual orientation, and you don’t hear a lot of pushback from folks being labeled “straight” or “heterosexual” nowadays (though I’m sure there are some who reject those terms). Acceptance of variation in gender identity is the next step.

There are, of course, other complications. Some people that Westerners often label as “third gender” do not use either transgender or cisgender as terms in their societies. Some non-binary people consider themselves to be neither cis nor trans. Some people are cissexual but transgender, or vice versa. Many trans people do not openly identify as trans, either for personal or safety reasons, or may reject the trans/cis dichotomy for other reasons. And some intersex people may also reject the cis label; activist Cary Gabriel Costello has suggested adopting the term “ipso gender” for certain cases.*

Regardless, I hope that the term “cisgender” (which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary this year) will come to be widely understood and part of everyday usage. Acknowledging gender diversity shouldn’t be seen as political correctness or oppressive. It’s simply treating people with respect.

* In the article Dr. Costello also writes, “I urge people to define someone as cis gender if they have a binary gender identity that matches the one expected for people born with the primary sex characteristics they had at birth (genitals, gonads, chromosomes).” I agree that this definition is more complete and accurate than the summary version I presented in this article (agreeing with the gender identification one was assigned at birth), but it needs to be understood in the context Costello was writing about (intersex discrimination and erasure).

My identity is not up for debate

Content warning: Cissexist, trans-antagonistic, and ableist language ahead.

  • Genderqueer=Tomboy
  • also termed “autism”
  • a fake Tumblr made category for gender identities that are not real and stupid beyond belief
  • “genderqueer” can be seen as a synonym for the term “freak of nature”
  • Other people refer to this behaviour as “fuckery”, and this behaviour is symptomatic of dementia and mental disorders
  • mental illness
  • these definitions were [c]reated by pissy teenage girls who want attention and are by no means legitimate

These are some of the edits that have been made to the Genderqueer page on Wikipedia just over the last three months. All of them were reverted, but I read each one of these attempts at bullying, belittling, and erasing non-binary people.* After enduring this continued vandalism for many months, I finally reported the page to the the administrator noticeboard, and got it placed under protection (at least for now).

As a Wikipedia editor on the LGBT Studies task force, I monitor a number of gender-related pages, and am thus exposed to this kind of language on a daily basis. Occasionally I need to take a break from it, but I do feel a responsibility, especially since I’m rarely leaving home nowadays, to do something to help the queer community.

The most disturbing thing about this kind of vandalism is that it isn’t simply use of crude and obvious slurs (though one vandal about four months ago replaced the entire page’s content with “Trannies suck lol”). A fair amount of this pushback coming from within the community. As trans blogger and activist Sam Dylan Finch wrote recently, transmedicalists or “truscum” harass non-binary people quite a bit, as they don’t consider us to be legitimately trans.

The other troubling issue is the amount that non-binary identities are conflated with autism, mental illness, or other neurodivergence. Some non-binary people do have these conditions, of course, just as some binary trans and cis people do. But there’s no indication that being non-binary is itself an indication of autism or any other mental state, nor that being autistic or otherwise neurodivergent is a negative or shameful thing. As I posted previously, many non-binary people may feel safer speaking out online than in public, and this is likely true of autistic people as well. This can lead to the false impression that all or most non-binary people are autistic.

What it comes down to is that my identity is not up for debate. The only person who can define my gender is me. People can have their opinions on it, but that’s all they are: Opinions. And “free speech” does not guarantee the right to state one’s opinion anywhere one chooses. Wikipedia has rules for a reason.

For oppressed people, wanting to avoid triggering language isn’t a matter of wanting to be in an echo chamber; it’s a matter of survival. Words trigger action; words have impact. Choose your words carefully.

* I prefer non-binary as an umbrella term rather than genderqueer. This is an ongoing discussion I’m having with other Wikipedia editors on the Genderqueer talk page.

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.

[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.