gender policing

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: E is for “everyone feels that way”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

E is for “everyone feels that way”

…This is a strange one, to be honest. But it sometimes happens, particularly in more explicitly TERF-y spaces, that some cis person will try to argue that trans people aren’t really trans, we’re just misunderstanding what gender is like for everyone.

So, the thing is, I think it is definitely true that every single person alive has, at some point, had an unpleasant run-in with the norms imposed upon their gender. Not one of us can possibly get through life without being on the receiving end of gender policing, be it implicit or explicit.

All of us, in other words, have moments of discomfort with our genders. The thing that the cisgender people making this argument don’t seem to grasp is that there are different kinds of gender-related discomfort. And, the kind of gender-related discomfort that all people experience (the one that stems from being called out for failing to conform to the arbitrary standards that are applied to your gender) is distinctly different from the kind of gender-related discomforts that comes with dysphoria – these are the discomforts of being explicitly misgendered (which may happen to people both cis and trans, and is sometimes a form of gender policing), or of being judged for one’s failure to conform to the standards of a gender that you don’t identify with in the first place (this experience is far more common among trans people than cis people.)

Look, it’s not as if trans people feel that we are perfect fits for our genders (by which I mean, our actual genders, not our birth-assigned ones) any more than cis folks do. It’s just that we fit better into them than our birth-assigned ones. It’s just that our birth-assigned genders aren’t our genders.

And though the difference in how it feels as a cis person to be judged for failing to fit that birth-assigned gender with which you identify, versus how it feels to be a trans person judged for failing to fit a gender that was wrong to begin with is probably impossible to articulate – people generally only feel one or the other of these in their lives, so they can’t really be compared – I promise you it exists. All I know for sure is that the difference is what causes trans people to identify with a gender other than their birth-assigned one (or with no gender at all), while cis people don’t.

Which is to say: no, not everyone feels the way trans people feel about their birth-assigned genders. I can tell, because an awful lot of you aren’t rejecting those assignments.


Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

The Pressure to Conform/Compulsory Femininity

For some reason lately I’ve been getting a bunch of (gentle) pressure/encouragement to present more femininely than I generally. It’s not something I’m used to dealing with, to be honest (my mother has gone on occasional “oh, you should wear make-up/do things with your hair/etc” riff, but she’s never particularly pushed it) and it’s been weird, and I have thoughts about it so!

A lot of it has been coming from work, where I am still not out about being non-binary – everyone there calls me ‘she’ and ‘her’. And it’s not as if they are explicitly judging me on my more masc/androgynous presenting days, it’s just that I’ve been getting a weird amount of positive reinforcement on whenever I tip into femme at all (in this case, this mostly means “whenever I wear a skirt or dress”).

And like, obviously I like to be complimented on the clothes I choose to wear. And if the comments were just “Oh, I like your dress!” then I wouldn’t be writing about it at all. But that’s not what they are. The comments I’ve been getting are more like “Oh, you’re wearing a skirt today! You look so nice! You should do that more often!”

And like???? I really just wish they wouldn’t.

It doesn’t come across as a compliment, because it’s clearly not about the particular skirt or dress I happen to be wearing, so much as it is about them, for some reason, wanting me to wear skirts and dresses in general (and I guess any skirts or dresses will do). It is, in fact, mildly insulting instead, since it suggests that I don’t really normally look nice, and makes it pretty clear that they don’t like my style generally.

It is clear that for whatever reason (it would make them more comfortable somehow? Or maybe they are worried about my ability to catch a man (LOL!)? I don’t even know) some of my co-workers are invested in my gender presentation.

And I wonder whether that will go away or just get worse when I do come out as non-binary – I know my mom has repeatedly asked about the change in my presentation over the last 3-4 years or whatever, and that she seems more invested in me presenting as feminine since I came out to her than she was before (though she has told me she noticed the change before I came out, she never pressured me about it until afterwards). If these folks are already taking my presentation somewhat personally, they may very well take my “decision” not to identify as a woman personally (er, see my non-woman-hood as me abandoning their team, I guess?) as well.

I also may just be way over-thinking this all, to be honest :P

We’ll have to wait and see.

What to do about babies and gender

[Content note: reference to adult-child related sexual creepiness]

As a person who intends to have kids at some point, and as someone who is very aware that you can’t tell what a person’s gender is (/what their gender is going to be or whatever) when they’re born, I have to deal with the question of what I’m going to do about my future babies and gender.

I mean, hopefully it’s obvious that I have no intention of imposing any sort of gender norms or expectation on any kids I have. And I will listen to them about their own gender as soon as they are able to tell me about it. But there is still the question of what to do about pronouns etc until they’re able to do that.

In an ideal world, I would lean toward using neutral pronouns – either the perennial ‘they’, or something specific as more of a placeholder (I remember reading a long time ago about someone who referred to their fetus using the ‘ou’ pronoun, and I like the idea of using something that isn’t so clearly linked to non-binary/genderqueer identities, since that may carry a lesser version of the baggage involved in traditionally masculine or feminine pronouns.)

But living as I am in an entirely un-ideal world, I’m not sure this is what I will actually end up doing. I may very well wind up simply using the pronouns assume the baby is cisgender (unless they’re intersex, in which case, gender neutral pronouns it will be until I can hear otherwise from them), as a sort of default/educated guess (since there is a high likelihood that they will be cis), for a few reasons.

The main one is, I just don’t know that I have the energy to have all the conversations that would be involved in refusing to gender my baby. Although I am not going to adhere to gendered expectation with clothing, toys, etc with them, I know that people would push back harder against gender neutral pronouns than other things, simply because it makes them uncomfortable to use them. Which is a terrible reason, obviously, but still. I have enough work on my hands doing this for myself, and people are more upset by gender neutral pronouns when they are applied to children, and more prone to inappropriateness or downright violence (or trying to get me to lose custody of my children even, probably) than I am prepared to deal with.

Which, on some level I feel like maybe I should not have kids unless I am willing to fight for that for them. But on the other hand, I don’t think that placeholder pronouns alone are going to harm a kid who is otherwise raised as much as possible without gendered expectations. I don’t think that ‘he’ or ‘she’ is somehow inherently a more harmful placeholder than ‘they’ or ‘ou’ could be anyway.

My other fear, though, is not about me and my own energy, as much as it is about my child. A baby who is referred to by gender neutral pronouns may attract some really unsavoury behaviours from people who really really need to know the baby’s ‘real’ gender. I am quite sure that refusing to indicate a binary gender for my baby would make a whole lot of people suddenly really interested in changing that baby’s diaper, or helping them with their bath, or something. And that level of creepiness is not something I want a baby or toddler subjected to.

I am also afraid that being quite to obvious about my gender neutral approach to parenting would result in other adults trying to over-compensate for that, and my children being subjected to even more over-the-top, explicit gender policing than they otherwise would.

So, I dunno. I don’t know what the least harmful route to take, really. I’m just going to do my best and what feels right, I guess.