Tagged: communication

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.


Guys Are Clueless Because We Don’t Get Clues

Many have observed that men have a tendency towards social and emotional cluelessness. There are plenty of oblivious women and sensitive dudes out there, and nonbinary folks both unaware and keen. But overall, my own experience confirms the trend. In general, men are less perceptive and expressive when it comes to social cues and subtexts, emotions and relationships.

Why is this? Feminists often point to childhood socialization that emphasizes sociability and relationships in girls, while encouraging competition and toughness in boys. Other people believe that biology and human evolution explain the differences we observe. I’d like to point to a factor elided by these explanations. Quite simply, people just don’t tell guys very much.

I am the rare man who was raised as a girl. Like many trans people, I listened closely to the messages intended for my true (not assigned) gender, so I absorbed a lot of norms of masculinity. As a kid, I felt it was important not to cry and to fight with punches and kicks, not scratches. Still, I was encouraged to master the feminine art of relationships, and I had intensely expressive friendships with girls. I was just as perceptive, emotive, and socially astute as anyone else.

I have not become less open or perceptive since transition. Quite the opposite, actually. I find it much easier to cry and show other feelings, and I continue to enjoy deep, expressive conversations. I also find it easier to read and empathize with other people. I’m training to be a counselor right now–I am trying to talk about feelings and relationships all day long, for a living!

And yet, I find that I know far less about what friends and family members are feeling than I did before transition. Why is this? They don’t tell me. My own family members often communicate important feelings to me indirectly, by telling Alma. Nobody gossips to me, so I have no idea which of my friends are getting together and which are breaking up.

This was put into sharp relief by a recent conversation with Alma. She mentioned that she has a class with a friend’s roommate, let’s call him J. Alma said she was comfortable talking to him because she knows he has a girlfriend and is pretty serious about her. Here’s the thing: neither of us actually knows J. We’ve met him briefly and seen him at parties. Neither of us knows J’s girlfriend. But while I have nothing more than a vague image of J’s face, Alma knows his relationship status, the seriousness of said relationship, and even has a sense that he is a good boyfriend. How is this possible? Because our female friends told her. They know, because one of them knows the girlfriend, and she told them. It suddenly struck me what a massive quantity of social information is exchanged in all-female conversations. Meanwhile, when I talk with the guys in our social group, we talk about a lot of things…but we exchange almost zero of this type of information. J is a friend-of-a-friend to both of us, but while I’m not even completely sure I would recognize the dude, Alma knows a great deal about his life situation and his character.

This is just one example; the trend holds across many situations in our lives. This puts us at totally different starting places when it comes to social and emotional insight. Alma noted that when she interprets subtle social exchanges–like a glance or a tone–she is working from a lot of back-story, full of hints at what might be important and what that might mean.

Of course, this is very much connected to socialization and social norms. Friendships among men tend to look different from friendships among women. But I think it’s worth adding this into our analysis. It may not be so much a function of the perceptiveness, expressiveness and sociability of individual men, but rather of our social networks.

How Do Trans People Fit Into Gender? Trans Inclusion & Asking Good Questions, Part 2

In my last post on good questions and trans inclusion, I offered an answer to the question, “What is gender?” This time, I’d like to look at two more aspects of genderneutral’s question: How can we include all trans people in our understanding of gender? And, how can we view trans people as interconnected within the larger human story of gender?

If gender is part of being human, for better or for worse–so often for worse–and if we could think of it a bit like language or music, we have already entered radically new territory. We are no longer in the realm of rules, rigid categories, and so-called truth. Instead we have entered a realm of meaning, culture, communication and beauty. A melody may be especially pleasing (or not) to our own ears, and it may be of a certain style or format. In no sense, however, can a melody be “wrong” or “right.” Pay no mind to the few who try to say so out of snobbery. Those who claim some type of music is not music are always made wrong by history.

So we can let gender wax and wane, bend and change with the cultural seasons; whatever is good and real in it will endure. We can let people, ourselves included, be as they are. They are that way anyway, whether or not we see fit to grant our permission. I say, use your voice and try to sing, as best you can, the song that you were born singing. Or dwell deeply in silence, drinking in the rich space of your own quiet. To insult or drown out another’s song is an act of cruelty, which does nothing but introduce more hatred into the world. Such violence is a senseless and tragic misuse of your fleeting time on this earth.

In this logic, all trans people are always already included within the concept of gender. I will not spend any time justifying our dignity or legitimacy. Our existence is enough. I take this truth to be self-evident: that theory and ideology, if they are to contain any sense at all, must conform themselves to meet reality, and not the other way around. Any explanation of gender that does not include us contains a basic flaw, a broken promise–it does not describe the universe. Not this universe, any way.

In this universe, gender-variant people have always been part of human diversity. This includes those who, in this place and time, we call transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, agender, bigender, Two Spirit, and other terms. In other times and places, different words have been used, implying different subdivisions among gender and sexual minorities. It is wonderful to learn about the unique terms and traditions of various cultures, especially the more humane manifestations. But that’s somewhat beside the point here. The point is simply that we are real.

How, then, do diverse transgender people fit into the larger human story of gender? Like violin strings in an orchestra, like crickets in a summer night. What would springtime be with only one type of flower, or dawn with a chorus of identical birds? It is the imposition of a violent and unnatural monoculture that rejects our spice and nuance for the sake of its own bland, efficient machinery.

But human nature, like all nature, contains somewhere within itself the awesome intelligence of the ecosystem. The natural world is an interdependent wonderland containing order and chaos, harmony and discord, and dazzling uncountable myriad forms. So the genders need no more determine, dominate or detract from one another than the animals, vegetables and minerals sharing a bit of the earth.

All I have said so far confines itself to our understanding of gender–to internal shifts in our view of the world. How do we take such an understanding and shift the world? I think changing our understanding of gender, and living out that change, are necessary, but obviously not sufficient.

What is sufficient? I do not know.

How To Ask About Gender On Forms, Or, “Transgender” Is Not My Gender Identity

Three little boxes blink at me, a puzzle with no solution. Gender: Male, Female, Transgender. How am I supposed to answer this question? I can only choose one option. I could say that I am male–after all, I am. Yet it feels weird to leave the “transgender” box unchecked, perhaps suggesting to whoever is on the other side of this form that there are no trans people here. On the other hand, it seems bizarre and a bit offensive to check “transgender” at the expense of “male,” as if being trans totally defines me, as if I am not a man.

Another form I recently faced was even stranger. Gender: Male, Female, Trans-Male, Trans-Female, Other. What the hell? My gender is not “trans-male.” My gender is male; I am also a human being who is trans.

I appreciate that people are trying to acknowledge that trans people exist. I do not appreciate that doing so apparently means ignoring my actual gender as a trans person. Kinda defeats the whole purpose.

I think many people suffer a basic confusion about trans identity. Transgender is an umbrella term that shelters many people. What we all have in common is a gender identity and/or expression that is different from the sex we were assigned at birth. “Transgender” does not denote a person’s gender, per se–rather it describes the relationship between their gender and their society.

Some trans people are non-binary, meaning neither men nor women. Non-binary folks may describe their genders as transgender or genderqueer, or they may use some other term. Most trans people are men or women. We describe our genders as either male or female. This means that some people under the trans umbrella describe themselves as transgender, full stop–but most describe themselves as some gender and transgender.

When forms ask for a sex/gender, they should accommodate everybody. When I am faced with forms that don’t allow me to describe myself, I simply stop filling them out, if I can. When I can’t–such as forms for school and work–I list myself as male. I would prefer, however, to describe myself fully. In the case of forms for my university, for example, I worry that flaws in this question could affect services for transgender students.

I can think of a bunch of ways to solve this conundrum. For now, I will confine myself to one very simple solution, which, I think, accommodates all parties. The gender question should include the options male, female, transgender and other (write-in), and respondents should be allowed to check all that apply.

Give it a try!

Readers–does this solution accommodate your gender identity? How would you ask the gender question?

Good Things About Being Trans* [5]


Image: Caroline’s Cakes

I find it easy to talk to non-binary, third-gender and ambiguously gendered people.

Unfortunately, a lot of people get very uncomfortable when someone is not clearly male or female. This category can include genderqueer people, transsexual men and women, masculine women and feminine men, and many others. Members of the general population are likely to get flustered (or much worse) if they can’t easily pin a person into a pink or blue box.

When I meet people whose gender is ambiguous to me, or whose gender expression falls outside the binary, I am able to treat them with respect–the same respect I’d show anyone else. I neither gawk nor look away. I simply treat them with courtesy. I don’t feel a burning desire to know each person’s identity, assigned sex, or current body shape.

For a year or so during my transition, my appearance was very ambiguous to other people. Some called me ma’am, some called me sir, some stared, some refused to look at me. These experiences opened my eyes to the way ambiguously-gendered people are treated. I don’t feel uncomfortable around gender diverse people, because I’ve been there.

I don’t need to know anything about a person to be kind to them. If I do need to know something about them for whatever reason, I simply ask.

What are some good things about being trans*? Send your answers to mantodayblog@gmail.com or submit anonymously.

In this series, I highlight individuals’ positive experiences. You probably won’t relate to every entry, but maybe some will resonate with you.

Good Things About Being Trans* [4]


Image: Caroline’s Cakes

I find it easy to talk to men.

Before my transition, I struggled to form friendships with guys. Men made me a little uncomfortable.

After transition, I feel at ease around other men. Male patterns of communication come very easily to me. I enjoy friendships with other guys and find it easy and fun to communicate with the men I encounter in my day-to-day life.

As a man, it is comfortable for me to go through the motions of male conversation. As a trans man, I think I bring a lack of judgment and a security in my own gender that help reduce the tensions that often mar male/male interactions. I do not feel threatened by macho posturing, flamboyant femininity, or anything in between, and I think it shows. I can meet dudes where they’re at.

What are some good things about being trans*? Send your answers to mantodayblog@gmail.com or submit anonymously.

In this series, I highlight individuals’ positive experiences. You probably won’t relate to every entry, but maybe some will resonate with you.

Good Things About Being Trans* [3]


Image: Caroline’s Cakes

I find it easy to talk to women.

A lot of straight guys really struggle to communicate with their girlfriends and crushes. I have enjoyed fairly open, direct communication in all my intimate relationships. I have always found it easy to show someone I am flirting–and just as important, to show when I’m not flirting. My fiancée and I have our share of misunderstandings, but we resolve them easily. I feel comfortable talking with female friends, classmates, coworkers, and strangers. It’s simple and enjoyable.

I think being socialized in a female gender role–and the results of that, like having many female friends growing up–gives me some extra insight into women’s communication. Being trans also allowed me to examine and reject gender stereotypes, which helps a lot.

I value this ease in communicating with women as a straight man and as a person.

What are some good things about being trans*? Send your answers to mantodayblog@gmail.com or submit anonymously.

In this series, I highlight individuals’ positive experiences. You probably won’t relate to every entry, but maybe some will resonate with you.