Every athlete deserves the chance to compete, regardless of their gender.
Every athlete deserves the chance to compete, regardless of their gender.
I stumbled across this ad on Instagram yesterday for a dating site called LumberMatch, whose header on its website actually says: “Men all over the world are growing their beards, getting tattoos and styling their hair. There are people all over the world who love guys like us.”
First of all, it sounds pretty stupid if you ask me. Men are growing beards, getting tattoos, and styling their hair? Um, yes? Because men are people and people do these things? Such a weird thing to say, isn’t it? Anyway, if you can get past the idiocy of the premise of LumberMatch, you might be lucky enough to see an ad like this.
Yup, this is totally true. Some of us shave both, actually. But let’s make it clear– I don’t shave ALL of my face. Just around the edges of my totally badass trans beard, to keep it neat.
Yeah, I have a badass beard. I also have a vagina. I’m transgender. My anatomy does not dictate my gender, and my beard is just as real as a cisgender man’s beard. In fact, my beard is better than a lot of cis guys’ beards. But really, who is keeping score?
This ad is offensive for a lot of reasons, but I’m going to stick with the first 3 that come to mind:
1. It’s ignorant of and offensive to trans men. It implies that you can’t have both a manly beard and a vagina. This is simply untrue, as me and the multitude of other beardy trans guys evidence.
2. It’s misogynist. The tone of this ad is very woman-hating or at least woman-shaming, implying that vaginas are the antithesis of what beards represent. Beards are rugged and tough. Vaginas belong where beards don’t– on the not-rugged, not-tough.
I’m not sure that the folks who created this ad have ever come in close contact with a vagina, because if they had they would know that the vagina is one of the toughest, strongest, most resilient things on the planet. Vaginas have withstood intrusion and examination and attempted control and hate and scrutiny for a few millennia and still keep going. They are strong. They are wonderful. They are tough with or without beards. They are quietly powerful.
3. It shames men for things they can’t control. Beards are a product of genetics, plain and simple. Beards spring from DNA, not a hidden hot spring of masculinity. Plenty non-masculine folks can grow amazing beards, while many very rugged guys have little to no facial hair at all.
Your ability to grow a beard says nothing about your character, your strength, or your ability to kill a bear with your own hands. It means you have DNA. Congratulations. Thinking that something so arbitrary makes one manly is silly– that would be like saying that someone with Hitchhiker’s Thumb is somehow more naturally masculine. It’s not, though it makes it that much easier for apeish, misogynistic a-holes to stick it up their own butts.
Seriously, though. Stop equating facial hair to superiority and vaginas to weakness. We can do better.
Hello friends. Happy October!
For those of you who don’t know me personally, or semi-well, let me tell you a little factoid about me: I LOVE OCTOBER.
October is a great month. All of the following contribute to why I think it’s the best month of the year:
I love October because Halloween, and I love Halloween because costumes. I delight in planning and executing my costume each year and anyone who knows me can attest that I tend to have some pretty good ones. So imagine how bummed I was when I stumbled upon this photo in my Facebook feed today.
UGH. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY.
This is super not okay. Really, it’s not. Dressing up as pre-transition or post-transition Caitlyn Jenner (not as Bruce, because it’s pretty rude to Dead Name people) is not okay. Spirit Halloween store (where the photo was taken) cannot try to make this okay by calling it “Celebrating an American Icon.” Caitlyn Jenner is not one of the founding fathers or Abraham Lincoln, or any other “American Icon” folks dress up as for Halloween. She is a living breathing person. She is a person who has had the hefty job of coming out as transgender under the scrutiny of the free internet-reality tv-loving world.
Yes, she is brave. Yes, she could be considered a hero. But you know and I know that is not what this Halloween costume is about. If that were true, we would have Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman costumes for sale to the mainstream public, too. No, this is about us collectively mocking Caitlyn by empowering cisgender men to emulate her. We, as Americans, are so threatened by Caitlyn’s transition and our collective masculinity is so fragile that we must bring her down a notch in order to put ourselves at ease. We must remind ourselves that she’s really just a man in a dress, right? We definitely must make her un-sexy– she was getting to hot for comfort.
And maybe, just maybe, on some level, it makes those who choose to don that costume feel a little bit softer, a little bit sexier. If we pretend we are making fun of her, then it’s okay to be feminine and pretty, and we can have our cake and eat it too. I get it– sometimes doing something different, something forbidden is hot. But you know what? If that’s it, then just buy any other female-designed costume in Spirit and get your kicks. Be a sexy nurse. Be a Bunny. Be Catwoman (boy you know you want to put on that jumpsuit).
Don’t pretend to be a real, live trans person who has gone to great lengths to become her true self and to not be exactly what you want her to be, which is just some guy in a dress. She is a human– even if she doesn’t care personally, there are trans kids out there watching you. They see you laughing at her. They internalize it. It hurts them. Bullying is deadly for trans kids. Suicide is common. This normalizes mocking and joking about trans people. It normalizes cruel jokes. This. Is. Not. Okay.
If you know anyone contemplating this choice, please educate them. We must do better, and if everyone who knows better speaks up, we will. Be excellent to each other.
I saw a post on Buzzfeed the other day about gendered products and how they show the fragility of masculinity. It was hilarious. Really, if you haven’t seen it, you should see it. GO HERE.
It’s important to laugh, but also to recognize that these ridiculous things make money. Believe me, companies wouldn’t do it if it didn’t make money. Which means even though we laugh, we are buying it. If you have kids and you’ve ever wondered where they get some of their ideas about gender (“because I would never tell my child that only boys/girls could do ____”), looking at these products might be a reminder of how gendered the world is and how much you can’t filter that out.
But you know what? I have found myself falling for it too. I bought lotion the other day, I bought the “MAN” lotion. I tell myself it’s because it doesn’t smell flowery, or like a grandma. At least the “MAN” lotion smells better. But even if it was scent-free, I probably would still pick the man lotion. Ugh. I went to visit friends recently and they confessed they spent 5 minutes trying to decide which color shower pouf to buy for me because they didn’t want to give me something “girly.” And then we laughed another 5 minutes about how ridiculous that is.
The fragility of masculinity is why, I think, people are so afraid of trans folks. Trans women prove that masculinity can be undone. It is possible to actually shed yourself of all that makes up “manhood” and to become the ultimate picture of femininity. See, e.g. Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, Chloie Jonsson. Is it because there’s proof that masculinity is not unassailable? And that if someone like a CHAMPION ATHLETE AND OLYMPIAN could embrace and embody their femininity, then it could happen to anyone?
And to be sure, trans men get their share of it too. I get SO MANY comments from cisgender men like “OMG your beard is even better than mine…” or “Wow, you can bench press more than me….” said in a tone of voice that indicates the speaker is realizing that masculinity is not something that is only inborn. It can be attained. It can be chosen– and it can be disregarded. How incredibly scary that must be for someone who is used to just thinking that they have some kind of natural advantage because they’re born male.
I mean, for some dudes, their maleness is the only real thing they have. Our entire culture is built on this idea that biologically, males are naturally superior to females. When we start shaking that idea down, pointing to people who don’t want it, don’t need it, or gained it through taking some generic hormones, and those people who have nothing else to cling to, they can’t handle it. If they recognize that even that could be broken, undone, or simply put on, then they have nothing.
Truth is, all those products pictured in the Buzzfeed article showed us just how delicate masculinity is and has been for a really long time.
Interestingly enough, chemically, masculinity is VERY fragile. I went to a 1/2 dose of testosterone for 3 weeks, and in that time I lost strength, became tired and grumpy, and generally felt pretty terrible. Recently went back to old dose and feel 100000000000000 times better almost immediately.
See? It’s fragile. Let’s break that shit to pieces and recognize that it all means nothing and definitely doesn’t make anyone superior.
For me, this is a hard question that could have real potential negative ramifications.
If I refer to myself in the past as a “little boy,” and then people find out later that I am trans, I run the risk of looking like an outright liar at worst, and perhaps disingenuous at best. I would hate for folks to think that I am purposely recasting myself in a way that might make me seem untrustworthy or, even worse, fake. I pride myself on being authentic in my life and I don’t want people to think my transition and my trans identity is not authentic.
There is also the concern for safety. If I refer to my past “when I was a little girl,” I out myself in a way that opens me up to attack, whether physical or otherwise.
This also would feel perhaps disingenuous. Truthfully, I never made a very good “little girl,” as defined by our culture. I never got that mold. And I am not just talking about wearing dresses or playing with dolls (nope to both). I never really identified with other girls, either. I tried to learn how to talk like a girl, care about girl things, get along with other girls, and I never did a good job. I never felt like I fit in, never really understood what the big fuss was ever about.
And this is not just about social gender roles and stereotyping. Even when I hung out with very non-normative women and girls, progressive women and girls, radical women and girls– I still felt like an other. I have learned to love women, and I have many women in my life that I love, but I was never one of them.
When I refer to my pre-transition life, especially my life as a child, I usually call myself a “kid.” You know, “When I was a kid, I loved to play four square with my friends…”
That sentence loses nothing by saying kid instead of girl. I was a kid. My gender assigned at birth changes nothing about the significance that four square played in my life.
But there are other situations that kid is insufficient for. When I talk about my 13th birthday party, when I invited over my “best girl friends” for a 1970s-themed slumber party, where we made tie dye t-shirts and watched “Now and Then,” that story might lose something if I say I had a bunch of other kids staying the night. There is something about that experience that I think cannot be explained by taking the “girl” element away, despite all my feelings about not really ever fitting in.
There’s also the aspect of my female socialization that, although perhaps ill-fitting at times, has been an unshakeable part of my personality that will never be undone. Being raised and socialized female taught me a compassion for other people that I doubt I would have otherwise. It taught me how to listen when others talk, how to help those in need, how to put other people’s needs above my own, and other things I probably won’t uncover for years.
I may not have fit in with my female past identity, but the lessons that socialization taught me will remain with me forever. I am still trying to figure out how to honor my past and the gifts it gave me, while taking time to de-emphasize gender in those moments when gender is irrelevant to what I am trying to convey. It’s an art, I suppose, and I am learning as I go.
If you are a friend or family member of a trans person, do try to be sensitive to talking about someone’s past. Try using gender neutral statements like “when you were little,” “when you were a child,” etc. Let the person define how they will discuss their childhood– and don’t be offended if they say they would prefer not to talk about it. Childhood can be very traumatic for trans people and if they haven’t yet figured out how to talk about it, they might just want to skip it altogether.
Remember, be most excellent to each other.
About two weeks ago, the State of California, through a LA Superior Court judge, granted my legal name and gender change. I was very emotional when I finally got my hands on the certified copy of the court order. This was what I had been waiting for.
I filed my petition for a name and gender change back in February. I would have done it sooner, but the filing fee in LA Superior Court is $435, and I was still catching up on bills and debts following my graduation from law school and the following 5 months without income.
So I filed in February. All the websites I had read on the subject of filing a name and gender change made it clear that the petition would take about 6 weeks to process and grant. The state would have to clear my paperwork, and then run a criminal background check to make sure I wasn’t changing my name and gender to run away from any parole duties or anything like that. So I filed my papers and paid my fee.
The nice clerk at the name change calendar took my paperwork and stepped away from her desk to look at a series of calendar pages that were posted on the wall. I got an uneasy feeling when she skipped over March, April, May, and June, and walked all the way over to the end of the year. She made a mark on a page, and then walked back.
“December 12th” she said. My mouth fell open. I’m not even sure if I made a sound, but all I could think inside was “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
I must have had some obvious reaction because she looked at me and said “Sorry, the judge that hears these petitions can only do one day a week. After you wait the required time for the criminal check, December is the next available time on her calendar.” I asked her if it was possible to try another court, maybe one not so busy. She told me that CA law requires you file such a petition in your home court. I was suddenly actually sad I didn’t live in Orange County anymore– I happened to be, she told me, at the busiest court in the State of California.
I was crushed. I also filled with dread, thinking about how hard the next 10 months would be still walking around with a female ID and everything else. I already was growing a beard and had my voice drop an octave–I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to explain that my ID was me after a further 10 months of testosterone!
I went back to my office and told my supervising partner what happened. “That’s absurd. You cannot go another 10 months with the wrong documents. You need this changed now, before you spend too much more time building a professional reputation under the wrong identity.” He suggested we file a motion to accelerate my hearing date in the court ex parte (meaning, you go in on your own without being scheduled by the court).
“You write the motion and draft a declaration for you and one for me. I’ll be your attorney. We will go fight this.” he said.
I did everything he asked, and compiled all my documentation of my transition– my coming out letter to my office, my diagnosis, my therapist letter, my doctor’s affidavit, and proof that I passed a criminal background check before joining the Bar. We went in the following Thursday and the judge agreed to accelerate my date to May.
I was ecstatic. Still, it was 3 months away, but 3 was much better than 10. And the whole time I kept thinking to myself: this is so screwed up.
What would I have done if I wasn’t a lawyer? I mean, I understand legal crap, and I could barely fill out all the paperwork for the petition. I can’t imagine how a non-lawyer would manage. And a non-lawyer wouldn’t even know that you can go in ex parte and ask the court to do something.
The law for name and gender changes in CA definitely does not reflect the needs of the community that process is designed to serve. People who are changing their name and gender are transitioning, usually. Not all trans people take hormones or have surgery. But many do. It’s only been 4 months since I filed my petition and I already look much different– fuller beard, bigger build, deeper voice. After 10 months I would have been some giant, beardy dude with an ID that said “Anna.”
I had already begun to receive push back from people about my ID not being me– bouncers, cashiers at the grocery store, the TSA… but people not wanting to serve me was one thing. I couldn’t imagine the safety hazard that comes from having an ID and a physical presentation that do not match. Especially for people like trans women, who are already often subject to high levels of harassment, violence, and even murder.
The legal process of transitioning does not in any way line up with the physical process of transitioning in other ways, too.
For example, up until a year ago, trans people changing their names and genders had to publish a notice in a public news paper for 6 weeks announcing to the whole world what they were changing their name/gender to and from. I had a friend who transitioned 20 years ago, and published his notice in a Korean-language only news paper, out of fear that his employer would learn his plans to transition. It finally dawned on the legislature that maybe making trans people put their business out in public was a safety hazard, and so thankfully that requirement did not apply to me. Still– are you kidding me?
Another example is the requirement that a doctor testify that you have “transitioned” at the time of your petition. I actually had my petition delayed two weeks because my doctor originally wrote that I was “transitioning,” rather than saying I had “transitioned.” This made total sense to me– after all, how can I have already transitioned if I haven’t changed my name and gender marker? The judge took issue with the “-ing” instead of “-ed” and actually made me get a new declaration from my doctor.
This requirement is completely ignorant of many facts about being trans, like
even if one has the financial resources to physically transition, this can take years. I mean, I will be going through major surgeries and such for the next few years at least. And I will be on testosterone for the rest of my life. Surely the legislature cannot assume that one will go through allllllll of that before having an ID that conforms to their gender expression? It also places a huge emphasis on the medical aspects of transition, where many trans people don’t go through medical procedures at all. Or the fact that a name and gender change is part of the transition,thus it cannot already be done before the petition is granted.
Luckily, my doctor didn’t have a problem re-writing mine, but he could have easily refused to do so because what the court wanted was technically not accurate.
So finally, after much hassle, I got my paper. I was filled with joy. Filled with relief. Filled with frustration at how hard it was to get there. And honestly, a bit filled with dread about the next 6 months of bureaucracy and updating my identity everywhere else.
I am sure this is not the end of my struggle to legally become myself. I decided to volunteer with some legal aid students to run a hotline where other people struggling with the process can contact attorneys for help, so I can put what I have learned to work helping others.
Following my last post, some folks have asked how I navigate dating as a trans person. I have thought a lot about how to respond in a thoughtful way, while still maintaining some control over just how much, with whom, and when I share such thoughts. This article captures a lot of what my experience has been thus far.
My solution is to say this–
1. remember, gender identity and sexual orientation are separate from one another, so trans folks could be interested in any array of partners; not all of us were “gay” before we identified as trans;
2. technology has generally benefitted trans folks who are dating, because it allows you to put yourself out there from the beginning, which saves time and some awkwardness at the very least;
3. technology still has a way to go before trans folks will be fully served by it; this article explains that better than I can;
4. I have learned that I need to give people more credit when it comes to their open-mindedness about who they date;
5. communication is everything.
I was walking my dogs this morning in DTLA, and as I crossed an intersection, a super cute lesbian couple passed me going in the opposite direction. They were holding hands, happy, smiling, and laughing. I made eye contact with one of them and smiled. It was the “hey, I’m a lesbian, too” knowing smile, which I have given thousands of times over the years. It was the look of “hey we’re part of the same club” that you give to others who are also different like you.
And you know what? Neither one of them even gave me a second thought. No return smile, no nod of the head, no recognition of the traits we share as LGBT people. And then I realized, yet again, that no one can tell I am queer anymore. Before transition, I realized this was likely to happen, but I couldn’t have fully understood how much it would bother me until it did.
First, I know that some of you dear readers still live in places in this world where using the word “queer” is considered an insult or a slur. I am sorry for that. I have had many long conversations with folks like you (even folks that themselves fit under the queer umbrella) who just feel uneasy when they hear the word queer. For the purposes of this article then you can just pretend I’m saying “gay” and it will be okay. We can have another discussion about the awesomeness of the word queer later.
So yes, I identify as queer, and have since I was a teenager. Pre-transition, I suppose the world might have labeled me a lesbian. I never used that word to describe myself, however, because it never really fit. I was female-born, but since I never really identified as a woman, the word lesbian, which by definition is a female-loving-female, never felt right.
Plus, I have never been exclusively interested in women. I have had my moments of being interested in men, too, but not to the point where I felt bi-sexual was really appropriate either. Bisexual (like homosexual and heterosexual) also sounds so clinical to me. So for me, queer was it. It was devoid of gender implications, but conveyed the idea that I was something other than heterosexual. I like that.
Pre-transition, it was very clear that I was the sort of person who was attracted to women. The last time anyone asked me if I had a boyfriend was in 1999. There is a certain comfort that comes with being the kind of person that people identify as queer right off the bat– I always felt like I fit in at queer events (dance parties, pride celebrations, rallies, etc.) without having to explain my sexuality to anyone. I wore it on my sleeve and that worked just fine for me.
I was a member of the lesbian community for 17 years (WOW THAT MAKES ME FEEL OLD) and it is a huge part of my story. I have seen all the movies, know the singer-songwriters, the inside jokes, the secret handshake, etc. There was actually a time in my life, when I lived in Seattle, that I actually had only lesbian friends. Though it was full of drama, it was also an amazing community that I still miss from time to time.
And now that I pass as male, all that appears to be lost– at least to the outside world. There’s no way for me to walk around looking like I do and to still have the outside world know that inside my head is a brain that was socialized queer for more than half my life. I’m not sure yet what, if anything, I can or need to do to feel at peace with this. Transitioning has brought its progress, its gains. But not without its losses.
Skimming Facebook this morning, I saw several friends posted a link to a BRILLIANT piece Jon Stewart did on the Caitlyn Jenner reveal. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch. I won’t repeat any of Jon’s commentary here, except to say that he rightly points out that, now that Caitlyn Jenner is presenting as female, she will be treated as a typical female (not in a good way) by the media covering her story. His presentation of this phenomenon is amazing. WATCH IT.
It got me thinking about all the ways that my ability to “pass” as male has changed how people treat me. I am white, educated, and grew up middle class. I stand a little over 5’7″ and am in shape (though it is strange to go from being a “tall-ish, but big” female to a “short-ish, but strong-for-his-size” dude). In just the few short months that I have been in this phase of my transition, where I am overwhelmingly read and treated as a straight (SO F*CKING WEIRD. I HAVE NEVER BEEN STRAIGHT BEFORE), white male, I have noticed a pretty big change in how people allow me to move around in this world.
It turns out, male privilege is a thing. And now I have it. And that is totally, totally weird. I feel guilty about having it, but also realize that now that I have it, I have some enhanced ability to call it out and work to undo it. And so I shall. Here are some of the best examples of that privilege at work.
1. I am never afraid to leave my house alone. I am generally not the type of person who worries too much about my surroundings when I’m by myself. I am physically not really the type to be picked on, I usually have dogs with me, and I have lived in some sketchy places before (just ask my mom), so I’m used to that. But now that the world sees me as a man, I am comfortable by myself in most situations. I was walking around in a hoodie and sweatpants, with my headphones in the other day. I must have been looking particularly surly, because an older woman saw me and actually crossed the street to get away from me. Seriously– I have gone from “potential target” to “potential aggressor.”
2. I can exist in public without being a subject of commentary or criticism based on my appearance. I’m allowed to dress how I want, walk how I want, I don’t have to shave, smile, or engage in conversation if I don’t want to, and no one has anything to say about it. This is a stark contrast from the days when strangers on the street would comment on my outfits, or tell me to “smile more,” or catcall me.
3. I’m allowed to have body hair. This is a tough one for me. I never was really big on body hair before– my Nordic genes include the blessing of mostly-blonde fuzz, so I could be relaxed about shaving my legs and such without much issue. But I always felt pressured still to keep everything in check, for the most part. Now, I totally have the freedom to be as hairy as I want. I am still trying to make peace with this– after looking at yourself for 31 years with one standard in mind, looking down at hairy legs, hairy arm pits, and increasingly-hairy everything else has taken a lot of getting used to. Still not sure how I feel about facial hair, but it helps me pass, so it stays for now. Had I made similar decisions pre-transition I would have been labeled a “hippie dyke” or worse. Ridiculous.
4. I can eat and drink whatever I want and no one tries to make me feel bad about it. You know, because men are allowed more leeway when it comes to being in shape, or indulging. I’m not expected to “keep my figure,” and in fact, when I do comment about being on a diet or watching what I eat, other men respond with comments meant to make me feel bad or less-than because I don’t want a giant cheeseburger and large fries and Hooters wings and tons of beer all the time.
5. I have less sexual liability. I could literally sleep with as many people as I want to– male or female– and get zero push-back. In fact, I might even get props from other dudes. When I talk about sex, no one (except my doctor) reminds me to “be safe” or “be smart.” I am not judged negatively for talking openly about sex, or sexual partners.
6. I am not subject to “soft sexism.” Being asked to grab someone their coffee or to help clean up after a meeting/gathering/party no longer exists.
I am sure that this list will grow with time– after all, it’s only been a few months that I am in this position, and most people I interact with regularly know me as a trans person. More experiences with folks who don’t know will surely only expand upon the privilege I’m afforded. Meanwhile, folks like Caitlyn Jenner lose much of their individuality and become another “thing to be discussed” by virtue of their transition to female.
Our culture is very strange. Let’s work on that.
I have seen lots (and I mean LOTS) of positive outpouring of support for Caitlyn Jenner after her big reveal yesterday. This is heartening and gives me so much hope for the future for trans folk in this country, and eventually the World.
We can’t just talk about trans issues and trans people. We have to talk about the way we talk about trans issues and trans people. The ACLU did an excellent piece today that highlights why we shouldn’t let the conversation stop with discussing how fabulous Jenner looks, without also discussing how hard it is for 99% of trans people to ever attain that level of care.
I’m here to address how the words we choose when talking about trans people affects the tone of conversations and impacts the way trans people are seen by non-trans people (also called cisgender people).
Here are some tips about what to say, what not to say, and things to think about when you’re having a conversation about, or with, a trans person.
This article does an awesome job of explaining relevant terms like sex, gender, transgender, transsexual, cisgender, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.
Friendly Tips for Interacting With Trans People
Thanks for listening, friends! Be most excellent to each other.