Is It Okay For Cis People To Use Trans Language?

Overlap. Lots of overlap. Source.

Commenting on a recent post, silencecanbeviolence asked an interesting question:

I do not consider myself trans, but I really hate seeing only male/female options on forms. I guess I would have to mostly classify myself as cis-female, but I definitely have a masculine side and enjoy gender bending and “playing boy” from time to time. I find it empowering and cathartic.

I like to catch people off guard by using vague gender labels from time to time. My Facebook is set up to use “their” rather than “she” or “he” as a small form of protest against the gender binary, and again partially just to try and confuse people, I suppose. Is it acceptable to use trans-related gender terms when I don’t consider myself trans?

This is a great question! I am going to assume that by “use trans-related gender terms,” silencecanbeviolence means using gender-neutral pronouns and similar things.

I find this a bit tricky, and I have to admit that at first, the idea made me a little uncomfortable. However, after giving it some thought and talking it over with Alma, I would say this is fine. Everyone has the right to express gender as they wish, and everyone wins when more people engage with gender in ways that feel right. I will explain why I initially felt uncomfortable, and then talk about why I think it’s a good thing for cis people to ask for gender-neutral pronouns if they want to, or otherwise defy gender norms.

I have encountered people off-line who use gender-neutral pronouns, not so much because of a core identity as nonbinary, but as a way to be a conscientious objector to the gender system. My first reaction was to be a bit miffed. This is because, for me and a lot of trans people, our genders are not a political statement of any kind. Many of us resent the fact that our genders are politicized by other people. The gender system politicizes our genders because they are taboo, and activists on both the far right and far left may interpret out self-expressions as political gestures commenting on gender roles broadly, feminism, etc.

This annoys the hell out of me, because it implies my gender is a chosen statement. I make a lot of political statements related to my gender–for example, I try to embody a nonviolent masculinity, and I consider that a political statement. But being a man, using male pronouns, and so on, is just the only way I can feel comfortable. It’s not inherently more political than anyone else’s gender. I want to make sure people understand that we don’t choose to be trans because of our beliefs about the gender system, that trans people can be conservative, moderate, radical, or anything else. We’re making a statement, but that’s because just being alive as a trans person makes a statement in this society. Our genders are politicized by other people, but not necessarily political statements on our part.

On the other hand, who is harmed if people who consider themselves cis want to mess with gender norms a little? It seems this can only benefit the trans community. The more people ask to be treated the way they prefer, the easier it will be for trans people to do the same. I think everyone should have the right to request the pronouns that work for them, period. There is no need for any kind of test to determine that someone has the “right” reasons for preferring certain pronouns. There is no such thing.

Transgender is a big umbrella, and we should welcome anybody who needs to get out of the rain. Somebody like silencecanbeviolence–who identifies as cis, likes to express different aspects of gender, and wants to use gender-neutral pronouns in some spaces–ought to be welcome.

The terms trans and cis are very useful–otherwise we get stuck with trans vs normal. But we should not let them crystallize into a rigid, absolute binary. They’re more like multiple overlapping fuzzy regions that blend at the edges. We should not police those borders. We should embrace the ambiguity as an opportunity for alliance.

What do you think?


Thanks to Alma for a great conversation that shaped this post.

Everyday Discrimination

1. My insurance company covers my Androgel prescription, allowing me to afford the medication.

2. I refill my prescription as usual. Suddenly, a new form is required to process the refill. The new form just so happens to ask whether the medication is for female-to-male transsexualism.

3. Poof! My medication is no longer covered. I cannot pay for it without coverage.

4. This is just the most recent time my insurance has denied me coverage; I already know how to get afforable prescription testosterone when paying out of pocket. So I’ll be okay.

5. But it still hurts to be told my healthcare doesn’t matter and isn’t worth paying for, just because I’m trans.

5 Ways For Trans People To Deal With The Gender Question

The following question recently turned up in the search terms.

being transgender when filling out paperwork wat do u put?

This is a good question, one I wrestle with on a regular basis. I’ve shared my thoughts before on how the gender question should accommodate trans people. But as a trans person faced with completing shitty paperwork, what do you do? A few options for how to answer the gender question.

1. Put what’s most comfortable. If you’re faced with the gender question and one option is more palatable to you, put that. For example, when I’m filling out a form and the options are just male or female, I put male. This works for me. So if a certain option works for you, go for it.

2. Put what matches your other paperwork. In some cases, it might not be an option to put down what you’d prefer. For example, if you are a trans woman whose legal sex is male, it might not be safe or feasible to put down female on official forms. You might not want your paperwork to out you, or it might even cause you problems if there is a mismatch. Sometimes, you just have to put whatever your other papers say.

3. Mess with the form. When you have to choose an option but none of them works for you, and when the form doesn’t carry legal implications, it’s not a bad idea to intentionally mess with the question. On a paper form, you might want to draw in a third box with the label of your choice and check that. One thing I’ve done with online forms that have a write-in option is use it for a comment instead of a label. For example, I’ve seen forms that ask you to choose one option: male, female, transgender or other (write-in). When this happens, I will check “other” and write, “Why can’t I choose male and transgender? As a trans man, I am both male and transgender. Your question implies that trans people aren’t men or women.”

4. Complain.
Once in awhile, it may be possible to speak out and even get the form changed. I was recently filling out a membership survey for a professional organization I belong to. They did the good old, “What is your gender identity? Male, Female, Transgender.” The survey had contact info at the beginning, so I wrote an email explaining why I wanted to be able to choose both male and trans. They sent me a very nice email and changed the form to allow people to check more than one option.

5. Walk away. If the form is not that important, and if you’re forced into choosing from crappy options, you can just walk away. As a grad student, I am always getting requests to participate in research, which often sound a bit desperate. If the study asks me to choose from stupid options for gender, I stop filling it out. I might or might not send an email about it. This is kinda mean, but I confess to deriving a tiny pleasure from knowing that, since they didn’t bother to do their homework on the gender question, they will have to work that much harder to get the sample they need, and they will get no help from me.

How do you deal with the gender question?

Hysterical Man: 4 Lessons Learned Preparing For Middle Surgery

I’ve been processing the prospect of a hysterectomy for the past year. I’m at the point where I definitely want the surgery and will probably schedule it as soon as I don’t have a bunch more urgent stuff demanding my attention (i.e. when the semester is over). I have to say it’s been an excruciatingly painful aspect of my transition. A few thoughts on where I’m at and how I got here.

Mules are also sterile, and this one is ready for a nap. I guess there’s just something about being between categories. Photo: David Shankbone.

1. Sterility is a really big deal. When I went in to get a prescription for testosterone, my doctor asked me if I wanted to preserve the possibility of having a biological child. I was like, um, yeah, hell no. I was also 21 years old and way more concerned with paying for beer that night than with being a parent someday.

Letting go of the possibility of having a biological child has been the hardest and most heart-wrenching aspect of this experience. I don’t want to use any of the options available to me for having genetic offspring. There are so many reasons for this, I don’t even want to get into it. Suffice to say that even though I don’t want to use what I’ve got–just the prospect makes me queasy–it’s still hard to let it go. It means letting go of the fantasy that I could ever be a biological father. In confronting this reality, I have felt disappointed, cheated, and humiliated. I have felt left out of the great dance of life, a lonely alien. It feels strange to be so sad, yet so repulsed by the options that are open to me.

2. I am in profound denial about my body. I have never accepted the fact that I was born with a female body. I have to admit that I just straight up do not believe it, to this very day. There’s some pretty solid evidence for my view in that I am, you know, a man. Again I ask, WTF God? WTF?

This is a very deep-seated belief that is beyond all logic and is extremely resistant to change. As far as I can tell, I have always carried the worldview that I am male and it seems I always will. This is the reason approaching hysterectomy has been so painful–it has forced me to experience the cognitive dissonance of being transsexual in a whole new horrible way.

My take on this is, to paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, when you can’t accept, accept your non-acceptance. I accept that I am a trans man, that I have a view of my body as male that is not going to change, and that the thing I can change is my body. I accept that I cannot be a good custodian to female reproductive organs. It’s just not realistic for me at all. So a hysterectomy is something I can do for myself and for my health, out of love.

3. Grieving is necessary. I spent a good while feeling heartbroken about my status as soon-to-be-sterile and never having the option to be a biological father. This was an absolutely essential process for me. It’s normal to grieve over this kind of thing, and we need to allow ourselves the space and time to fully go there.

I can now see that a lot of my grief is about lingering shame and pain around being trans, rather than about parenthood (though of some of it really does have to do with parenthood). I have an ingrained belief that being able to father a child has something to do with being a “real man.” I’m still dealing with this; cultural ideas like that are just hard to shake off.

4. Planning a family is about a lot more than gametes. As I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel of my grief, I got a reality check about my hopes to be a parent. Having a child is something I want to do with my wife, obviously, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to really consider her feelings. In retrospect, I’ve been pretty myopic and selfish about the whole thing; but at the same time, I really could not have gotten to this point without moving through my grief.

Alma has always wanted to adopt and has absolutely zero interest, or really less than zero interest, in ever being pregnant. I can now enjoy the wonderful match we have in this area and feel good about supporting her in her bodily autonomy.

I’m enjoying my new-found clarity about my own feelings, hopes and fears. I’ve come to realize that I actually do not care about having a biological descendant or sharing that connection with a child. I do care very much about being a father someday and I hope to adopt children with my partner. There is a scary vulnerability in this, as I have no idea if it will work out. But it’s real and it’s honest, a genuine dream.

How has your transition impacted your feelings and choices about fertility and parenthood?


Thanks to Lesboi for teaching me the term “middle surgery” for hysterectomy.

Giving Up, In A Good Way

Massive wall of water, suspended. Narrow space of dry ground, an alley through the sea. I am standing on a ladder in the sand, leaning against the liquid wall. I am frantically laying tiles on the water, one little square at a time, trying to hold it up, reinforce it. I am madly laying the tiles, covering up just a few feet of this massive surface that stretches on for miles. Suddenly, I stop. There is no need for me to cover the water, to build a wall against a wall. God has already parted the sea.

This recent dream pretty much sums up the pickle I’ve been in lately. I am feeling immeasurably better since my last post. I have reoriented myself internally and, though I am just as busy, I am far less stressed out.

I realized that I have been suffering from a severe case of trying too hard. Indeed, trying too hard seems to be at the root of much of my longstanding anxiety. I have a habit of constantly trying: trying to be polite; trying to be good; trying to be perfect. I try at everything. I try hard in school, work, relationships, life. I try hard in my spiritual practice. I try hard, very hard, to relax (what an oxymoron!).

There is a hilarious irony underlying all this, in as much as trying actually undermines both being and doing. This stressed out, effortful trying is an expression of basic fear. It communicates a fundamental lack of trust in the world and in oneself. Far from improving one’s performance or helping one to meet goals, trying diverts energy, corrodes calm, and goes against the flow of life. All in all, trying makes action inferior, cramped, inhibited, uninspired, and it is incompatible with wellbeing.

So I have stopped trying. I am not trying to be a good student, counselor, partner, friend or employee; I am not trying to be healthy, happy, or perfect; I am not trying to relax, be present or meditate.

Quitting trying feels like a great big trust fall in which I am both the one falling and the one catching myself. I feel I am just sitting back and watching the actions of the mysterious intelligence I call myself. With no effort whatsoever, I do all the things I need to do, know all that I need to know, and more than that. Words just come out of my mouth spontaneously, and they’re often very appropriate words; I walk out of my house and directly to my workplace, somehow knowing the way. It’s amazing. And it really underscores just how little good trying does me. It seems I can completely stop trying and, far from my fears of my life crumbling into a twisted mess of pain, the only immediate consequence is that I feel a lot better.

I am still doing. I go about my day; I attend to the tasks that greet me. When tension and anxiety arise I remind myself: I am not trying. I am not trying to do an excellent perfect job at this or that, so if I screw up, if it doesn’t turn out right somehow, what’s the big deal? At the same time, I am not trying to be a super present spiritual person, so if I am worried and preoccupied, who cares? I’m not trying to do or be anything in particular–so whatever I’m doing and being is fine.

Scrambling

At first I thought I felt like one of the people trying to hoist the elephant, but no. I feel like the elephant. Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

I am struggling right now in my other transition–adulthood. I am feeling really overwhelmed. I’ve been stressed out for a while, but I seem to have hit some kind of new threshold. The combination of grad school classes, counseling clients, intensive supervision, my job, joining the board of a professional organization, looking for an internship for next semester with time running out, and, you know, life, trying to be a good partner, son and brother, and all the little tasks that demand doing daily: dogs, chores, shopping, appointments, bills, prescriptions, phone calls… Holy shit, how the hell do people do this?!

Writing it out, at least, I can see why I feel overwhelmed. I really have a lot going on right now. The counseling & supervision is such a challenge in itself. It’s very exciting and rewarding, and I can see growth and change in myself and my clients. But wow, it pushes me so hard, I don’t have that much energy for the zillion other things going on.

I keep getting waves of anxiety, feeling like an imposter. What the hell am I doing? Who am I kidding? I’m terrified.

On the one hand, I feel like, what a joke that I am supposed to be helping others with their mental health–I’m a fucking mess! On the other hand, the nature of the work inspires me to be good to myself, to not work myself too hard, because to make myself miserable helping others be well is just absurd (not to mention impossible).

It is so damn bizarre. I’m like, ok, one minute I’m scrambling to finish a paper; then I’m in a meeting for work; then I’m coaxing someone into a signing a piece of paper promising not to kill themselves; then I’m having dinner with my partner; then I’m giving a presentation on how to help undergraduates write essays; then I’m doing dishes; then I’m listening to someone talk about being raped; then I’m watching a video of myself listening to someone talk about being raped, as another person pauses the video every few minutes to ask, “What were you feeling at this moment?”; then I’m cold-calling agencies and pleading with them to let me work for them for free; then I’m trying to get somewhere on time; then I’m sitting in tiny room with a sobbing man; then I am stopping a moment to smell the first lilacs; and a voice comes through my headphones, saying,

One generation goes, and another generation comes; but the earth remains forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises. The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north. It turns around continually as it goes, and the wind returns again to its courses. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness beyond uttering. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done: and there is nothing new under the sun.

Alma and I keep joking that we are babies pretending to be adults. Funny cuz it’s true. I am in over my head.

The Last Loose Threads

I finally got my birth certificate amended. I’d been putting off dealing with it and finally sent in the papers a couple weeks ago. It arrived in the mail, shiny and official. I was born in Massachusetts, and I’d read online that I could expect a birth certificate with my birth name and assigned sex crossed out, and the correct name and sex written in. But when it came it was complete and perfect, just my name and the word male, no nonsense. Opening that envelope had a real thud of finality to it–the very last piece of paper to get changed.

I’m jumping directly into another legal transition of sorts and changing my name again. Alma and I have put a lot of thought into what to do with our last names now that we are married. I’ve decided to take hers. I’m pretty excited about it. I really wanted us to share a name; she is very attached to hers, and I’m not that attached to mine; and we’re not that into hyphenation for a few reasons. Any why shouldn’t a guy take his wife’s name?

So soon I will have changed every single name from what I was born with–first, middle, and last. I’ve managed to keep the same initials, SLB. Taking her name also allows me to make a gesture of cultural solidarity, as she has a very ethnically marked name. She’s converting to Judaism; taking her name is kinda as close as I can get to “converting” to be Chicano.

I’m finally getting ready to seriously pursue a hysterectomy. It’s been a long emotional process–I hope to give it a proper treatment in a post soon. At this point, I feel at ease with my body and my circumstances, and I want the surgery. I’m hoping to get it this summer.

Between these things I’m feeling like my transition is really ending, maybe over. My paperwork is all changed; I’m getting ready for my last surgery; the big changes in my life now aren’t about my transition; shame’s appearances get rarer and rarer. It’s a good feeling, a spacious absence, very quiet.

Married

We eloped! This is the reason for the relative quiet here of late. We had a short and sweet courthouse ceremony last Friday. It was a bit of a dare that neither of us would back down from. We had a magical experience and are extremely excited. We are planning to do a religious ceremony and big family bash in about a year.

Here are a few photos from our weekend.

We consider it good luck.

In addition to kissing we hugged and high-fived.

Yes, we were both wearing Doc Martens.

One of many beautiful sights from our getaway.

One of many beautiful sights from our getaway.

Against Asking “Male or Female?”

I’ve written before about my evolving relationship with my post-transition body. Last night while meditating naked (don’t knock it til you try it), I found myself staring at my junk, which is pretty typical. And suddenly I wondered, why the staring? What am I looking for? In an instant I realized that I am looking at my penis to confirm that I am a man. I am looking to my body to validate my transition, to prove I really am a guy, like I still need to convince a skeptical mother and bigoted society that my transition is right.

I began to laugh then, because, of course, my dick cannot do that. Of course my genitals don’t determine or validate my gender! Hello, I’m trans, I supposedly know this.

Yet once my body became congruent with my lived sense of self, I reverted to hegemonic thinking and demanded that my dick demonstrate my manhood. This left me scrutinizing my body for proof of maleness and any sign of femaleness. And this, in turn, left me rather uneasy and unhappy, blocking my ability to just be in my body.

Seeing this, I let go completely of asking the question “Male or female?” about my body. There was a sense of space and relief, like the refreshing burst of silence when a constant hum suddenly stops. Maybe for the first time in my life, I was inhabiting my body, naked, without subtly trying to categorize myself as male or female.

I saw much more fully then, like a fog on my glasses clearing away. And oddly enough, my body became more comfortably male to me than ever before. It was a relaxed, natural masculinity, with a violet aura of sacred queerness. I felt I was seeing my body as someone else might see it, just a body without the screen of pain and memory. I sat in an easy confidence, suddenly liberated from a terrible hunger that had been siphoning away my strength. My body is male, yes, and trans too, and above all, human and very ordinary, soft and olive and animal, covered in fuzz, not problematic in any way.

We’ve been taught to pose the question “Male or female?” constantly. It’s a core process of our society, the rigid sorting of life into these two constructed poles. As gender-variant people, we know this, and we see the violence it does. Yet it is all too easy to do the very same thing to ourselves, whatever our identity or transition status. It’s the path of least resistance, a conditioned habit deeply ingrained, a reflex we don’t even know we have. We ask and ask and ask, aching for an answer that will make us feel okay. The messages we get about ourselves hurt so bad, we feel like we need to hear the right answer or we will never be alright.

But the asking itself is the problem. The more we ask, the more we look for a definitive category that confirms our sense of self, the worse we feel, and the farther we get from our bodies, our lives and our truth.

We can only see ourselves when we look with eyes unclouded by judgment. We can only feel ourselves when we sense with hearts unburdened by need. Compulsively categorizing the world in terms of a male/female dichotomy undermines our ability to actually perceive. If we need some insight to navigate the field of gender, there are other questions we can ask.

So as soon as you can, just drop the question. Don’t answer it, don’t even disagree with it. Just let it go, like a dandelion seed on its parachute in the wind.

You’ll be glad you did.