Recently, while in the midst of yet another gender confusion stream-of-consciousness ramble, directed at my therapist, she reminded me, “You used to tell me that you didn’t think you felt like a man, but you wanted to be seen as a boy.” But that was like 15 years ago, when I was 20, 21 years old. At that point, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to be seen as a 15 year old boy. Right? Or at least, not nearly as much of a stretch as a 36-year old (me, now) wanting that same thing. Do I still want that? Not really, anymore. But, it is happening at this point, sometimes, more than ever before. (Well maybe not more than when I was 10 years old and there was no way to tell me apart from a boy of that same age..)
When I was first grappling with what it meant to be transgender, one of the first terms I latched onto was “boi.” It’s a deviation of “boy,” something that’s queer and edgy but also kind of just “testing the waters,” experimental, non-committal. Wikipedia has a whole slew of other meanings for “boi,” which is worth checking out, here.
It seems that this term has fallen out of popularity, similarly to how “hir” and “ze” have given way to “they.”
I gotta admit I don’t identify with “boi” anymore. Nor do I feel like I am a boy. BUT! There are certain things that are great about being seen that way. When people mistake me for a 16 year old boy, I feel like I will live forever! Hah, not really, but there is something exciting about it. I almost always get carded unless I’m at a place where people know my face. Fine by me!
Sometimes I have trouble inhabiting this body. it has gotten waaaaaaay easier since top surgery and testosterone. BUT! Do you know what’s cool about this body? The size of my body is exactly between “boy’s” sizes and “men’s” sizes, in every way. I love that – it’s kind of perfect. I can wear boys XL shirts (as long as the sleeves are long enough) or men’s XS shirts (kind of hard to find). Men’s pants start at size 28 waist, and boy’s pants end at size 30 waist. I fall right within that range – lately since testosterone, going more toward the 30. Boy’s size 20 means 30X30 which is pretty much perfect, if I can find them.
And shoes! Boy’s go up to size 6y (the “y” stands for youth). And Men’s start at size 7. Either of these fit me.
I wear unisex size small t-shirts. I wear both boy’s and men’s underwear, but gravitate more towards boy’s because it’s generally waaaaaaaay cheaper.
When I was 20, 21, a close friend and I strongly identified as “bois,” together. We played catch with baseballs and mitts, or frisbees, countless times. We peed in the woods, whenever we had to go, no big deal. We worked on an organic garden, we went camping and swimming in the lake in just our briefs and A-frame tank tops. We got free ice creams at the place my brother worked. She now identifies as a bisexual woman. And I identify as trans, as genderqueer, as non-binary, as queer.
But, although I have a history with it, I probably would not say that I am a “boi.”
The other day, my partner alerted me of a really cool podcast story, and we listened to it together (for her, she listened a 2nd time). It’s about a subset of trans-people, and a subset of non-binary people even: people who identify as bigender. I’ve heard this term before but didn’t have a clear grasp on the experience of bigender people, largely just equating and blending it in with people who identify as “genderfluid,” in my mind. The two terms definitely overlap, and the podcast didn’t mention “genderfluid” as an identity, but it told a very gripping and personal story of someone who is bigender.
I’m just going to summarize this person’s story, but if you have a half hour, listening to this podcast would be a half hour well spent! Here is the link:
Invisibilia Story About Paige (Go ahead and skip the first 2 minutes – it’s just podcast producers doing introductions and general banter.)
Paige is in her 30s and lives in San Diego. Her story is not a common one, even within the trans-community. She grew up MAAB (male assigned at birth) and was largely fine with that, didn’t think twice about it. She had fleeting feelings maybe she was supposed to be a girl, but they were very rare, and she didn’t dwell on them. She joined the Navy and enjoyed it. She got married; got a job, a car, a house – everything most people hope to do. When she was 30, still living full time as a man, her body mysteriously stopped producing testosterone. She got put on testosterone replacement therapy, and that’s when things started getting strange. Those fleeting feelings of being female returned full force and with more frequency. She began to feel a really strong split between “guy mode” and “girl mode,” and she had no control over when or where it might happen. When in “girl mode,” she began to feel repulsed by her body, even to the point of vomiting from disgust.
She talked to her wife, and decided to stop taking testosterone and start taking estrogen instead. The disgust started to wane as her body changed, but at this point, she was aiming for androgyny so that she could feel comfortable in both guy and girl mode, something she kept flipping between, often multiple times within a day. There were certain things that changed for her depending on which mode she was in, perception-wise and personality-wise.
It’s been confirmed through psychological tests on a small sample of people who are bigender that there are in fact some differences going on. This research is really in its infancy, and nothing has been conclusive on a large scale thus far. But, well… makes sense! (I am far from saying men are from Mars and women from Venus or anything like that, haha.)
Parts of her story are really sad. Her marriage didn’t make it. She spent a long time feeling like an alien, hiding her true nature, etc. A lot of things a lot of people can relate to…
The interesting thing comes in the conclusion though. It seems that the longer she was on estrogen, the more she “settled into” being female, on a psychic level. She has stopped “flipping” uncontrollably, for the most part. It does still happen, and it’s super jarring, but she is living close to 100% in “girl mode” these days.
This is super fascinating to me – although I am really in neither “guy mode” nor “girl mode” ever, my gender identity is static. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to go back and forth, uncontrollably, at inopportune times.
More than just a few people experience this though. Something like 8% of MAAB trans-people, and 3% of FAAB trans-people.
I recently mentioned an article called “A Gender Not Listed Here: Genderqueers, Gender Rebels, and OtherWise,” which is based on findings from a survey conducted in 2008. One of the most intriguing points to come from that (in my opinion) was all of the unique words and phrases respondents came up with to describe their gender. Some of those were: “jest-me,” “twidget,” “best of both,” “gender blur,” “cyborg,” and “genderqueer wombat fantastica.”
I also mentioned I had a list somewhere, where I had jotted down other terms. I found that list! So, to expand upon what respondents said:
- a variation of nature
- and my favorite so far, “freemale.”
- limp-wristed butch
- Alien Space Prince
- kinda like an old, beaten-in sneaker
This language is so important. Even if this is only how you see yourself internally, and you’d never actually use these words when you talk about yourself to others, the personal meaning behind it is rich with feelings of who we are, at our core.
As we try to sort out our identities, it is an amazing gift to have these options, all these creative bursts of self-expression, on hand for inspiration. Looking back roughly 12 years ago, when I was first considering the nuances of gender identitiy, I started to learn of the terms “butch,” “transgender,” “genderqueer,” and not a whole lot more. I remember someone referring to me as a “baby dyke” (because I’m so not butch), and that seemed maybe about right, but actually, no not really at all. At the time, I thought I felt like neither gender, like there was a void where there should be gender. I’ve come across dozens of ways to describe this experience lately, but at the time, I struggled with describing what that was, even if just to myself.
These days, I do not feel devoid of gender. The way I replied to Micah’s survey was, “A kaleidoscope of all genders.” That feels exactly right. It feels like a rich mixture, flowing through my being, and constantly shifting internally, but held together by a relatively stagnant vessel (my body). I mean, my body is in motion, but it’s not changing as much as many people who are trans. Nor does my gender expression shift much. It’s an internal feeling.
I wanna recommend this blog post, from a mother’s perspective. She showed her son Micah’s question about how you describe your gender and they talked about some of people’s responses. And it really seemed to open something up for him. This is the kind of stuff we need!
Got descriptive words to add? Join the conversation!
I am someone who is inhabiting a world in between genders. There is a growing set of words, a subculture of sorts, and there are political agendas surrounding this experience. And in theory, I am on board with all I’ve seen (and let me clarify that what I’ve seen is almost entirely online at this time, and not reflected in the world I actually live in). But in actuality, not every part of it appeals to me personally. Which is OK – I can still support it while simultaneously getting the word out that not all non-binary people have the same needs, preferences, and agendas.
I’m going to go with a break-down of three categories: Pronouns, Bathrooms, and Legal Designations / Forms. And talk a little about the discussions I’ve seen, but also how I personally feel.
Pronouns: I prefer to be referred to with male pronouns: He/Him/His. The reason for this is: because it is my preference. It really is as simple as that – no explanation needed. It feels the most right (although no pronouns actually feel “right” for me). That’s all it comes down to – a feeling.
Many non-binary people go by They/Them/Their, along with a myriad of more obscure pronouns. Some people have assumed that I go by They/Them/Their, because I identify as non-binary. That is fine. It’s not my preference, but I’m not offended by this assumption, nor do I mind being referred to in this way. I have felt some pressure (from within myself only) to adopt the They/Them/Their/ set in order to align myself more with an idea of a non-binary identity, and to take a stand / stand-out more for what some people truly feel they need (which is to be referred to with gender neutral pronouns – it is definitely a need for some people). But, bottom line, it does not feel right for me. Male pronouns feel (more) right.
(And I imagine if I really break it down, this correlates to how I see my gender: I do not feel as if I am without gender, genderless, agender, or gender neutral. Instead, I feel as if I am an amalgam of genders, a kaleidoscope. And so it feels right that I view my identity’s make-up as pieces from all genders, rather than a rejection of anything that is gendered.)
I have seen many preferred sets of pronouns online (such as Ze/Hir/Hirs, Ey/Em/Eir/Eirs, Xe/Xem/Xyr/Xyrs and also ones based off of nouns). But in actual real life, I have come into contact with only one person, so far, with a preference for a set like this – and I immediately proceeded to mess it up when talking out loud. I have met a couple of people who prefer They/Them/Their, and that feels immediately do-able in real life, because these are words we’re all familiar with pronouncing. And… that’s kinda the difference – much of the online world is written, it’s visual. And it’s easy to backspace and try again. The real world involves much more talking out loud, at a conversational pace, and I personally am a long way from incorporating these newish words naturally into a conversation. That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to. It doesn’t mean I don’t support it. It means, in practice, I have a lot of work to do. And that work is difficult to do if I do not have people in my life who want to be referred to in this way – it’s hard to practice if I’m not actively practicing, essentially. And, since I am someone who identifies as non-binary, I might be, in theory, someone on the most sensitive, most open, end of the spectrum, in terms of the general populous. I have a lot of trouble with it, from a practical perspective, at this time.
To summarize: Incorporating these newer pronouns is do-able. I support it. For some people, it is not a preference, but a need, in order to feel comfortable. I personally do not need or prefer to be referred to by gender neutral pronouns. I have a long way to go in terms of enacting this language. Which, I believe, means the general population has a much longer way to go. It’s hard to make progress if I’m not actively using the words in regular conversation. At this time, I am not actively using the words in regular conversation. This is where I’m at with pronouns. It’s hard to gauge where the world at large is at, but I imagine progress will be very very slow. I’m just thinking pragmatically here. Ideally, I wish it were easy.
This got a lot longer than I thought it would. It’s complicated! So again I’m going to break the topics up; look forward to yet another series! Up next: part 2 – Bathrooms and part 3 – Legal Designations / Forms.
I’ve been out of the office (and by office, I mean table in the dining room) quite a bit lately because I’ve been working a series of 12 hour shifts at my real job – filling in for my supervisor plus doing my own work. But that’s not really what I’m writing about right now…
For a few years, I was very much disconnected from the trans* community, and I’ve been recently back in some big ways (online at least… for now). Where was I from roughly 2007-2013? Why was I not involved? How was I involved before that time period? Why did I decide to come back? These questions are basically teasers for right now. I’ll be elaborating on all of that in the near future, but in this moment, I want to focus on some things that have changed in that short time period, linguistically speaking.
When I started to dip my toes back in the water, I started at LiveJournal, a space I’m familiar with and had been an active contributor in the past. I joined a group that’s all about non-binary identities but was quickly confused by a bunch of phrases and acronyms I’d never encountered before. I had no idea what AFAB/AMAB, FAAB/MAAB, DFAB/DMAB, CAFAB/CAMAB* stood for, or why there was an asterisk now attached to the word “trans*.” The most commonly used gender-neutral pronouns, last I was aware, were “ze/hir/hirs.” In fact, I hadn’t even heard of any others, not even “they/them/their.” !!! I’d never come across the honorific, “Mx.” I had not heard of the terms “neutrios,” “agender,” or “bigender,” although these were easy enough to figure out. In fact, in the past, I had identified (and I still identify) as genderqueer, but at the time, I strongly wished there was a better word (and maybe it was there, all along – I just wasn’t aware of it). I would have definitely identified as “agender” or “neutrois” if I’d been familiar with those words then. Now, not quite so much.
(I’m getting bogged down by trying to link everything! Here is an additional good resource, and I’ll just leave it at that. Nonbinary.org The internet is, you know, pretty search friendly anyway. You can do the work yourself, haha.)
Coincidentally, I came across a book at the library last week, called Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture. I’m only 36 pages in, but it’s already one of the most interesting books I’ve EVER read. Highly recommend! (If you’re into quantifying things and looking at social trends.) Basically, the authors teamed up with Google and created this website. Google has been digitizing over 30 million books over the past 10 years, and they’re just getting started. What that provides (among many things), is a database for how frequently words and phrases are used within languages and over great spans of time. And these guys came up with a search engine lens to chart this stuff. I decided to see what a graph would look like between 1980 and now (it cut me off at 2008, unfortunately) for the phrases “female-bodied” vs. “FAAB” vs. “AFAB.” It looks like this:
What does this all mean? Well, it means we can look at how words and phrases shift over time. (We can also see how infrequently these words/phrases are used, but that’s beside the point, a little bit…) It’s incredibly exciting to me that I could have been out of the loop for roughly 6 years – a very short time, relatively speaking – and when I came back to these dialogues, there was a bunch of new terms I’d never heard of! The trans* umbrella is an amazingly rich and dynamic area of changing identities, linguistics, politics, health initiatives, etc. It feels like there are endless things for me to write about and stay up to date with! Let’s continue discovering…
*What do all these acronyms stand for?!! Well! here is the long string: Assigned female at birth / Assigned male at birth, Female assigned at birth / Male assigned at birth, Designated female at birth / Designated male at birth, Coercively assigned female at birth / Coercively assigned male at birth. These terms are gaining traction over “Female-bodied, Male-bodied,” which was previously the dominant way to describe someone’s birth sex, I believe…