Ends and Beginnings

This week has been a long week and now, at the end of it, I find myself both at the end and at the beginning once again. The week started with a consultation about top surgery, then moved on to my second appointment at the Gender Clinic. Stories seem best told from start to finish so I will begin with the consultation.

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THE FOLLOWING IS NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK! CONTAINS MENTION OF GENITALS, SEX AND MASTURBATION. 

I’ve mentioned before that I have sought surgery privately, and the reasons why here. I won’t repeat myself, however this time was more thorough. I had a full examination and sat on a bed with a surgeon eye height to my nipples, having my chest lifted and pulled measured – it was humiliating but unfortunately a necessity for me. Once everything was discussed, the risks (losing my nipples, loss of sensation, bleeding, aneasthesia etc) I had a provisional appointment. Now I just needed a second Gender Clinic doctor to put their signature to my diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

And so on to the Gender Clinic. Once again I dressed on the morning with the idea of being a fully masculine as I could – after all I have to convince another doctor, a psychologist, of my gender identity. I went through similar rigmarole of last time, with less discussion of sex. For anyone who doesn’t know, the gender clinic isn’t just a nice chat. It is by far THE MOST probing, intimate and thorough interview you will ever have. I had to take documents to prove my name change and living in my chosen gender. I had to write an autobiography describing growing up and when I began to question my gender. I was asked about my genitals and whether I liked them or not (i.e. do I want bottom surgery). Now, to be honest this was a walk in the park compared to 5 months ago when the previous doctor had asked how I had sex, how often, if I masturbated and how. I mean….well seriously? What does it matter? Trans people have sex drives too and it doesn’t really matter how they get off, it doesn’t matter if a trans man likes penetrative sex or not…because genitals to not equal gender.Unfortunately the consultants at gender clinics don’t seem to have learnt this yet.

Nevertheless, I navigated the process successfully and I now have the required 2 signatures for top surgery. I have a date. It is happening. This. Shit. Just. Got. REAL.

OK PEOPLE IT’S SUITABLE CONTENT AGAIN, YOU CAN READ AGAIN NOW!

So I have come to the end, almost. Certainly the end is in sight, the goal of having top surgery and not needing to bind anymore. However I am also back at the beginning, discovering if I want to take hormone therapies, back to coming out again, back to trying to aptly describe my gender and my gender presentation.

I now stand at the cross roads trying to decide which way to proceed. Don’t get me wrong, the surgery will go forward, that is not in question, but until now I have reluctantly accepted that I am read as a woman and glossed over it. However, how do I explain the surgery and *transition* to people, how do I continue on as a person that doesn’t tick any boxes? In so many instances I have to pick a side, pick a gender, pick a box to tick either male or female. Right now, female doesn’t suit me, in fact I despise having that label attached to me and my heart sinks every time I stand outside the toilets or changing rooms and pick the women’s. Right now, I have breasts and hips and a “female” body, but going forward, I will have a male presenting body (as I desire and choose). So which side do I pick? And can I really pass as male without hormone treatments? The likelihood of my having testosterone is low due to complex health problems that will most likely prohibit this. Is top surgery enough to allow me to navigate life in the binary lanes as a man? Do I want to?

Recently I have found myself having the same conversations with different people and it goes something like this. I am non binary. I know this. I like the pronouns they/them and being neither a man nor a woman, though I do want to be masculine (there is a difference between gender and presentation, see the genderbread man here). In a world which is divided into male and female (squares and circles), I am the other. I am a hexagon.

Look I even drew a diagram! 

not fittin in

I can round my edges and be feminine, or square up and be masculine. I can be read as a woman, or a man. And navigating life as a non binary person often comes down to this; knowing you sit in the middle somewhere (or off the page entirely) and yet having to choose which shape you will wear for other people to see. Knowing inside that I am non binary, I am masculine but not a man. But also knowing that the majority of the world with which I will have contact will not understand this and will force a choice out of me. It sucks that this is how it is, it sucks that society is blind to so many people. I remain optimistic that the world is changing and moving forward, that public transgender figures are being given more of a platform to share their experiences and transgender issues are talked about more. I am optimistic that the LGBT (especially the T*) community are becoming more visible and our voices are being taken more seriously. I am optimistic that one day, maybe not this week or month or year…but one day I will be able to introduce myself as “Hi I’m LJ, they/them pronouns” and not have to launch into a masters degree level dissertation lecture about gender and singular they pronouns.

I remain optimistic and hopeful because that is sometimes all that I can do. Things have got better, they are getting better and they will be better than this.

Hang in there.

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Coming out…it’s never over (and how to be a good ally)

I have come to a bit of a wall, maybe not one of those entirely immovable sold brick walls, but a wall nonetheless.

Hitting the Wall

I am “out” as a queer non binary guy to most people. To my mum and sister, my partner and close friends, my work colleagues at my part time job which is very open and LGBT* friendly. However, in just over a year I will be getting married to my partner and I will be getting married as LJ. Not as a wife, or husband. In a gender-neutral ceremony. I will be wearing a suit, not a dress. And that means I have to come out again.

It’s not unusual. In fact it’s damn well ordinary for queer people to have to come out again and again and again and again and again…When a cis, straight person takes home a new partner they don’t need to give a warning *this is out of the ordinary*…cos it’s not. But queer kids have to pre-warn the family, the parents. They have to come out. That’s not equality. When I talk about my fiance, people assume I am with a guy, until I say otherwise. That’s not equality.

I’m tired of the cis / hetero normative assumptions that erase queer identities. The assumption that the person you are talking to is straight, or cis. And I’m tired of coming out and having to fight for it. Yesterday in a group conversation, I was lumped in with “girls”. I spoke up and said “I’m not actually a girl”….*pronouns etc blah blah etc….*. The response was:

“well whatever deary, it doesn’t really bother me anyway,  I always use the wrong words for people, I call gay men girrrl and queen”

EXCUSE ME??!! Undoubtedly this is not a unique or one off event, most trans people will have come up against this sort of pig-headed imbecile before. But the point is, I specifically stated that the language this person was using bothered me. I told them that I do not use female pronouns or language to describe myself and therefore, neither should they. I became momentarily vulnerable, I came out, and I was shoved back inside. I left the conversation at that point, to protect myself and look after myself.

But the point is this, the language we use everyday can oppress people. The language we use towards a group of people may be erasing someone’s identity. If you see a group of people you perceive as female and address them “hi ladies”, you have erased the gender identity of the non binary person in there. When you address a room with “ladies and gentlemen” you forget the entire spectrum of gender that lies between or outside of those binaries. The language and assumptions we make can force people into coming out over and over again, and believe me it is not something most people wish to repeat.

 

So what can we do to help? What can we do to be more inclusive? Start with something simple like removing gender from your hellos. Instead of “Hi ladies” or “Hi girls and boys”, how about “hey there folks?”. Instead of asking the woman you work with if she’s bringing her boyfriend to the Christmas do, ask if she’s bringing her partner. Instead of welcoming “Ladies and gents” welcome EVERYBODY!

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So the moral of the story is this folks, life as a queer person is tough, and even worse for some than others. If you want to be a good ally, well that means helping and making this easier where you can. That might be petitioning your workplace to include gender neutral terms of address (Mx for example or “customer” instead of “Sir/Madam” in writing). It might mean rethinking how you address you next classroom full of pupils. It might mean asking someone’s pronouns before deciding how you will gender to them. These may feel unnatural, uncomfortable and unusual….but not nearly as painful as being misgendered constantly.

Think before you speak peeps.

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trans*…a person in disguise?

CN: transitioning, binding, Dr’s assessments, transphobia, periods.

 

Recently I have seen news reports and debates about transgender athletes. A heated discussion on a Sunday morning TV had me screaming at a guest who suggested, albeit in a roundabout way, that allowing trans women to compete as women in athletic events would somehow lead to a hoard of male competitors pretending to be women and winning medals. I mean….WHAT?!  (I hope you all exclaimed there with me).

Wait-What-Meme-08

What’s so wrong with it I hear a multitude of people asking? Well, the statement essentially promotes the idea that trans* is a choice, and trans* people are dressing up. It plays into the common narrative of our day that says trans* people wake up one day and decide they will be a man/woman/neither.

The notion that a trans* person would be playing dress up is obscene…That is the narrative that causes us (trans* people) to become invisible. Our stories and our realities are ignored and cast aside to be replaced by what people think they should be, by stories that are easier to digest. It is easier to suggest and believe that trans* people are acting the part of their chosen gender because then society doesn’t have to face the notion that gender is chosen, that gender is complex, and that they have some learning to do in order to understand it.

Gender, gender identity, gender expression, designated gender…it’s a complex maze and grappling with the questions it throws up forces people to question their paradigm…the way they view the world. But that is not a reason not to educate yourself. In fact, I’d say it’s a damn good reason TO educate yourself. If you think that trans* is a choice, it’s time to educate yourself. Read on…

[[ Imagine this: You are a man. You have always been a man. You knew you were a boy when you were younger. You liked to climb trees and collect bugs, you played tag with the other boys and girls. You grew up a bit and realised, not all boys are like you. And you are not like all boys. You realise that everyone else thinks you’re a girl, you have a girl’s name and you have to play sports with the girls at high school. You are a tomboy. You still like climbing trees, and collecting bugs…you want to play rugby but “you’re a girl” so you can’t. You hit puberty. You get your first period, it’s terrifying. Your breasts start to grow. You hate them. You are a man, you are a man with breasts, you are a man with periods, you are a man who is called Miss. You are a man. You realise you will not grow up to be a man unless you tell people who you are and ask for help. No one else has to do this, they are boys and grow into men. How does a girl grow into a man? You say it out loud “I AM A MAN”. You wait 3 years to see 2 doctors who confirm you are actually a man, you knew this but they wouldn’t listen to you, apparently you’re not qualified to know this. You have tests, blood tests, psych tests, the do a full physical examination as you close your eyes, mortified. You continue on, binding your chest tightly, being followed into the toilet and asked to leave “the ladies is downstairs miss”. You sigh, “I know, I’m a guy”. They look you up and down, judging the lack of beard growth, the curve of hip and breast. You go on holiday and hide yourself because your identity might get you arrested, or killed. You have to take photo ID to get your hire car….and this means outing yourself to another office full of people as they scrutinise your driving licence and passport and name change deedpoll. Every day you fight against societies norms that exclude you. Every day you fight to be seen. ]]

 

Does that sound like an overnight decision? A grown up playing dress-up to win some gold medals? Being trans* is not the easy option. It is not a choice. It is not a ruse to infiltrate your ranks. It is reality, and a tough one at that. Transgender people have enough of a fight on their hands just to be seen and heard, to have their identity and pronouns taken seriously. And that, dear readers, is in 2016. In a so-called civilised western country-Great Britain. If you believe in human rights, you believe in trans* rights…and as Desmond Tutu said:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
– Desmond Tutu

So which side are you on?

Lessons on being invisible

CN: gay slurs, swearing, biphobia and erasure, transphobia and erasure.

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I once had a nightmare where I was invisible. I don’t know how or why but I couldn’t be seen or heard. I walked around the house screaming my sister’s name and waving frantically at my mum only to be ignored. As the panic rose I became obsessed with trying to be noticed, and then I woke up. I lay in bed the rest of the night petrified that if I walked into my mum’s room she wouldn’t be able to see or hear me. Terrified that I was infact invisible.

Unfortunately that wasn’t just a nightmare. You see, as someone that lives beyond the binaries of gender and sexuality, I am invisible in many ways. Growing up I was a tomboy. I cut my hair short (and got teased) I would run around with the boys and play fight and I yearned for an action man instead of Barbie. But I was still a girl. Because I didn’t express any desire to be anything other than a girl, that is what I was. I fancied boys and had boyfriends, I grew up and was attracted to men and slept with men. I still found women BEAUTIFUL. But I assumed everyone did (don’t they??) and because I was happily in relationships with men, I was straight. I lived within the binary of female and straight.

When I came out at 25 as bisexual (I now use the term queer or pansexual as there are more than 2 genders) I made a once invisible part of myself visible. I felt so free it was amazing, I suddenly felt able to openly pursue relationships based on love and attraction regardless of gender. I pondered the women I had crushed on and wondered what might have come from that if I had come out earlier. I thought of the “gay” bars I would go to and the community I would finally be a part of. I was ready to dive into the LGBT* scene and be accepted. YES!

On my first visit to a local “gay” bar (I put “gay” as this is what they’re called and, as you will see, what they are) I walked in  with awe and excitement…MY PEOPLE! We approached the stage with a host of drag queens and scantily dressed male backing dancers….and look!! gay people snogging in the corner!!  Then it happened…the compere took the microphone and said:

“All my gay boys, fags, fudge packers shout heeeeyyyyyy…….” *shouts from gay men*

“All you lezzas you dykes and muff divers scream heyyyyyy….” *screams from lesbians*

“And you straight people…you’re in the wrong fucking place get out.”

And there it was. I was invisible. I am not a gay man, a lesbian or straight. I do not exist in this space. I wrote it off as just my first time, a one-off. Unfortunately the reality hit me like a punch to the stomach when it happened over and over and over and over again. I have actually not once been to a “gay” bar and felt openly welcomed as a queer non gay person. Not that I have faced abuse, though I have had people try to ask me “what” I am, a drag queen try to liken his performance persona to being trans-“I’m basically like you non binary people but I know I’m a man and I like being a man. I like dressing in drag and make up too though” (URGH).

It is not just my sexuality that excludes me from the spectrum of visible colours, but my gender too. I have spent a lifetime trying to understand and explain my gender to myself and others and I have come to the term – non binary trans guy. I don’t identify strongly enough with maleness to be a guy but I would rather be recognised as male than female. When I wear women’s clothes and make up and nail varnish I feel like a man in drag, not a woman. But ultimately I am happiest and most myself as neither male nor female, tending towards male.

However, no matter what I do to my appearance-I bind and wear men’s clothes, I have short hair and masculine glasses – I am consistently read as female. When I say read, I mean that is what people assume me to be when they meet me. The assumed title is Miss, I am “the lady”, part of the group of “girls”, and because I am dating a woman, I am a lesbian. Let’s go back to the gay bar…it doesn’t matter which, they’re all the same really…in fact let’s go back to any bar, any night out, any club, any tour group or classroom…when the group is addressed it is usually or always with “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”. Where am I? What about the multitude of people in between? I….we…are invisible. I have repeatedly heard my non binary siblings introduced with the wrong pronouns or as “brother” or “sister”. I have, as I said, had my gender likened to drag. I feel mocked. I feel like my identity is not important enough to be respected. And this is on the LGBT* scene, my apparent home.

Outside of the LGBT* scene I am unsurprisingly no more visible. I have argued and explained my gender to the GP and receptionists numerous times when I tried to change my name. I am still referred to as female. The gender clinic lists me as female to male transgender. And my passport and driving licence cannot be changed to reflect my gender, I must be either male or female. I am invisible. 

You will hopefully be happy to hear that since then I have shunned the local “gay” bar as they are just that-bars that welcome and cater to cis (that means identify with gender assigned at birth) white gay men and just happen to allow gay women and some trans people in. I’ve found a local queer hang out that instead and this is the place I always dreamed of. The place where I walked in and felt at home, with my people, in my community. I surround myself with people who see me for who I am and a fiance who loves me for who I am. I can be masculine but not a man, wear nail varnish but not be a woman, and be having a same sex marriage that isn’t a gay marriage.

I am endeavoring to live my life as loudly and visibly as I can. Sometimes that will look like writing this blog as honestly as I can. Sometimes that will look like asking for the title Mr when someone obviously reads me as female I do this at the doctors where my sexuality is female but my title is Mr. Sometimes that will look like heckling speakers who gloss over us who live between or beyond the binaries. Mostly it looks like living authentically, living openly and honestly as myself and holding people accountable to using my correct name and pronouns.

It’s not easy. It’s exhausting. But I hope that by doing this, living visibly, I will erased the nightmares, and realities, of being invisible for others. So let me leave you with this:

Queer, straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, non binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, male, female, trans, cis, agender…if you pass or not, if you’re out or not, if you’re sure or questioning ….I see you. I acknowledge you. I love you.

LJ x

Non Binary doesn’t mean androgyny

Today is not so different to any other day. Though I wish it was. Today I heard the sentiment “why would you use gender neutral pronouns if you dress feminine? If you wear make up and do your nails you should be her/she”.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard it. I assume it will not be the last. So let’s get some things straight….

GENDER DOES NOT EQUATE TO THE CLOTHES A PERSON WEARS.

Let me ask you a question….have you ever seen a woman in trousers? or a man with long hair? Have you ever questioned Steve Tyler’s gender (you know, the guy from Aerosmith) because he wear nail varnish? What about Paul O’Grady…he wore a dress and heels on a regular occasion did you ever think he was a woman? Of course not. Because he told you he’s a man.

You see, gender identity and gender expression are separate things entirely. If I say I’m a man and put a dress on, I’m still a man. If I tell you I’m a woman and wear short hair and board shorts, I’m still a woman. Therefore….when I tell you I’m non binary, and wear…whatever the f*ck I want….guess what? I’m still not a man or a woman.

It is certainly true that there exist non binary people who present themselves in an androgynous way. I would fall into this category. I experience strong dysphoria around my body looking feminine in any way (breasts for example). And in order to feel comfortable with myself I wear a binder and clothes that de-feminise my shape. However this isn’t the case for every enby. A very good friend of mine is an enby and pretty much the most FEMME person I’ve ever met. They love makeup, pink, glitter, sweet smells….everything that you might initially equate to being “girly”. (I hate attributing anything to *male* or *female*). But the fact that they present in a feminine way doesn’t negate their gender identity which is that of being non binary. Another friend of mine self identifies as a woman, but like me, prefers to buy and wear men’s clothes and underwear.

Do you see? My gender isn’t tied into how I look; on a day when I have make up and a bra on (very rare yes…) I am still not a woman. ask them

The next time someone tells you their pronouns and you think they’re wrong, the next time you think you see a woman in the men’s toilets and tell them to get out, the next time you think you see a man queuing for the women’s changing room and tell them the men’s is next door…don’t. Stop and consider this….maybe you are wrong.

Maybe, just maybe, the person you are questioning knows their gender identity better than you do.