I’m not a sidhe, I’m a dragon

I’ve been out of sorts since last Thursday. Mom and I went to visit with her brother’s family for the weekend; overall we had a very good time, but it took a lot out of me. We went to my cousin’s baby shower, a giant social gathering where I didn’t know most of the people and there weren’t assigned seats. I felt myself freezing up and becoming overwhelmed by anxiety. Somehow the anxiety took me by surprise; I guess since the depression is (mostly) better, I expected to feel less anxious, too? Thank goodness my (other) cousin introduced me to people. I got to meet 2 musicians and talk with them about music therapy – that was a lot of fun!

For some reason people – especially my mom – feel the need to talk about me in third person when I’m literally right next to them, even if they’re talking to me. I don’t get it. All I heard all weekend was “she,” a wall of it with razor sharp spikes flying right at me. When Mom and her siblings talk, there is no getting a word in… and I really really hate interrupting people to correct them on their pronoun use. I’ve learned that people don’t like being corrected on how they’re saying something, they want you to hear what they’re saying and respond appropriately. That makes it harder for me to stand up for myself.

illustrations of a masculine-presenting person being crowded out by feminine words (e.g.

cartoon by sleepyllama

If I thought I felt nervous at the baby shower, it was nothing compared to how anxious I get about trying to tell people I’m non-binary and “prefer” gender-neutral pronouns: they/them/their or ze/zir. My throat tightens and my jaw clenches, making it physically impossible for me to say anything.

Worse, there’s no opening for it in most social situations. I mean I guess when people ask me how I’ve been I can say, “Great! I’ve come to accept my non-binary gender identity and I’ve decided that I want people to refer to me using gender-neutral pronouns.” But other than that, it’s hard to figure out when and how to bring it up. People are used to assuming – from their perspective, “knowing” – a person’s gender based on appearance. It’s not something people usually talk about.

I wish I could have this conversation!
(image by Tony Toggles)

Between the baby shower and another cousin bringing his 2 young children to visit, there were a lot of interactions going on based on binary gender. Fox wasn’t invited to the baby shower, but people were surprised he didn’t come to hang out at the house with the other men. (If I’d wanted to hang out at the house with the men, there probably would have been some confusion and “encouragement” to go to the shower.) When we got back, the women assured the men that the “games” we played at the shower “wouldn’t have interested” them. I think guys are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves how interested they are in unscrambling words, thinking about things related to babies, and watching people open presents.

We don’t know what sex organs the new baby has yet, so there’s talk about “whether it’ll be a boy or a girl” and “if it’s a boy this; if it’s a girl, that.”

2-tier cake with the text

found on pinterest

Referring to my cousin’s two-year-old child, my aunt actually said, “He’s a boy, so he’ll need to toughen up.” We have no way of knowing how this child will identify by the time he’s an adult. Regardless of whether he’s a boy/man, gender norms that require him to be “tough” only hurt him and increase the likelihood that he might hurt others.

My aunt, uncle, cousins, and mom are awesome, friendly, kindhearted people. I went out of my way to spend a weekend with them – clearly I must like them, at least a little bit. Yet I didn’t feel safe asking them to change the ways in which they think and talk about me, even – especially! – when it was causing me emotional distress. My “coming out” would be too at odds with everything they were expressing about gender.

I’m not sure how I expected them to respond. Asking me to explain myself? Reasserting the gender they’ve assigned to me? I don’t think they’d be physically violent – but maybe annoyed? Saying they don’t understand? I tend to expect people to say they’ll try to use my pronouns but they might make mistakes; what’s important to me is that they’re willing to try.

image by Solomon Fletcher – shared here because it’s true of me, too

I tried to talk to Mom about it. I asked her to use my name instead of pronouns, as a sort of compromise. She said “I’m just talking, I’m not really thinking about it.” That hurt a lot, because to me it felt like she was prioritizing her ability to “babble” (her word, not mine) over respecting me as a person.

Then on Tuesday she started talking to me when she knew I had to leave for an appointment, wouldn’t leave me alone so I could finish getting ready, and almost made me late! I was furious with her and did my best to avoid her for over a day. I’ve been shutting out the world, feeling very grumpy. I felt so bad I couldn’t even go to a meeting for trans* people of all genders (at which I wouldn’t have known anyone). There were multiple factors (including concern about my safety) but the bottom line was I didn’t want to meet new people and otherwise be social, nor did I have the energy. I’m very disappointed because I really need a community right now and I’d rescheduled my music therapy session so I could go.

On Thursday Mom lured me out of hiding by offering me food. We talked a bit and agreed to respect each other more. She asked me to make more of an effort to respond when she tries to talk to me and to show appreciation for the help she gives me. And I was able to tell her that I need her not only to respect and use my pronouns, but to be an ally. During the conversation she talked to me about me (?) and used the wrong pronoun no less than 5 times.

“Ze,” I corrected, and she apologized.

Transgender Tuesday: Pronouns

I recently discovered Nonbinary.org, a site with tons of great information about non-binary gender. Allowing me to explore the Wiki is like letting a group of kids loose in the biggest, bestest playground ever! (Well… I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, when we’d run and climb all over the place.) There are over 14 different non-binary gender identities; the one I identify with most, genderfluid, has at least 75 variations. (On this particular site; most likely not an exhaustive list.) I love reading about various ways people experience and describe their genders! I find it fascinating and refreshing.

One page I find particularly useful is “Pronouns.” It includes a list of 80 different English pronoun sets, most of which are gender-neutral. “They” has been used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun to refer to people for a thousand years. People have been creating and proposing other gender-neutral pronoun sets since the mid-1800s. Many of the pronouns were originally created by authors for use in their stories set in societies with more or less than two genders. IMHO the list is worth perusing just to discover new worlds to explore books to read.

The page also has information about how to choose pronouns for oneself and announce them to others. It’s not easy for me to request that people use my pronouns and to correct them when they misgender me, so this is a valuable resource. I might look into acquiring a pronoun badge.

I’ve been using ze, zir, zir, zirs, zirself – as in: “I love hanging out with Ziya. Ze always laughs at my jokes. I can’t wait to see zir. Wow, zir hair has gotten long! It’s okay that I forgot my umbrella, I can duck under zirs. Sometimes my dear friend can be too hard on zirself.”

Interestingly enough, that exact combination isn’t listed on the site. If I want to conform (I don’t have to) I can simply change “ze” to “zie.” (“Zie always laughs at my jokes.”)

Or, I can switch to ze, em, zeir, zeirs, zeirself – “I love hanging out with Ziya. Ze always laughs at my jokes. I can’t wait to see em. Wow, zeir hair has gotten long! It’s okay that I forgot my umbrella, I can duck under zeirs. Sometimes my dear friend can be too hard on zeirself.”

I’m not too crazy about that. Sure, I get to keep “ze,” but I think I prefer “zir” to “zeir.” Maybe “zier” would work (initially a typo, but hey, why not!?) – except that it’s a name. I like the addition of “em,” but in that mix it seems to come out of nowhere. I have an irrational hatred of “zem.” There are other sets that use the “em” sound though, such as:

  • ey, em, eir, eirs, emself
  • le, lem, les, les, lesself
  • ne, nem, nir, nirs, nemself
  • they, them, their, theirs, themself

There’s also “per” – per, per, per, pers, perself. I love this set because it’s simple and refers to the word “person,” which is what I want to be identified as. I’m not a man or a woman, I’m a person. Whatever group you’re talking about isn’t (only) comprised of men and women, it’s a group of people! We have such nice, inclusive language – “person” and “people” – why oh why don’t officials use it?

Finally (on my short list) there’s id, idre, ids, ids, idself – “I love hanging out with Ziya. Id always laughs at my jokes. I can’t wait to see idre. Wow, ids hair has gotten long! It’s okay that I forgot my umbrella, I can duck under ids. Sometimes my dear friend can be too hard on idself.”

I’m madly in love with “idre,” but I can take or leave the rest. I prefer “ze” and “zir.” Maybe “Idre” would make a good name? I don’t know.

The point is, we can do this!!! There’s a very long list of pronouns anyone can choose from – and I imagine additions would be more than welcome. I’m also pretty sure the pronoun police won’t come after us if we mix and match. Hopefully. Don’t quote me on it; if they do come after you I’m not liable.

If you want to try out different pronoun sets, check out the Pronoun Dressing Room. You can select a set from the “Pronoun Closet” and edit individual pronouns (e.g. changing “zie” to “ze”). Your chosen name, pronouns, and preferred noun (e.g. “person”) are then inserted seamlessly into select passages from classic fiction, which you can read. It helped me come up with a custom set that fits perfectly – at least with my current mood…

Transgender (Tues)Day of Visibility

How cool is it that the International Transgender Day of Visibility falls on a Tuesday the year I start a “Transgender Tuesday” feature? Ironically, I was going to ignore the feature today – you’ll see why tomorrow – but then I saw the following posts:

Happy Transgender Day of Visibility | Jude’s FtM Journey

Transgender Day of Visibility | Because I’m Fabulous

I may want to be invisible today, but I’m happy to help other trans* people be more visible. Perhaps reading others’ stories will provide the inspiration I need to come out of the closet and breathe.

Human Rights Campaign Transgender Visibility Guide

Transgender Tuesday: Closets

content note: brief description of thoughts about self-harm

I’ve been very depressed lately. I was woken up on Wednesday by the phone call informing me that my request for periodontal treatment had been denied. When I called to make my appeal, the person neutralized my language so “I’m in a lot of pain” became “I’m experiencing discomfort.” I felt powerless to advocate for myself because no matter what I said, she could submit whatever she wanted on my behalf and I wouldn’t even know. (I hadn’t yet received the letter with information on submitting a written appeal.)

I walked into Wakana’s office later that day, outwardly very calm and personable – but inwardly ready to explode! I told her I was scared of how calm I was and urged her to insert earplugs before allowing me to play on the drums and cymbal. We were all set up to make music when I told her I felt like cutting myself because I didn’t know how else to express the anger: I couldn’t kill people, I’d regret breaking things, but my skin would eventually heal. I said I wanted to get a tattoo in the spot I always think about cutting on; then I’d be less tempted to cut because I wouldn’t want to risk messing up the tattoo.

She said she thought I needed to make a statement… and that my feelings had little to do with my tooth. We talked for a while before I expressed my (ongoing) frustration with Mom: “I’m trying to have a healthy relationship with her, but she keeps hurting me! Even when I think things are going well between us, she always says or does something to hurt me. I can’t take it anymore!”

She told me, “Saying ‘can’t’ makes you a victim. Try saying ‘I won’t take it anymore.'” I tried it and felt a lot more powerful. Whether I allow my mother to continue abusing me is a choice; I can continue to take it – but I am unwilling to accept the consequences of that choice. I don’t want to take it anymore, so I won’t.

The consequences of that choice are terrifying. I was finally straightforward and honest with her on Sunday; I told her how I feel when she goes on and on talking about trivial matters, doesn’t listen to me, asks me to do random things for her she could do on her own, dumps all her emotional garbage on me, doesn’t respect my boundaries when I try to end a conversation. (Well, maybe I didn’t talk about all those things. I wanted to list my major complaints here.) She actually said, “So I’m a horrible person!” and hung up on me! Then she called me back. I told her she’s a wonderful person, and I want her to stop doing all this other crap so I can spend time with who she is beneath it all. She said I was wrong for telling her she could use the computer at the library (hers had just died), she didn’t raise me to be like that, if it were anybody else I’d be falling over myself to help them, etc. She said she thinks the problem is she’s doing too much for me and she’s going to cut me off and I have to pay rent and…

I realized why I let her do all this shit to me. If I don’t, I’m a horrible person and I might end up homeless, without a car, unable to afford therapy, etc. The next thing I knew, Fox had found a new computer for her online and I had agreed to accompany her when she went to the store to buy it. I spent the whole day with her yesterday, first getting the computer, then running a couple errands she hadn’t told me about before I was trapped in her car, then helping her set up the new computer. I was tired, cranky, and starving, but I remained pleasant and even got Fox to help after a long day at work. When it was time to go our separate ways, I said “I love you. Good night” and gave her a hug. She said “Good nigh… we need to…” I repeated “I love you, good night.” and left. Boundaries.

Today I woke up hating the world. I always wake up hating the world. I’m tired of waking up hating the world. I couldn’t get myself to go to the LGBTQIA+ groups on campus. I was too focused on my fight for something remotely resembling adequate healthcare. I’m too busy training to be my own lawyer to get dressed, drive places, talk to other human beings, eat, or do schoolwork.

I hate it. All of it. I want to see it burn.

The above has nothing to do with being transgender, except that I was misgendered in every single interaction that involved another person. (Except Fox and Banji.) At my piano midterm on Thursday I had 3 people using the wrong pronouns to talk what a pleasure I am to work with. (if only that had helped my grade!) Even in interactions that didn’t involve another person, I was asking an imaginary witness questions that required me to describe myself as the gender I was assigned at birth. It’s inescapable!

People don’t seem to see or hear me, they see and hear whatever fits with their expectations (or what’s convenient for them).

The Whole Truth of Coming Out of the Closet – In Comic Form explains the concept of closets quite well: “Closets are created by social and structural expectations about who we are supposed to be, and the consequences of defying that.” It shows how coming out is not a straightforward process, nor is it the same for everyone. There are some links after the comic that are great further reading.

It inspired me to draw this:

putting someone in the gender closet based on secondary sex characteristics - original artwork by Ziya

putting someone in the gender closet based on their appearance

The most important point – from my perspective at least – is that people don’t go into the closet. We don’t start out with everyone seeing and accepting us as we are, then decide (for whatever reason) that we’re going to hide some aspect(s) of our identity/identities. Other people build closets around us.

Sometimes even after we’ve come out to them.

Transgender Tuesday: Links and Spoons

Last week I shared some of the uncertainty I’ve been feeling about my transgender, non-binary gender identity. I’ve read a couple of articles since then that I think everyone should read. They’ve helped me feel more confident that I am what I say I am, regardless of how others treat me or what they might want me to do.

I’ve experienced some harmful effects of the 10 Myths About Non-Binary People It’s Time to Unlearn, especially the myth that we don’t exist. People have taken my gender less seriously or come up with their own explanations of it under the false belief (#2) that I’m “just” confused: for me it’s not so much confusion as that gender is complicated and I’m still working things out; even if I were confused that doesn’t justify disrespect.

Mom hits me with #3 “You are a new concept” and #7 “Your pronouns are ridiculous” all the effin time. She’d try and convince me that her generation is completely incapable of learning new things or adapting to new social realities. That seems highly unlikely to me, considering how much has changed in the past 60 years. The last time she told me using my pronouns is difficult, I told her I understand and just need her to try. Things seemed to be going well… until much later when she made a scathing remark about me spending money on therapy. (You know, the thing that’s slowly freeing me from generations of emotional neglect and abuse.) She’s since apologized but… It’s a process. I just keep telling myself it’s a process.

Sam Dylan Finch’s piece, 8 Things Non-Binary People Need to Know, was exactly what I needed to read; I could swear he wrote it in response to my post from last week! I wanted to quote and/or expand on specific parts that I can relate to strongly, really needed to hear, or find particularly meaningful… but if I did that I’d end up re-posting the whole thing!

I think it’s important that he included #4 “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Mental health is a very important issue for everyone and especially non-binary people. Talking to Wakana about my gender identity can be difficult (and frustrating) but I think, in time, it will help me benefit so much more from therapy.

Speaking of mental health, I’m learning to have much better respect for and adapt to my need to budget emotional energy, or spoons. I’ve been feeling very anxious about my piano midterm on Thursday (2 days! AAAAHHHH!!!). I have plans to meet with a classmate today and practice interventions, I have to pick Mom up from the airport this evening, and there are the 2 LGBTQ+ groups I’ve been meaning to join… Long before I went to bed last night, I was already feeling the all-too-familiar dread.

This morning I realized it’s going to be a very busy day and I probably shouldn’t try to do everything I had planned. I practiced some self management: I wrote down everything I have planned for today and prioritized. The meeting with my classmate and picking Mom up have to happen. I should try to catch my instructor during office hours and practice piano some more tonight.

The LGBTQ+ groups are technically optional. I was feeling very anxious about the one I haven’t been to at all yet because it’s brand new and it would be the first thing in my day. In the past I’ve found myself unable to get ready on time for such things, getting extremely stressed out, and not going after all. I just can’t afford to drop that many spoons. So, today, I decided to skip the stress and anxiety and wait to join that new group next week, when (hopefully) I’ll have less important and emotionally-charged things to worry about.

I really hate having to make that decision, especially since it interferes with my goals of being part of the LGBTQ+ community, getting support, and practicing being part of a group. But today it’s the best decision for me. I can use the anger it generates as energy to help myself get through this busy day.

The second group meets at a much better time for me and I feel more comfortable going to it. I’ve already had awkward one-on-one meetings with the facilitator; if there are other people there, it will probably be much better. Knowing that’s a possibility – I’m still free to make the choice that’s best for me when the time comes – feels good.

Transgender Tuesday

gender

Lately I’ve been questioning my gender identity, especially since I wrote about it the other day. The temptation to refer to myself as the gender I was assigned at birth, to allow others to use the labels and pronouns they attribute to me, and to give up on expressing my queer gender identity has been very strong. It doesn’t help that I’m invited to a gender-exclusive social gathering on Fox’s side of the family; just the fact that I’m considering attending raises the question of whether I have the right to call myself transgender.

There’s a voice in my head telling me I should “come out” already – to disclose which gender I was assigned at birth – but this blog is the one place where I’m relatively free from the social effects of gender. I feel like people relate to me as just another person, who doesn’t need to be labeled and treated a certain way based on secondary sex characteristics – which is exactly what I think everyday life should be like. If I don’t want to allow that in the one place where I have some control over such things, why should I do it anywhere?

Mostly it’s because I want to be accepted, to belong. I’m tired of feeling like an outsider. I expect that people are more likely to accept me if I conform to their gender expectations; identifying with the gender they insist on perceiving me as would make that so much easier!

genbenjan

But then I look back at some things I posted over 2 years ago, and realize that the ways I think about my gender haven’t changed:

For years I have felt my sense of my own gender change throughout a given day, depending on my current situation. … I think these “feelings” about my gender are a reflection of cultural understandings of masculinity and femininity that I have internalized. … In social situations I might adopt the gender role and expression most appropriate to fit in, though I find that difficult and uncomfortable when taken to either extreme. Alternatively, I might take on the gender role needed to balance what everyone else is doing: …

I am uncomfortable being referred to as the gender I was assigned at birth and that people still assign to me based on physical appearance, especially when that influences my behavior and/or how they treat me. It can have a negative effect on our ability to experience a genuine human connection as equals. I am also annoyed with having to disclose my “sex” in order to do register for services online or send emails to representatives in government. Why should I have to disclose information about my anatomy in order to express my opinions or use services on a website? (or do pretty much anything else?)

On being gender queer:

The biggest thing I’m struggling with is determining the extent to which I want to assert my gender queer identity. … To some extent I do identify with the gender I was assigned at birth because it corresponds to my biology. I love my body and don’t want to change it – most of the time. (If I could do so reversibly I totally would!) In some ways I can relate more strongly to others who share my biology than to those who do not, even if our gender identity and expression are not always the same. … I don’t want to be put in a box. … I don’t want to be socially and otherwise separated from people I can sometimes relate to better just because we have different biological “equipment.” … I’m trying to decide the extent to which I want to change my attire and/or hairstyle to be more androgynous (or, make them adaptable to the gender I want to express on a given day). … It’s so hard and I feel so alone. I need to find community.

All of the GenderQueer Confessions I linked to are still relevant.

What it all basically comes down to is: “My body is just a body. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

So far I’ve found this blog to be incredibly helpful for working through my mental health issues. I’m hopeful that it can be just as helpful for dealing with gender issues …

“Transgender Tuesdays” has a nice ring to it. The LGBTQ+ groups I’ve been meaning to join (since the beginning of the semester) meet on Tuesdays. So why not make a feature? I’ll share what I learn about being transgender, any resources I find, and my thoughts/experiences. I’ll also include others’ perspectives when I can; I’d love to have guest bloggers!

GenderQueer Confessions: I can relate to so many of these!

I was looking for inspiration for a “Transgender Tuesday” post (explanation here) when I found GenderQueer Confessions on Tumblr. It’s a safe place for people anywhere on the gender spectrum to post their own thoughts, feelings, observations, or experiences related to gender, as well as to ask questions about being gender queer. I don’t necessarily relate to or agree with every post, but I feel a great deal of catharsis as I read several of them. I like to look at the Archive to see more posts at once and more easily find the ones that speak to me. It’s confirmation that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

The biggest thing I’m struggling with is determining the extent to which I want to assert my gender queer identity. I’m pretty sure I’m not cis because I felt extremely uncomfortable trying to explore that possibility in writing on this blog. It would require me to disclose my sex, something that influences how other people identify and interact with me and expect me to act in my everyday life – the very effect I want to escape here. But everyone, from strangers to my closest loved ones, seem to assume that I am cis.

To some extent I do identify with the gender I was assigned at birth because it corresponds to my biology. I love my body and don’t want to change it – most of the time. (If I could do so reversibly I totally would!) In some ways I can relate more strongly to others who share my biology than to those who do not, even if our gender identity and expression are not always the same. We have shared experiences we can’t really explain to people who don’t have our “equipment.” We also share in our inability to fully understand certain experiences of people with “equipment” we don’t have. We are treated the same way by society. We have the same political interests much of the time.

I just find that the Word we use to refer to ourselves is not adequate to express Who I Am, and sometimes it feels downright wrong. I want something broader. Something that “reaches across the aisle,” something I can define (and redefine at whim). I don’t want to be put in a box. I don’t want to imply that I hold values that seem alien to me. I don’t want to be socially and otherwise separated from people I can sometimes relate to better just because we have different biological “equipment.” I want the freedom to be myself, without others’ expectations limiting my self-expression.

So far, I am gender non-conforming in appearance through things I don’t do to express the gender I was assigned at birth. My clothes and hair do tend to conform, though not to an extreme. I’m trying to decide the extent to which I want to change my attire and/or hairstyle to be more androgynous (or, make them adaptable to the gender I want to express on a given day). Attire seems a less threatening thing to change, though I’m concerned about what people might think if they catch me buying non-gender-conforming clothes. Changing my hairstyle feels more threatening because it would be harder to reverse and I can’t really know how it will look until I’ve already invested time, energy, and money into it. I’m concerned about giving up something that has value to me if I change my hairstyle, even if my current style tends to contribute to people misgendering me.

My mannerisms, body language, social responses, etc. vary along the gender spectrum depending on my mood, the situation I’m in, and the cues I’m getting from other people. My mom and my friends seem to have picked up on and are accepting of this, even though they insist on using cisgendered pronouns and relational terms. Sometimes it bothers me more than others, but there’s almost always a feeling like there’s something a bit … off. It’s a better description or referent than the binary alternative, but it’s never right.

Should I just be happy with what I have? Or should I make them learn a whole new set of pronouns (ze, zir, hir) and adapt to using them to refer to me? How will this affect my relationships with other members of my families? (my family of origin, Banji’s family, and Fox’s family) Is it even truly what I want?

As a feminist, would it be better to identify as the gender I was assigned at birth and work within the binary to shatter stereotypes, expand the range of expression and behavior considered acceptable for both genders, and end inequality?

Or do I help that cause more by living and modeling an alternative – being a person who is not defined by social expectations based on hir genitals and secondary sex characteristics? Does it change anything if I refuse to be placed in a box, even if it is only for labeling purposes?

It’s so hard and I feel so alone. I need to find community. And as I struggle, I can hold on to the confessions that let me know that somewhere, there is someone else thinking, feeling, and experiencing the same things:

Is there anyone else who can relate to these things? How have you coped?
I could really use some advice.