Transition is not a one-way street, or a bowling lane with the bumpers up. Transition is not a recipe with precise measurements, or a fixed curriculum, or a rulebook. Transition is not a set protocol, dictated by faraway experts. It is far too intimate and important for that.
Transition is a banquet. A table overflows with delicious offerings. Bowls of ripe fruit, loaves of fresh bread, the shifting fragrances of herb and spice. Pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, mint.
You are welcomed to this feast as an honored guest. Your cup is filled and the table is set. Take your seat.
There is no right way or wrong way to dine at your own banquet. Let taste move you. You can fill up on bread or skip right to dessert. You can eat nothing but grapes or try a little bit of everything. You can fill your plate once or many times. All is offered to you without question or terms.
Who can judge the tastes you combine? Will you allow anyone to diminish your enjoyment? No–you will savor the smells and the tastes and the textures. You will nourish your body and soul. You will laugh with your friends and you will get seconds as you damn well please. This is far too good for shame or petty limitations.
Transition is an emergency exit; go through it. Transition is a tourniquet; apply it. Stop the bleeding. Cease the flames.
And then stand among ashes in the burned-out room, sunshine streaming through smoke, and the cold rain of the sprinkler system, and the shrill, relentless pulse of the alarm. Put down the fire extinguisher.
The time has come to dance.
Pronouns–those tiny little words that can hurt like a broken bone or be as delightful as a birthday present. For many trans and gender-nonconforming people, gender pronouns are an important aspect of self-expression. Whether you want different pronouns because of your gender identity or your views on the gender system, it’s a challenging task. If coming out is safe and feasible, you might be ready to ask your loved ones to start using a new pronoun. How do you go about getting other people to call you by the right words?
1. Ask for what you want. Requesting different gender pronouns can be a nerve-wracking prospect. You might be wondering whether people will take you seriously as a she or a he, whether people will play grammar police when you request singular they, or whether friends and family will be willing to learn a new set of pronouns like ze/hir/hirs. It can be tempting to look for a compromise and ask for whatever you think is most likely to stick. This might be a good option if you think there’s no way friends and family will come around or if you just don’t feel that strongly about it. In general, though, I think it’s worth it to ask for the pronouns you really want. You’re already going out on a limb–you might as well go all the way out!
2. Be patient…for awhile. Adjusting to a pronoun change can be pretty tricky. We tend to use pronouns without thinking about them. Even people who are 100% supportive will probably screw up at first. I’m trans, and I have messed up people’s pronouns numerous times. For some reason, it seems new pronouns take longer to stick than a name change.
So when you first change your pronouns, be patient with friends and family who make genuine mistakes. I’m not talking about people who are disrespectful, cruel, and/or refuse to accept your new pronouns. I’m talking about people who love you, who are good to you, who plain old mess up sometimes. When people use the wrong words, politely remind them and move on. They should be able to acknowledge the mistake and move on quickly, too. So long as people are actively cooperating, allow a grace period for adjustment.
3. Boycott the wrong pronouns. It’s been almost a year since you came out about your pronouns to friends and family. Some people have completely adjusted, some mess up occasionally and then correct themselves, and some call you the wrong pronoun on a regular basis and don’t correct it or apologize. You’ve talked this over with everyone and politely corrected people, dozens and dozens of times. It’s time to end the grace period and stop playing along with folks who claim it’s too hard to change.
At this point, I suggest completely refusing to respond to or acknowledge the wrong pronouns. This is an approach I took and it worked really well for me. The questions I asked myself was, “What would a cis guy do if someone called him she?” I figured he would a) assume the person was not talking about him, b) be shocked and even offended if he realized they were, and c) correct the mistake with indignation and a sense of complete entitlement to the correct pronouns. So, I made it my mission to react in this way, figuring that I am just as entitled as anyone to the right language. I don’t recommend flipping out on people or anything–just acting as if it’s completely obvious that others should use your preferred pronouns, and refusing to play along when they don’t.
For example, a mispronouning would often happen in my family when we got together for dinner and my mom started telling stories about when I was younger. As my mom began an anecdote referring to something she did as a child, I would get a very confused look on my face. She would pause, noticing my confusion–often, that would be enough and she’d correct herself. If that didn’t happen, we’d have a short exchange along these lines.
Me: Wait, who is this story about?
Mom: You, of course!
Me: Oh! Huh, okay. You said she so I thought you must be talking about [female relative].
Mom: Oh, did I? Sorry about that. Anyway, when he was little…
I suggest a “fake it til you make it” approach–act like you can’t imagine being called the wrong words, are shocked someone would make such a mistake, and are obviously deserving of the proper terms. I found that after a few weeks of acting this way, it became second nature.
This worked really well on two levels. First, once using the wrong words stopped being a viable strategy to communicate with me, the last holdouts came around. Second, and perhaps more important, getting mispronouned didn’t sting so bad, because I was not participating in it.
4. Spend time with people who get it. Coming out about your pronouns, correcting people when they mess up, adjusting to the change yourself–it’s an exhausting process. Recharge by spending time with friends and family members who see you for who you are and show it.
When I was knee-deep in my transition, after an exhausting family dinner in which I’d been mispronouned ten or twenty times, it was such a relief to come home with Alma and know I could finally relax. I also drew strength from close friends who got my masculinity and had no trouble seeing me as a dude and calling me he.
To stay in balance during this difficult change, spend plenty of time with folks in your life who just get it. If none of your friends or family members fall into that category, seek out other people for solidarity. You might be able to find trans support groups or meet-ups in your area, or feminist or queer organizations where you can meet like-minded people. If this is not available where you live, connect with people online as much as you can.
5. You are more than your pronouns. At the end of the day, remember that you are a whole person. You are an incredible being of great dignity and power. Whether or not other people get your pronouns right, you deserve respect, happiness and love. Be good to yourself. Don’t let others’ ignorance compromise your self-worth.
Readers–what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you changed your pronouns? If you’re considering changing pronouns in the future, what holds you back?
To T or not to T? It’s a tough question. Testosterone is a powerful hormone that can radically alter your body and your internal landscape. For many trans guys and some nonbinary people, testosterone is a ticket to a new world in which body, mind, spirit, and social perception finally align. But how can you know in advance whether that new world is really right for you? And what if the ticket is one-way?
I have been on testosterone for 4 years, and I’ll probably continue for the rest of my life. I spent several years desperately agonizing about whether to take T, and today I can say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Here is the advice I wish someone had given me back when I was wrestling with this question.
1. Do your research. In my experience, trans people turn into veritable internet librarians when it comes to our transitions. If you’re reading this post, chances are you’ve read dozens of articles on the physical effects of testosterone, plus sought out hundreds of blogs, videos and photo timelines documenting others’ experiences on T. But if you haven’t done all that yet, do it.
2. Talk to a doctor. A lot of people–including me–make talking to a doctor the last step of this quest. In retrospect, talking to my doctor early on would have greatly simplified the whole process. Ask whether it would be safe for you to take T based on your other medical conditions, what the process would be to get a prescription, and whether you’ll need any referrals. This gives you a timeline and clear series of steps if/when you decide to move forward with testosterone. If your country uses a structured clinic system, find out what is required to qualify for treatment and how long it takes to access hormones. This info will clear up a lot of the stressful questions that make this process such a challenge, such as, Will I be able to get a prescription? What tests will I need? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Do I need a new doctor? With that out of the way, you can focus on figuring out what you want and need.
3. What will you regret? Suppose you start testosterone tomorrow. Imagine yourself in 10 years. What might that person regret? Now, suppose you never take testosterone. Again, 10 years down the line, what might you regret? Nobody knows the future, but I found this a very helpful exercise. I realized that my greatest fear was never taking this opportunity, looking back and wishing I’d started T as a young guy. On the other hand, I couldn’t muster any real fear about, say, being perceived as a boring straight guy or not trying harder to live as a butch. (I tried as hard as I could.) Look into your heart; there may be helpful answers waiting there for you.
4. Do you want the whole package? Testosterone is a gamble. Each person responds differently based on dosage, genetics, length of treatment, and possibly magic. Think carefully about the effects of T, and ask yourself whether you are open to the whole range of possibilities or really only want some of the outcomes. The changes can happen to varying degrees and in different combinations. You might go in imagining yourself with a deep voice, toned muscles, and smooth skin, and wind up a chubby tenor covered in hair from head to toe–or vise versa. A lower dose will cause subtler and slower shifts, maybe no visible changes at all. But basically there are no guarantees, except that you’ll generally move towards more male-typical traits. Are you looking for the whole experience, external and internal? Or are there just a few specific changes that you want? If, for example, you want a more masculine physique and voice, and are wary of any other changes, you might want to experiment with diet, exercise and voice coaching before you try hormone therapy.
5. Seek guidance from a higher power. With a decision this big, it’s a good idea to turn to whatever sources of wisdom you find meaningful. Does your culture have traditions for gaining insight, beginning a journey or making a hard decision? Do you find meaning in prayer or meditation? Some places you might turn include scripture, religious leaders, faith healers, wise friends or family members, mentors and mental health professionals. This could take many forms depending on your beliefs and culture. A few ideas to get you thinking: get your Tarot cards read, set aside a day to meditate on the question, ask God for help, ask for the answer to come in a dream, create visual art exploring your feelings, go hiking or camping alone. The point is, you probably need to get outside of your mind to find a real answer. Find a way to access higher wisdom or deeper insight that works for you. Whatever resources you have, call on them now.
6. Whatever you do, do it for you. You’re probably facing opinions and pressure everywhere you look. Transitioning is taboo, so you’re probably feeling some pressure not to modify your body, to make it work in your assigned gender (possibly for the sake of feminism, the children, or something), and/or not to do something “artificial” or “unnatural.” On the flip-side, there’s also a strong norm that if you’re going to transition, you better transition to be a normative man or woman, including hormones and surgery. So you’re probably also feeling some pressure to follow a certain path through transition, including a dose of testosterone that will put you in the typical male range. It’s almost impossible to think clearly in this hurricane of social sanction. But, as much as you’re able, try to sort out your own needs and preferences, and make your choices from a place of self-love. Whether you decide to take testosterone or not, do it for you.
7. Go for it. At some point, you have to take a leap of faith and go with your best guess. You may find that you’ve taken plenty of time to think, done thorough research, and reflected deeply on the question, and you’re still not sure what you want. Make an educated guess and move forward, knowing you can change course if needed. If you’ve spent a year or five reflecting and you just can’t stop thinking about testosterone, you’re probably going to have to try it yourself to be satisfied. Let your fears slow you down and make you careful. But don’t let your fears paralyze or stifle you. It’s okay to venture into the unknown. In fact, it’s wonderful.
What questions do you have about testosterone therapy? For those who have been on T, how did you make your decision? What do you know now that you wish you had known then?
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.
A good question is a thing of tremendous value and use. Continuing the conversation on nonbinary people and the trans umbrella, genderneutral offers a great question:
Perhaps the question ought not be “what is trans” or “who belongs under the trans umbrella” but “what is gender, and what changes in our understanding of gender need to occur so that all trans people are included in the equation and are understood as part f the whole”.
This question is much deeper and much more difficult to answer. I think genderneutral is right that this line of inquiry is essential to the acceptance and inclusion of diverse trans people, so I’d like to offer an answer of my own. I would love to hear other answers, so please feel free to share. This post is part 1 of my answer; look for part 2 later this week.
Let’s take a closer look at genderneutral’s question. I see a few queries here (I hope genderneutral will let us all know if I’ve misunderstood):
- What is gender?
- How can we understand gender in a way that includes all trans people?
- How can we view trans people as interconnected within the larger human story of gender?
These are some heavyduty questions with far-reaching implications. It would probably take a book–nay, a bookshelf–to offer a complete treatment of these issues. But if you think I’d let that little detail stop me from giving a bunch of sweeping answers in a couple of blog posts, then you, my friend, have probably not read many blog posts.
What is gender?
Gender is a culture’s set of norms and roles associated with sex–the state of being male, female or something else. Gender is highly variable across cultures and times. Cultures have different conceptions of masculinity, femininity and androgyny. Not only that, cultures recognize different numbers of sexes and genders, and have different ways of determining the sex and gender of an individual. And yet, as far as I know, all cultures seem to have there own set of norms and roles that we could call gender.
Why is that? My guess is that since it is so widespread, gender probably serves some important functions in our communities. Some of those functions are downright awful–for example, in many cases, as is well known, a primary result of the gender system is to consolidate power in the hands of some people at the expense of others. The gender system also intersects with all manner of other systems–including religion, racism, colonialism, economics, etc.–often producing horrible violence and inequality.
At the same time, human beings seem to have deep longings to express ourselves through gender. We have strong feelings about our genders (or lack thereof), and we cannot change the way we feel for any reason. We want others to honor that and to see us how we see ourselves. For some reason, from a young age, for the vast majority of people, it seems we just are some gender (whether we can say so or not). To me, this suggests that gender is just part of what it means to be human. We bring intrinsic inclinations to the table, which get filtered and expressed through our particular culture and context.
This is not to imply that we are all alike, that gender is some variable we can simply measure for each person. I see gender as similar to spoken language–a way of communicating that varies across cultures and is fundamental to what it means to be human. Just like some people have an unusual voice or are deaf, some people have atypical genders or just don’t “hear” gender the way most other people do. That doesn’t make those people inferior in any way, just a bit unusual. It also doesn’t make gender or spoken language less central to the human story overall. Trans people of all varieties have always been part of that story, whether our communities have recognized us or not.
Another way to think about it is to view gender in terms of archetypes–themes that reverberate through human consciousness like recurring dreams. Themes of masculinity, femininity, and androgyny, as well as personas like the warrior, wise woman and gender-variant healer, come up over and over in the human experience. For this reason they often carry great import for individuals and communities. Like other deeply rooted themes such as love and home, they have an aspect of universality (or how would we even talk about them?) and an aspect of extreme specificity (or we would all be the same, which we most certainly are not).
We could think of these themes like melodies we find ourselves humming. We would then be free to allude, borrow, experiment, improvise. We sing in voices that are all our own–yet we also sing in the musical traditions in which we’ve been steeped. Our compositions are therefore never total mimicry, nor are they totally new creations ex nihilo. We sing to create within limitations, as much to follow rules as to break them. Most importantly, we sing to hear, and to be heard.
Coming up: I tackle the rest of genderneutral’s question. How can we include all trans people in our understanding of gender? How can we view trans people as interconnected within the larger human story of gender?
UPDATE (7/10/14, 5:00pm): Several readers have let me know that I over-stepped by wading into this debate as a binary trans person. Thanks for giving me this feedback and for doing it so politely. I apologize and I can see how I distracted from a necessary in-group conversation. If I could do it over, I’d address the topic in a very different way, sticking to my own experiences and making it more clear that it’s up to nonbinary folks to decide this one. My bad. Thanks to everyone who’s shared their thoughts so far.
Topherbigelow makes the case for adding N for nonbinary to the LGBTQ+ acronym:
If the LGBT community would like to stand strong in its support of all sexual and gender “minorities,” we should add an “N” to accommodate our nonbinary members. The constant pissing contests of who’s more trans needs to stop and if there is an entirely separate letter and a new vocabulary, maybe it will.
If you don’t identify with your sex assigned at birth, you are a nonconformer. If you identify with another binary gender, you’re trans. If you don’t, you’re nonbinary. It’s really not hard. Stop fighting each other and start fighting for what we all need.
First, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment in that last sentence. “Trans enough” policing is a damaging waste of time. Instead, we should work together to improve conditions for all of us.
I’ve never heard this proposal before, and it really got me thinking. Thanks to topherbigelow for raising this interesting question. I want to make clear that I am not trying to refute anything he said, just to explain my own current thinking on the matter.
At this time, I am not in favor of adding N for nonbinary to the acronym. I am not dead-set against it; as a transsexual man, I will defer to my nonbinary comrades if a consensus emerges in favor of the N. Nonbinary readers are encouraged to weigh-in in the comments. For now, I’d like to share a preliminary assessment of the idea. I lay out my concerns with making the acronym any longer, and then discuss some reasons I think nonbinary folks belong within the trans umbrella.
First, an argument from parsimony. The LGBTQ+ acronym has already been elaborated to the point that very few people are going to use or understand its longer incarnations. For example, topherbigelow uses the acronym LGBTQQIAAHP (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies, HIV infected/affected, poly/pansexual). Wow! I admire the inclusiveness of this acronym. I also worry it’s too much of a mouthful to be of much use, especially offline. I have been an activist for gender and sexual minorities for over a decade, I read LGBTQ+ blogs every day, and I had never heard this version. Off the top of my head, the longest version I know is LGBTQQIA (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual)–already too long for many situations.
I think it’s fair to say that many people, including many who are gender and/or sexual minorities themselves, are not going to understand this terminology. We have to strike a balance between explicitly including different parts of our community and using terms that will be understood by as many as possible. Language is useful only to the extent it allows us to communicate. Since nonbinary people are already included in the term transgender–though it’s true that not enough people realize this–I wonder how much is to be gained by adding yet another letter.
That doesn’t mean we should do nothing, however. I think we should continue to work for greater visibility of nonbinary people within the trans umbrella. Binary and nonbinary trans people do have our differences–but we also have so many similarities. We face stigma and ignorance that is heavily overlapping; the same laws bar (or fail to bar) discrimination as against us; we struggle with shame and misgendered childhoods.
Many of the differences–pronoun preference, medical care needs, legal document changes–exist within as well as between these groups. For example, hormone therapy is associated with trans men and women. I do think it’s probably true that trans men and women are more likely to seek out hormone therapy than nonbinary folks. However, there are some trans men and women who don’t take hormones, and some nonbinary people who do.
The variation within groups goes even deeper. How much do an 18-year-old queer, radical trans woman of color and a 50-year-old straight, white, Republican man of transsexual history really have in common? Just one thing: their sex assignment at birth differs from their real gender. That’s something they both have in common with any nonbinary person, too. Because of the tyrannical sex/gender regime, that one thing turns out to be really damn important.
In my time in our communities, I have learned so much from nonbinary people who have courageously spoken up in person, in print and online. I was often there to hear them precisely because we had connected through the label “transgender.” Though the mainstream conception of trans people is still basically transsexual men and women, I see much potential for further acknowledgement of our nonbinary kin, and I think a lot of good would come from that. I worry that adding an N would cause nonbinary people to get booted out of a community whether they have just started to make a real home.
Again, though, I am aware I say this as a trans man. It may well be that my privilege is hiding the true depth of the rifts among gender-nonconforming people.
What’s your take on all this? Nonbinary folks are especially encouraged to comment.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.