When No Gender Fits: Washington Post Article

About five months ago, I did a phone interview with Monica Hesse of the Washington Post, as a potential candidate for an upcoming article about non-binary genders.  She was planning on spending a few days with the person / people she selected; it wasn’t just a matter of chatting with her over coffee.  It sounded really intensive and potentially uncomfortable at times.  I thought the interview went well, and I talked to my partner about the possibility of her hanging around with us for a while.  My partner was game.  I was game.

I got back to her with a few reservations:  When might this be, exactly?  (I really love being able to plan ahead.)  And, would you be coming to my work?!!  (I am not out at work as non-binary, and I could not fathom her being there with me, at all.)  She assured me that it was not a necessary part of her article, and it’d totally depend on who she ended up going with and what everyone was comfortable with.  She seemed well versed in trans issues and understood the need for partial anonymity or a potentially incomplete story.

She had a lot more phone interviews to get through, and as we messaged back and forth, it became clear her interest in me was waning.  I was pretty bummed.  It sounded like something I was ready to challenge myself with!  Of course, the disappointment faded with time.  I’ve been looking forward to catching the finished article.  Here it is!!!

When No Gender Fits:  A Quest to Be Seen as Just a Person

I think this article is really well done.  It covers important ground:  pronouns, the internal isolation such an identity can bring (when society has no starting point for understanding), family and friend relationships, coming out issues.  There is nothing sensational or hyped up about it – the reporter seems well informed and sensitive.

A major thing struck me.  This article is about a very young person.  Kelsey is 18 years old.  They are at a completely different life stage than I am at.  The article follows them over the entire summer.  It appears that the reporter spent many many days with Kelsey, over a matter of 4 months or so.  We get a glimpse into what’s going on, as they have concerns about clothing.  As they have difficult conversations with their mom.  As they go to a therapy appointment to discuss the possibilities of going on a low dose of testosterone.  As they talk about teenaged things with their teenaged friends.  As they meet someone they found through OKCupid, for the first time in person.  As they pack up and plan for life at college.

“They will go to college. They will study engineering. They will get a job. They will find a partner and make a home. They will begin with finding a T-shirt.”  This quote sums up the tone of the article.

Had I been the subject, it would have been nothing like this at all. I’ve been to college (glad that’s over with!!!). I have a job. I have a partner. We have made a home. I have a T-shirt. In fact, I have many T-shirts. Haha.

This story is no doubt important.  However (and I’m definitely biased here, bordering on ageist maybe) I think it’s really really necessary that there are representations of older, established non-binary people.  It’s not just a young people’s thing.  (Not to imply that young people will be growing out if it – they won’t be!)  I just mean that it’s not just something someone is focusing on at the time when they are naturally growing into their identities, just at the beginning of starting new chapters of their lives.  There is, relatively speaking, a lot of representations (if even just online only) of young people, starting to question and figure these things out.

Gender identity issues are multi-generational.  They are lifelong, and they come with different sets of challenges at different stages in life.  I hope more media outlets will start jumping on the bandwagon (in respectful ways!) and more articles will pop up, with more frequency, soon.  And that those articles will focus on other identities within non-binary genders, and different age brackets, different ethnic backgrounds, different socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.

And if I’m not seeing it, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my own article, here.  Like, pretending I am a reporter, looking in.  Look for that in the near future, maybe!


Ruling with elf wisdom

The term, “ruling with elf wisdom” is linked to the names, “Aubrey” (f) and “Avery” (m/f).  They are of English origin.  In the case of Avery, the meaning is derived from the Old English words aelf, meaning elf, and raed, meaning counsel.  What does this mean exactly?  Elves have made appearances throughout time in different cultures’ storytelling and mythology, most notably Germanic and Norse mythology (which may be the basis for today’s understanding of elves as helpers to Santa Claus, of the North Pole.)  Not to mention Tolkein’s imaginings.  According to Wikia, a website for fandom,

“The elves were originally imagined as a race of minor nature and fertility gods, who are often pictured as youthful-seeming men and women of great beauty, living in forests and underground places, like caves, or in wells and springs. They have been portrayed to be long-lived or immortal and as beings of magical powers. In Norse paganism, Light elves were beautiful creatures and were considered to be ‘guardian angels.’  Light elves were minor gods of nature and fertility; they could help or hinder, humans with their knowledge of magical powers. They also often delivered an inspiration to art or music.”

In contrast,

“The Dark Elves hated the sun and it’s sunlight, because if they were touched or exposed to it they would immediately turn into stone. They use to annoy and threaten humans, to the point that nightmares were thought to be produced by the Dark Elves.These elves could also haunt animals, especially horses. They are also known as dwarfs. “

Elves are known to be playful, mischievous, and flighty, yet loyal and duty-bound.  So, to rule with this wisdom can only be a good thing!  To “rule with dwarf wisdom,” if there were such a thing, might be something else entirely.

I have not heard any follow-ups from the Washington Post reporter in over a week, so I’m assuming she went with someone else.  I’m kinda bummed – it felt like it would have been a good personal challenge.  Maybe I’ll have more opportunities to talk with more people in the future…  I’ll share the link to the story as soon as I come across it.

Having the chance to talk with her via phone and then to think about the potential of her coming here to hang out with me as I live my life definitely made some specific types of thoughts more pronounced, for many many days in a row.  Mainly, what do I want to share with others, and what feels too vulnerable?  Hypothetically, to what extent would I choose to be anonymous?  These questions have been on my mind quite a bit for a while, but suddenly it felt like I might need to make some definitive choices.  And even though the pressure’s off on those decisions, I’m still pressing myself about it, at least some of it.  I finally decided to settle on a new name.

The name situation has been a thing I haven’t directly addressed but have thought about for roughly 10+ years (like a lot of particulars about my gender identity).  I do not like to go by my legal name, or the name I used growing up.  Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I skewed it slightly, and that started to stick – almost everyone knows me by this slightly masculinized version of a pretty feminine name.  But ultimately, it’s not what I want.  I’ve toyed with the idea (off-and-on) of going by a male name.  The biggest contenders were Adam (this is my drag persona) and Konrad (just because I like it).

But, I have to admit that ultimately, it would be too hard for me to request a name like that if I’m not ever going to be appearing definitively male.  I wish it were no big thing.  And to many people, I imagine it wouldn’t be, and they’d easily make the switch.  Just… it would be too awkward for me.  I already know.

Ideally, I’ve wanted to go by a name that is right in the middle of androgyny.  I mean, a lot of names can be male or female names, but usually, they’re much more commonly used for one over the other.

I talked to my partner about a potential new name about a week ago.  This is a conversation we’ve had at other points in time, for sure.  But it was always more whimsical – sort of like, what if?…  This time it was more like, OK, I really need to pick now.  I have this piece of writing I want to submit to our local LGBT literary magazine, and it’s due in 3 days, and I need a pen name!

That ended up being pretty tense; note to self – don’t try to rush these kinds of decisions.  Haha.  But we got through it; she helped me come to a name that I’m going to start using ASAP as a pen name.  Avery.  And if I still like it, I’ll start using it more and more online, and then if I’m still liking it, the big switch to real life (which I envision will involve legally changing it as well.)  But all that feels pretty scary, so for now, it’s just a pen name.

“Avery” definitely seems androgynous to me – maybe skewed more to masculine, but feels like either, for sure.  I looked up the origin / what it means, and that pretty much sealed the deal.  A few websites confirmed, “the name literally means, ‘ruling with elf wisdom.'”

Not sure if I could find a better fit!!!

I am a known elf.

I am a known elf.

I rule all.

I rule all.

If you picked out your name, how did you come to it / narrow it down???

more evidence

more evidence

never not an elf.

never not an elf.

Off the record

Last night, I talked “off the record” with a reporter from the Washington Post, on the phone.  Completely surreal and surprisingly fulfilling.  It’s ironic that just a few days ago, I wrote about a difficulty in sharing who I am with others, and then suddenly I’m talking to a big time newspaper about core beliefs and feelings, how I got to where I am, how I navigate daily life, etc.

I was at work while we talked.  The phone call was scheduled ahead of time, so I just cleaned a little faster than normal so I’d have more time toward the end of my night.  I kicked back at a teacher’s desk (shhhh, don’t tell) and waited for the call.  I even wrote myself a pep talk on an index card so I wouldn’t psych myself out too much.  It’s still in my pocket.  It says, “Anything you have to say – big or small – is worthwhile and interesting.  Talking to people is a huge part of her job.  Let her do the work and steer things, but also give yourself space to say everything you want to say.”  We ended up talking for about 35 minutes, which was starting to feel a little long.  I think I was being pretty verbose (maybe even actually eloquent at times), contrary to my fears of not being able to answer clearly or not elaborating enough.

The reporter is currently talking to a lot of people who identify as non-binary.  Who live in between, and how they negotiate that.  She’ll be narrowing it down to one person, or a couple of people, to then go and spend time with face-to-face, get a real sense of how they go about their days.  If you would like to talk to her too, you can!  Let me know, and I’ll send you her email address so you can share a little about yourself first.  Or, you can read more details here.

I got a good vibe from her, but I definitely have some strong reservations going on at the same time.  She’s open to, and flexible with, issues of anonymity, so that’s certainly a good sign.  On the other hand, I worry that even if we were to connect well and I felt understood, that wouldn’t mean the article would reflect what I think it should be saying.  I’d have no control over the final product whatsoever.  But, I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I could handle that.  Even if I were to not feel too good about it, I could move on from there and still feel like it’s worthwhile to put myself out there and be a voice for this community.  I’m getting waaaaaaay ahead of myself here though.  I might not be the person they’re looking for, in the first place.

I’m just pretty proud of where I find myself these days.  A year ago, for example, I wouldn’t have even comprehended doing something like this.  Now I feel like it’s doable, and not nearly as nerve-racking as I’d imagined.

Thanks to Micah for telling me about this opportunity!  You keep opening up doors to new possibilities!