Gender / Gender Expression

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“Does it make me any less trans* if I don’t want to physically transition?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Liam Says:

The short answer, and the one I want to get out most is: no. Being trans is like being in a state: I am not any more in New York than you (presuming we are in the same state) because I am in Queens and you are in Syracuse. No one is more or less trans than another, we all just are.

Often, we use the term “physical transition” as shorthand for medically altering one’s body through the use of hormones or gender-affirming surgery. The notion of “transitioning” from one gender (female/male) to another (female/male) has always been and remains the home base of talking about gender identities, because of the pervasiveness of the gender binary. This way of thinking about physically transitioning, while less complicated than an alternative, perpetuates regressive ideas about gender that exclude non-binary gender identities—it implies there is a right and wrong way to transition, and that it must involve medical steps.

It’s this representation of physical transitions that lead to the very question you posed: whether one way of being trans is more trans than another way of being trans.

For me, my physical transition didn’t start when I began taking hormones or got a surgery. It started when I got a short haircut (an overly floppy and now embarrassing mohawk) two years before that. Because that was a change that made me begin to feel whole, it was the first step I took in aligning my body and my gender identity.

We—every living human being—are all physically changing, all the time: our hairs and nails are growing longer, our skin cells are sloughing off and regenerating. This is a key part of our embodiment, for all of us. None of us stay the exact same, and therefore we are all always physically transitioning. But rarely, if ever, do we pause to reflect on and celebrate these changes.

For those of us who are trans, however, this has a special meaning: claiming ownership of our bodies means rectifying our bodies and our gender identities. This can mean deciding we do not feel the need to make physical changes, or that we need to make a lot of changes. But the important thing is the decision making process, the recognition that when your gender identity changes, your relationship with your body deserves some consideration in light of that change.

Really, all of us trans folks have a physical transition, even if we never so much as trim our hair or buy a new shirt (let alone start using hormones or get surgeries) because the act of checking to see if there are changes we want to make to our bodies by affirmatively deciding what does and doesn’t jive with our gender identities means transitioning the way we relate to our physicality, making a physical transition. And no one’s physical transition—whether it takes five seconds or five decades—is invalid, the process is different for all of us.

This difference between the shorthand version of “physical transition” and the version based on the interaction between your gender identity and your body is also meaningful when thinking about cis people. Lots of people who do not identify as trans or gender non-conforming use hormones or have what we might call “gender affirming” surgeries, but taking these steps doesn’t mean anything about your gender identity inherently, it’s the reasons for taking the steps that count.

Whatever conclusions you draw on what a physical transition means won’t change how trans you are. Nothing ever could. Being trans is what makes you trans—the rest is just figuring out what it means to you.

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“I’m a girl but I REALLY hate wearing dresses. They just make me feelsuper uncomfortable. On New Years Eve my mom said I had to wear a dress. I didn’twant to, I explained why and wore a button down, collared shirt and corduroy pants instead. My brother was wearing something very similar to me. My mom said that I didn’t look nice enough and said many terrible things that really hurt my feelings. When I wear something slightly boyish she tells me its not appropriate and makes me feel terrible. How do I deal with this?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Anita Dolce Vita as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Anita Says:

This sounds like a very painful experience and I am sorry that this happened to you. First and foremost, if you feel that you may be in an abusive situation or that your physical and/or emotional safety is at risk, please reach out to a trusted teacher, mentor,social worker, counselor, coach, health care provider, or other supportive adult. Your safety is of primary importance.

Having said this, parents often express unfavorable opinions about their children’sbehaviors, which may feel abusive but may not necessarily manifest in immediatedanger to anyone’s safety. All of us, including our parents, are socialized from the moment we come out of the womb to adopt social norms, many of which are rooted in harmful “-isms” and phobias. Your mother’s behavior is more a reflection of how she has been socialized into the norms of mainstream culture, rather than a reflection of your worth. As Will Smith once rapped, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” We often feel hurt when our parents disapprove of our partners, our identities, our careers, our clothing, our friends, our weight, etc. When it comes to self-care, the key is to understand that, while validation feels good, your mother’s lack of understanding is less about you and more about her own issues. She may come around one day. She may not. Either way, you have to know your own worth. You are valuable irrespective of her criticism.

You can participate in conversations and exercises to help educate her about style and gender and to discuss how her criticism makes you feel. Qwear has a great article that includes conversation starters, such as each of you talking about your favorite outfits and commenting on why these outfits make you feel empowered. Another helpful exercise recommended by Qwear is to have your mother make a list of stereotypes of how women are “supposed to act” and then identify the ways in which she doesn’t fit those stereotypes. You can point out that, like her, you do not fit all of the stereotypes of how women are “supposed to act,” with your clothing preferences being a non-stereotypical trait that makes you special. In your conversations, you can sit with her and explore empowering queer style sites like I Dream of DapperQwear and dapperQ. Show her successful female-identified “menswear” models, like Elliot Sailors, who are changing the way we look at clothing. When you talk to her about the way her criticism makes you feel, you can also refer to anti-bullying projects, such as The Dapper Chicks of New York, which uses a common love of “menswear” to address cyber-bullying. If your mother would be open to therapy, you can always look for a professional therapist who specializes in sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to help facilitate conversations.

In the meantime, it is important to feel supported and I highly recommend building your own social networks that can provide you with a safe space. In addition to your local LGBTQ center and/or gay-straight alliance (if you have either of those nearby), here are some great places to start:

A Dapper Chick

Autostraddle

bklyn boihood

dapperQ

Everyone Is Gay

Hey Queer

I Dream of Dapper

PFLAG

Queer B.O.I.S.

Qwear

She’s A Gent

Tomboy Femme

I hope you find these resources helpful in your journey. Remember, keep your head up and stay dapper. You are incredible no matter what you wear!

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"I want to cut my hair short, but I am a competitive dancer and this would go against company rules. It’s getting to the point that the femininity isn’t comfortable. What less radical/ less permanent changes can I make to feel better about how I look?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Anita Dolce Vita as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Anita Says:

First off, I am terribly sorry to hear that your company’s rules do not support diversity of gender expression. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is a common occurrence, so much so that dapperQ recently launched a new “CorporateQ” series, which explores the intersection of style, identity, and workplace gender politics. I invite you to check it out, as you may relate to many of the readers’ stories of feeling pressured to conform to normative binary gender roles in the workplace and you may also find support in how these readers dealt with said pressure. (We also invite you to submit your story to dapperQ@gmail.com, which you can do anonymously if you wish.)

That said, I understand that you prefer to have short hair. Many people, regardless of where they fall within (or outside of) the feminine-masculine gender spectrum prefer shorter cuts. However, if your goal is to achieve a masculine look via a short hair cut, I can say this: long hair does not have to be associated with femininity. Part of dismantling the normative gender binary is to challenge traditional notions about what constitutes femininity and masculinity. There are plenty of long hair style options for masculine and androgynous presenting folks. The article “Styles and Cuts for Long-Haired dapperQs” is a good source of inspiration. I have also created a Pinterest board with additional masculine/androgynous long-hair options for you, which you can find here. Included in the Pinterest board are several images of “muns” (masculine buns), a style that is all the rage right now for masculine presenting celebrities and “menswear” models, as well as some examples of how you can style long hair into a faux pompadour.

Another less permanent change you can make to achieve the look you desire is to dress in more masculine/androgynous leaning attire. For smaller impact, you can start with adding accessories such as bow-ties, suspenders, and “menswear” inspired shoes. Or, if you feel comfortable and confident doing so, you can don pant suits, button-downs, and trousers with traditionally masculine silhouettes. dapperQ has a wealth of resources, including a store guide, to help get you started on your style journey.

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"I am a feminine-appearing person who recently realized that I am genderqueer. How do I strike a balance between wanting to be open about who I am (pronoun preferences, I don’t like to be referred to as "miss" or "lady", etc) and not wanting to have to explain my admittedly confusing gender identity to every family member, friend, and co-worker?"

- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Red Says:

I‘m going to be 100% honest with you: these are things I am also currently struggling with, down to finding my own gender confusing. So first I’d just like to say: coming out to yourself is just as hard (if not harder) as coming out to other people. So good job and congratulations.

I’m so glad that you know you don’t have/want to explain everything about your gender to other people. Because you really don’t owe an explanation to anyone (not even yourself, remain confused about your gender for however long you please).  Assuming you are surrounded by nothing but wonderful, accepting people, the way you come out doesn’t have to involve anything beyond saying “I don’t identify as a girl, and I’d prefer you use [your pronouns] to refer to me.” And you can also specify what sort of gendered (or non-gendered) language you’d like people to use for you (here’s a list of gender neutral/queer titles!) As long as people are respecting you, and referring to you using the language you prefer, you really don’t need to worry about whether or not they know the complexities of how you identify.

Of course, not all people are wonderful.  I would brace yourself for invasive and insensitive questions—even if you’re surrounded by well-intending people.  In that case you can direct them to trans 101 resources online (or just tell them to google it themselves). A quick Google search pulled up a “Tips for Trans Allies” article on GLAAD’s website.  I obviously don’t know your family, friends, or co-workers, and I definitely hope that they will at least try to be accepting, but if there is a chance someone will react with outright transphobia and hate, please know how to prepare yourself for that. Is it safe to come out at work (physically, emotionally, and for job security)? Is it safe to come out to all of your friends and family, or will you need to make some difficult decisions about who you come out to and who you don’t?

Also know that you can come out to different people at different times and in different ways. If you know a few people who are likely to respond really well, tell them first so that you have a system of support in place in case coming out to other people goes poorly. If it’s easier to come out to some people via written words, send e-mail or write a letter.  If you want a large group of people to know at once, you can make a Facebook status about it.  Maybe try buying or making a pin with your pronouns on it. I occasionally write my pronouns on my wrist in sharpie, although that’s something I do more for myself than for others. And if you want to give a more detailed explanation to some people, do!

Also know that if the way you identify and think about your own gender might change over time, and that’s okay! It might mean you are asking for different things from people, or that the way you come out may change over time. Gender (and sexuality) can be just as much of a process as coming out is.

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