language

Babies and gender: where I’m at now

Before my baby existed in any way at all, I had decided how I was going to handle the whole birth-assigned-sex/gender thing. You can read the whole post about it, but my basic approach was that I would go ahead and use whatever pronouns most commonly align with the baby’s birth-assigned sex, while also avoiding gendering the baby in other ways.

This is, in fact, the way I’ve been approaching my baby’s gender (though I will be using ‘they’ pronouns for the baby on this blog, at least for now. I can’t quite articulate my reasons for this right now). It’s definitely a path-of-least-resistance approach, but it seems fine for us. Honestly, though, now that I have a nearly-one-year-old (OMG!), I am mostly just amazed at how ridiculously, transparently deluded most people’s perceptions of baby gender are.

Seriously, though. Other than the fact that they’re statistically likely to identify with the gender commonly associated with their birth-assigned sex, I really don’t think my baby has a gender yet, nor could I really guess at what their gender will be. Heck, at this age babies apparently don’t recognize themselves in a mirror, their sense of self is just that nearly-non-existent.

People really, really love to insist that baby’s genders are just so apparent from birth though! Oh, sure, little Susie was just born knowing how to shop, you say*? And Bobby, wouldn’t you know it, he’s been just *obsessed* with breasts since the day he was born (LOLOLOLOL!!!)? Obviously our culture’s current particular understanding of the gender binary is completely natural and not at all learned.

Meanwhile, depending on what my baby is wearing, they’ve been declared everything from “what a perfect boy” to “such a pretty little girl”. I promise you they were exactly the same baby each time.

I really just don’t perceive my baby as a gendered being at this point (which was sort of my goal – I don’t want the way I treat them to be coloured by their probable gender, and the best way to avoid sub-consciously doing that is prevent my sub-conscious from seeing them in a gendered way in the first place.) Though I also realize that saying I don’t perceive them that way doesn’t make it true.

But, I’m pretty sure I’ve actually pulled it off! The reason: after my parents’ most recent visit, my father sent me a message saying that he loves my baby, except he called the baby my “daughter”. And I was momentarily confused and didn’t know what he was talking about? Because I don’t have one of those? I just have a baby. (Who will soon be a toddler, and a child…) Like, I think that I had literally never thought that word in connection to my baby.

So that’s something!

———————————-
*There’s a lot to unpack here, but in all seriousness, in one of the baby groups I sometimes go to, one of the facilitators(!) waxed poetic about how she’s sure girls are born with the shopping gene or something. Like, properly went on about it. It was something.

Non-thesaurus: Non-impactful

Way back in the early years of Valprehension, I wrote a couple of “non-thesaurus” posts. These posts take common non-words – that is, words that people instinctively use, but that aren’t technically ‘words’ according to the word authorities or whatever – and provide a list of ‘real’ words that can be used instead.

I still get occasional hits from people looking for ways to call things impactful without losing marks for using the (non)-word impactful. But I recently visited by someone looking for synonyms to “nonimpactful”, so hey, why not write that one up as well? Here’s some words you may be able to use as an alternative to calling something ‘non-impactful’ (or unimpactful?). I’ve tried to cover my bases for different potential contexts and uses:

  • banal
  • boring
  • empty
  • frivolous
  • hollow
  • impotent
  • inane
  • inconsequential
  • ineffective
  • insipid
  • irrelevant
  • lacklustre
  • mundane
  • pointless
  • prosaic
  • trivial
  • unconvincing
  • uninspired
  • uninspiring

Questions from the search terms: “I’m attracted to my biological sex only but I identify as genderqueer. Does that still make me lesbian?”

It’s time for another question from the search terms! Today I bring you:

I’m attracted to my biological sex only, but I identify as genderqueer. Does that still make me lesbian?

Dear searcher,

I’m hoping that you were just being a little sloppy with your words in the relative privacy of your internet search (it’s not like you actually said this to another person, and I know that sometimes using less-than-correct language is the best route to the results you want on the internet, because those are the smae words other people are using!) but before I address your actual question, a quick clarification for other people reading this:

Being a lesbian doesn’t mean being only attracted to ‘biological females’. For the most part, it means being only attracted to women (who may or may not be the same biological sex as you, searcher!) I also realize that lesbian community and culture is in reality messier than that, and I know that there are complicated and delicate questions around trans men and lesbianism – some trans men identify as lesbians, I think? And I know that there are women who date both (cis?) women and trans men, who still identify as lesbians.

I also know that TERFiness and transmisogyny are pretty rampant in many lesbian communities, though, so those community norms may not be things you want to play into or live up to. It is some complicated stuff, and I am not a great authority on the nuances of lesbian communities, but suffice to say that if you actually think that being solely attracted to ‘biological’ females is an unproblematic definition of lesbianism, you have got another thing coming! The group of people who share your biological sex includes a wide variety of genders, from men and women to all kinds of non-binary and genderqueer people, and that’s not what lesbianism is about, as far as I can tell.

But ok, I’m going to pivot to the more generous reading of the question now, so you can get an actual answer!

I’m going to take it that you’re a genderqueer person who was assigned female at birth, and you find yourself exclusively attracted to women. So, are you a lesbian then?

…maybe?

I know there are non-binary people out there who identify as lesbians, and I know there are lesbian communities who are open and welcoming to enbies (afab ones, anyway…) who identify this way.

Ultimately, though, what you’ve actually run into here is a major limitation of the way in which we try to categorize sexual attraction. At its core, the hetero-/homo- binary is very dependent on a binary gender system, both for the people feeling attraction and the objects of that attraction. I’ve written more than once about how these categories aren’t really sufficient to properly contain attraction *to* non-binary people (see here and here), but I’ve somehow missed the aspect where they fail even harder to provide labels for non-binary people’s own experiences of attraction.

This is partially because my bisexuality/queerness does map onto my non-binary identity in the same way that it did onto my birth-assigned gender. I can be attracted to people of any gender, and that remains true regardless of *my* particular gender.

Shit gets complicated when you’re only attracted to one gender, though. If you want to be strict about it, a non-binary person who is only attracted to one gender (other than a non-binary gender) is heterosexual (though possibly not straight).

But that’s not at all helpful. So where do I go from there?

In general, I think it is a terrible idea for non-binary people to define their sexual orientation in terms of their birth-assigned gender. For one thing, doing so would require non-binary people to out themselves about their birth-assigned gender, and how about we just don’t do that?

So, in general, non-binary people who are only attracted to women aren’t lesbians. You still might be, if it’s really what feels right for you? But, since I suspect that you aren’t actually exclusively attracted to women, and that your attractions probably include other non-binary people and possibly trans men as well, I encourage you to consider other identities. Queer is a really good label for people who don’t fit well into the existing models of sexual identity. Is there a reason why you don’t want to use it?

I think the main reason people in your sort of situation sometimes shy away from this, is they don’t like the implication that they’re into men, but if that’s the case, try this: “I’m a queer non-binary person who isn’t attracted to men”. Problem solved, ok?

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: T is for “transgenders, transwomen, transmen, and tr***y”

CW: uncensored t-slur appears once in this post

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

T is for “transgenders, transwomen, transmen, tr***y”

Cis people really don’t know how to talk about trans people. And part of me wants to be patient with people around this, because of course if someone is approaching a new concept, they’re not going to be on top of it right away.

But at the same time, I often see cis people (even those who are aware of their own ignorance on the topic) blithely jumping into threads where trans people have already repeatedly demonstrated good terminology and just using whatever the heck words they make up/decide to use instead. It’s extremely frustrating y’all!

So, here’s a quick-and-dirty look at words you should and should not use to refer to trans people:

DON’T say

  • Transgenders/’a transgender’ – Much like I am not ‘a tall’, even though I am a tall person, I am not a transgender, even though I am a transgender person. Similarly a group of transgender people is just that, not a group of ‘transgenders’.
  • Transwomen/transmen/transpeople – except for in the very specific case when the specific person you are talking about actually very specifically uses any of these words to describe themselves, these sorts of compound words are actually a little dehumanizing. Again, like I’m not a tallperson, or a whiteperson, (although I am tall and white) I’m also not a transperson.
    Say it with me: Trans men are men. Trans women are women. Although trans people need the word trans (or transgender) in order to talk about the ways in which our experiences differ from cis (or cisgender) people’s, we aren’t completely different kinds of humans, and our transness doesn’t make our genders any less legitimate than cis people’s.
  • Tranny – this is a literal slur, y’all. Like with other slurs, those directly impacted by it may sometimes reclaim it, or use it to refer to themselves, but if you are cis you should never use it. Just don’t.

DO say

  • Transgender people
  • Trans people
  • Trans men/transgender men (when referring to people who are trans and identify as men)
  • Trans women/transgender women (when referring to people who are trans and identify as women)
  • People (Pro tip: this is always safe for talking about any people! Amazing!)
  • Men (when referring to people who identify as men)
  • Women (when referring to people who identify as women)

 


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

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: R is for “Real”

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

R is for ‘real’

The idea of realness is often levied against trans people. The misuse of the word ‘real’ by cis people is actually one of the reasons why we need the word ‘cis’, because without a word to identify the group of people who (basically) identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, people commonly default to describing such men and women as ‘real men’ and ‘real women’, thus implying that trans men and women somehow aren’t real (or rather, that their man- or womanhood isn’t real).

Cis people seem to think trans people(’s identities) aren’t real because they’re different from what some doctor announced when we were born, and even that our names aren’t real because we may not have the same name we were given when we were born (though we at least have that in common with a majority of married women (somehow), and they aren’t often asked what their real name is, or if their current name is their real name. I wonder why that could be?*)

I know that sometimes this misuse of the word ‘real’ (especially with respect to names) is fairly innocently intended – I know because on the occasions that I have questioned people’s use of the word in these contexts, they’ve  been clear that wasn’t what they meant and have fumbled for a more appropriate word.

For names, the phrase you want is “birth name”. Some trans people also refer to their birth name as their “deadname”; I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s never ok to ask someone what their deadname was, because when people use that term, it is giving you an idea of how they feel about that name, ok?

For people, if there is some reason why you need to specifically denote the subset of men and/or women who had their gender (basically) correctly identified at birth (and for the record, unless you’re talking about their privileged position relative to trans people, you probably don’t), the word you want is ‘cis’ (or ‘cisgender’ if you want to be formal about it).

Stop implicitly invalidating trans people in this way. And call out other people you see doing it, too.


*Rhetorical question. I know it’s because of cissexism. And heterosexism. And, to some extent, plain old misogyny. Triple whammy of nesting/intersecting oppressions!

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

Words, identity politics, and a case of the blahs

Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve been steadily moving away from describing myself as genderqueer and toward just using non-binary. I deliberately avoided the word ‘genderqueer’ entirely in my coming out message at work, just because ‘non-binary’ seems less intimidating somehow? I’m not even sure.

Genderqueerness definitely feels more inherently political, more inherently “fuck you and your entire gender system” than non-binary does, to me at least. Because queerness itself is kind of inherently political, about rejecting existing systems either by struggling to get by outside them, or by trying to build your own.

And, a few years ago, that was why I preferred to call myself genderqueer. Because I was still in the process of figuring myself out (I mean, to some extent I always will be, in all kinds of ways, but when I was first coming into my non-binary/genderqueer self, there was a lot of things all happening at once in a way that no longer applies. At least for now.) Because that shit was hard, and scary, and it seems pretty clear that leaning into that fear was part of how I coped with it. Because my defensive instincts often take the form of a strong offense, really.

But I haven’t really been feeling that way lately.

I kind of just want to be able to exist as my gender (or lack thereof, or whatever) and have that be ok. Or rather, I suspect that the fact that I have carved out some pretty significnat spaces in my life where I d ofeel that way is very seductive. It’s nice to feel that I can just be me and that the people around me aren’t going to interpret that as a political move. I am so lucky, and so privileged, to be in that position so much of the time now. I want other people to have that, and I know that means I need to keep fighting, and keep making this a political issue so that one day it won’t have to be for anyone, but also, maybe I am just falling into a gentler version of that fight?

I don’t really think it’s because I have de-radicalized in any particular ways, although I think the last year or so has softened my distrust of the average person, and I definitely have more emotional resources for dealing with people who actually mean well, but just don’t quite get it (whether ‘it’ is related to trans/non-binary issues, or whether it is about other social justice values, either specific or general). To some extent this just means that my approach to advocacy has shifted from ‘angry queer’ to ‘nice, friendly, forgiving queer’. Which, I think both approaches are valid and valuable, so maybe I should just stop worrying so much about which one I happen to have the resources for at any given moment?

At the same time though, I am worried that’s a cop oiut. Because I think I have definitely been tired of it all, for quite some time. Even my writing here lately has quite had the direction it used to have (though I don’t know if that’s something that’s coming through, or if it’s just how I’ve been feeling about it. I am pleased with the Shit Cis People Say alphabet either way.)

I hope that being tired is all it is, anyway. My regular seasonal-changeover depression has settled in (though mildly, thankfully), and I haven’t been taking as good care of myself as I should be, so the compounded impact of not quie enough sleep and kinda crappy eating habits definitely aren’t helping.

I am also thinking that I may be a little bored of focusing so stringently on gender issues in my writing here. I used to cast a broader net and talk about other feminist/social justice issues more often, so maybe all I need to do is let myself feel freer to write about whatever I find myself drawn to for awhile! I mean, I already started doing this with last Wednesday’s post about coloring sheets, anyway.

Hopefully those of you who read this blog regularly will find my various thoughts interesting!

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: G is for “grammatically incorrect”

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

G is for “grammatically incorrect”

This one is mostly specifically about non-binary people, rather than trans people in general. Those of us whose pronoun is the singular they, (and possibly those of us who use neo-pronouns of various kinds) are all tired of hearing that our pronouns are ‘grammatically incorrect’. I’m tired of talking about it at all, myself but it’s all I could come up with for G, so here we go nevertheless:

I’m going to side-step the actual question of grammatical correctness here, to be honest. It’s been done, and done, and done again. And again. And again. You get the idea? The thing is, though, that it shouldn’t fucking well matter.

You hear me? It. Doesn’t. Matter.

It doesn’t matter whether a person’s pronouns have historical precedent. Of course non-binary people’s pronouns don’t have a true fucking historical precedent in English, because the culture in which English has grown and evolved has not historically made room for any genders beyond the binary. That’s the thing we’re trying to change ffs.

It doesn’t matter whether you find a person’s pronouns aesthetically pleasing. Probably there are people that find your name aesthetically displeasing, but hopefully they’re decent enough people to keep that shit to themselves (if they haven’t been, then I’m sorry you had that experience). In any case, surely you don’t think that your aesthetic preferences are other people’s problems to accommodate?

It doesn’t matter why you think someone else’s pronouns are ‘wrong’, at all, ever. If you refuse to even try to use them, you are the asshole, and you are the one in the wrong.


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

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: F is for “fake genders”

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

F is for “fake genders”

Cis people sometimes like to refer to trans people’s genders -and particularly non-binary genders – as being ‘fake’ or ‘made-up’. As if their own genders are somehow natural, and not simply the accumulation of generations of social conceptions of what gender is and means, right?

Like, I wish I didn’t need to say that most of the trappings of gender are socially constructed and context-dependent, and that there is nothing natural about the ideas of what the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’ mean. These categories are made up, too, and they’ve evolved and changed and been made to hold multiple meanings, in various cultures around the world (and, it should be noted, alongside a great many other genders that have been and are recognized in various cultures and at various times).

I honestly barely know what it means to claim that someone is ‘faking’ their gender. Or rather, I definitely have no idea why anyone ever thinks they are somehow a better authority on someone’s gender than that person is themself. Just trust people when they tell you their gender, already.

To be honest, it doesn’t matter if someone coined their own new word to name their gender – that doesn’t make it fake. That’s not how words work. There is literally no such thing a fake word – we as humans put mostly arbitrary sounds together in different ways to indicate different things, and while some words are better at conveying their intended meaning to other people (it is generally more effective to use words people are familiar with where possible, or to invent new ones based on existing conventions  – this is where ‘cisgender’ comes from, for the record; ‘cis’ as a prefix is an established complement to ‘trans’ in the English language) but words can’t be ‘fake’, not really.

My gender isn’t fake, just because I use new(ish) words to describe it. And neither is anyone else’s.


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

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: C is for “Cis is a slur”

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

C is for “Cis is a slur”

Ok, this one is admittedly a little complex. First and foremost, cis (which is short for cisgender) is a descriptor – saying that someone is cis just means that they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, simple as that! For the most part, it is just a word that means “not transgender”. It’s creation and original intent and usage were definitely not slur-like.

I admit that is not sufficient evidence that a word isn’t a slur, though. So, I want to take the claim that it is a slur seriously enough to probe at what makes people object to the term.

When people object to being called cis or cisgender, it usually comes with one of a number of reasons (and if you drill down, it’s usually not actually that they think cis is a slur). I’m going to try to address the ones I’m aware of here, though if I miss some, please let me know!

There doesn’t need to be a word for that! That’s just normal

It is true that an overwhelming majority of people are cisgender. But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful or important to have a word that encapsulates that particular aspect of gendered experience. Most people are also heterosexual, and in fact we didn’t get around to making a word for that until we had already come up with the category of homosexual – it is a function of categories that if as long as you are assuming everyone is the same, you don’t need a word for that sameness.

It is only when one begin recognizing and naming different experiences that it becomes apparent that there needs to be a word for the ‘sameness’ against which those differences are being identified. The only way to truly make linguistic room for the idea that all of these experiences are equally valid is to have words for all of them, not just the rare or ‘weird’ ones. We all have a relationship to the gender we were assigned at birth (if we were assigned a gender at birth), even if it’s a relatively uncomplicated one that we haven’t ever really thought about, as is often the case with cisgender people.

But I *don’t* really fit the gender I was assigned at birth!

I never quite know what to do with people who don’t like being called cisgender because (of course!) they don’t perfectly fit into the box associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. The thing folks making this claim seem to miss is that cisgender absolutely does not mean ‘conforms to the gender they were assigned birth’, it just means you identify that way. It is totally fine and great to be a gender non-conformist cis person. It just doesn’t make you not cisgender.

But If you really don’t identify as the gender you were assigned at birth, then that’s another thing entirely, because then you would be trans. And then you’d be right to object to being called cisgender, because it would be inaccurate. But continuing to claim you’re not cis while simultaneously living a dysphoria-free life in the gender you were assigned at birth – and benefiting from the privileges that come with that – isn’t going to fly.

You don’t get to decide what labels to use for me!

So, most of the time when I see this one get pulled out, it’s straight-up trolling – the person making the argument doesn’t believe in their own premises in the first place and it’s pointless. But I’m going to go ahead and assume someone somewhere has made this argument and meant it and address it anyway.

I guess the major thrust of this argument is that it is hypocritical for a group of people who have fought – and are continuing to fight – very hard for the right to define the words that are used to describe them, to then turn around and choose words to describe other people.

The thing is, though, that there is a false equivalency going on here. In terms of questions like the general rejection of the word ‘transsexual’ in favour of ‘transgender’ is a question of the words’ accuracy to what it is describing. While transsexual is a word that some trans people find to be an accurate description of their experience, many of us experience our trans-ness as specifically related to our gender and may have little or no dysphoria around or desire to change our sex/sexual organs. I, for example, am transgender, but I am distinctly *not* transsexual. ‘Transgender’ is simply a better descriptor for most trans people’s experiences.

Cisgender meanwhile, as I said above, is simply a word that arises naturally as the linguistic ‘opposite’ to transgender, and it really does just mean ‘not transgender’. As I said in the previous, if a person is NOT not transgender (i.e. is they’re not cisgender according to that definition), then of course they can object to being called cisgender, because they’re not.

However, barring an actual objection to the word’s accuracy in describing he people it is applied to, this argument is pretty facetious.

But the word is used as a slur!

So, here’s the thing. A slur is a word that it used to oppress or dehumanize marginalized people. A word used to describe those in a position of privilege can’t be a slur in that sense – it simply doesn’t work that way.

I do understand that sometimes trans folks use the word ‘cis’ as a sort-of insult, though more particularly it is usually in an exclusionary way (as in ‘you’re not one of us’ – which, for the record, is true.) I am honestly not really sure what to say about that though. I think that most people understand that when, for instance, a straight woman who is dealing with heartbreak gets her lady friends together to talk about how all men are trash, that is just perfectly reasonable and understandable venting, and that no matter how many times it happens “man” isn’t going to become a slur. To be honest, I think the reason this same venting use of any of the other markers of privilege (white, rich, cis, etc.) doesn’t get as easily read that way is that people in general are less understanding of the very real pain and frustration that various marginalized people are dealing with.

And listen, I’m not going to pretend that no one has ever actually wanted dehumanize and eradicate cis people. It’s just, that’s such an irrelevantly small number of people with – let’s face it – no power whatsoever, that it just doesn’t rate.

Cis isn’t a slur. It is sometimes used in a way that is meant to discredit people, but it’s level of insulting-ness is more along the lines of something like calling someone ‘weird’. Weirdness is often considered to be something that discredits people, but it can also just be a true description of a person, as long as their comfortable with their weirdness. If you just understand that you are cis, and that’s ok, then being called cis shouldn’t be an insult to you, really, even when it is meant as such.

And honestly, if it makes you uncomfortable to be reminded that your relationship to your birth-assigned gender isn’t the same as everyone else’s, that’s actually a manifestation of your cis privilege. So deal with it.


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

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: B is for ‘Born a man’/’Born a woman’

Welcome to another episode of the “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet. Today:

B is for ‘Born a Man’/’Born a woman’

Sometimes, when cisgender people are talking about a trans person, they will try to explain their trans-ness in simple terms, by explaining that a trans woman is a woman who was ‘born a man’, (or that a trans man is a man who was ‘born a woman’). I would like this wording to die in a fire, to be perfectly honest.

I cannot stress this enough: no one in the history of the entire world – cis, trans, or otherwise – was ‘born’ either man or a woman. We are all born as babies, and in most cases adults then make a guess at what our gender is and generally call us either a girl or a boy.

For some people, it may very well be true to say they were ‘born a girl’ or ‘born a boy’ (other people – trans, cis, and otherwise – don’t really see their gender as something they were born with, but rather as something that developed after they were born). The thing about that, though, is that trans men are just as likely to have been born boys as cis men are – trans men who are born boys are just much more likely to have the adults in their mistakenly think that they were born girls, is all.

Certainly there are trans men out there who feel that it is accurate to describe them as having been born girls, and trans women who see themselves as having been born boys, people who feel their gender has shifted over the course of their life, starting in one place and winding up elsewhere. But that is far and away not the only, or even the most common trans experience.

So, cis people, just stop it already with talking about people of any kind being born as men or women. We aren’t, any of us. And, more importantly, stop saying trans people were born in a gender other than the one they tell you they are – most of us weren’t.


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