Gender is hard! And there are a lot of different expressions of it, a lot of different pathways in and over and around it. These two responses are about the realm of nonbinarism in particular, but I can’t help but go on a rant about the entire construction of cisheterocentric social enforcements because that’s kinda how I roll.
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.
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.
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!
Hi Oly! I’ve been thinking about gender and identity a lot recently and I’m just really confused about my own. Like, I get that there are trans people who got sex dysphoria and that doesn’t apply to me but I also read stuff about dysphoria not being the only thing to define gender. But what is it then? Because I don’t think it’s gender roles, right? What IS gender? How do you know whether you feel female / male / something else?
Wow, ok. Big question. Well first and foremost we need to agree that gender is a culture bound concept. American culture operates with two pretty rigid genders (masculinity being more rigid, I would say… there’s always more wiggle room outside of the role that receives privilege). Other cultures use a binary system, but a lot don’t. Even those that use a binary system don’t necessarily have the same categorization that we do, nor the same strictness about people adhering to the gender they are assigned. Gender is… there’s only so many times you can say “gender is a social construct” before it sounds like nails on a chalkboard but that’s what it is. Your understandings of “male” and “female” are dependent on the fact that you grew up in this culture that have these structures for gender. It’s reinforced ad nauseum by tropes in media and weird pointless dichotomies. It is sold to us in a really simple, easily consumable but heavily flawed and skewed way that erases a lot of people and doesn’t encourage personal growth. So.
So, how do you know what you feel like. That’s really complicated! I mean, I don’t think it’s too oversimplifying for me to say that generally, trans people discover their identification as trans because something feels wrong about the way they are being gendered. And that can include physical issues, but it doesn’t have to. Bodies are incredibly gendered, but so are actions, affects, aesthetics, etc. Maybe you are assigned female but something in your core screams male. Maybe you were assigned male but you feel out of place in the gender category you’ve been dumped in, and the “other side” doesn’t look too hot either. It’s a feeling of discomfort that permeates your experience as a person in a gendered society. I think something that’s also happening more with the increased visibility of trans narratives is cis people who are relatively apathetic about their identification taking a step back and thinking, “Do I actually identify this way? Why do I identify this way? What informed this? Would I be more comfortable being seen as something else?” It’s something that absolutely deserves experimentation, and if you’re feeling so… vague about it, I 100% encourage you to explore that. I hope it’s something that you play around with and find something productive in! Gender is weird and a pretty paper-thin structure that I am all for poking holes in.
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.
Hi! I think that I might be gender neutral, but I’m very confused! I still sometimes identify as female, and I don’t mind female pronouns at all. Would I have to “commit” to being neutral at all times? What kind of voice would I have in feminism/women’s rights issues? Would I have to out myself to potential partners who are interested in females?
Hi! The short and sweet set of answers is: no, a valid one, and that’s up to you. To elaborate:
1) When I first started allowing myself to be genderqueer, I felt like I was required to “present” that way at all times. I felt like if I looked feminine in any way, my identification outside of the binary wouldn’t be perceived as valid. And maybe it wasn’t, maybe it isn’t, and maybe people still look at me and my consistently polished fingernails and decidedly fantastic eye makeup and refuse to reconcile that image with my rejection of the gender people project onto me. Not everyone’s gonna treat you the way you want and deserve to be treated as someone who dissociates with the gender binary, but the people who do are the ones that matter the most anyway! Besides, the concept of neutrality when it comes to gender presentation is like, laughably gendered. It’s not an easy thing to “commit” to in the first place, so why do so when you don’t always want to? That’s not to say that playing around with gender presentation and how you think of it isn’t worthwhile and interesting and rewarding, but it’s not something you should ever feel forced to do. That totally counteracts the emotional liberation of coming to terms with queering your identity.
2) Nonbinary people aren’t protected from misogyny and the repercussions of living in a patriarchal society. Feminism is most productive when it’s intersectional, meaning when it gives voice to trans people, women of color, [dis]abled folks, and so on. When it recognizes overlap and celebrates it. When its being used as a tool to fight systems of power, when it doesn’t rely on removing agency from those of less privilege, when it rejects the very popular mindset that “feminism is, and to an extent always has been, a white, middle class movement,” in the words of Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Cosslett of the Vagenda. You have a voice, you have your own set of experiences, and you have a place in feminism. Anyway, that women’s rights issues are referred to specifically as “women’s rights issues” is a product of gender binarism in America, not a conscious focus on only people who are women regardless of assigned sex.
3) Depends on you and depends on the circumstances! Depends on how much you want out of your partner, what you need from them. Would you want them to refer to you with gender neutral pronouns, would you want them to refrain from using gendered words like “girlfriend”, would you want them to begin to identify themselves as queer for you to feel supported and affirmed? I think it really depends on two different axes, the person and their understanding of queer issues and the seriousness of your relationship with them. If I were to casually date someone, I doubt it would come up. But, if I were to casually date someone from the queer community, I would expect them to be able to affirm my gender stuff properly. If I was in a committed, romantic relationship with someone or someones, I would want them to know that part of myself and know how I needed to be treated because of it. There’s no one answer, I think it’s something that you can put on the table when you feel like it needs to be.
I really hope this helps!
I read your blog a lot and I love the advice you give but I saw the other day that you said Laci Green was problematic. I’ve watched a few of her videos and I really liked what she had to say but I was wondering what she did that was problematic so I can know what to watch out for when watching her videos?
If you google “Laci Green problematic” you will find lists upon lists of instances and evidence and whatnot, so if you’re interested in that, look that up. The tldr version is that she makes a lot of comments and does a lot of things that are fatphobic, transphobic, cissexist, Islamphobic, etc. and then responds incredibly poorly to people calling her out for it. She doesn’t take responsibility, she puts the blame on the people who call her out, and just generally mirrors a kid having a tantrum. I used to really love her videos, and she’s definitely taught me things that still matter to me and that I’m grateful for learning, but I just have no interest in actively supporting her.
Hi, I’m an afab agender junior in high school using they/them/their pronouns! I started coming out part-way through sophomore year, and am pretty open about my gender now but haven’t necessarily up-front told everyone??? Its just not a thing I hide at all anymore and I reference now and then. My school is actually super accepting and queer-friendly, which is amazing, and some of my friends are really good with pronouns. My mom’s making an effort that I really appreciate, but she still messes up a lot. Do you have any advice on how to correct people on pronouns and gender? When it comes to speaking up for other people I have no trouble, but when people use she/her/hers pronouns on me or refer to me in very female-exclusive ways I never know what to say and always just end up staying silent. I know most of these people mean really well and when people mess up I don’t think they ever mean it maliciously, so I don’t want to be confrontational, but it can get pretty uncomfortable. Thank you!!!
I’m so glad that you have a pretty good environment! I’m not so glad that you don’t feel like you can call people out when they screw up with you! I totally understand not wanting to be confrontational, I really do, but I don’t think that what you want requires confrontation, so I hope I can help you stop thinking of it that way. You know that you have their support, they just need a little bit more help at expressing it properly and seamlessly. The back-and-forth in the intent versus impact discussion could go on for days and you wouldn’t get anywhere, so let’s get away from that a bit! Yes, the people misgendering you probably don’t mean anything by it, but does that make it suck less? If it did, you wouldn’t be sending me this message.
Treat yourself the way you treat others! Usually the way I go about corrections is waiting until the person is done speaking (nobody really responds well to being interrupted, I always try to prevent potential conflict) and say something like “could you use they instead of she, please?” or “could you use a word that isn’t gendered?” If they already know that’s what you need from them and they’re just having a hard time keeping it in mind while talking about you, their response should be along the lines of a quick apology and correction. If they make it into a big deal about how it wasn’t on purpose and how “you know I would never!!” and how they aren’t bad people then… they’re being selfish. It’s about you! And in my experience, it’s never a huge thing. Just a little reminder that, hey, I’m not a girl and I would like you to remember that for me and bring that into our interactions. At this point, I just give people a Look when they mess up and they typically self-correct pretty quickly. The most I can give YOU is just the knowledge that you are as deserving of having your gender be affirmed as everyone else in your life, but that’s easier to read than to consume and accept and believe to your core. So I have a suggestion to take some of the weight off you! I’m sure you have friends who are better at affirming your identity than others. Grab a few of those people and ask them to spot you. I’m sure some of them already call out people who misgender you at least a little bit, but just pull them aside and tell them that you’re having a hard time with correcting people and that you need their support! You said you don’t have a problem speaking up for others, and you’re not the only one who feels that way! It doesn’t have to be your responsibility entirely, and I’m sure your friends will be happy to ease your burden a bit.
Good luck!! You definitely don’t need to handle this entirely on your own.
What are some of the symptoms of dysphoria? I’m trying to figure things out…
Medically, it’s basically just “being trans”. The DSM-IV lists gender dysphoria as a condition, however they do stress that “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.” That second part is what really matters, because at least I think of dysphoria as a very physical sensation (and I know a few other trans people who also think about it in that context).
Dysphoria is a lot of different things, and I will never be able to describe it as eloquently and make it as relateable as Kate does in this article:
If you’ve never had body dysphoria, let me explain a little bit about how it makes me feel and why I have it. Body dysphoria feels like the worst-fitting outfit you’ve ever put together, but you can never take it off. Or sometimes it’s more like a pebble in your shoe, or a belt that digs into your side, or a tiny thing that is just noticeable enough to throw your day off. Some days I wake up and it’s just there. Some days it’s because I tried to fit my not-so-masculine body into my masculine clothes, and the parts that didn’t fit made me want to scream and disappear and puke up all my guts at the same time. It can grow into a scary place where I don’t know if my body belongs to me, and I feel like I’ve been detached from something essential and am about to wash out to sea. Maybe a picture makes me hate and fear the body I don’t have because it’s not the body I wish I had. Maybe I think that the someone I desire won’t desire me because I don’t look like all the handsome cisgendered men they probably grew up loving. Maybe it doesn’t make sense why I feel these things, but I still feel them and they still hurt, darn it.
Not all trans people experience bodily dysphoria (and I do want to validate this), but every conversation I’ve been a part of has lead me to believe that it is a trans specific experience, and it’s not limited to binary trans people. I browsed through a few articles before responding to this, and I saw a bit of conflation with body dysmorphia. The latter is related more to body image, the former being a feeling that something isn’t right with the body you have, and that is tied to your sense of gender identity and experience. It can be focused on the genitalia, it can be a sense of dread over the fact that your body isn’t as curvy as smooth as you need it to be, it can just be a vague consciousness that physically you do not have what you mentally and emotionally need.
I hope this helped, and I wish you luck in figuring stuff out!
Because I am not out as mtf, I only talk about gender related stuff online, and I sometimes feel like my identity only exists online, like I live two separate lives. I’m not quite sure what my problem is, but I just can’t integrate my gender into my daily life. I feel like I’m on auto-pilot until I get online again. How do I bring identities I can only express online into my “real” life?
Well, I think there are a number of ways that you can do this, and they all depend on what you think matters in terms of you expressing your identity. First of all, I don’t know if it’s something you’d be interested in, but on Facebook you can now “customize” your gender; while you don’t actually need to put in “I am Trans” or anything (though you can), you can make the site use either he/him, she/her, or they/them for you. This might just be my skewed perception, but in a lot of ways I think of Facebook as a bridge between my online life and my offline life, so I’m really excited about their new options re: gender.
Is there any overlap with the friends you have online and the friends you have offline? I obviously don’t know if you go to UW or not, but is there a center like the Q Center at your school or in your area where you could establish queer connections? Something like Queer Youth Space? I think having ties to queer life in your world is immensely helpful for a lot of reasons, one of which being the comfort of having a concrete place of support and acceptance. For classes, email or contact your professors/teachers before terms start and tell them if you have a preferred name and what pronouns you need them to use for you.
Are there small physical things you can do/are interested in doing/feel comfortable doing? Painting your nails is obviously not something restricted to or required of any one gender, but it’s definitely perceived as a very feminine display. I always like having my toenails painted, because it’s fun and creative and pretty, but it’s just for me. Are there things that you’ve wanted to do in the past, but avoided in fear of outing yourself? Can you build up to them, find loopholes, make them more possible, more subtle? I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but anything I could outright tell you to do would be loaded with assumptions of knowledge that I don’t have on your life and your preferences. I want to make sure you do this on your own terms. I also don’t want you to just dive in headfirst; your safety and comfort is as important as your expression of self, so sacrificing one for the other is going to leave you in a good place. I’m glad that you at least have an online outlet for this expression and experience, that’s really great! I hope you’re able to bring more of yourself into your world offline. Good luck!
Dear Queer, I am an amab trans woman. For much of my life I identified as a woman, but had to (and still have to) keep it secret from much of my family and friends in fear that they might disown me or worse. I have considered HRT but am currently very incapable of affording it. Not only that, but I’m not 100% sure I want to undergo HRT. I feel as though my identity is constantly being dismissed and erased, even among my queer friends, simply because I haven’t undergone -or don’t fully plan to undergo- HRT. There isn’t much I know regarding the procedure, and there aren’t many resources available in my area. Do you have any general advice for my predicament?
First and foremost I want to apologize for the way people have treated your hesitance with HRT. That’s really not cool, and I’m sorry that you have felt invalidated for this, because that should not happen. The fascination and borderline objectification of the trans body is unfortunately not limited to those outside of queer communities. You are a woman, your body belongs to a woman, and that does not become more or less true just because of what it looks like. Having access to hormone therapy is a privilege that many do not have, for reasons similar to your own. It’s expensive, it requires support, and it’s a process.
Here are some great resources RE: trans health that will be immensely helpful for you to look into:
Two things to keep in mind, that these websites will confirm to some degree: you do not need to “live as ___” for a certain amount of time before you qualify for HRT. Also: not everything estrogen will do to you is permanent, and stopping treatment is always a possibility. I know you’re kind of on the border about whether or not to even consider it an option, but I want to make sure your ambivalence is not only a result of the permanence or ease of access. I’m giving you these resources not because I want to back any of the pressure you’ve felt towards it, but because I want you to have as much information as possible in case it becomes something you want and a possibility in your life. A lot of things go into what most people consider a “full transition” – but what parts actually matter to you? Don’t wrap your life and your decisions around what people perceive to be The Trans Experience, I don’t think that will ever really fulfill you emotionally.
If you would feel comfortable, I would really encourage you to talk to your queer friends especially about the way they treat your identification as a woman. I can’t stress enough that I want you to reject those who say that you need to undergo this MASSIVE physical transition in order to be validated in what you already know and have known for a long time now. I specify the queer friends because you do have the common ground of belonging to a gender/sexual minority with them, there’s less ground to cover and they will undoubtedly have more empathy than those who aren’t queer. Honestly, a good conversation starter is the recent Janet Mock and Piers Morgan debacle; Janet Mock is incredibly articulate in the fact that, though a physical transition was something she wanted and benefited from, that’s not what made her the person she is.
I hope I said something constructive, please feel free to write back for clarification or whatever else you might need. Good luck!