Nonbinary vs Gender Neutral

Nonbinary or Genderqueer are not the same thing as Gender Neutral.

There are people who describe their gender as neutral but for the most part, people usually have a lot more nuance than that. Gender neutral is a good way to describe pronouns like they/them or xe/xir, but it isn’t a good way to refer to nonbinary people unless they have explicitly said that.

My gender is anything but neutral. For me, it is relatively stable and not fluid, but it lies solidly in the realm of femme with a twist of tomboy. I am both a woman and a nonbinary person because my gender is queer and defies a single category. Queerness at its heart is about breaking boundaries and holding the tension between seemingly disparate concepts.

I see your categories and reject them because they don’t reflect my reality.

What it takes to change your government gender

I received my new Drivers License today which means that I’m officially a doctor certified, government recognized woman! It also means I’m done with phase 1 of changing my name and gender marker. But you wouldn’t believe how complex the steps to get there can be. Here’s what it takes in Washington.

First I had to research the process and figure out which dependencies were built in so that I could get the necessary documents at the correct government office in the right order. Then  I had to go to my doctor to get the required letters and signatures.

Step one was going to the local County Courthouse and filing a Petition for Name Change which had to be submitted by 11 am if I wanted a same-day hearing and I had to pay $215 in cash to get the 4 certified copies I would need later on. Then I had to come back at 1:15 to have a judge have me attest on the record that I wasn’t changing my name to commit fraud or escape debt. Then I waited around in the lobby while my documents were processed.

Once I had the name change, I was able to submit my passport renewal in the same office but I nearly made the mistake of filling out the renewal form because that’s what the online steps indicate if you say you are changing your name. In order to find the correct steps you have to find the deeply hidden page on how to change your gender which tells you to submit the application for a NEW passport (Form DS11) in person and means you can’t use the online wizard completely (you have to tell it you don’t have a former passport and then correct it by hand after you print) or submit by mail. I also had to be prepared with a new passport photo which cost me $15, a letter from my physician certifying that I had medically transitioned, and pay $145 in the form of 2 checks to submit along with my previous passport which means I can’t fly abroad until the new one arrives.

Then I proceeded to the local Social Security office where I waited for an hour in a crowded lobby full of armed officers to submit my Application for a Social Security Card showing the correct gender which required me to show my court order along with another copy of the letter from my doctor certifying my medical transition. Luckily that process was free.

Then I proceeded to the Department of Licensing to update my Drivers License only to find out that to update an Enhanced ID (necessary for flying soon), I needed to wait for the new Social Security Card to arrive in the mail. So I came back a week later and waited in line a second time to submit yet another Change of Gender Designation Form with my physician’s signature along with another copy of the court order and a $10 fee.

Luckily for my Birth Certificate, I was able to mail in the Request to Change Sex Designation on a Birth Certificate for an Adult which had to be notarized but luckily doesn’t require a doctor to sign anything now in Washington. I did have to pay another $20 by check if I wanted to get a copy however.

All told, this is how much effort it took:

  • Research Time: 3 hours
  • Number of Offices: 4
  • Wait Time in Lobbies: 2 hours
  • Cost: $425

Now I get to move to phase 2 where I contact all the various places that have my old name such as banks, medical providers, online accounts, etc. to get them to update my name and gender as well. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

If you would like to help support my transition costs, you can donate at https://www.gofundme.com/f/haven-gender-confirmation-treatments

Queerness and Gender intertwined

My queerness is integrally tied to my gender identity and it’s not a coincidence that I accepted both parts of myself at the same time.

As a kid, I found myself deeply attracted to lesbians as soon as I discovered them. There was a period where I was worried that I was somehow fetishizing people and being like those gross men who get off on watching lesbians kiss while simultaneously being misogynistic and homophobic. But I realize now that like most of my attraction to women, I can’t untangle my desire to BE them with my desire to date them. In my teens I desperately wished I had been born a woman so I could be a lesbian because at that point I still didn’t know that trans women existed.

For a long time I thought I couldn’t be gay because I was attracted to women and I didn’t have examples of bisexuality or transness in my life. And even when I started to realize that there were some men (like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine) that I was attracted to, I thought I couldn’t be bi because I was married to a woman. There was always some “good” reason that I couldn’t accept my whole self.

So when I finally discovered nonbinary people when I started dating again, I immediately glommed onto them for the same reason. I both wanted to be them and to date them. Now, 5 years later, I find myself dating 5 people, all of them nonbinary. Turns out I just really like people who do gender intentionally. People who have thought about it enough to make a conscious choice about how they present themselves. Which is why I like the term femme too. It means an intentional choice to present in a feminine ways as a queer person rather than just taking the role that society shoves you into.

The thing about sexuality is that there isn’t a lot of terminology that isn’t gendered. So much of homosexuality and heterosexuality is defined by “opposite sex” which doesn’t really exist. Even the term Bi on the surface can be interpreted to mean only 2 genders. So I initially defined my sexuality as pansexual because I was attracted to women, nonbinary people, and occasionally men. Now I’ve gone back to using the term bi for myself because I think there is value is showing people that being bi doesn’t mean you need to exclude nonbinary people. Most bi groups define it as attraction to more than one gender (same gender as you and a different gender). 

Early on, I also latched onto the more generalized term Queer because it kind of sums up both my gender and my sexuality. As I find myself now being more woman than not, that inner kid in me still has this strong desire to claim the term lesbian for myself too. But it’s not entirely accurate. I am too queer for a monosexual label. I’m genderqueer, I’m sexually queer, and I’m just socially queer too. There’s no single box that can hold me but to me, that’s a beautiful thing. I can find people that share some of the same labels with me by using that language and add more adjectives as necessary to fit the situation. I’m not an either/or person, I’m a both/and person. 

I’m not gay as in happy, I’m queer as in fuck your binary.

Biological “sex” isn’t real

I’ve written many time before about how the concept of biological sex as a separate concept from gender is artificial. And how asking it on forms as if it determines everything about me medically is inaccurate. But I want to revisit the topic because it is really important. MANY cis people, both men and women, use this as a prop for their transphobia and make arguments based on biological determinism. When really, it is just based on internalized oppositional sexism, misogyny, and homophobia.

The main argument rests on the idea that your X/Y chromosome mix determines everything about you. But that is just a prop for our pre-existing binary thinking. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that chromosomes were first identified at a time in Western history where people were already socially trying to reinforce gender roles based on a patriarchal lens. And even they acknowledged that there are 5 “sex” chromosome combinations.

When you think about it, the only genetic difference between people with XX and XY is in 1/8th of 1/23rd of your genetics which works out to 0.5% of your primary genetic code. Half of that if you consider the recently discovered epigenetic component which is shaped by your environment and experiences in life. There are far more differences on other chromosomes than there are based on the Y.

And in reality, our genetics are only a small part of what makes us who we are in life. If you are really going to claim biological determinism then you need to look at the whole biology of a person. Which includes how their body was shaped by hormones in the womb, how their brain developed, and how their body has changed over time. And there are already studies that show that in many trans people, there are key areas of the brain that are more similar to their gender than to their chromosomal peers.

There is also recent data showing that bloodwork values on trans people taking hormones closely match their hormonal peers after only 6 months, regardless of the concentration of the hormones. So it brains and blood match and hormones only play a small role, that only leaves genitals.

The existence of intersex people due to natural variation in human biology already proves that genitals aren’t binary either. And with modern medicine, we can fundamentally change the shape of your genitals to the point that the average person can’t tell the difference between a neovagina and a natal vagina if that is your desire. So really, what is our excuse anymore? You can’t claim socialization because many trans people fundamentally experience their childhoods and lives differently. It really just boils down to oppositional sexism, misogyny, and homophobia.

So cis people, next time you hear an asshole say that they would never have sex with a trans person, or a TERF say that only cis women belong in their communities, press them as to why. Help them uncover their homophobia and transphobia. The burden for undoing that shouldn’t lie on trans people. We shouldn’t let jokes about “discovering someone used to be a dude” slide. Because those are just as much a part of rape culture as jokes about how women should dress.

And remember, just because you may hear at a Trans 101 training that sex and gender are different doesn’t mean that all trans people agree. Send them this blog and remind them that their argument isn’t based in science.

n-dimensional hypergender

One aspect of myself that I’ve talked about less here is that I’m trained as an ecologist. And one of the coolest concepts that I learned in my ecology degree program was how ecological niches can be visualized as an n-dimensional hypervolume.

Now that’s a lot of sciency jargon there but I’ll break it down for you. In ecology, one of the most important features of an animal is how it matches up to a specific set of environmental conditions and resources it needs to find it’s unique place in the ecosystem that doesn’t completely compete with another species. And the number of factors involved are so numerous that they are theoretically infinite. Which means that you can’t really map out niches on a 2 dimensional or even 3 dimensional drawing. You need a near infinite number of dimensions (n here mathematically representing the number of dimensions) to accurately portray it.

Here’s a visual representation of an n-dimensional hypervolume (source)

The reason I bring it up is because this is how I think of gender. To a cis person, gender might seem like a simple, 2 dimensional concept. For most people who haven’t really thought about it, there are only 2 main categories and if you’re lucky, some basic variation within them. There might be some outliers or people that switch boxes but overall pretty basic.

Well for most of the queer and trans people I know, especially nonbinary folks, gender is a multifaceted abstract concept. Depending on the person you talk to, it can be static, fluid, a void, or something else entirely. But I don’t know a whole lot of nonbinary people who really describe it in a form you could easily represent in a 2 dimensional drawing. Now maybe 3 dimensions is enough but I think that when you look at all the different sets of expectations, behaviors, ways of thinking, ways of being, feelings, attitudes, context in which you are deciding, etc, that you have a hypervolume. Or in this case, a hypergender.

I’m sure that I’m not the first person to conceptualize it this way. Some quick searching shows that Asmaa Guedira wrote a bit about this idea starting in 2016. But I wanted to share my nerdery about how my concepts of ecology and gender have overlapped. Because even though I don’t work in ecology (thanks recession), the concepts I learned there have helped me synthesize knowledge by looking at a bigger picture.

There is so much diversity of gender out there in the world. Just here in Seattle I know people who are agender or gendervoid and don’t feel any strong sense of gender. I know folks who are genderfluid and switch presentation and pronouns depending on the day or mood or context. I know people who solidly feel like they are a third gender halfway between male and female. There are people who are demigender where they partially identify with a particular gender and partially not. And then there are of course hundreds of other concepts from cultures around the world, some of which have been around for thousands of years.

One of the foundational concepts that you learn in ecology is that diversity begets stability. The more species you have in more niches interacting with each other, the more stable, resilient, and resistant to extreme disturbances the ecosystem is going to be. In other words, we need all this diversity because it makes humanity greater as a whole. If you only have one or even two genders, races, cultures, etc at the table, you are missing huge chunks of human experience that are probably relevant to whatever you are discussing or deciding.

I hear a lot of people saying that “we don’t need labels” or that we are trying to create a world without gender. Which is exactly the opposite of what I’m trying to do. I want to build a world with an infinite number of genders co-existing in an ecosystem of human experience. It can feel at times like having so many labels makes gender irrelevant or meaningless but for many of us, having words that we can put to our experience is so empowering and freeing. Especially in the modern age of the internet, it gives us the ability to find people like us and the language to share what this important part of life feels like.

Sex vs Gender: two sides of the same coin

So I know a lot of trainings, including many written by trans people, like to separate sex and gender into different concepts. But in my experience they aren’t all that different and are so integrally tied that you can’t actually separate the two. From an external perspective I think sex is what you are assigned at birth because doctors and parents make an assumption about a binary future for you based on your genitals (and sometimes force surgeries on intersex babies if they don’t match that vision because sexual characteristics aren’t binary either). Gender is what people assume about your genitals and often your behaviors and experiences based on visual cues later on. They are just two sides of the same coin. The only real difference is what external markers you are using. When I was born they assumed I was male based on my genitals and now people assume things about my genitals based on signs such as my beard and build.

Well this gets complicated of course when you are trans or nonbinary. You can do a lot to change your external appearance through clothing, hormones, and surgeries. And since sex isn’t actually based on chromosomes since most people have never been genotyped, I think those changes arguably change your sex tangibly as well. I don’t think I am a feminine person with a male sex. I now have breasts and an estrogen dominant body that is clearly and visibly nonbinary now. I would need to make major alterations at this point via surgery to go back to being a male.

So when I see forms that ask me what my sex is, I get annoyed. You can ask me what my sex assigned at birth was as a data point if you need. But my sex and my gender are the same thing viewed from different lenses.

Now internal gender is a lot harder to define but that’s a post for a future day.

My gender

After further thought I think I can say as clearly as life will allow right now that I am definitely nonbinary but I would much rather be assumed to be a woman at casual glance than assumed male. I’m not sure exactly what my transition will look like yet but I will likely be doing what looks more like a binary path from the outside but rest assured, even when the beard disappears I’ll still be your lovable genderqueer tomboy. That’s all for now.

Debunking “Biological Sex”

So this is probably an unpopular opinion but I think the term “biological sex” is meaningless, as is the distinction between sex and gender. While I continue to hear trans people use it and share it in various forms such as the problematic genderbread person, it is primarily used by cisgender people as a way of convincing themselves that the binary does exist in some form even if they support diverse gender identities. But as a biologist (by training) and a real life trans person™, I am here to tell you that it is just as much of a shared illusion as binary gender.

Hopefully by now you are aware of the existence of intersex people. According to the Intersex Society of North America, “intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Without going into excruciating detail because you should hear it from intersex people themselves , both chromosomal sex and reproductive organ configuration exist in more than two options. There are 6 different ways that chromosomes can combine (X, XX, XXY, XY, XYY, and XXXY) that create various different kinds of humans and most people never have their chromosomes tested so using this as the basis for your gender is ridiculous. And various other changes in development mean that regardless of genetics, genital variation is nearly infinite.

But even putting intersex people aside for a moment, let’s talk about how useless the term biological sex is when you are dealing with reality. Many trans people such as myself have known from an early age that our brains are different. Long before I ever knew the term transgender or nonbinary, I thought that I didn’t fit in because I didn’t have a boys brain. And more and more evidence suggests that the brain can develop in utero in ways that more closely match the gender identity that child eventually expresses than the gender they are assumed to be based on external signs (although even that research is hopelessly binary). Though huge disclaimer here because there is no one way to be trans. Not everyone knew they were different from birth and not all trans people experience things like dysphoria.

Ok, so say you put aside natural variation in genitals AND you ignore differences in brains. Well I hate to break it to you folks, but the differences continue to be useless. Trans people do not all experience socialization the same way or come out at the same age so there is no point at which you can make a valid argument that we are somehow “essentially male” or some such bullshit. And there are MANY different kinds of gender confirmation surgeries that make trans bodies infinitely variable and often indistinguishable from their gender.

So what’s the point of this? It means that you should stop using terms like “female bodied” or lumping people together based on binary genital arrangements. And you should stop saying things like “all women are” and reducing your research to binary sex results. Yes, statistically there are vast swatches of people who never have cause to question their gender or assumed sex. And you could do your research based on those people and ignore the tails of those statistical curves. But you are missing out on some of the most amazing parts of human experience when you do so. I am here to tell you that the conversations that happen among trans and nonbinary people behind closed doors that cis people rarely get to experience would blow your mind! And because of constructs like “biological sex”, many of these people intentionally avoid revealing that complexity to cis people and often rule out dating or interacting with you altogether.

So if you want to benefit from what we could bring to the conversation, think deeply about how you can be more inclusive and the assumptions you make on a daily basis. We are here and we are so much more queer than you could possibly imagine.

Realization of the day

I think I’m a transwoman in a nonbinary body.

I’ve talked about this before but when I think about the steps required to bring my body into alignment with my internal gender I get extremely overwhelmed, not only by the amount of work but the realization that I wouldn’t be doing it as much for myself as I would to change how people see me. I have no problem with my beard or 80%+ of my body. I don’t want to spend years trying to learn how to change my voice so that I can pass. And I don’t want to give up a perfectly functional penis to gain a vagina that I don’t even know if I would like as much.

What I do want are breasts (working on it), less body hair (need to get back on that), and a more feminine distribution of fat (hopefully that will start soon). I also want access to motherhood which seems like the far more challenging thing to achieve since I can’t/won’t do that alone. I want to be treated like the woman I am without needing to jump through the unattainable hoops of passing.

But the more I think about it, the less I think my internal gender is actually nonbinary. As in I don’t know of any masculine traits that I identify with. I have the gender of a lesbian woman and the gender blurriness that comes packaged with perceptions queer femmeness. I am just as much a woman internally as any lesbian and probably more feminine than most. I just happened to not be born with a cis woman’s body and I can never attain that no matter how hard I try.

In other news, I am toying with the idea of trying out she/her pronouns but I’m not sure I’m quite ready to make that switch yet. So many complex feelings where I’m torn between what I feel I deserve and what I feel I can reasonably fight for.

More thoughts on identity

I’m still struggling with knowing whether I am nonbinary because that’s who I truly want to be or as an artifact of the barriers I feel stand in the way of being a woman. I don’t necessarily feel like my brain is composed of part-masculine, part-feminine aspects. I very much feel like I was born with a girl’s brain in what was perceived as a male body. Most people these days understand that femininity is broad and can encompass tomboys and people who don’t wear makeup every day. And with the right body I think I would have made a great girl, although not one that could live up to the expectations of the cult I was raised in.

And I’m definitely a femme. I’m perfectly happy to put on jeans and a tshirt when I’m getting dirty or doing something outdoorsy. But I’ll always opt for very feminine clothing whenever it’s not extremely impractical. I’m not someone who puts on makeup every day but I certainly love doing it when I have the time and I am very particular about my appearance. In other words, a fairly typical woman in my appearance preferences.

So that just leaves my physical body. I’m tall and I have a large frame with wide shoulders and huge feet and hands. So I feel like I could never fit into culture as a woman which is mostly why I don’t try. It’s the fear of rejection from other women that keeps me stuck in this in-between place. Not that women can’t have that kind of frame either; my mom and my aunt certainly do although they often times get questioned in bathrooms about whether they belong because of it. They are 6 foot and 6′ 2″ respectively and my aunt has size 13 feet as well. So if they can do it, why can’t I?

As I’ve said a few times before, I keep my beard mainly because it covers up masculine features of my face that I really don’t like. Somehow the facial hair gives me less dysphoria than the underlying face. But I wonder if I also keep it as a signal to the rest of the world that I’m not trying to pass as a woman so they won’t judge me by that unattainable standard. I guess I’m scared of the ridicule trans women so often get so I try to avoid it by doing my own thing.

So then is nonbinary just a phase I’m passing through on the way to becoming a woman? It’s hard for me to say at this point. And just because it’s a phase doesn’t make it any less valid. It’s where I’m at right now and that’s all that really matters. I’ve found that no matter how much I try to plan, life seems to throw a wrench into the gears and redirect me. So I’m just going to take this one step at a time. I’m starting estrogen in 20 days and I’m curious to see what that does to my brain and my body to shape how I relate to them.

Who knows. One day I may need to rename this blog. But for now I remain your Bearded Genderqueer.
PS – I mostly maintain this blog as a way of shaping my own thoughts. When I start to have big gender feels I often come here to write about them before I’ve even fully thought them through. I wasn’t consciously aware of half the things I just wrote before I got there. So thanks for following along in my very confusing journey.