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"I’m Autistic and queer, and I want to engage with the queer community more, but I have a hard time because so many of the events aren’t accessible to me. I’m very sensitive to noise and large crowds…which means I can’t go to most of the queer events in my area. How can I make the events more accessible? How can I get people in the community to understand my needs are valid?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Erika Lynn as a part of Everyone is Gay: Second Opinions.

Erika Lynn Says:

Quick note about Autism: A large part of being Autistic is that we have both heightened and lowered senses compared to non-Autistics (aka Allistics). Common manifestations of this are light and sound sensitivity, though there are many other variations, such as temperature, pain, and balance sensitivities. Each Autistic has different sensitivities.

This is something I myself have been struggling with a lot. The issue isn’t that there aren’t easy accommodations that can be made, because there are many. For example, earplugs and shaded glasses can be made available at larger events, like Pride or community gatherings, and there can be separate “neutral” spaces where there is low sound and light. They can have available “stop light” badges—a badge allowing you to select green, meaning you’re fine with strangers approaching and talking with you, yellow, you only want to be approached by people you know, and red, you would prefer to approach people, not them approach you.

The issue is that people often don’t understand that our needs are valid, because they are different and unusual. How then do we get our fellow community members to listen to us?

I would start by emailing any organizations in your area that are responsible for queer event planning. Let them know that you are an Autistic queer, and that you have some suggestions for how to make the events more Autistic friendly. Brace yourself for many uninformed and even condescending questions. In my experience, it’s good to get an Allistic (aka non-Autistic) to read any responses back to make sure they’re devoid of accidental offense, and that your explanations make sense to someone who is not Autistic.

If they seem receptive, that’s great! If not, then what I would recommend doing is reaching out to others in the community to get a broader support base. 1 in 68 folks is Autistic, so chances are you’ll either run into someone else who is queer and Autistic, or is queer with Autistic friends or family, who would also be interested in working with you to bring about changes.

Be patient. Organizational change happens slowly. They might also ask you to do the bulk of the work, like finding vendors, estimating costs, and designing stuff like the stop light badges. Know that this might take a good bit of energy on your parts, but that it is an investment not just for yourself, but your whole queer and Autistic community.

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"I’m pretty comfortable with myself and my genderqueer-ness when I’m alone, but as soon as I find myself around other people, I start to question my gender roles. I find myself constantly asking, "Am I more masculine right meow? Or feminine?? What am I trying to convey to the world?" Getting dressed in the morning is a nightmare. How do I DEAL."

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Erika Lynn as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Erika Says:

First of all, I’m a dog person, so I would have said “masculine right woof.” But, more importantly, I can relate. For much of my adolescence, my gender presentation and roles were determined by the people around me. Sometimes, I’d try to be really masculine to fit in, and other times I’d try to be incredibly femme to stick it to my parents. But most of the time, these changes were unconscious, and I’d only notice them after the fact, when someone pointed out to me that my behavior changed in different settings. I used to think of this as a bad thing, as a sign of inauthenticity, but as I got older, I realized that having your gender role and presentation informed by those around you is actually fairly common, and can be really good and important.

Gender, I like to think, isn’t so much something we are, but rather something wedo. And we all do gender in different ways. Cheerleaders in layers of makeup, all trying to wear skirts shorter than each other, are doing gender one way. Football linebackers (they’re the big ones, right?) trying to bulk up more than the others are doing gender their own way. Drag queens trying to out-fabulous each other are doing gender their way. To each group, doing gender can mean very different things, and someone existed in all three circles, as a cheerleader, a linebacker, and a drag queen (maybe a character on Glee?), then they would be doing gender in different and equally valid ways, depending on the situation and the people around them.

Now, it does seem like this is causing you discomfort, so I would suggest that when you’re in different settings, look for specific ways that you do gender that you dislike. If you want to change your gender presentation to something you feel more comfortable with, then identifying those specifically gendered things you do in different situations allows you to know what you might want to change; that is, it allows you to know how you can do gender differently.

As for the clothing question, many people, myself included, have very fluid gender presentations, and it seems like you might as well. That question seems to haunt you in the mornings, but actually I do something similar myself. I usually ask myself how I’m feeling, and what I want to do (in terms of gender) today. And from that, I pick out an outfit—sometimes a cute frock, other times a ripped, tye-dyed t-shirt. Either way I’m doing gender differently.

One thing that might help ease any discomfort is to stop labeling different actions as “masculine” and “feminine,” and to think of doing gender in terms of specific action sets and behaviors. For example, “Today, I want to be perceived as rough-and-tumble and tough,” or “Today, I want to be dainty and passive,” or “Today, I want to be tough, dainty and assertive.” These are all ways of thinking about how you want to do gender outside of the gender binary. Sure, the first two could be lined up with “masculine” and “feminine,” but by stripping them of that context, they can be perceived more as socially constructed, as something we create.

As someone who’s genderqueer, you have the privilege of getting to define what gender is for you. Thinking of gender as different sets of actions, behaviors or perceptions rather than as a combination of masculine and feminine traits might give you more personal freedom and alleviate any discomfort you feel with your presentation. It also allows you to look more specifically at actions you do in different groups, and, as I said earlier, this can help you determine which actions and behaviors you like doing around certain people, which you don’t, and which you want to get rid of.

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“My pal is very supportive of my ambiguous gender identity (as revealed in a drunken heart-to-heart). Too supportive. He (kinda) subtly brings it up in any conversation it might fit (almost regardless of who’s present) how okay and correct and *fascinating* he thinks my identity is. I’m not sure how to tell him nicely I don’t need to be reminded of who I am and how okay it is all the time. I *know* it’s okay. But it’s too heavy to always think about it. I feel like a zoo animal around him. Help!”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Erika Lynn as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Erika Lynn Says:

SAM (your new name), I can totally relate.  My parents, after years of denial, anger, and overall disgust at the idea of my transition, within the span of a few months, very quickly decided that they would allow me to transition to Erika Lynn. After years and years of not telling anyone except for a handful of close friends as demanded by them, I suddenly was greeted on the street and in stores by family friends and my parent’s work colleagues telling me that they were totally supportive of me transitioning, and that as soon as my younger sister was ok, they’d call me Erika.

Whenever we had a conversation, either with some worker in a store, or with family friends, or with really anybody, my mom in particular would go out of her way to mention that I was a girl and that I was transgender and that I was Erika Lynn and so on and so forth. It was infuriating. I felt like I had absolutely no agency, and what made it more insulting was how openly uncomfortable she had been just weeks before. The last straw was when at a party for my sister’s soccer, she was telling half the parents details about my transition she had no right to share, talking about me as if I was some novelty thing, not her living breathing daughter at a very awkward, sensitive and volatile time in her life who needed to let people into her life more slowly that what her parents were doing. I literally pulled her inside our house and into her bedroom and in my loudest whisper explain how hurt and uncomfortable she made me, how she had no right to share that information, and how in the future, if she wants to let someone into my life on my behalf, she needs to tell me first. For the next month after that, she’d start off every conversation between the two of us with how sorry she was that she was insensitive, how she didn’t know what to do in situations like this, and how she was just trying to be supportive.

I think your friend is feeling some of these same feelings my mom felt. Key things I got from your question: 1. ZANE (your friend) lets people into your life on your behalf without your permission, it seems (given that he’ll bring this up around anyone); 2. he’s treating this part of you, and you by extension, as a novelty, as you put it, a zoo animal; 3. he likes to emphasize that your identity is “okay and correct.” All of these are signs of a well-meaning friend who has no idea how to integrate this new piece of information into their life, isn’t completely down with your new, surprising (to them) identity and is trying to do the best they can to be supportive and understanding of who you are.

I think it would be good for you to have a heart to heart with your friend, to tell him what you’re feeling, how he makes you feel when he treats you like a zoo animal, when he tells you you’re so fascinating. Chances are, he doesn’t realize what he’s doing to you, and he’s just doing his best to figure out new territory. You don’t owe him an explanation, and you aren’t responsible for his education, but if you want him to change his behavior, you need to sit down and tell him how you’re feeling, and offer a path for change. If you want, find some queer/trans*/gender-non-conforming education resources for him to read. Everyone is Gay is a great start! There are tons of other books I’m sure you could buy or check out from a library, and of course there are millions of relevant websites he could read. Given how “fascinating” he finds you, and how it’s seems you’d prefer to be non-confrontation, I’d recommend couching your suggestions in terms of opportunities for education. Ultimately, I think that will help him realize that mistakes he’s made, and give him the tools for change, in a way that’s agreeable for the two of you.

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"I think my partner is questioning his gender identity. He is maab and has been talking a lot about how he doesn’t feel comfortable with male gender roles, and seems to have some body dysphoria. He is struggling with not conforming to gender roles; he says he feels guilty. I 100% support him no matter what, but as a ciswoman I don’t know how he is feeling or what I should do. He hasn’t explicitly told me he’s questioning, and obviously I don’t want to push him on this. How can I be most supportive?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Erika Lynn as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Erika Lynn Says:

I think most queer folk can remember before they came out somebody making it very clearthat they would be totally ok (or not) if any relative (hint hint) were to come out of the closet. Years before I thought of coming out to anyone, even myself, all sorts of people just knew I was gay, and they told me in the most ambiguous and polite ways possible about their support or disapproval for my identity-to-be. What none of them knew, though, was that for much of the time that I realized I was “different,” I wasn’t struggling to come out as gay. I was struggling to synthesize my masculine and feminine and non-gendered selves, the difficulty I had with both male and female peers, the warm tingly feelings the girl sitting next to me gave me, and the (lower school version of) lust I had for my former best male friend in second grade (who “dumped” me for a “real boy” in the 3rd grade). They all assumed I was gay, and their quasi-insistence that I be a homosexual made my journey to self-fulfillment and understanding all the more difficult to live and understand, because I never once, even for the short time I very publicly identified as gay, felt any connection with that term.

Your partner (who I’ll refer to with he/him, as was given) might be trying to understand and synthesize parts of his life he’s never dealt with before. He may have wanted to explore these aspects of his life for a while, but never felt he had the access to do so socially, economically, time-wise, relationship-wise, etc. Maybe these are new feelings, and he wants to incorporate new ways of being into his life. Or maybe there is something else that’s going on that neither you nor I can imagine.

My point is that we can never truly know what a person is feeling or dealing with, and how they’re trying to explore or express themselves given the complexity of their many social and personal circles.

Going back to your question I think the crux of how you can be most supportive to him is by making any potential exploration, discovery and expression, or whatever it is he’s looking for, accessible, comfortably visible and less daunting.

By accessible, I mean that he needs to feel that he’s able to try or think about new things, even if just within the confines of his or your private space. I think first, you should figure out a way to make it clear that you are open to helping and want to support him in any way he might need. If I were you (and mind you, I’m really blunt and loud-spoken), I would say something along the lines of, “Hey, I want to tell you something. I noticed you’ve talked about how you feel a bit confined by gender roles. And I’ve also noticed that you’ve said you’ve felt guilty about that. I want you to know that I love you, and I want to support you in any way I can. If you want, I’ll never mention this again. I just want you to be happy and fulfilled, and to know that I’ll support you, no matter what.”

If you’d prefer a less direct way to make things more accessible for him, there are other ways you can break down potential barriers without having to explicitly broach the topic of gender and gender identity. If you’re a sexual couple, maybe broach the conversation of bucking tradition in bed and switching things up, if you haven’t already. Trust me, the Good Vibrations (my personal favorite sex shop) website has AMAZING things for all different kinds of sexual relationships, and could lend a helping hand if y’all are interested in trying that. You could also change up chores, so you’re doing the more stereotypically masculine ones, and he’s doing the more stereotypically feminine ones. More generally though, try to take initiative and, with his thought and consent, examine any gendered things y’all do together, to give him a space to try out anything other-than-masculine he might want to try out.

An important thing to consider is the fine line between visibility and invisibility when it comes to your support and him transitioning. You don’t want him to feel like he needs to hide himself, but he shouldn’t feel the need to be open to or in front of anyone he doesn’t want to, including you. This can be tricky. If he says he wants to continue exploring in private, partially or totally, let him. It’s not that he thinks you won’t understand or accept him, or that you haven’t been supportive. There’s only so much you can do. If he’s not ready, he’s not ready. But intentionally giving him that space could mean a lot to him, and could ultimately help him on his journey.

I would also try and find ways to make any exploration seem less daunting for him. Your support could help make making changes less scary. If he gets to a point where you two can talk about this more openly, I might try and help him think about small steps you can take together. Maybe trying new name(s) out, and a week later trying different pronouns out, and after that trying on some of your make up, or other things, stereotypically feminine or not, that he might want to try. However, he might want to change everything as soon as possible, if and when he reaches a point where he can talk about it. Either way, understand that there will be times when he will be overwhelmed. And that’s ok.

Another thing that can make this less daunting for him is de-emphasizing the importance of identifying as something, as well as the “coming out” process. I think that our current emphasis on labels and having a public “coming out” moment, is an impediment to true self-fulfillment, and social acceptance. By not pressuring him to identify as anything, privately or publically, and not placing importance on him coming out as an identity, you could provide him a lot of freedom and relief.

The last thing I want to talk about is good self-care. If he wants to transition, or make any type of less formal change, you need to make sure that you are taking good care of yourself. Yes, this process is about him, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t factor into the equation. This doesn’t mean you should ask him not to make a change, or to abide by a different time table than the one he wants, but part of being supportive is making sure you are also taken care of. If there’s something you want to try out, related to gender or otherwise, you should also feel free to bring that up. I’d also suggest seeking a therapist, even if just to meet with once every few months, just to have a neutral, non-biased person whom you can take with about these changes. Ultimately, that will make you better able to support him.

Long story short, you seem to be a really awesome partner, especially in how much concern you show for him. Whatever happens, I know he’ll appreciate you.

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“how would you suggest asking if someone is trans or not?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Erika Lynn as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Erika Lynn Says:

This is one of those questions that trans*folk have polar thoughts on, so I should preface this by ~~~EMPHASIZING ~~~ that this is my own take on the issue.

When I was a “new born”, recently transitioned organism, if someone asked me if I was transgender, I would mentally flip out and later that night cry and binge because to me, being trans* was this horrible, undesirable thing that meant I was an ugly pariah and if people knew or thought I was trans* when I was trying soooooo hard not to be, that I was clearly failing at the only important thing in my life—passing as cisgender.

But now that I’ve been living as Erika Lynn for what seems like ages, when someone asks if I’m trans*, most of the time, I’m like “Yeah, I am,” because I (mostly) own my trans*ness and I don’t think that inherently reflects badly on me. But there are still times when I’m feeling less secure and confident in who I am, and questions like “are you trans?” feed that vulnerability and makes me feel like utter crap.

I realize you’re curious about how to ask if someone is trans* or not, but I’d ask you first, why do you want to ask someone about their gender identity? Do you want to know just to know? Are you trying to make some program or class or thing y’all are doing together more trans*inclusive? Do you want to use them as an encyclopedia to answer all your questions about gender? I’m not going to say when it’s appropriate to ask directly about someone’s gender identity—that’s for you to decide—but you should make sure you’re only asking if it’s important for some reason. If you just want them to be your gender encyclopedia, use Google. Equally important, if you think nothing good will come from asking, or if asking might hurt the person in some way, I’d advise you not to.

If you do decide you want to ask someone their gender identity (and that’s what you should ask—“How do you identify in terms of gender,” or “What’s your gender identity,” not “are you trans*?”), be aware that even with the best, most purest intentions (which you clearly have, since you’re asking this question), these questions have the potential to feed any insecurities they might have about their gender and their bodies.

In all honestly, though, I would say the best way to handle any curiosity would be to let that person tell you their gender identity when they feel comfortable. There’s a lot of power in deciding when, where and how to disclose your gender to someone for a trans*person—and having that taken away from you, even by the best of allies, can be disconcerting.

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