Are You *Actually* Safe to Come Out To?

Happy Pride! It’s such a lovely day to be queer.

It’s hard to celebrate with pure enthusiasm this year, given the slew of anti-trans bills being passed across the country (more on that soon). Trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive people are facing a fresh wave of violence, and most of our cis friends remain silent, even many of our cisqueer community members. A lot of the trans people I know are frustrated beyond belief, scared, and angry, yet still determined as ever to continue to honor ourselves and our community in our words and actions.

In light of this and other events, it can be really jarring to see the perhaps-inevitable social media posts from cis (and especially allocishet) people that say something along the lines of “I am a safe person to come out to!!” Every time I see one of these posts, my gut instinct is actually to think, no, you’re not. And today I want to sit with that a little and break down why.

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nonbinary musings from my first year out

I’ve been formally out for about a year, most of which has been spent in the relative solitude of quarantine. Covid has afforded me the space and time to figure out what versions of me feel more correct, but I’m increasingly conscious of the turbulence that will doubtless ensue when I start going places in person again.

If we’re being honest, I don’t really look different than I did last March. Sure, I’ve got a killer undercut and a ballet bun now, but on the day-to-day, I don’t dress particularly differently. I have not subscribed to the time-honored tradition of short-sleeve button-ups and general androgyny that some queer folks love but which society tries to shove all nonbinary identities into. If anything, the past year might have actually enabled me to be more feminine, because I’ve gotten to make (some) aesthetic choices for myself without the external pressure of networking and gigs. Because I’m out at work, I haven’t had to over-perform gender for my students either. The changes I’ve gotten to experience haven’t really been aesthetic. (I basically just look more comfortable now.)

In fact, this aesthetic consistency has impacted my treatment significantly, because there’s been little outward change. I don’t look obviously, there’s-no-other-option queer, and because my appearance makes it so easy to address and treat me as a cis woman, a lot of people still do. And will. (Including family.)

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Claiming “Woman” and the Nuance of Non-Binary Gender

I came out nearly ten months ago, eight or nine weeks into our continuing pandemic. I’ve spent the time since coming out staying… well… in. Though I wish I could do things like go to Pride and explore queerness in the presence of friends, I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to make much of my initial social transition while staying away from the complicated world of in-person networking. I have the space to explore aesthetic choices based on what makes me happy instead of worrying about what’s going to fly around my cis colleagues. When I have a rough day, I can lean on my partner for support. Beyond teaching, if I don’t want to be visible (or audible) at any given time, I don’t have to be.

Still, there are some days when the outside world and all its judgment encroach so insistently I can’t ignore it. Often this takes the form of reading the various calls for applications and proposals that have begun to re-emerge. I used to have no problem with my eligibility—though I haven’t been happy using “woman” to categorize myself for at least a couple years, it was an easy enough word to find in the eligibility section of any call.

But how many times have you seen “genderfluid” or “genderflux” in a call for anything?

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JK Rowling, TERFs, Bioessentialism, Sexual Assault, and Trauma Performativity (or, in other words… yikes)

I read the essay.

Some of you likely know exactly which essay I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, I’ve just finished reading JK Rowling’s lengthy response to the correct and justified backlash she’s received this week for being more openly anti-trans than usual. As folks on Twitter may know, this isn’t Rowling’s first TERF-y moment: for at least several months, she has made statements in support of or liked Tweets by known anti-trans public figures. This week, she took severe issue with delineating a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” sparking the backlash that’s led to where we are now.

First, a note on this: we need a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” because those two things aren’t inherently linked. The Venn diagram of the two is not a circle. In obvious ways, it ignores both the trans community and the intersex community, and I’d be remiss to erase either group from the conversation. (If you’re not sure what intersex means, here’s a great primer. Please note some historical descriptors of this community are considered degrading and should no longer be used.) It also imposes ridiculous limits on AFAB (assigned female at birth) people: what happens when you hit menopause? Do you no longer count? What about if you’re on an IUD, and as a result you don’t have a period? What about AFAB people who never have a period at all?

That said, we’re not going to spend time centering cis women past this point. The argument is massively more harmful to transgender and intersex people, whose biological features may not align with the tropes (and, by extension, societal expectations) associated with their gender(s). And while it can be easy to encourage marginalized people to not care what society says, have you ever educated yourself (by reading plenty of available material, NOT by foisting emotional labor on your nearest relevant person) on how difficult it is for trans and intersex people to get quality health care? Are you aware that literally yesterday the Trump administration made this even more difficult by giving insurers and health care providers the ability to openly discriminate against trans people? Did you know that many intersex people are operated on at a young age without their consent to attempt to make their bodies conform to one binary or the other, often with negative long-term side effects? Have you realized that the insidious goal of anti-trans rhetoric is to produce tangible policy changes that, by doing things like cutting off access to health care (at any time, but especially during a pandemic), further disadvantage the trans community and will literally, quantitatively cost lives?

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