trans issues

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: J is for “just so curious”

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

J is for “just so curious”

If  you are a trans person, and if anyone in your life knows that you are trans, this one is pretty much impossible to avoid. Cis people find trans people endlessly fascinating. So much so that they keep on writing stories about what they imagine trans people are like, and then giving each other awards for them.

And look, ok, I admit it; curiosity is a pretty normal human thing – we all most likely wonder what it would be like to different from how we are, in so many ways. And when ways of being that we haven’t thought about before are brought to our attention, we wonder about those too.

So, I don’t think cis people’s curiosity about trans people is wrong, for the record. I mostly think it’s just something y’all prioritize really badly.

You curiosity it valid. But it does not now, nor will it ever, trump trans people’s right to privacy. It isn’t rude for us to get annoyed when you ask us intrusive questions; it isn’t rude for us to decide not to satisfy your curiosity. We don’t owe you information.

You don’t have the right to have your curiosities satisfied, about our genitals (what they looked like in the past, look like now, or may look like in the future), about the sex we may or may not be having, or anything else.

The thing that actually bothers me about cis curiosity, though, is this: it so very often comes with the implication that our personhood in other people’s eyes, that the validity of our very genders, depends on how well or how comprehensibly we can answer those questions.

Cis people, know this: the satisfaction of your ‘curiosities’ about trans people cannot and will not ever be an acceptable prerequisite for your support and acknowledgement of trans personhood, and of trans identities. If and when you stop seeing trans people as strange experiments, when you forge real relationships with us on the basis of our personhood, when you have built trust with us, when you have demonstrated that your questions are not simple prurient, but actually coming from a desire to better understand trans struggles, only then should you even begin to consider that you might be worth the time and energy of answering your questions.

And even then, you are never entitled to any individual person’s time or labour. Ok? ok.

 


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

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: H is for “how do you have sex?”

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

H is for “how do you have sex?”

This question? It’s not even just relevant to trans people – it’s a common question  directed at LGBQ+ folks as well. The clearest answer in most cases (unless you’re planning on having sex with the person asking it, I guess?) is ‘um, none of your darn business.’ It is kind of amazing how simply being trans can open a person up to the kinds of invasive questions that they would never dream of asking in any other context. Suddenly we’re not people; we’re research subjects, or more often merely objects of fleeting curiosity.

But, even setting that aside, this question? It just depresses me, on so many levels. I do want to acknowledge upfront that for some trans people (as for some cis people) the answer is always simply going to be “I don’t have sex.” Because not everyone wants to , and not everyone has sex even if they do want to. But again, even setting that aside, I don’t understand how this is even confusing to people.

Because you know how I have sex with other people? [This is not going not be explicit, it’s ok!]

Me and the people I have sex with, we touch each other in whatever ways feel good to us. Or we try to, though it doesn’t always work out that way, I guess. But really, that’s it. And I really hope that’s how most people do it.

Just, like, if you seriously can’t think of ways that people with, I guess, different genital combinations than the ones you’re used to in your own sex life might be able to touch each pleasurably? You are seriously lacking in imagination, at best.

Because the thing is, genitals are somewhat important to sex, for most people, of course. But, so are so many other body parts that people possess regardless of gender or sexual orientation or whether they are trans. Most of us have hands, with fingers on them, or other appendages that can probably be used to do things.

Like, seriously? You can’t think of *any* sex acts you might participate in that the trans person in front of you is also capable of? Really?

Or are you just actually hoping for the dirty details, because you’re just that much of a creep? Which is it?


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

“What terms in the cisgender, GSM, or trans* community are problematic?” 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge Part 19

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: What terms in the cisgender, GSM, or trans* community are problematic?

So, um, first off, lol at the idea of a “cisgender community”. I’m just going to focus on GSM and trans communities here.

In which case, I’ll start with the obvious one, from the question itself: trans*

The asterisk version of “trans” fell out of favour pretty quickly after rising in popularity. It was intended as a more inclusive term than the non-asterisk version (i.e. it was intended to convey the inclusion of non-binary identities under the trans(*) umbrella, as well as allowing for the multiple versions of trans(*) identity (as in, transgender as well as transsexual – more on that one in a minute)), but there are a number of problems with it.

One of the major sources of side-eye for “trans*” is that it didn’t actually come from within trans communities – the term was coined by a cisgender person. Which is another way of saying that this way of talking about trans people was not self-defined, but rather a label put upon us from the outside. I don’t think that this is necessarily a death knell for a term, as communities often actively appropriate and claim words that were originally created by non-members of those communities.

However, it doesn’t stop there.

The thing is that adding the asterisk to trans in an attempt to “include” non-binary people is either 1) actually implicitly excluding non-binary people from trans identity; or 2) non-consensually including non-trans non-binary people in a category they don’t identify with. I’ll unpack both of those:

When you claim that somehow adding an asterisk to trans is more inclusive of non-binary trans people, you actually imply that that non-binary trans people aren’t “really” trans. We are rendered into a footnote, an addendum. We are pushed out of actually transness, into um, asterisk-ness? The thing is, though, that I am not an asterisk. I am trans, plain and simple. And so are many other non-binary people.

But. On the other hand, many people who are neither men nor women are not trans. Within cultures that don’t operate on a strict gender binary, that actually have socially codified alternative gender roles and identities, the cis/trans binary doesn’t make sense, and the trans narrative doesn’t fit people who fall into the non-binary gender categories of these cultures. Such folks often actively dis-identify with transness, and to insist that they are still “trans*” is to invalidate their sense of self.

And so, trans* has pretty well died by now, as a term. Good!

The other thing I find sometimes problematic in terms of language within trans communities isn’t a term itself, but rather a mode of language policing: that is, I sometimes take issue with the ways in which other trans folk insist that “transgendered” is “not a word”, or that “transsexual” isn’t a thing.

In general, I get the sentiment. Transgender is the best umbrella term here, for sure. Transgender is an adjective, a modifying descriptor of a person, much like many other descriptors that identify people’s axes of oppression. It can be said that people are transgender (not transgendered), in the same way that people are black (not blacked), autistic (not autisticked (autismed?)), etc. And like, ok, I guess? But also, this implies that the English language is consistent in a way that it never has been. And it smacks of privilege; like, not everyone has a high level grasp of grammar, nor should they care about minor quibbles as long as they can communicate themselves.

Of course, some people are actively bothered by being called transgendered, and those people have a right to define what words are applied to them, as does everyone else. But by the same token, there are trans people who actively identify themselves as transgendered, and they get to do that, ok? It’s not wrong for them to do that. It is a word.

Ditto for transsexual. The word does not even remotely apply to trans people generally, but there are folks who actively and specifically identify themselves as transsexual, as changing their sex, and not just their gender. They also get to do that. Everyone gets to use the words that best describe their own experience and understanding of themselves.

To be honest, this is why I prefer “trans” as far and away the best umbrella term, “transgender” if you must have a longer one. And I do think it is important to correct people (especially cisgender people) that I see using “transgendered” or “transsexual” as general terms. But I don’t correct them by telling them those aren’t words. They are words – I know they are words because people use them, and that is literally all it takes for something to be a word. They just aren’t the best words, or the right words to used in all contexts.

There are other things I could talk about here, I’m sure – this prompt has endless possibilities for me, really – but I’ll leave here for now!

But please, do tell me: What words that come up in trans communities do you have an issue with?


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Dysphoria: the other thing I’m talking about when I talk about being triggered

Somehow when I wrote my last post about what it feels like to be triggered around my past trauma, I completely forgot about the other kind of trigger I experience. I sometimes struggle with gender-related dysphoria, and it is an entirely different thing from the other kind of trigger.

The dysphoria I experience around my gender is triggered almost exclusively by moments of realization that other people haven’t just automatically categorized me into a binary gender in their heads, but when their way of interacting with me seems to be coloured more by this misconception than it is by the actual person standing in front of them (namely, me).

These moments are, for me, a weirdly out-of-body experience, almost. I immediately get this very weird sense that what is happening is not real. It feels more like a dream, like something I am watching from a position floating above everything. Like maybe I was accidentally in someone else’s body and that’s why this is happening. Like I am actually invisible, maybe, and this person is literally acting entirely based on a single, incorrect “fact” about me. Like I-don’t-even-know-how-to-describe-it.

It’s definitely an instinctive dissociative response of sorts, and it’s not totally different from the triggering experience I described in my previous post, though I think it is much more genuinely adaptive. It is a weird and sometimes disorienting experience, but it generally functions to keep me from freaking out in the moment, and it usually passes reasonably quickly. Unless it happens with someone I am actually close enough to be vulnerable around, or if it happens repeatedly, it doesn’t amount to a whole lot out of my day.

Of course, I say this not because I think that being misgendered is ok, or somehow a lesser violence than the things that trigger me otherwise. It still upsets me. I am still unhappy about it. These experiences are part and parcel of the cissexist, binarist, and often just plain old misogynist nature of the culture I’m living in. These things are wrong regardless of whether they are triggering to me or to anyone else.

But yes, that is the other thing I am sometimes talking about when I talk about being triggered. And I do always specify when I’m talking about dysphoria, so my previous post can still stand, I think.

Institutional failings: universities and trans folk

Universities in North America are, by and large, massively failing to support and create a safe environment for their trans students, at even the most basic level.

Most universities will only register students under their legal names, and while I’m sure there are some that do, I don’t know of a single one that also records students’ preferred names and has a way of communicating those to the professors. I actually know of at least one university that insists that your university email address must directly reflect you legal name as registered in the school, as if that’s an unproblematic thing to require.

As it stands, if a trans student doesn’t want to go through pain and potential humiliation of explaining that yes, that name that was just called on the roster, which is at clear odds to their gender presentation, does represent them, but also, no it is not their name, they are 100% responsible to reaching out to each of their professors, individually, every semester in the hopes that if they ask the professors to call them by their preferred name, that those professors will actually remember and do so. Sometimes even that doesn’t work.

Let me put this another way: trans students who have not yet legally changed their names have to choose between outing themselves to every professor they ever have, being outed to each of their classes on the first day, or being mis-named throughout their entire time at the school. Starting university is stressful enough as it is; imagine having to take the risk of discovering that one of your professors is anti-trans, by having them attack you personally, before you even go to your first day.

This shit needs to be fixed. By failing to have preferred name policies in place, universities are inflicting violence on trans students.

But it doesn’t even stop there.

My spouse-person changed their name at some point before starting grad school last September, but after they had applied for the program. This means they were initially registered under their birth name and had to try to get their records changed, and we got to witness first hand what a shit-show that turned out to be.

Even with a legal name change certificate in hand, they never managed to get their name completely changed in the system. They informed four different offices/departments who all changed their name in various places, and yet their birth name continued to pop up all over the place, like playing whack-a-mole.

Their name was never changed in Blackboard (a system through which online courses are accessed, and where professors sometimes ask students to post reading responses or discussion forums), which meant they couldn’t post there without revealing their birth name. They was fortunate in that their professors were understanding about this and allowed them to submit those assignments directly via email, but this shouldn’t be something that individual students have to negotiate solutions to. This should be something that the university has a procedure for handling.

For them this simply was frustrating and annoying, but for someone else it could just have easily been painful, humiliating, and even triggering. Nothing about it was ok.

Trans people are, more often than not, made solely responsible for making sure we are called by the correct names and pronouns, but it shouldn’t be that way. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that people are treated with a basic level of respect, and that includes respecting what they want to be called. It is universities’ (and all other institutions’) responsibility to make sure that they have policies and procedures in place to create spaces where their students can attend classes without facing violence from those institutions and the people who work for them.

Universities can’t guarantee that trans students won’t have bigoted classmates, but they sure as shit can make sure that they at least honour those students’ names, consistently and with minimal effort required on the part of the students. All students should be proactively asked if they have a preferred name for class rosters – this would honestly just save time on first roll call, for everyone, but also it takes the burden off of trans students of actively outing themselves at any level or seeking ‘special’ treatment.

This isn’t even difficult. How is it 2015 and this isn’t already standard procedure?

Fuck.

A transgender double-bind

There is no right time to come out as transgender.

I mean, in general the right time is whenever you feel ready, or whenever being in the closet starts feeling like it’s going to kill you, whichever comes first.

What I’m talking about today is cis people’s perspectives on the right time to come out. I’m pretty sure that no matter who you are or when in your life you come out or decide to start a gender transition, you will have one or more people giving you one the following two responses:

  1. “You’re too young to know!” (i.e. you’re doing this too early in life and so I choose not to believe you)
  2. “If you really are transgender, why hasn’t this come up before now?” (i.e. you’re doing this too late in life and so I choose not to believe you)

(Side-note: I’d actually be really curious to hear if there’s anyone out there who managed to come out in some sort of temporal sweet spot that meant they dealt with both these responses from different people.)

Because there’s definitely not a clear line between what ages you’ll be told you’re too young, and at what age you become too old. They almost certainly overlap from person to person, which means that there is definitely no age at which a person can declare that their gender is something other than what their doctors and/or parents guessed it was going to be when they were born and have people in general just accept it.

I am so fucking tired of these absurd excuses, because they are one of many things that actually cause some trans people to delay their coming out, because they are afraid of just these kinds of responses, which can’t be refuted, because they’re carefully designed to be irrefutable. If someone thinks that at your age you can’t possibly know you are transgender, there is nothing you can do to prove them wrong. And if they think that if you really were transgender, they would have, of necessity, seen evidence by now, you can’t prove that wrong either.

And so people delay coming out because they don’t want to deal with this shit (along with all kinds of other often even awfuller shit, of course). And the more they do that, the more the weight of how long they’ve waited can weigh on them and make it even harder, and make it more certain that they will face age-related push-back. It’s an inescapable spiral. And it’s a giant pile of bullshit.

I have nothing more of value add, other than yet another:

Fuck. That. Noise.

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On being transgender, and “what if you change your mind?”

I was recently faced with someone close to me (close in the sense of immediate family, not necessarily actual intimacy of relationship, but anyway…) showing genuine concern about my being genderqueer, because “what if I change my mind?”

I know a lot of people face this question, or something like it. For younger trans people, it might take the shape of “but what if it’s just a phase?”

I don’t even know what to do with these trumped up concerns, because really my answer is “so the fuck what if it a phase? So the fuck what if I do change my mind?” Why would that be so terrible? I’m managing to change my gender identity once; if I want to I can probably manage it again. Seriously.

No seriously.

There are four possible scenarios here:

  • It’s not a phase, but Concerned Person thinks it is and doesn’t respect Trans Person’s identity. Concerned Person is an asshole, simple as that.
  • It’s not a phase, and Concerned Person takes it seriously. Awesome! People should totally support the trans folks in their life! Well done Concerned Person, and thank you for just believing the other person.
  • It does turn out to have been a “phase”, Trans Person changes their mind. Concerned Person refers to Trans Person throughout by birth name/pronouns/whatever. The relationship between Trans Person (or I guess, Ultimately-Not-Trans Person in this case) is strained by the time Concerned Person spent being disrespectful and ignoring Not-Trans Person’s wishes. Concerned Person was still an asshole, and is not retroactively justified in their actions.
  • It does turn out to have been a phase, Trans Person changes their mind. Concerned Person used Ultimately-Not-Trans Persons’s preferred pronouns/name/whatever as appropriate for each phase this process. Ultimately-Not-Trans Person comes out of the experience with the knowledge that Concerned Person is someone they can trust to respect them and their identity no matter what. And, importantly, no harm has been done by the fact that Concerned Person used the name/pronouns/whatever that Non-Trans Person later changed their mind about.

Regardless of whether a person later changes their stated gender identity again, (and regardless of how many times they change it), the right thing to do is respect their identity in the moment. Don’t worry about their theoretical potential future identities. They’ll tell you about those when they get to them, and it’s not your problem. Mkay?

Also, you know what? Sometimes “phases”, aren’t “just” anything. Sometimes they’re a really important form of self-exploration, of a person coming to understand themself and the world they live in better. Sometimes phases are awesome life-changing growth opportunities. Sometimes phases are the best thing that ever happened to someone. Why are we shitting on phases, like they’re the worst possible thing that could happen?

I mean, I know in a lot of cases, these Concerned People are worried about potential irreversible medical interventions that trans folks might undertake and then regret. But seriously, you just gotta trust trans folks to make these decisions themselves, because if it’s not phase, (and let’s be really clear here, it almost never is a phase, ok?), *not* getting those interventions may be far more dangerous than the potential regret of them later. Because what if it’s not a fucking phase? Why are people always more worried about the potential consequences of theoretical phases than the actual consequences of constant realities? It’s pretty clear that these Concerned People aren’t really all that concerned about the trans people they know.

Because the convenient thing about the “but what if you change your mind?” thing is that it literally never expires. How long do these people think a trans person should wait to be sure? The spectre of potential mind-changing never goes away. It’s the *perfect* wall for cissexist family members to hide behind to justify any behaviour and make it out as a demonstration of how much they “care”.

And so I say: Fuck. That. Noise.