TW/CN: Abuse/IPV/manipulation

I’m letting the title stand as my trigger warning here because I’m going to be writing about some things that have happened over the past month and years. I was in an abusive relationship. It didn’t get physically abusive, but toward the end I was afraid that it might. I need to write about it. It might come out disjointed. I’ll probably talk about my remaining partners’ experiences and feelings as I know them, too. Mostly, I just want anyone who reads this to know and have really fair warning that I’m going to be talking about this experience–for my own health and sanity if nothing else. And I’m a little afraid that said partner will actually come read this and say things or .. I don’t know. I have fears I don’t want to give expression to, I guess.

Anyway.

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How To Introduce Your Trans Friend

Cis people, we apparently need a guide for how to introduce our trans friends/relatives/acquaintances. I’m going to do my best here to put some guidelines together. I welcome suggestions, too.

The first thing to know: this guide comes in two parts. One part deals with people who knew/knew of the person before transition began and is either meeting them again or meeting them for the first time. The other part deals with people who meet the trans person after transition has begun/after they have come out as transgender to you.

Part I: How to introduce your trans friend to people who knew them/knew of them pre-transition

Do make sure you know your friend’s preferred identifiers (name, pronouns) before introductions begin.

Do not wait until everyone is standing in the ‘introduction circle’ to bring up the topic of transition.

Do check with your trans friend for comfort level pre-introductions: does your friend want to be introduced as a brand-new person (and is this possible)? How would your friend like to be introduced? What kinds of things is your friend comfortable with other people knowing about them/her/him?

When appropriate (after ascertaining your friend’s comfort level), do tell your relatives, non-trans friends (the people to whom you’re introducing your trans friend) ahead of time that your friend is transgender. Say something like, “Aaron is transgender and uses the name Abigail now,” or “The person you have known as Eva has transitioned and has changed his name to Jim.”

Do make sure your trans friend knows if you are not comfortable doing this sort of introduction. It is much better to know what kind of situation we’re walking into than to go in unaware and be met with potentially unsafe/unkind reactions.

This is the crux of the matter. Those who know someone as one gender and are either re-meeting them as another gender or are meeting them for the first time as a gender other than the one they expected may have unexpected and unsafe, volatile reactions to the trans person in the moment. This is not the fault of the trans person. It is the fault of many things, including poor education (biology, sexual health, religion), poor indoctrination, and systematic issues such as transphobia and misogyny. Not everyone will react volatilely, but the risk is high enough that if there is the option to curb that risk for our trans friends, then we should. This is one way we can put our cisgender privilege in service of our transgender siblings.

Also, those for whom this friend is their first trans person may have many questions about transgender issues. That’s perfectly normal. If you don’t feel equipped or comfortable answering them, you can refer them to various resources (That Transgender Chick on Facebook, Laverne Cox on Tumblr, the transgender FAQ on GLAAD‘s website, the transgender search tag on BelieveOutLoud , etc.).

Part II: How to introduce your trans friend to people who’ve never met them before/haven’t known of them pre-transition

Just introduce them by their chosen/preferred name. No one in this scenario needs to know that your friend is transgender unless your friend chooses for anyone else to know.

Gender, Sex, and Genitals

Cis people, we have work to do. I’m calling you in with me to do this work of dismantling the systems that hold us all down, and I want us to do this by starting with educating one another.

Today, let’s talk about gender, sex, and genitals–what they are and what they aren’t. I know a lot of us are confused, because we’ve been taught by our binary-loving system that gender and sex and genitals are all the same things. We’ve been taught that genitals come in exactly two forms–either penis or vagina–and that sex and gender necessarily follow that format, as well.

We’re wrong. We’ve been taught wrong.

Don’t panic.

We can fix this.

Let’s start with genitals. This probably seems both the most and least confusing all at once–because of course it’s always penis or vagina, right? Except no. Intersex people exist. And some intersex people have genitals that aren’t clearly ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’. (This is not the case for all intersex people.) And even when a person’s outer genitals look a certain way, their inner anatomy may not match. Or their chromosomes may not match. Their hormones may not match. So–even our genitalia doesn’t fall on a strict binary.

Okay, so what about sex, then? Isn’t sex a biological thing? Yes, and no. Mostly, we assign sex based on genitals. We ‘sex’ people and animals based on what we observe their outward genitals to be. So this can only be as biological as our constructed categories. That is: we’ve made some categories to describe what we’ve observed. And what we’ve observed is that biology–genitalia–doesn’t follow a strict binary. It follows a continuum. So sex can’t be a strict binary, either. If we are going to insist that sex be assigned based upon genitalia, then we must allow that sex exist as a continuum, as well–and recognize that it is a category we’ve made up to describe something we’ve observed.

Moving on to gender, then. Gender has two parts: identity and expression.

Gender identity is a person’s inward self-definition. You can try this yourself, at home, on the bus, or wherever you’re reading: I am ________. A woman? A trans man? Non-binary? Agender? Genderfluid? All of these, and many others, are valid answers here. This is completely detached from anything else about a person–what genitals a person possesses, what sex/gender a person was assigned at birth, etc.

Gender expression is a person’s outer presentation of self. This could include clothing, hair style, make-up or lack thereof, shaving or not, handbags or briefcases or none at all, bow ties or hair ties, or just about any other thing one might use to outwardly indicate a sense of self. Gender expression may or may not hinge upon one’s self-defined gender identity, one’s sex, and/or one’s genitalia. For example, I am a cisgender (identifying as the gender I was assigned at birth) cissex (identifying as the sex I was assigned at birth) woman who often presents in a feminine manner, but who often presented quite masculinely in my undergrad days. I’ve always self-identified female regardless of how I’ve expressed.

Figuring out that these things are all actually separate things is huge. Realizing how much of our lives exist on continuums as opposed to in strict binaries is amazing.

If we start here, educating one another with this information, we can begin to set ourselves and our transgender siblings free.

Lila Perry is a Girl. Deal With It.

CW: I’m discussing the continuing harassment of Lila Perry, a transgender girl in Missouri–my current home state. She has been using the girls’ locker room and bathrooms since school started this year, and many students (many of them female) have walked out in protest. In this post, I am addressing TERF (trans-exclusive radical feminist) comments regarding this issue. I’m putting the rest of this post below a cut so that trans people do not need to read this and be triggered. Cis people, I am a cis person talking to you. Please do read this post.

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Coming Out is Forever

My wife and I had a conversation the other day revolving around her transition. She mentioned that she’d written a journal wherein she realizes she’ll be coming out forever–a feeling which I as a bi/pan person can understand, since I’m also always coming out. In our discussion, and in her journal, she brushed on the pressures of ‘fitting in,’ of ‘passing‘ as cisgender.

I paused the conversation there, because I wanted to check in with her. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t trying to conform to something that wasn’t her, that she wasn’t trying to fit into a mold with an ever-changing, ever-moving target of cisgender ‘femininity’ just because it has ‘cisgender’ attached to it. I wanted to make sure she felt free to be herself.

And I wanted to mention an article I’d read: The Null HypotheCis. This article points out that our society tends to treat ‘cisgender/cissexual’ as the null, the standard, the thing against which we test.

After all, surely if we’re going to risk so much, put so much at stake, in such a monumental “decision”, we should approach it carefully, and make sure to be certain, right? Shouldn’t we be looking for proof that we’re trans before gambling our whole lives on that being the case?

Well, maybe… if proof of being trans was even really something possible, beyond the simple proof of subjectively experiencing your identity and gender as such. But more importantly: we never ask ourselves for “proof” that we’re cis.

And yet–identifying as cisgender is (as the article points out) every bit as much of a subjective thing as is identifying as transgender. (And perhaps that’s part of the discomfort of transgender identities–that such persons make us call our cis selves into question, make us think about how subjective our identities really are.) I brought it up to her because I know how easy it is to buy into that narrative of the societally structured null hypothesis, that ‘straight’ is null and LGB is the question.

As a bisexual woman married to someone who didn’t come out of the closet as MtF until well after we were married, I lived with ‘heterosexual couple privilege’ for years. And I still do, in some ways, since we’re still in the very beginning stages of Eren coming out at work and making legal marker changes.

And yet–both Eren and I live with stigma every day. Both of us are eternally coming out. And sometimes, it’s exhausting and hard and emotionally draining. Sometimes people expect us to be the educational battering rams to knock down their uneducated peers’ views.

But worse? Bisexual people experience higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation than lesbian and gay folks, and transgender people have an even higher suicide rate. In a world where we’re constantly either erased or that it will kill you for existing, is it any wonder that our two groups experience such high rates of depression and suicide? No, it isn’t.

Eren and I worry more about her external safety and my internal safety. We worry about someone ‘finding out’ she’s transgender and deciding to hurt or kill her for that. A world that makes a punchline out of her existence means her existence is in itself dangerous and a challenge to the system. We worry about my internal safety as I am currently the one teetering most precariously on that depression slope. We worry that in 49 states (including ours), ‘trans panic’ is still a ‘defense’ for killing a transgender person.

So what can we do? We can recognize that transmisogyny hurts all of us:

Transmisogyny not only names the oppression trans women face as both trans people and as women, but it is also an enormously valuable concept for understanding what motivates violence in a patriarchal culture. It is both a specific descriptor and a larger framework for understanding much more about how gender works in our society. In fact, I would argue that the simultaneous hatred of both transness and femininity — transmisogyny — is at the root of much, perhaps even most, of the anti-queer violence in our world.

Let me be very clear: I in no way wish to take away from the specificity of the term transmisogyny and the experience of the world, unique to trans women and nonbinary transfeminine people, that it describes. I am emphatically not arguing that people who are not trans women or otherwise transfeminine directly experience transmisogyny. Rather, I believe that transmisogyny is such a strong (and often subconscious) influencer of attackers’ thoughts and actions that it underlies many of the ways in which people of all genders are disciplined and punished over perceived gender and sexual transgressions.

In other words, while transmisogyny is primarily aimed at trans women and transfeminine people, and it is experienced solely by them in ways that should be discussed without mention of other groups, its prevalence in the world is so widespread that it also happens to “spill over” into violence against others.

Combining this with The Null HypotheCis idea, we can see why so many people are threatened by transgressions against boundaries thought to be objective but actually subjective. And we can see that these shouldn’t actually be seen as threats but as freedoms for all of us, ways to break the bonds that those ‘objective’ boundaries have held us in. If we can break free from a reliance on supposedly objective understandings of gender and turn our gazes to subjective understandings, perhaps we can break free of the violence against queer people of all stripes–particularly transgender women of color–and perhaps we can begin to see visibility and a reduction in suicide rates amongst bi and trans groups.

And maybe–maybe then, coming out won’t be quite so exhausting.