Sunday, May 8, 2016

What Mothering Day Means to Us

Today many of us queer families with parents who are non-binary may struggle with the word "mother" often used to describe us, the heteronormativity of the way this holiday is promoted, the question of what day celebrates us, and the (extra) misgendering we may face if we celebrate this holiday. In my family, we celebrate both myself, a non-binary parent, and my wife, a mom. It started with the tradition of celebrating both of us on Mothers' Day before I came out as non-binary. Am I a mother? Ermm...I am a parent. My parent name happens to be Mama. Do I mother? Very much so. Though Mothers' Day is the day we are sure to spend together and celebrate somehow, our kids tend to wish us a happy Fathers' Day as well, and sometimes give us cards, because we are the parents they have. We do "dad" stuff and "mom" stuff. It's silly, of course, how gendered aspects of parenting are.

Years ago, my wife and our two (the third was not born yet) children went to a Unitarian Universalist service on Mothers' Day. While I was aware that Unitarian Universalists claim to be an accepting and welcoming community, I was happily surprised by the sermon. The sermon was titled “Mothering is a Verb.” The minister told her own story of struggling to understand, and learning to accept that gender is a "spectrum." She spoke about different types of families, “some with two moms, some with two dads, some with a mom and a dad who used to be a mom." She spoke of Mothers' Day being about people (any gender) who are mothering, rather than about cis women who are mothers. Not only did I feel accepted as a queer family, but also I found myself pondering the ways others have been mothering to me, regardless of their gender identity. 

So this goes out to my mama, who has always shown me unconditional love, through all the happy times and all the hard times. This goes out to my wife--I am so lucky to be a coparent with such an amazing, kind, insightful, and loving woman. This goes out to all those who have mothered me in different ways and at different times--friends, aunts, grandparents, mentors. This goes out to all those who are missing their mothers (or mothering person), whether they have died, become estranged, been separated by prison, or borders. This goes out to mothers who have lost children for any of those reasons as well. This goes out to all the people who care for, nurture, teach, lead, and accept their friends and loved ones, especially when in the absence of a nurturing parent--it means so much. This goes out to those hurting today because they did not have a loving or caring mother. This goes out to non-binary parents, transgender parents, dad-only families, adoptive families who may have complicated feelings about the holiday. This goes out to struggling mothers and parents. This goes out to folks who long to mother. I wish all a peaceful mothers' day, whether you celebrate it or it's just another day.

This beautiful song is by Anohni (the name listed is her former band name).

Friday, January 29, 2016

Non-binary Identities are Valid

As a non-binary trans person, my gender is invalidated from almost every direction. After all, my gender identity has been invalidated since I was a little kid and I was told in one way or another, over and over again, that I was supposed to be a girl. When I was 19, I was told I could either be a lesbian or a transgender male, but that talking about anything else in between or different was "weird" "gross" "freaky" and outwardly laughed at. After that, I pretty much stopped talking about it for 10 years. Today, being open and generally "out" as non-binary, I am invalidated when people use the wrong pronouns, call me "miss" or "ma'am" or "lady," refer to me as part of a group of women, etc. It's one thing to be invalidated by strangers. That's easier to shrug off. It's another thing to be invalidated by people closer to you. These seemingly small things remind me every day that I am not seen as who I really am.

Some ways to combat non-binary erasure in your everyday life:
  • Avoid assuming people's gender! This is a good idea all around.
  • Practice using gender-neutral language! Don't use "ladies" or "gentlemen" or other gendered words for a group of people if you aren't certain of each individual's gender. How about "folks" or "everyone"? Don't use "sir" or "ma'am" or other gendered words for people you don't know (sometimes when I get "ma'amed" I want to poke people in the eye! No offense. I probably won't.) Don't say "boys and girls," or "ladies and gents." How about, "children," or "my good people!" 
  • Don't assume pronouns, and use the correct pronouns even if they are challenging for you
  • Remember to consider non-binary people when talking about gender issues and/or trans issues. If you are talking about bathrooms, for example, remember that the issue is not just about allowing people to use the facility that matches their gender, it is also about non-binary people not having an option that matches their gender at all! When discussing children, parenting, and schools, don't forget that some of those trans kids may be non-binary! 
Model this for your children, for your friends and family, and your coworkers!
Non-binary people exist and are valid.

[image description: drawing of a person with their hands raised and eyes closed,
a solemn look on their face. A banner below says "DO NOT ERASE NON BINARY
PEOPLE."] image from dakshinadeer on

There are many different non-binary identities that people might claim, and sometimes people might change what they say their gender is (I used to use the term genderfluid, because my gender feels fluid in some ways, but I stopped using that when I realized that I do not experience my gender fluctuating from one gender to another as clearly as many people do who identify as genderfluid). Even if someone is uncertain about their gender or changes their mind about what term to use, their identity is valid. It can be confusing to explore all these different new terms in a world where we were taught the binary was the only way.

Why are some people so skeptical of non-binary identities?

Well, to start with the obvious, we were raised in a society that says there are only two genders--male and female. It can be hard to unlearn these concepts that have been so ingrained starting in early childhood.

Unfortunately, it is not just cis people who erase or invalidate non-binary identities. Some binary trans people are not accepting of non-binary trans people. I hope this is not the case for the most part, and I haven't experienced this in my personal life, but I certainly have run into this online. This especially comes up when someone doesn't want to or can't medically transition, or when they don't want to fully medically transition (this also affects binary trans people who can't or don't want to medically transition).

Sometimes this invalidation comes from other non-binary people! Look out for the gender police! Are you trans enough? Are you genderqueer the same way as me? I think this comes from internalized transphobia and feeling insecure about one's own identity being validated. It's sad when I see this happen, though.

[image description: the face of a snarling wolf and the words, "NO GENDER POLICE ALLOWED."]
If you are skeptical of non-binary identities, whether intentional or not, do some research. Non-binary people have existed throughout world history. The rise of patriarchal oppressive (and often Christian) governments and ruling class is what snuffed out the visibility of trans people, as being trans was considered a threat to the ruling class of men, and seen as a pagan practice. Joan of Arc, for example, was burned at the stake because they would not cease dressing in men's clothing, and were therefore considered pagan and dangerous to the patriarchy. Many Native American tribes also recognize more than two genders, as do/did many other cultures around the world. If you are interested in learning more, an excellent starting point is Leslie Feinberg's "Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman." I know there are many other books and works out there on this subject that I have yet to explore! If you have some to suggest, please share them in the comments!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience 2015

[image description: a lit candle with the image of the transgender flag across it and the words "Transgender Day of Remembrance" above.]
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance/Resilience. Over 271 trans people were murdered this past year. We know the number is higher, as many of these tragedies go unreported. Here is a list and some brief details about the lives lost. The folks most at risk for being victims of violence are trans feminine people of color. We also must remember those whose lives were lost to suicide. That number is much higher. We must also fight for those still here and struggling. Trans sex workers, immigrants, prisoners, youth, and trans people with disabilities all face heightened oppression and violence. Tonight, my family and I will go to a vigil to honor the lives lost and support our community (for those of you in Eugene, here is the event). I'm remembering a phrase I read on a Micah Bazant poster for Cece McDonald: "Honor our dead and fight like hell for the living!" That has been ringing in my ears. That is what this day is about. 
Poster by Micah Bazant [image description: a painting of two trans feminine people of color standing each with a hand on their hip and an arm around each other. An outline of a city-scape and cop cars are seen behind them. The words "Remember Trans Power. Fight for trans Lives." are written above.]
There are many good people who would like to be or claim to be allies to the transgender community. There are members of the trans community like myself who do not face nearly the same amount of oppression and violence as some of our more marginalized trans siblings. We must all come together and find ways to fight for trans justice and freedom. Today, I challenge you to ask yourself: What are you doing to support the trans community? What are you doing to protect trans lives? 

Poster by Rommy Torrico for the TransLatin@ Coalition in the USA and the Transgender Day of Resilience Art Project.[image description: a poster of an angel of a trans feminine person of color floating above a cityscape looking up with one arm raised and flowers in their hand. A banner above reads "Trans Power" and the words around their halo say, "in celebration and honor of trans lives." The words to their left are "resistance, amor, community, seguridad, strength, orgullo," and to the right are, "power, felicidad, belleza, liberation, celebration." A banner at the bottom of her white gown reads, "Trans is Beautiful." The words on the dark buildings below read "Death, violence, persecution, detention, fear, humiliation, rape."]

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Existence as Rebellion: Black Trans Lives Matter!

[Image Description: Jennicet GuitiƩrrez waves a transgender
flag (pink, blue, and white stripes), wearing a shirt that reads:
"Mi existir es resistir," with people waving trans and rainbow
flags in the background.]
Black trans women are facing a daily threat of violence in the U.S.  If you don't already know that by now, please realize you need some new news sources (a good place to start will be some of the articles I link to in this post!). The number of trans people (mostly trans women of color) murdered in the U.S. this year has reached 22. That's only the murders we know about. It doesn't include the cases where the victim was not reported as being transgender and it doesn't include the many other tragic deaths from suicides, overdoses, homelessness, etc. This doesn't take into account what trans women face in immigration centers and in deportation.

[Image description: Actress Kitana Kiki Rodriguez stands
in the forground with her hand on her hip, and actress Mya
Taylor stands behind her, against a brightly painted wall] from
Magnolia Pictures' Tangerine.
I recently watched the film Tangerine. It is an amazing film, shot on an iphone, but more impressively (because sadly this is unusual) the characters were played by actors who are trans women of color. It is a film about trans women of color who are sex workers, their (mis)adventures, the way society interacts with them, and most of all their friendship. The acting was fantastic and the characters felt really real to me. The film does not focus on violence this population faces, but it does show some of the harsh realities. These characters (as often happens from really good movies or books, and sometimes TV shows--ehem--Sense8) stayed with me for the next several days, during which I read the news of Kiesha Jenkins being beaten and then shot to death. I thought about the strength of the characters in the film Tangerine and I thought about the strength of all the trans women of color I have come into contact with, both in real life and through online trans support communities; the strength necessary to face such a violent world everyday. I thought about the lives lost, the constant threat of violence, and my heart broke to pieces, again. The visibility in movies like Tangerine is wonderful, the dialogue through hashtags such as #BlackTransLivesMatter and #SayHerName is important, but the hate crimes and violence are still more prevalent than ever.
[Image Description: A selfie photo of Kiesha Jenkins, wearing
a black shirt and a black hat, smiling with her hand next to her
face, with black and blonde hair under a black brim of a hat]

This is a CRISIS. We all need to take action to stop this from happening. Here is a really great article written by a latina trans woman, Lexi Adsit: "24 Actions You NEED to Take to Help Trans Women of Color Survive." This is something I think everyone must read. There ARE things you can do to make a difference. Don't just say, "That's sad," and move on. Be an ally. Talk to your kids about gender diversity, trans issues, and racism. Speak out against oppression, transmisogyny, transphobia, racism, and bigotry. As it says on the TransWomen of Color Collective website, "Every breath a trans person of color takes is an act of revolution." It is up to all of us to actively work for the safety of trans people, especially trans women of color. It is important to recognize the intersections of oppression and discrimination. Trans people of color face more violence, incarceration, joblessness, homelessness, and murders than white trans people. It is important to recognize this and work to be better allies and more inclusive in trans spaces, as well as everywhere else. We must always lift up the voices and fight for the rights of the most oppressed.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Dear Cis Friends

Dear cis friends,
Relating to my experience based on being a gender non-conforming cis person, or disagreeing with gender roles, is really only a vague frame of reference. It most definitely is not the same thing, so please be careful with saying that you "completely relate" or "totally understand," because unless you are actually trans, you don't. Not completely, not totally. I am not a woman who is gender non-conforming, I am a non-binary trans person. I do not choose to be non-binary because it's a way of fighting the binary, it is just WHO I AM. Saying that you "totally get it" and then talking about being a cis person who doesn't conform to gender roles is another way in which my gender is invalidated.
[image description: drawing of a person with their hands raised and eyes closed,
a solemn look on their face. A banner below says "DO NOT ERASE NON BINARY
PEOPLE."] image from dakshinadeer on
That being said, I'm happy to talk with you about how ridiculous gender roles are, and how the gender binary system is a big load of crap!
[image description: Pink block text that reads: "FUCK GENDER ROLES" and a heart.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Personal Pronouns, Pretty Please!

'He' and 'she' just don't cut it for some of us, but fortunately there are other options! Those of us living outside of the binary may choose pronouns you aren't used to using or haven't heard of before! So, cis friends, some requests:
Please don't complain about non-binary pronouns (or changes in binary pronouns). 
[image description: six nametags reading: Hello, Address
me as (blank) Please Use: They, Them, Theirs; He, Him,
His; (blank); She, Her, Hers; Ze, Hir, Hirs; Xe, Xem, Xyrs]
I think most trans people can acknowledge that changing pronouns can be challenging, and that it can take time to get used to using pronouns you haven't heard of before (like, maybe, ey/em/eir/eirs/eirself or xe/xir/xir/xirs/xirself). My personal pronouns are they/them/their/theirs/themself. Personally, I don't want to correct people all the time, so please just practice and hold yourself accountable. If you mess up, just briefly apologize and correct yourself. Please don't dwell on it. And seriously, don't complain about it! What does that do but make your trans friend feel guilty for asking to be acknowledged as who they are?! If you want to be an awesome ally and friend, one thing you can do is practice using the correct pronouns. As I told my friends, go ahead and talk about me! Lol. There are websites that can help you practice different pronouns, too, like the pronoun dressing room, which also has a pretty good sized list of personal pronoun options. (a note: if you are practicing with they/them pronouns on that website, click "plural." Even though it is singular, the common way to use it is as though it were plural, grammar-wise.)

It should go without saying, but unfortunately this needs to be said, too:
Don't argue with someone about their pronouns. It's not up to you what pronouns people use. Using the correct pronouns is a matter of respect. Don't complain about grammar (seriously, 'singular they' has been used in language for a long time.... person 1: "My friend just got into a car accident!" person 2: "Oh no, are they okay?"). Don't tell someone their pronouns aren't real. We live in a society that has been oppressively shaped by patriarchy where only "he" and "she" are recognized as valid. Non-binary people deserve to exist and be acknowledged for who they are, and sometimes creating new pronouns or using less common pronouns is one way to do that. Just because someone's personal pronouns haven't made it into the dictionary yet, doesn't mean they aren't real! Saying so is just close-minded.
[image description: Text: Pronoun Dos and Don'ts: When someone asks you to use a different pronoun: DON'T: cartoon of a person saying, "What? 'Zie' isn't a real pronoun. Don't you have something more normal that you use? DON'T: Cartoon of a person saying "But it's not grammatically correct to use 'they' as a singular pronoun." WHY? You are not being asked to evaluate this person's gender identity or preferred terminology. (Also, I have not yet witnessed a verson of this conversation in which the person arguing is actually correct.)] from Robot Hugs.

Non-binary trans people don't choose their pronouns to make life difficult for cis people. We choose our pronouns to feel validated as who we are. We choose different pronouns because "he" or "she" never felt right. If you have never had to think about your pronouns, if your pronouns are in the dictionary and used by society at large, that is a privilege that many non-binary folks don't have.

Not all non-binary people choose to change their personal pronouns, and some choose to change to a different binary pronoun. This doesn't make their gender any less valid than anyone else's. Personal pronouns are a personal choice.
[image description: a cartoon of two characters sitting close and facing
each other, one saying, "You had me at 'What gender pronoun
d'you prefer?'..." with a pink heart as the background] from:

One more thing: it is okay to ask someone what pronouns they prefer! It is often suggested that you start by giving yours. I would say, "Hi, I'm Coco. My personal pronouns are they/them. What are yours?" or something like that. Some cis people might think this is an inappropriate question because they think that their gender is "obvious" but the truth is, you can never really tell. If they are offended by the question, it is because of cisnormative conditioning, and it's about time we all start breaking down those walls.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Gender Diverse Comics

I've come across some great comics about gender diversity lately, and I want to share a few of them with you! So here they are! Do you have favorite webcomics about trans issues or featuring gender diverse characters? Please share them in the comments!

Assigned Male
Assigned Male is a webcomic about a young transgender girl named Stephie, written by Sophie Labelle. Stephie is clever, kind, playful, and fierce. She is a great advocate for herself and her peers, and educates everyone around her on trans issues. The reader sees Stephie respond to instances of bullying, transphobia, transmisogyny, and misinformation with frustration, rage, sadness, and a sense of justice. It also deals with family acceptance--her dad fumbles, but cares; her mom is a strong bisexual role model. This webcomic is educational, inspirational, moving, and entertaining. You can follow Assigned Male on facebook for excellent memes and the occasional bonus comic.
[image description: first frame: a mother with short magenta hair sitting on a bus with her daughter who has long brown hair and is smiling. The mother asks: "So what are you going to buy with the money you just earned?" Her daughter responds: "I'll buy books about the cisgendered!" Second frame: a close up on Stephie (daughter), smiling slightly, saying: "This evening was an eye-opening experience. I want to learn more about them, so I can be a good ally." Third frame: Mom and Stephie on the bus. With one eyebrow raised, her mom says: "Didn't we have a discussion about sarcasm recently?" and Stephie replies with arms out in front of her and eyebrows raised, "We agreed I could do it 15 minutes a day!"]
Justin Hubbell
Justin Hubbell is the author of this mostly autobiographical webcomic. Sometimes silly, sometimes serious and social-justice focused, often personal. The more recent strips have been about coming out as genderqueer. These strips are uplifting, honest, and empowering. Previous strips have focused on depression and suicide, his relationship, becoming a pet owner, unpacking privilege, and coming to terms with her own feminism (see Orcs Vs Feminism in the archives).
[image description: a drawing  of the author's face, frowning slightly, eyebrows raised. Light blue background. Words on either side of picture read: "I fell under attack by a special cocktail of depression and internalized transphobia."]
Rooster Tails
Rooster Tails is a webcomic by Sam Orchard about a transguy and his genderqueer companion, and sometimes their cats. This webcomic is also at least semi-autobiographical. It deals with coming out as transgender after being known as a lesbian, medically transitioning, being a queer and trans couple, dysphoria, depression, romance, and more. It is sweet, funny, and often poignant.
[image description: 1st frame: Sam and Joe stand together smiling, Sam's arm around Joe's shoulder. Sam says: "Yaaay! It's your T-shot day again!" Joe: "Yeh! Yay!" 2nd frame: Sam stands behind Joe with his arms around him, both smiling. Sam says: "Was it ok? How do you feel? You feeling good? Joe: "Ummm..." 3rd frame: Sam holds Joe close, smiling with eyes closed, Joe's mouth is open in surprise, and the words "rub rub rub"  are around them. Sam: "mmm..." Joe: "Uhh...Sam?" 4th frame: Sam and Joe face each other, smiling, hands out in front of them. Joe: "What are you doing?" Sam: "I was hoping the T would rub off on me!"]

****Each of these webcomics are currently updated weekly!****

Please share your favorite trans and gender diverse webcomics in the comments! I've only just begun to explore the webcomic world...