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Inadequacy and Affirmation

Hello! I’m an amab transwoman, and I recently opened up to a few friends regarding it, and it feels good to have someone know! But, as good as it feels, I still worry and feel inadequate, especially when I compare myself to what seems to be everyone else’s idea of what a transwoman looks like or how she should be. I’m not incredibly masculine, but I have facial and body hair that I just plain don’t feel like dealing with sometimes, and a lot of my clothes read masculine. I’m not curvy in the slightest, and my shoulders and chest are way too broad. I feel a gross contrast between my appearance and what I feel should be my appearance. I want people to know that I’m female upon seeing me, but I feel like, even with changing my appearance in a conceivable way (clothes, makeup, et cetera), people aren’t going to recognize my identity.

First of all: congratulations! That’s such a huge deal and it’s really awesome that you’re in a place where you could do that.

Really disappointing answer: not everyone is going to recognize and validate your gender the way you deserve. Such is life in a shitty cis-normative/cis-centric culture. The satisfaction and comfort you’re going to find will be from Q communities, from understandings you build and conversations you have with your friends, from agency you dig out of yourself every time you affirm your identity as a woman on your own terms. I’m not going to give you platitudes of “don’t care what other people think!!!” because it’s not that easy, and we both know that. Trans women are getting a hell of a lot more visibility right now, and that’s beginning to change the conversation of gender in dominant narratives, but there’s still a lot of focus on the body and physicality (something Laverne Cox has complained about with regards to the objectification of trans women) and that doesn’t put us in a great place to have our emotional needs satisfied by people who aren’t super involved in queer discussions. A lot of people will recognize your identity and affirm your womanhood, and there are a lot of people who won’t. That sucks and I wish it wasn’t something I felt I needed to say. Of the people who don’t treat you the way you deserve and need to be treated, some will change! Some will educate themselves and reevaluate the way in which they interact with gender. But others, others whose brains are wrapped in layers of transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, and hate, might not. It’s not easy to cast their opinions aside. It’s infinitely easier to ruminate on the people in your life who deal you nothing but negativity. That said, I don’t think it’s going to be hard to convince you that doing so won’t be healthy, satisfying, or productive. So let yourself build community with people who do affirm your identity, and when you have the emotional stamina, work with the people in your life whose support matters to you.

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In this video Janet Mock calls out the bullshit that is “passing”; you don’t pass as a woman, you are a woman.

I hate the term passing, and if you watch the video linked in the photo caption, you’ll get an idea as to why. But. I am without a better phrase. “Passing” is really fuckin’ hard. It is expensive and stressful and requires so much time and energy… and it isn’t necessarily pay off! The way that you can gender yourself to the world is infinite, from using certain deodorants to hairstyles to color palettes, etc. It’s not any one way, and if you focus on the women you see around you, it’s easy to see that despite whatever stereotypes and standards we hold dear, there’s no one way to be a woman. Don’t hold yourself to a standard that isn’t mandatory, is harmful, is unrealistic and is not even really adhered to by cis women. Call people out when they question your authenticity as a woman because it’s misogynistic drivel and you deserve better. Try to not let people away with inflicting emotional violence on you — and let your friends stand by your side. There’s not one thing you can do to be the “right” kind of trans woman because that… doesn’t exist. Find power in the ways in which you have been able to become comfortable with identifying yourself that way, because that’s amazing. I hope this helps. I know that I’m not exactly known for giving concrete, step-by-step advice, but ideally something in this mess of words will help in some way.

Good luck, so much love to you, and again, congratulations on telling some of your friends.

Oly


Leap-Frogging Into Gender Non-Conformity

Dear Dear Queer, do you have any advice on getting up the confidence to do gender non-conforming things, like not shaving your legs and armpits when you’re afab or painting your nails and wearing make up when you’re amab?

Well from personal experience, I kind of started small and built up! For me it was nice because it was somewhat subtle and it allowed me a lot of room to figure out what felt right to me. I know a lot of cis girls who laugh about not shaving their legs in winter, but when winter ended and shorts became a viable option again, I just abandoned my razor. A huge key – and I’ll keep saying it over and over again because it is at the forefront of self care – is checking in with yourself to see what you like, what you want to change, etc. Like, I typically shave my armpits just because I don’t like the way it feels, and I keep my nails aggressively well manicured, but I would definitely still say that I’m a pretty gender defiant person. Wear and do what makes you feel happy and healthy and affirmed, and find confidence in the fact that you’re reaching a place where you can find out what you like, not what other people want you to like. Even within gender binaries, nobody does gender the same. We are not Stepford wives.

For AFAB people who feel obligated or pressured to shave their legs, I just have to say you’ll honestly be very surprised with how little people care. From my own experience, I’ve never even gotten a weird look and I tend to show off my legs. The only comments I’ve ever gotten have been positive so I would try not to get too wound up about it. This might be a product of me living in the Pacific Northwest, but I’ve been to Texas, Southern California, and all over the midwest and northeast and have yet to experience a negative reaction. So that’s nice! Let your hair grow out and take time at home or wherever to sit down and feel the hair on your legs and love the way it looks, or at least the statement it makes, if that’s what you’re going for. Confidence is a huge key, and affirmation from outside sources won’t matter a ton if you don’t have an inner foundation. The more concerned with whatever gender-defying action you’re taking you are, the more people are going to be drawn to it as something out of the ordinary. Drawing the spotlight to whatever you’re doing isn’t going to help you feel comfortable in doing it. If I wore shorts and kept darting my eyes to my legs or kept trying to hide them, that would bring in a lot of unwanted attention when in reality it’s pretty likely to slip under the radar.

AMAB people are not as lucky, and I won’t pretend that they are! Regardless of assigned or perceived gender, presenting as more masculine will always be more acceptable than presenting as feminine for as long as we live in a male-biased society. If you’re AMAB and want to start playing around with feminine forms of expression, there are a ton of ways to very subtly weave perceived aesthetic femininity into your look (polish on your toes, nude makeup, incorporating less “masculine” colors into your palette, etc). That said, and this is where all of my friends who keep up with this laugh out loud, have you seen Harry Styles lately? My dude is currently pullin’ off and has been seen with nail polish and earrings and sparkly boots (they were so pretty!!) and rings and necklaces and wedge heels and these gorgeous scarves around his head and nobody is blinking an eye. This goes for AFAB people too but knowing there are successful gender-defiant people out there doin’ it both casually and loudly is a huge comfort and reassurance and I think it makes it less scary.

I hope this helps in any small way, and goooooood luck!

Oly


Doing Gender Neutrality Right

hi! i’m dfab & agender. in the process of becoming aware of and exploring my gender identity over the past two years, i tried to express myself in more masculine ways to achieve what i believed was androgyny — the most visible one was having most of my hair cut off about a year ago. now i’m trying to grow it back out, because in the year since, i’ve realized that masculine “androgyny” doesn’t appeal to me. even so, up until then it seemed like the only Real Way to do gender neutrality, and because of this feminine parts of my gender expression (nail painting, wearing my hair long, wearing dresses) always feel like they are in conflict with the masculine ones (don’t usually wear makeup, don’t shave my legs, masculine body build). i don’t know if there is a right or wrong way to go about being agender and i’m pretty lost as to where to go at this point!

Isn’t it just completely not fair how the gender binary completely permeates our understanding of neutrality EVEN WITHIN the queer community? You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re agender, yeah? This culture didn’t grow up with queer people mind. There’s not a section in a clothing store for nonbinary people. You have to take what you have it make it yours. Our concepts of androgyny are unsettlingly male-influenced, and I’m glad you made a note that it didn’t work out for you. I’m glad that you are in a place where you can reject the standard of androgyny because you know it isn’t right for you. I think a lot of people – by no fault of their own! – force themselves into ideas of popular (masculinized) androgyny because that’s… the only other option given. But two options expanded to a heavily gendered third isn’t a satisfying compromise! There’s only so much you can do to avoid being gendered in a gendered culture. The “feminine” and “masculine” parts of your gender expression aren’t in opposition to each other, they’re in harmony with each other. Know that they’re yours, that you’re cheating the system that wasn’t made to consider people like us part of the picture. There’s not a right way or a wrong way, just your way. I think you’ve found it, now you just need a bit of confidence in it.

Good luck!


What if I Want to Bind?

I am a queer person with a vagina who has always thought of herself as cis. Lately I have been really wanting to buy a binder because I occasionally very much dislike the appearance and feel of my breasts. I don’t think of myself as anything but a woman and still don’t, but I’m a little confused by this. I know labels are something one has to choose for themselves but I am sort of struggling with identity because of this. Am I a cissexual who just doesn’t like my own boobs, or am I some type of genderqueer?

If you don’t think of yourself as anything but a woman, this question kind of answers itself. Breasts do not a woman make. There are plenty of cis women who don’t like having breasts, want smaller breasts, whatever. And discomfort with gendered parts of your body is not equivalent to genderqueerness, especially when from what I can tell you’re so comfortable with identifying yourself as a woman. There are some pretty great and very cheap binders on eBay that you can check out, like this or this. I’m pretty sure I own the second one, and it works really well. I have DDD breasts and with my binder on it looks like this:

So that’s pretty decent. Especially if it’s just something you want to test out without spending a ton of money. I don’t think you need to worry about your gender identity, but that’s up to you to think about. I hope this helped!


Bodies and Normalcy

I’m a (mostly) cis girl but the last few years I have been growing more and more aware of how much more comfortable I would be if I were male-bodied. I still feel female (whatever that means) but I’ve tried packing and binding and it just feels right to me. I’m really unfamiliar with queer culture, having grown up in a pretty conservative home. Is this a normal thing? I’m just. Really. Confused. Thanks/sorry if this is a weird question.

No question is a weird question my dude, this is a queer advice column! Queer is weird. I want to deviate from the use of the word “normal,” because I think it implies too strongly that there’s one way to do something right, and with something as personal and multifaceted as your identities, body, etc., using that word with that meaning is so far from a place of productivity. I think what you should focus on is something you said in this message: it feels right to you. Whether it’s common or expected or not, the thing that matters most is that it’s something that makes you feel at home in your skin. So I guess to answer your question of normalcy/commonality, I would say that usually people who play with their gender expression and presentation to noticeable degrees identify as trans* in some respect, but that doesn’t mean that you need to and it doesn’t mean that you’re the only person who’s experienced this. The specifics of identity rest completely in your hands, and I know there’s a sense of pressure to pick one term and stick to it but I really don’t think that’s necessary. Identifiers are not as important as your comfort. I’ve definitely run into people who have encountered the same presentation preferences before, and I think that experimenting with this kind of stuff is really healthy and really productive! So keep binding and packing for as long as it keeps you feeling happy and right.

Hope this helped!


we never capitalized our i’s

a, s, i, wi, we, she, he, they, them, me. sasha for long, and aparajeeta for longer. “Hey you” for short, and a smile for shorter. Growing up, i was never called by my given name, always by sasha. It seemed to fit better than “someone who can’t be defeat,” someone whom i never felt i was. i was too sensitive to declare victory over a life not yet started and too young to accept a gift in namesake, unearned. “sasha” was a name that nicked the heels of a name too long to laugh with and too divine for the monotony that dictated everyday life. “sasha” was not too frilly and not too heavy, the s’s fit my curves and the a’s echoed my art. “sa”-mba my fun, “sh”, i was quiet, but not for long, “a”- bbreviated compassion. sasha’s fluidity ebbed and flowed in sync with my being, supple like gender and free like children. What a coincidence that i would be who i was called.

In school we learned about pronouns: he, she, it, they, them, we. but never in context of choice or identity. Somehow it was a factual truth that John was a “he” and Ashley was a “she”… And “sasha” was just “sasha”. i was always, and still am to many people in our life, a “she”. Dictated by prehistoric grammar laws and narrow-minded orthodoxy, we were shielded from self-declarative free form expressions. i often caught myself oscillating between “she-self” and “he-self”, seeking refuge somewhere between blue and pink. In the confines of my mind, i explored the gender grey shamelessly, interjecting everyday talk with mixed self-references: “i’m a nice guy” and “i’m a Jersey girl” all in the same conversation. As i found solace in these ambiguous mental spaces, and toyed with my gender expression, “sir”s and “he”s became souvenirs, giggles, and smiles and squeals of joy. For me, it seemed like a step closer to the middle path.

My imaginary friend was genderqueer, far before I even knew what that meant. Mai-no: pronounced may-no, literally translated “girl no”. Mai-no transcended pronouns, referred to as “he” on some days, “she” on other days, and “they” every day in between. Gender fucking was their superpower, my favorite thing about them. There was nothing they couldn’t do: keeper of my sentiment and sorter of my Legos, they had no glass gender ceiling that kept them from cars or crayons or anything else.

As i graduated from childhood, Mai-no stuck with me, existing less as an external entity and more as a person i talk to in my head, another part of me. i always tell people, whatever works: he, she, ze, this, that, and the other thing. But i often catch myself referring to myself as “we”, a symbol of the unity, encompassing all of my identities. i don’t expect people to refer to me as “we,” or to understand who “we” is. This said, i recognize that pronouns are used for ourselves too. i could refer to myself as “i”, or “we,” and just as we deconstruct our public pronouns, we must be in touch with our private pronouns.


In Defense of My Countries, My Identities

I have always been in search of words to describe myself. Usually I’ve found the words to be too limiting, too uniform. It has been only the past few years or so that I have had to confront my social identity, my relation to others, my past and eventually my future.

Born and raised in Iran, I could never deny my Iranian-ness. But even in Iran I didn’t completely fit in with everyone. I knew I was different. I did not act like other girls and did not hold exactly the same thoughts and values. When I went to college in the US, I became more engaged with my sexual and gender identity. I ascribed my difference in relation to other girls as a difference in gender. I refused to ascribe to a violently limiting binary system of genders. I began to view gender as a spectrum. But little by little, I disposed of the spectrum idea, founding even that to be limiting. Thus, I came to the conclusion that each individual person has their own gender, which is an ensemble of a variety of things such as their biological sex, their gender expression, their culture, their own self-identification, the identification by others, their class, their race, their religion and so many other factors that affect our notions of gender. But I have to wonder now: this could not possibly be all that differentiated me from other Iranians? Even as mere children in Iran, we knew deep down inside how the world functioned, even if we didn’t have the words to describe it. And sometimes the words were too painfully precise. Yes, I was too American, a remark that many of my Iranian friends did not fail to point out at times. I accepted their haphazard observation and even took pride in it. But for the most part it was a source of play and joking. When I moved to the US at the age of 15, I did not fail to mention to my newly found American friends that I was Iranian – a fact in which I took great pride. At first, this phrase was pronounced with much nuance, with almost a sense of provocation. Were they going to be mean to me? Were they going to make fun of me? Were they going to be surprised? Or simply indifferent? The response most often consisted of an initial surprise, a series of questions posed out of curiosity and ignorance and eventual indifference.

Despite holding official citizenships of both countries, I never felt myself overly American.[1] Throughout high school and even the first few years in college, I insisted that I was not American, regardless of my social status. Never until now had I ever questioned why I was so vehemently opposed to being American. Furthermore, what does being American even mean? I posed this question to a few of my American and foreign friends but none of whom could provide a satisfactory answer. But one thing was clear: you do not need to be born on American soil to be considered American. In fact it was not until I was doing a study abroad in France that I accepted and made my own the American identity.

During my three months in France, I met and interacted with many different people from all over the world. One of the first things that was always asked in class from professors and fellow classmates was national origin. My initial response was immediately: the United States. If I somehow felt as if I was going to have a longer relationship with this individual I always added: “But I was born and raised in Iran before moving to the US.” However, throughout my stay, my response, even to people with whom I knew I would have no major or very little contact, slowly became: I was born in Iran but I come from the United States. Finally it turned into what I had been feeling for a while but had never pronounced out loud: Iranian-American.

It would be too narrow-sighted and utterly false to claim that going to France was the ultimate experience that pushed me into this brilliant new identity that I had forged for myself. So I retreat. Before traveling to France, I had become relatively active with the Seattle community organization of Iranian-Americans. It was there that I met a lot of Iranians from all walks of life and from very diverse backgrounds. I talked to people who clearly felt one side of their identity weighed more than the other, and then there were individuals who easily described themselves as Iranian-Americans and found no irony or contention in saying so. I knew I was one of them but I felt that I first needed to define being American. But can I even define being Iranian? I would be lying if I said Iran was a homogenous country with very little diversity, hence the question is never posed like it is in the United States. As an atheist upper-middle class Persian born and raised in the city, who am I to ignore or worse – assimilate the experiences of millions who are lower-class, religious, Kurd, Turk, Azeri, Arab, Lur, Afghani, Turkmen, Baluchi, and the multitude of other ethnicities that make up this beautiful country, into my own narrow experience as an Iranian? And I have to wonder: do other ethnicities and classes in Iran make the Iranian identity their own as I do?

It had been some time that I had completely washed my hands off of Iranian politics, even if I followed the news regarding the nuclear program and the 2009 elections very closely over the past few years but I never commented or even allowed myself much thought. Even when talking to friends genuinely interested in international politics, I refrained from getting myself too involved. I could not because it was too painful. I could not be emotionally invested in an issue that was tearing me from within. What I didn’t realize until the last six months was that only by confronting my fears, my prejudices and privileges, and by actively engaging with my Iranian and American identities and communities could I truly heal my wounds. I cannot move forward without confronting my past. And if I am to call myself a true activist and continue on the route of anti-oppression work, how can I simply disregard the political realities of US-Iran relations, the consequences of which affects my identity and my relations to the people around me at every level?

And even yet, my overly active and critical brain does not permit me to read back upon these words and not reproach myself for throwing myself under the ugly and violent grasp of nationalism. Many terrible things have been done under the name of nationalism and it is precisely nationalism to which I am subjecting myself by defining my identities as a haphazard mix of a multitude of cultures, histories, and politics from two different countries I call home. But when I am faced with the threat of the destruction of everything that I hold dear in Iran and in the United States, I cannot help but feel a deepening desperation of clinging onto what little I feel is left of my past for a morsel of stability at present, and hopes of a brighter future. As much as I would like to join hands in the common fight against racism, imperialism, and oppression, without regard to nationalism, I cannot raise myself above the unfortunate realities of borders. My experience of the world is deeply rooted in histories. Thus, I can never own the Iranian-American identity without fully engaging in its politics and the consequences it entails.


[1] The usage of the word “American” here is meant to refer to the United States. I fully understand the white/north amero-centrism of the usage of this term. With my deepest regards to my fellow Latin/South Americans, the term is used out of ease and to differentiate it from being a “US citizen.”

SH