So, as you might have read in my post, “The Economics of Gender” (which is a reflective post in relation to my talk), I had a TEDx talk. For your viewing pleasure, here it is:
After my TEDx talk at the beginning of March (watch here), I have been approached by a lot of hetero / cis people asking more about my thoughts on gender. Now, normally, when I talk about the gender binary it is with other queer people which means it ends up in a circle jerk of us realizing just how open minded and amazing we all are but interacting with people that haven’t necessarily thought about gender identity and the implications of stereotyping before has been enlightening. It has also been challenging, in that, I need to figure out a way to explain myself. This had led to some new observations, one of which I want to try to explain in this post.
First off, don’t let the title scare you, this is not really an economics post, I am just going to use a standard concept of economics to explain myself and I will use kid gloves so I promise it won’t hurt. So here is what I propose, the stereotypes of the gender binary have been heavily influenced by the strong positive correlation of two traits happening within the same person. However, as correlation does not imply causation, stereotypes are frequently wrong. Whoa, Becky, you might be thinking, you just blew your economics load on us without even asking where to put it. So let me try to explain, causation means that one thing can be directly attributed to another – one causes the other. Let’s say I slap you across the face, you then develop a red mark on your face and perhaps some hurt fee fees. The first part is an example of causation – my slap caused your face to have a hand print on it. Let’s compare this to correlation, I’ve slapped you and you have hurt fee fees, well, I cannot say there is causation here because you might have already been feeling sad because you stepped on a worm this morning and you felt terrible about it. Now, there could be a positive correlation, i.e. there is a high percentage of people that just got slapped who also have hurt feelings but you cannot say it was the slap that caused it. Get it? Got it? Good.
What’s this got to do with gender? Well, when I am having conversations about why gender stereotypes have developed and how valid they are, a lot of people jump right to an obvious point, they will ask, “but wouldn’t you agree that men are physically stronger than women” (they are normally asking in the binary which is why I have termed it as such)? This is where our economics lesson comes in handy because this is just a positive correlation. It happens to be that being male assigned at birth and being physically strong are positively correlated. However, if you are a biological male it does not mean that you are strong (i.e. – not causation). Therefore, just because you are biologically male does not mean that you will be stronger than someone that is biologically female. To elaborate on that point, if someone is FAAB (female assigned at birth) they will have X amount of people that are weaker than them. Now, a higher percentage of those people will be FAAB but some will be MAAB (male assigned at birth). Therefore, just by being MAAB does not mean you will be stronger than someone that is FAAB. Yes, there might be lumping at either end of the strength spectrum but there are also plenty of people in the middle of this spectrum. The reason this issue comes about is the restriction of the language and lumping a very diverse population into just two groups. I think you have got it down now but just to make sure, let’s try another example. If you have a dick, does that mean you are male? And the answer is…? No, of course it doesn’t. It just happens that being born with a dick has a positive correlation with people that identify as cis-male.
And so this sums up my economics gender lesson for the day, if you think it makes sense, feel free to use it when trying to explain the gender binary and how silly stereotypes are in your next conversation.
I’m currently on a study trip to Portugal and as you might guess, I’ve spent a lot of time with my fellow classmates. As I am much older than them (I’ve got 14 years on some of them) I have been forcing myself to try to be sociable and find some common ground with them. This has involved having the odd beer… or six with them and with alcohol comes a much freer dialogue. Last week, after a few beers my classmate worked up the courage to ask me “so… what about your sex?”. I asked him what he meant and he replied with an awkward trailing “well, on your passport it says…”. Well, you see, he was the one to represent our class when the flight tickets were purchased for everyone so he saw all of my information and, therefore, saw my stated gender as defined by the authorities is female. I explained to him that I was lesbian… I didn’t want to say female because I don’t define that way so I said I’m lesbian instead which gives the same impression because I know he was thinking in the binary and defining sexuality labels with binary gender. In any case, he had a non-reaction to it which is the best reaction you can ask for, just sort of like “cool, whatever” kind of thing. I went on to explain that I don’t mind which pronouns are used for me because I think pronouns are much more about how someone relates to you rather than how you relate to your own gender identity. I mean, I don’t go around using third person pronouns for myself, I use first person pronouns which conveniently aren’t gendered and allow me to be me. Anyways, he seemed a bit confused and I explained that most people I meet nowadays perceive me on the masculine side of the spectrum and relate to me as if I were a binary cis male and that this was completely fine with me. But on the other hand, I explained that people that have known me a long time or people I have dated often relate to me on the feminine side of the spectrum which is also completely fine with me. So again, he had a kind of non-reaction and just said “ok, cool, well I’ll just keep saying ‘he’ about you”.
It was a really positive coming out for me as I am still a newbie at coming out as genderqueer to people. I’ve had more than enough experience coming out as a homo but sexuality and gender are different things and I’m more reserved when it comes to completely exposing my gender identity. This experience has certainly added to my confidence, so a thank you to my classmate for being an open and chill person. I hope that those of you genderqueers reading this might take this as a positive coming out story and use it to empower yourself as well.
This is the story of how judgment of those who look different from you almost got my dog sentenced to death. I will start with a brief overview of the story so you have some context but mostly I’d like to talk about my feelings and how this has affected me both as a dog owner and as a genderqueer person (this connection will be more obvious once you read the thread).
I was at the dog park one day and my dog was running around with a bigger black dog. An older person, the owner of the black dog, and I were walking together on one of the many trails in the park. Our dogs were running through the high grass next to the trail when, all of a sudden, I hear a shriek and a person scream. I immediately picked up the pace and came around the other side of the high grass to see a person standing holding their small dog, looking panicked. They asked if Izzy was my dog and I confirmed, they said that Izzy had picked their dog up and ran away with it. The older person commented that perhaps Izzy thought that the little dog was a bird (I really don’t think so as dogs sense of smell is very strong and they can recognize other dogs from a distance). I asked if the little dog was ok or if it was bleeding, after standing there about a minute with them, the small dog owner started walking away with the dog still in their arms, together with the black dog’s owner (the one that was originally playing with Izzy). At this point, I did not give the incident a second thought because dogs play with each other at the dog park and it didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary. After that, I went to the dog park for a few weeks as normal until one day I ran into someone that said to me that there was someone looking for me on the dog park’s FaceBook group. They were very kind and showed me the name of the group as well as gave me the name of the person that was looking for me so I could contact them. I contacted the small dog owner as soon as I got home and gave them all relevant insurance information, even though I was still not convinced the story unfolded as claimed. Read the thread from the FaceBook group here, everyone has been anonymized.
MY FEE FEES
(as Dan Savage would say)
Did you read the thread? Great! Glad to have you back. So now you can see why I mention that it affected me not only as a dog owner but also as a genderqueer person. Some will make the argument that I have brought this on myself, presenting outside of the binary gives rise to extra attention as well as he/she references. Actually, this was the first thing that came to my mind and I’m a genderqueer person! But, of course, presenting outside of gender stereotypes should not be cause for extra attention or an excuse for asking strangers all too personal questions, however, as unfortunate as it is, I as well as many others have been overly influenced by society’s force feeding of the binary.
My emotional reaction to this thread was that of deep sadness, that people cannot understand me and are so quick to judge. I start second guessing my own identity, whether I should pick a side of the binary and stick to it. And as you might have guessed if you read my posts normally, this is not a light thing to say as I don’t second guess myself or my identity often but this incident has shaken me to my core. (Side note, don’t worry fellow genderqueers, I will not be defecting, just went through a moment of doubt. It has since passed.) Not to mention that in this instance gendering me is wholly unnecessary since grammatically speaking, using “they” as a pronoun for the subject “the owner” is perfectly acceptable. So what is going on here that people feel the need to label (the subject is not relevant to the event but the question keeps recurring)? Does it affect the situation? I would guess it just affects their perception, and labels are just so warm and fuzzy, comforting, like hot soup on a cold day. Any insights are very welcome here as I’m at a loss for words (I bet you couldn’t tell based on the length of the post).
NOTE: I did not gender anyone in my presentation of the story, did you make assumptions about the small dog owner’s gender (in the binary)? What about the older person?
What about Izzy you say? I mentioned she narrowly escaped with her life, well, that’s the continuation of this story. The small dog owner reported the incident to the police and in Denmark if a dog bites another dog in anger, it is punishable by death. The police believed this person’s story and even though there was no proof it was even my dog, Izzy was convicted. The police called my vet and my vet explained that Izzy would never bite a dog in anger so I “only” have to pay a fine and, to my huge relief, Izzy escapes with her life. But, I can say, worrying for the fate of my dog’s life was more emotionally distressing than I could have imagined. I only left her side the past few days to go to school. Now I am afraid to take my dog to the dog park for fear that someone will claim that she has played too rough and she will be put down (no three strikes here, second “offense” and it is dead dog walking). A wrongful conviction sure makes you paranoid.
At this moment, I feel raw and exposed. I feel as though I’ve failed as a dog owner even though I know in my rational mind that I have done nothing wrong. I feel as though Izzy was judged for being of a race that people assume is aggressive, even though this does not have any basis in reality (yes, please draw parallels to racism among humans). I feel as though I was judged for being outside the gender binary even though I’m just as human as them. I feel as though our appearance (Izzy and I) make people jump to untrue conclusions about our character. I’m not sure what the point of my story is, I guess it is that everyone should take a moment to think before publicly proclaiming things that hurt others, just try to put yourself in their shoes and take a moment to reflect before pushing “post”. Actions have consequences and words can create lasting damage, words almost got my dog killed because there was a specific agenda behind those words. The people responding to the threads (link to second thread in below note) don’t take any pause before assuming the small dog owner’s story is the truth. The dynamic of groups and group mentality can be a scary and dangerous situation. So back to the original statement, think before you write, consider before you share and research before you blame because it can have significant consequences.
As I round the corner on another year of life and move into my, dare I say, mid-thirties. No, let’s stick to early thirties, I’m still closer to thirty than forty after all. In any case this time of year, I always ponder my evolution both physically and intellectually and thought that I would share some of that with all of you.
Disclaimer: When I refer to “masculinity” and “femininity” in this post, it is as defined by society’s view of the gender binary. This is for ease of language only and does not reflect my view of the gender spectrum.
Gender Presentation: Tomboy; Relationship to Gender: Aggressive rejection of femininity; Life Goals: Become President of the US, astronaut or an orthopedic surgeon
As a child I was very much influenced by my parents, as one is, as well as by society. Even though my gender presentation was mostly accepted as there is a place for masculine FAAB (female assigned at birth) children, known as “tomboy”, there were still some expectations placed on me to be more feminine in certain situations. For example, family gatherings or events where one should be more formal, then I should wear a dress. This resulted in many fights with my parents over what I would wear and was even used as a bribery tool that when I behaved well I could earn points towards wearing pants to an upcoming event. My rejection of femininity went so far as a child that I remember one time my mother took me to the toy store to buy my cousin a present, she had wished for a barbie. I was so embarrassed to walk around with my mother carrying a barbie, lest someone think that it was meant for me, that I made her put it in her bag. She nearly left the store with it still in her bag, luckily, she remember it at the last second so I didn’t inadvertently make my mother into a petty criminal.
Gender Presentation: Tomboy transition to pre-dykeling; Relationship to Gender: Outward adoption of some femininity accompanied by internal struggle with ongoing rejection of femininity; Life Goals: Pursue a career in the sciences
In my teen years, as I felt the pressure of society and more expectations around physically presenting as my assigned gender, I tried to conform. However, as is evidenced by pictures, growing my hair out was not enough to hide my masculinity which not only became stronger in my mannerisms but also in my choice of clothing when I wasn’t made to conform to gender binary standards. I can remember being appalled by the fact that at band concerts there was a dress code which was defined along the gender binary and I was not allowed to wear pants but must wear a skirt or dress, otherwise, I would not be allowed to perform. However, as a teenager, not yet strong in my identity, I gave in instead of standing up for myself.
Gender Presentation: Lesbionic; Relationship to Gender: Aggressive rejection of femininity, developing masculine identity; Life Goals: Work hard, play hard, prove adult status by making money
My gender presentation developed together with my lesbian identity and for a long time I associated the two – i.e. masculinity and being a lesbian. After all, there seemed to be a strong correlation between becoming comfortable in my sexual orientation as a lesbian and transitioning my gender presentation to be more and more masculine, phasing out clothes from the “women’s side” of the store and replacing them with “men’s clothes”. It is also worth mentioning that the last time I let someone guilt me into wearing a dress to an event was when I was 25.
Gender Presentation: Androgynous / Masculine; Relationship to Gender: Rejection of femininity, more solidified sense of masculinity; Life Goals: Reduce stress of work and emphasize personal life more, make a positive difference in the world
My developing identity was continuing toward the masculine in my late twenties, not only in mannerisms and way of dress but also in mentality as I inadvertently took on some misogynistic traits without being aware of it. The preference of society for masculine oriented people is evident and I reaped the benefits of this across my life from being taken more seriously at work by colleagues to feeling safe walking home alone on a dark Chicago street, simply by exuding masculinity.
Gender Presentation: Androgynous / Gay boy; Relationship to Gender: Start of acceptance of femininity within, solid sense of masculinity; Life Goals: Make a positive difference in the world, find happiness in the things I choose to focus on, nurture a healthy mind and body
Oh, how far I’ve come, now we are up to “present day” and I am so glad I have gotten over myself. First, I have finally come to start to embrace the femininity within and instead of rejecting it and being disgusted by it, realizing that it completes me. I don’t mind showing feminine traits and I’ve begun to pay more attention to society and sexism around me to try to stand up against the ridiculousness of the gender binary and break the stereotypes. Additionally, ever since I started contemplating my top surgery (and especially after) I have also been able to tease out the difference between my gender identity and sexual orientation which as many of us know, have nothing to do with each other.
I have also included my “life goals” in the different sections in order to give a small insight into how my mindset has evolved along with my gender identity. You can see the shift from alignment with other’s expectations to creating my own expectations which I think is also mirrored in my gender evolution. During this process of reflection and seeing how I have evolved through the years, I can only look forward to continued growth along with exciting new experiences.
Finally, while I’m being entirely egotistical and patting myself on the back for my evolution until now, I’d like to throw in that even though I’m turning 34, my physical shape is better than it was when I was 24 so boo-ya mothaf*ckas.
As I have had the advantage of experiencing what it is like for people on both sides of the binary, I thought I would share with you a particular difference I have noticed in terms of people’s reaction to me from when they perceive me as female versus male (in the binary sense!).
I am typically perceived as a male when I am out and about, I present on the masculine side of the spectrum so it is to be expected. However, being FAAB (female assigned at birth), I naturally have gestures and movements that would be classified on the feminine side of the spectrum. So put those two together and what do we have, a gay guy. Yea, that was the long way of saying that I am typically perceived as a gay boy, especially when I am out at the gay bars. Now, previously, when I had the flesh mountains (you know, boobs), after a once-over people classified me as female. Therefore, I have had the pleasure of experiencing the gay bars as both a lesbian and a gay boy. And here is my observation, cis-men are much more aggressive than cis-women! Ok, I guess everyone already knows that stereotype but experiencing it first hand, the large difference still feels shocking. Here are a few of the moves guys have pulled on me recently:
1. Walking up, giving a smile, grabbing my crotch and just keep walking. I felt a bit sorry for him because he clearly didn’t find what he was looking for…
2. Cornering me while I was waiting for the bathroom line, lifting up my shirt to feel my stomach and then grabbing the back of my neck to pull me in for a kiss. Luckily, I wiggled my way out of it. (Hehe, sneaky lesbian)
3. Silently initiating a dancing turn grinding session only to then bite my neck. This is Denmark people, not Transylvania and let me remind you that you don’t even know my name!
Does this happen to women who present on the feminine side of the spectrum when they are at the hetero bars? If so, I feel for you! I mean, I just never imagined that people could be so aggressive. When I was perceived as a lesbian, girls wouldn’t even talk to me uninitiated, with the exception of the straight girl boob grab, so I guess I didn’t have my blockers up and ready for when I started receiving all this unwanted attention.
I was discussing gender with a friend the other day, surprise! I know, I almost never talk about gender… so anyways, we progress through the conversation about the ridiculousness of the binary and the boxes people like to put each other in when they meet. We were talking about passing, as in, being perceived as one side of the binary or the other and I realized that I have this magical button. No, not that one, you dirty bird. I’m referring to my magical gender override button. If you think about it, all the binary social queues I am publicly displaying put me on the masculine side of the spectrum. However, all I have to say is that I am FAAB (female assigned at birth) and I am magically female, in the binary sense. Somehow all of the social queues that I am sending are erased when I press this button. Once I make the reveal that I’m FAAB, even though I actually identify as being in the middle of the gender spectrum, people have no issue swapping over to feminine pronouns in relation to me and I am not given any resistance about my binary gender box.
Let me reinforce here that I do not agree with the gender binary, gender is a spectrum, just like sexuality but I am only referring in binary terms here due to language constraints and how I can portray my point effectively. (Sidebar: here is a good article about the science behind the gender spectrum)
The button seems ridiculous to me because if I compare my public presentation and social queues to that of a transwoman, she is often given resistance and questioned about her female gender identity. However, she is female, feels female and giving all social queues in the feminine spectrum yet somehow I am “more female” than she is even though I don’t even necessarily identify as female! I hope the irony of this situation is clear in my writing. Ugh, the binary, when can society get over you.
I just returned from a two week holiday in San Francisco and in typical tradition, I thought I’d share some of my favorite queer highlights of the city. I stayed at the Beck’s Motor Lodge which has an excellent location in Castro and bordering on the Mission district. It was affordable as well which is always a plus.
Castro bar scene
Qbar: This was my favorite bar in the Castro because it had such a mix of people. You could find all genders, races and sexualities there. Additionally, as it gets later they clear the tables to open up the dance floor, always a perk as after a few beers I like to put on my dancing shoes.
Badlands: Admittedly, this bar is geared more to the gay boys. I very much enjoyed it but gay boys are also my achilles heel. It was a great place to get your groove on a bit later in the evening but don’t be too late because SF bars close at 2AM!
Mix: I went to this bar two times and enjoyed it most as a Sunday Funday stop. It seemed more mixed on Sunday during the day and it was a relaxing place to be with a nice outdoor patio in the back to enjoy the California sun.
The Lexington: Ok, this is not in Castro, it is actually in the Mission district but as it is a lesbian bar, I’m lumping it in to this section. Unfortunately, it is closing down but it gets an honorary mention because it was “an institution” I am told and a fixture in the lesbian community for many years. It is a shame that they have to close their doors after so many years of service to the LGBT community. If you are in SF or visiting, get in there and support them while they are still open (until April-ish).
Other queer stuff
Castro theatre: This historic theatre shows classic films traditionally as well as with a twist. I went on a night that they were showing The Little Mermaid as a sing-a-long. It was the most fun I have ever had going to the movies. We were given goody bags upon entrance with different items that we were to use during the movie at specific points. Additionally, we were instructed at the beginning of the show to interact with the movie, singing to the songs (of course) but also yelling to Ariel if she was in trouble “look out!” or if she was about to do something stupid “don’t do it Ariel!”, etc. I would highly recommend attending one of these sing-a-long shows if you are ever in SF.
Beach Blanket Babylon: This show has been running for many years and is located in the North Beach neighborhood. It was fantastically camp as well as hilariously current with references to current political matters as well as pop culture. Additionally, for all you androgynous queerlings, there were unisex toilets!
Dolores Park: I enjoyed taking in the rays at this park, located in the Mission district. It has a lot of queers hanging out plus you can drink alcohol outside without anyone hassling you (a rarity in the US)!
I also encountered something in San Francisco that I have never seen before, hetero-cis tourists to a gay historic landmark. The night we were going to the Castro theatre, there were some young women taking pictures of each other with the large Castro sign. I felt a warmth come over my heart as I realized just how far we have come as a community. We are becoming mainstream, our historic landmarks are being recognized not for their queerness but for their historic meaning. And in a place where Harvey Milk once walked the streets, I felt some deeper sense of connection, sadness for our losses but happiness for our progress.
A funny thing happened this past week at school, I was outed as FAAB (female assigned at birth)… only it didn’t take. So here’s what happened, I gave a presentation for one of my classes. The teacher, who knows I’m FAAB, did an oral evaluation of my presentation and, therefore, ended up referring to me in the third person. She used the feminine pronoun for me probably three or four times in a row (which is completely ok, I told her it was fine to do so as I don’t have a pronoun preference). At first, I could hear that people in the class sort of snickered, silly teacher, why are using feminine pronouns for that guy. And then, after multiple times making this “error” one of my classmates actually raised their hand and commented on my presentation using a masculine pronoun, as if to help the teacher to realize the mistake she was making.
I think it is a strange phenomenon that my classmates have set me in the “male” box and now I am not escaping it, even when outed by my teacher! Of course, you could argue that I have never corrected them when I hear them using masculine pronouns in relation to me but you could argue on the other side that I didn’t correct the teacher either when she used feminine pronouns for me. I guess we will see how the situation develops because I can’t imagine that they could continue to perceive me as cis-male when all of my teachers start referring to me with feminine pronouns.
Just quickly on that subject, I gave the presentation to my teachers about LGBT students and heteronormativity in the classroom. Therefore, I outed myself to all my teachers as FAAB as well as lesbian. They were actually very receptive to what I had to say and we landed more on the topic of gender normatives and the role this also plays in relation to hetero cis-women in a cis-male dominated study. The most surprising thing to me was that the male teachers were more outspoken and supportive of what I had to say than the female teachers. One of whom actively asked the question if sexism and gender norming of cis-women was even a problem at the school. However, after discussing, I think (or hope) that she could see that it was something to be improved. The main takeaway the teachers said they had regarding heteronormativity and stereotyping was the use of language, so to be sure to use pronouns or masculine/feminine names in interchangeable places when they give examples – i.e., the secretary in the example shouldn’t always be “she” and the boss always “he”. Well, it might be small but at least it’s a step…
It’s Gay Christmas! Or as others call it Halloween… I thought I’d celebrate by posting some of my fab genderqueer Halloween costumes as a child.
Cowboy. It’s a classic.
I seem to be a baseball… maybe I just got hit by the bat, but I have a glove on? Kids are dumb.
Stegosauras. I’m pretty sure my Grandmother sewed that costume for me, that’s what I call talent.
Ulysses S. Grant. For the north!
Mad scientist, complete with leftover grilled cheese on lab coat. Proud to say, I’m still scienc-ing it up to this day.