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Got a few questions about what it means to be Non-Binary/transmasculine?
Glad you are here.
Let's start with the basics.
I identify as Transgender NonBinary/Transmasculine. Thats a lot of labels, so let's take that apart.
Wait. I'm confused. Whats the difference between gender and sex?
Here is a Ted Talk on Gender, Sex, Sexuality and Gender Expression that really gets into the basics of gender and what it is. I'm going to waaaaaaay oversimplify here but, basically your sex was (probably) assigned to you at birth as Male, Female, or Intersex, based on the physical appearance of your genitalia. Gender expression is how we present ourselves to the world, like how we dress and talk, etc. Sexuality is who we are attracted to and have "sex" with. And Gender Identity is your own feeling and perception of yourself. For more info on LGBTQ terminology in general- go check out this free ebook from Sam Killerman.
So, what does Transgender mean?
Transgender is when the sex you were assigned at birth does not align with the gender you are. Even if you are familiar with that term, here is a little more about it, because I gave a really short answer and maybe there's something new for you there, who knows!
What does Non-Binary mean?
The word "Binary" means "involving two things". In this case those two things are "male" and "female" gender. Thats the gender binary. People who are non-binary do not identify as exclusively male or female. That can mean a lot of different things. That can mean they identify as male AND female, as neither, or as a little of both.... This is big topic and deserves a whole page to itself. Here's a page with a little more info, and then a little more here, and here. For ME (and I'm just one person- I can not speak for all non-binary people)- it mostly sounds like this "I'm certainly not female.... ummm. About that other thing...."Yup.
What does Transmasculine mean?
Transmasculine is a term for "people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) but identify with masculinity to a greater extent than femininity" (definition from this page). Another description, coming from this page (which is great), says people who are transmasculine "identify with masculinity more than femininity, but do not want to be perceived as wholly male." Being transmasculine is often perceived to be about how people present in addition to who we are, but doesn't HAVE to be. These concepts are slippery, and confusing. I feel more male than female, thats for sure, and what that ends up looking like, for me, is that the way I dress is more neutral to masculine (although I really really like my super high heels every once in a while!) There are some really good thoughts about what it means to be transmasculine here and more to chew on here... If you want to dive deeper I strongly encourage you to read all of these pages or talk to people who identify as transmasculine.
So, is transmasculine the same as a transgender man?
No. A transgender man is a man. Someone who is transmasculine might have surgery to appear more masculine, they may take testosterone, they may dress in ways to appear male, but they would not identify exclusively as a man. A transgender man might also do these things, or not, but most importantly - what makes a transgender man a man is that he identifies as male, because he is a male.
OK. So what does it mean to be Transgender-Nonbinary-Transmasculine?
Soooo ...hopefully you looked at some of the above questions, But just to sum up., for ME: "Transgender NonBinary/Transmasculine" is a crazy lot of labels but it means basically "Not-the-gender-I-was-assigned-at-birth-and-also-not-one-of-the-two-that-our-culture-bases-everything-on-and-mostly-I-feel-more-comfortable-identifying-and-expressing-as-male,-most-of-the-time,-but-that-might-be-because-masculinity-is-more-associated-with-neutrality". Phew. that's a lot. These are all just labels though, and they can only take us so far. They're just words we use to make sense of things.
What does it mean to use "They/Them" pronouns?
Many (not all) people who are non-binary feel that gendered pronouns ("he" and "she") don't accurately match who we are, so we use alternative pronouns, like the singular "they" (thats what I use), or "ze", "hir", "sie", or others. This means whenever you would use "she", you replace it with "they".
For example: "I love Alex. They teach the best Hiit class in Seattle. They are so awesome. What a badass they are. Damn, their classes are just so great." (I'm writing the examples so I can write whatever I want.).
Lets get specific: This is how it works-
(she/he/they ) "She went to the store." becomes "They went to the store"
(her/him/them) "I went with her." becomes "I went with them."
(hers/his/theirs) "The key is hers." becomes "The key is theirs."
(her/his/their) "This is her room." becomes "This is their room."
(herself/himself/ theirself) "She designed this herself." becomes "They designed this themself"
For verb agreement, you treat it exactly like the plural "they". So, for example, you DON"T say "They is here". That sounds wrong and it IS wrong. You can think about this in the same way we use the singular "You". We conjugate this like a plural too. We say "you are", when talking to one person or a group. We never say "you is". Same thing.
What about Miss/Mrs/Mr?
It's "Mx" please, and it's pronounced "mix". How neat is that?!? Good job, whoever thought of that. I also respond to "Captain". (as in "yes, captain" instead of "yes, ma'am". I'm not joking.) And "blady" is used A LOT in my house instead of lady. As in "boy-lady". I'm sure other people do this differently. And maybe people would be offended by the last two, but they work for us. And my niece and nephew call me "Auntle Alex" , which I think is the cutest thing I've ever heard in my life, ever.
That's great that you've figured out who you are. But since YOU know what your gender is, why do you care what other people think? Why tell anyone? Why do other people have to change their language for you?
Well, first- they don't. Nobody HAS to do anything. We don't have to be polite. We CHOOSE to be polite. We choose to behave and interact in ways that treat other people with respect. And second, it's about validity. If you know you are a man, but everywhere you go, people refer to you as "she" and "her" , and every time you buy something the clerk says "thank you, ma'am", and you get directed to the women's clothing section instead of the men's, and you get weird looks when you try to go into the men's section, and aren't even ALLOWED to go into the men's locker room to change clothes at all.... well. It wouldn't matter if you KNEW you were a man. Because at the end of the day, it matters what other people think of us; it matters how the world perceives us. We want and need and DESERVE to be seen and validated by others.
I'm still confused about why I should change my language for someone else.
Ultimately it's about respect. Know that transgender people get misgendered ALL THE TIME. All day long. And it adds up- It feels bad. Every time someone gets my pronoun right I feel like I'm HOME. I feel seen. I feel like they actually SEE ME. Why wouldn't you want someone to feel that way?
This page has some great videos on the importance of using the correct pronouns, here's a page with some good questions and answers, and this one has great and simple ways to make your language generally more inclusive (yessssss!)
Ok, fine. I'm just not going to use any pronouns for you at all. I will only refer to you by your name.
Thank you, first, for not using the "wrong" pronouns. And second, from my experience, you will, actually, use pronouns, you just won't notice it. We use pronouns all the time. We can't help it. And if you haven't spent a bazillion hours thinking about gender and language then you probably won't notice it. But the people that you accidentally misgender will notice it... So, I would encourage you to just give the alternative pronouns a try. Just try. Practicing really does help, I promise! Think about our pets- we use gendered pronouns for them even though they don't "look like a girl/boy" and we get it right- we have to memorize that! Languages are living things that are changing all the time. We can change with them.
I'm worried I will have trouble with learning and remembering a new pronoun! It seems hard!
Thats fair! Its is hard. Thanks so much already for trying.
Here are some tips that have worked for me, my family, and my friends-
1) Remember that you already DO use "they" to refer to singular people. For example- "Somebody left their umbrella at the meeting." This is already in your vocabulary!
2) Practice, practice, practice. When I realized how many assumptions I was making about people I didn't know (by using pronouns and gendered language), I began to make myself use "they" for everyone. Seriously. It sounds a little over the top, but it's a good exercise to make you think about how much gender plays a role in our language. And language impacts our thoughts. So, if I don't know someone well, I use "they" for them. For a new student in the gym: "You can put your step down next to their step right there". For the barista at the coffee shop: "They said this was vegan, can you double check for me?"..... I do this in general conversation now ALL the time. At first I was self-conscious and I was worried everyone would think it was weird, or call me out on it, but guess what- NO ONE NOTICES. Because it's totally a part of English already.
3) My youngest daughter -who is the fastest to correct people, NEVER makes mistakes, and was the first to really master the pronoun change in the house- said the way she "got it" was to simply imagine that I was wearing a shirt that said "they" on it. SO every time she saw me she would also "see" the shirt. And it just stuck. And I swear that child has never made a mistake. Everyone else, but not her. Ever. She also very early on made the comment to me that when she started to use the different pronoun it changed the way she thought about me- she could really tell the impact language had on her thoughts ... and remember, she was 11 years old. She could see the power and importance of language, and she was 11.
4) A friend of mine said she thinks of me being non-binary as if I have a man AND a woman inside of me, and so it's like actually I am two people, and so "they", which is plural, works for her just fine.
5) Keep it light. Make it into a game. See who can correct each-other the fastest (in a fun, not mean, way). Have a friend who always will correct you if you get it wrong, and vice-versa. My spouse has a friend at work and they always catch each-other if they slip up- they keep eachother honest and its a great way to practice. It makes me feel super respected and validated. Also, once, with friends in Italy, we made it into a drinking game (I don't drink so I was always the winner!) The point is just to find light, fun ways to practice and make it a part of your everyday language.
*And finally- Don't worry if you make mistakes. Just apologize and keep going. It's hard to change our habits. And language habits run deep and we often talk before we think (although thats yet another reason to work on it maybe?) ...Check here for some ideas for what to do if and when you DO make a mistake.
Ok. I'll do it for you when I'm with you, but not when you're not around.
I'm taking my answer from an amazing website that everyone should read- TransEtiquette101- " Call everyone by their preferred name/s and pronoun/s. Use language and behavior that is appropriate to their gender self-identification. Do this for everyone, all the time, no matter how much you think they deviate from what a “real man” or “real woman” should be. " Do this always (Because really, don't you want your interactions with people to leave them feeling better), but especially when the person is not around. If you are cisgender (meaning the sex you were assigned at birth matches the gender you feel that you are), then chances are maybe you haven't spent a ton of time thinking about your gender. But trans* people think about it all the time, ALL THE TIME. Constantly. In every interaction, with every choice, they think about it. Our culture has gender so deeply ingrained into it that we don't even notice it. So even if you don't understand it, even if the terms "non-binary" or "gender-fluid" sound like nonsense because YOU can't imagine what that would feel like...I guarantee that the person who shared it with you has spent a WHOLE LOT of time thinking about their gender, and did not come to the decision to "out" themselves to you lightly. Treat their decision to share it with you with respect... because everyone deserves respect. Kindness is free. The more you practice this (pronouns AND kindness), the better you'll be at it, and the next time you meet someone who uses alternative pronouns you'll already be ahead of the game.
Are you going to have "the operation"?
Ok. First, know that gender transition doesn't happen with one operation so please don't ask if we've had or are having "the operation". This reduces trans people to our genitalia and also is just disrespectful and weird. There are many ways and steps of transitioning, not all of them surgical, and of the surgical steps there are more than one. ALSO- not all trans people transition surgically (or at all), for lots of reasons- and this is none of anyone's business but their own. Pause before you ask questions and think about why you want to know what you are asking. Why do you need to know about this person? Are you their doctor? Are you a sex partner? Short of these two things there are very few reasons I can think of that you need to know anything about anyone's genitalia. Also- try to remember that you are probably not the first person to ask this so even though it may seem like a harmless and natural question to you- to us it is the question EVERYONE asks when we come out to them and then we are forced to talk about our genitals and our level of comfort with them with people who we may know really well or not at all. It's just weird. If we want to talk about medical transition with you, we will bring it up. Or you can say, "Hey, if you ever need someone to talk to, I'm here." and leave it at that.
But you look like a girl (or boy) at work!
Again from TransEtiquette101- "Do not assume that just because you know us in one way, that we are able to, or choose to, live that way in every other part of our lives. Some of us express our gender in different ways in different parts of our lives. For example, we may not be able to find work as the gender we truly are. Or we may only find peace by living some of the time in a more masculine gender and some of the time as more feminine." TO "PASS" *(i e , be read as, or look like) a man, I have to flatten my "female" chest. This is done by wearing what is called a "Binder". This is exactly what it sounds like. It is not safe or healthy to wear one at work and would be dangerous for me (to my ribs, my ability to breathe, and to my ability to sweat properly) to wear one while working out (and I have to "work out" in every one of my jobs). The fitness industry expects form-fitting clothes that show off the body, which, combined with my female body, make it hard for me to present as male at work. Even when I wear male clothes, and I do often at work!, my body "gives me away". It is one thing for me to walk into a restaurant in a suit and look like a man (ok...really a 14 year old boy, lets be honest), but at work I can not hide my female body. It's physically dangerous. So, please, pause before you judge, or make any assumptions about transgender people. And this is just my situation. There are a million other scenarios and reasons why trans* people might present in a variety of ways.
And remember- gender expression and gender are not the same. I could go into a HUGE rant about this, but I wont:( No one, NO ONE, owes it to anyone to look or dress a certain way. People can and should present themselves in whatever way they feel most comfortable and confident, and the sooner we understand this the better, for all of us. Just because your sex or gender is something, does not mean you have to express anything specific to the world. Women don't have to wear dresses. Trans*men don't need beards, and non-binary folks don't need to look androgynous. It's just not how it works.
As RuPaul says "We're all born naked and the rest is drag."
But I refer to you as a "she" and you've never corrected me!
Quoting Transtorah again- "For myself, even though I hate being called “she,” if someone refers to me that way, I might or might not correct them depending on many variables: whether I’m going to have to see them again, how confident I feel, who I’m with, how much backup I have, etc. " I have said this quote almost word for word. Sometimes correcting someone who doesn't know means I have to out myself to them AND the 5 other people standing around. And that means finding out just how OK those people are with transgender people, with non-binary people, and with gender neutral pronouns. And sometimes it means doing this at work- which is incredibly intimidating. And potentially dangerous. (I rarely do this, because honestly I did it once and had a terrible response and now I am very hesitant to put myself in that position again). But I DO want people to get my pronoun right. I also want to keep it light and I don't want to be a jerk or annoy anyone. I don't mind correcting people, and I absolutely don't mind mistakes, but there's a difference between people who I correct every once in a while because they slip up, and people who "know" but NEVER get it right. That type of correction is really hard, especially when they use the wrong pronoun over and over. I honestly don't know the right way to correct people sometimes, so then I just stop doing it, because I don't want to make THEM uncomfortable, and then I just leave feeling beat up and deflated.
If I am in a space where correction is appropriate and safe, I am so grateful when my spouse or kids jump in with a correction- it takes the weight off of me and puts me in a less vulnerable position. If you know the pronouns someone is using publicly, you can ask them privately if they are ok with you correcting other people if they overhear mistakes. I know I, personally, would LOVE to have someone else on my side.
And remember, not all people are out with their pronouns/gender in all parts of their life (for lots of reasons), so make sure to get their OK first!
Also, know, if you are reading this- you have my permission and my wish that you a) use my correct pronoun/gender in ANY and ALL spaces and b) correct anyone who does not use the correct pronoun for me, if it feels safe to you to do so. THANK YOU!
REMEMBER, always, OM MANI PADME HUM...Compassion and Wisdom....
Lead with your heart, always seek to learn. and you will probably end up in the right place.