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“I’ve often found myself asking this question and recently Troye Sivan tweeted about it so I felt like I should ask you guys: If gender is a social construct, then what does being trans actually mean? If one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism is ending gender as we know it (as an imaginary thing), then how can this coexist with transgenderism?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Liam Lowery Says:

First, a disclosure: I have thought about your question every spare moment I have had for over a month. It is a good question, one that people (particularly people who have been aware/accepting of trans identities for a while) ask me pretty often, so I want to answer it as thoroughly as possible.

If gender is a social construct, then what does being trans actually mean?

Gender is a social construct. This is a phrase that anyone who’s taken a gender studies class (or looked at the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme) in recent years could parrot back to you. At the same time, trans and gender-nonconforming people have recently become visible in ways we were not before, pushing for equal or sometimes trans-specific rights and resources. When considered together, this presents an obvious question: If gender is constructed, then how can trans be a “real” identity?

Well, there’s a catch. This question assumes that social constructs can’t have deep-reaching effects on the ones who, within the construct, are perceived as “less than” or “other.” Social constructs, more than anything else, govern the way that systems cause violence to marginalized groups. Calling something a social construct doesn’t eliminate its power, or meaningfully address the harms people in the out-group experience.

I don’t feel like gender is only a social construct when I am treated differently because of my gender identity, like when a supervisor advises me to talk less about trans issues to benefit my career, or when a colleague asks me to “explain” Caitlyn Jenner (statements made by well-meaning people who are, for all intents and purposes, allies). Gender itself may be a social construct, but the gender binary has very real consequences—for trans individuals and for cis-women, too. In the patriarchal world we live in, male assigned and identified people experience privilege that female-identified people do not. Transgender people, though, typically experience being outside of and unrecognizable to this gender system—even when we are read as cisgender, we are still subject to harms based on our trans status at any point when we come out or are outed.

But being trans also means digging deep inside yourself and discovering riches beyond telling. It means that, while people may have told you that you were crazy, that this would alienate you from your family, or that you would get yourself killed, you knew yourself, and chose to live as yourself. Being trans means moments of clarity, spiritual awakening, joy, and self-discovery, all in the face of deeply ingrained opposition. It means you led your own uprising, and are now the sovereign of your own nation-state. Being trans is the truest kind of victory, the kind that is won with a great deal of expense. It is indescribable, and these words are clumsy in trying to capture it. My point is, it definitely means something—something very deep, personal, and impossible to explain.

If one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism is ending gender as we know it, then how can this coexist with transgenderism?

Transgender identities are complicated and not uniform. They include all kinds of people with all kinds of goals for how gender should evolve and change. So this question I can only answer for myself.

Gender is a multi-faceted word, but I think what you mean here is that one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism [the valuing of cisgender identities through framing gender discussions around cis identities and making trans identities “other”] is working to end the gender binary. In my experience, transgender identities (and learning to respect them) serve to undermine the gender binary!

While the gender binary is a system of oppression that subjugates women and disenfranchises trans people, gender identity is flexible and highly individualized. Ending the gender binary does not mean eradicating gender identities—far from it. It means making space for more of them. Being able to claim your own gender identity is a valuable part of the human experience, and everyone ought to be able to do so without the fear of violence.

There are some who would say we do not need to end the gender binary, but just complicate it more and create space for non-binary identities to be recognized. While personally I believe we can and deserve to go further, complicating the gender binary is certainly the first step towards creating space for all people to live authentic lives—not in spite of their gender identities but because of them.

Until we agree to listen to each other and allow all people to be the experts on their gender identities, the gender binary will persist. So put your gender pronouns in your email signature, teach trans 101 workshops at your school, and most of all, assume less and listen more.

We also need to address access to gender-affirming healthcare and protect against employment discrimination, not to mention protecting trans people’s rights to use the restroom of their choice.

I eagerly prepare for the day when all of us take ownership of our bodies and cast off the yoke of a binary gender system that harms every person—a  day when we are all trans, determining our identities as we see fit, and moving about a spectrum of gender identities rather than clinging to a socially constructed, harmful binary. I should say, though, that while this might be the endgame, being trans has never been about an endgame for me. My trans identity is the exact place where the personal intersects with the political. This is just who I am, and this work is done in the hopes that you, and only you, can get to be just who you are, too.

Your question about fighting cis-sexism through ending the gender binary is an evolving one. Just as the butch community who nursed our community through the AIDS crisis could never have predicted the current prevalence of trans identities at the time, we can’t assume what the future will hold, or how our conceptions of gender and identity will evolve over time. Gender is a product of place, culture, and the economy—consider, for instance, how third-gender people in the Philippines are more and more claiming binary trans identities because of globalization. I’m sure my answer, my identity, and my point of view will seem outdated even a decade from now.

But today at least, to fight the gender binary, we must keep our heads down and work, and allow ourselves to be surprised by what the future holds. I bet the next crop of rainbow children will have brilliant ideas and move our world forward in ways we never could have imagined.

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“Hi, I’m a 16yo girl, and recently with all the media storms all over Tumblr, and also just life in general and the people around me, I’ve been thinking a lot about my sexuality. I think I’m at least bisexual, but I keep seeing labels that are wider just, in general, that include trans people? Is there a better label that just ‘bisexual’, is what I’m really asking.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Hello! I want to say, for the record, that I am thrilled to hear that the world around you has challenged you to think about your sexuality, and to wonder and explore and dig into the feelings you have, both about yourself and toward other humans. I say this because I think there are a lot of people out there who are afraid that, by being open about the existence of many sexualities and genders, we might be confusing or influencing young people to be something that they aren’t. Newsflash! Being open about sexuality and gender allows people to actually think about who they are! Which is great and awesome and wonderful. So. Thank you for allowing me that brief moment on my soapbox.

*steps off soapbox*

For starters, the term bisexual does, for many, 100% include trans and nonbinary people! Let’s dig in a little deeper:

When I came to understand the word bisexual I also thought that the term – based on the prefix ‘bi’ – meant that I was saying I was attracted to men and women. I should also mention that it was 1998 when I first used that word to describe myself, and so that is what I meant, because in 1998 I didn’t have any understanding of gender outside of the binary. I knew there were men and I knew there were women, and I felt attractions toward them both! I held onto that understanding of the term for many years (and went on a whole journey with my own labels, which you can hear about here), and over time I learned more about gender identity, the gender binary, and the many genders that exist both within and outside of that (false) structure.

Armed with a new understanding of gender identity, I also realized that I was attracted, like you are, to people of all genders, rather than just the two I’d been taught about as a kid. And, through that whole process of rediscovery, I learned a lot about both the term “pansexual,” and how the term “bisexual” is understood by many (bisexuals included).

Pansexual is a term used by many to mean that they are (like you!) attracted (romantically or sexually) to all genders. If you like that word, then it can be your word, for sure! But but but. You must also understand that the word bisexual is used, by many, to express the very same sentiment. Certainly, there are people who identify as bisexual that may use that term to explain their attraction to two genders, but there are very many who use this term in keeping with Robyn Ochs definition, in which she states:

“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

This is how I understand the identity, and expresses what I mean when I tell someone that I am bisexual. I am attracted to people of all genders.

Now, let’s stop here for a very important second: Words are words. Which is to say that, the way I use a word may carry different meaning then the way that you use a word. The underlying piece of this whole conversation is that, if you are choosing a word or identity label for yourself, YOU have to feel comfortable with that word! It also means that, no matter how many people I talk to, and regardless of the fact that I identify as bisexual myself, that does NOT make me an authority. Words can mean many things to many people! That is why we should always leave room when we hear that someone identifies in a particular way, because their relationship with that word may be different than our own.

My advice to you is: keep asking, keep learning, keep reading. There are a multitude of identities out there, and an endless supply of words to choose from… but at the end of the day your truth will never be contained within just one word. The term bisexual is absolutely inclusive of all genders (many also view the ‘bi’ in bisexual to be an expression of “self” and “other,” meaning they can be attracted to someone of their own gender, as well as someone who is a gender other than their own), and there are many other words, or combinations of words, that can also help you express yourself and your identity.

I hope this helped, or at least confused you enough to keep asking more.


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In Bed: Brittani Nichols

Episode 3 of "Getting In Bed With Kristin" brings Brittani Nichols - actor, comedian, writer, and "esteemed lesbian" - to my guest bed! We answer a bunch of your questions (and some questions from Jenny Owen Youngs, who refused to be left out), a little bit of advice, and we find out that I am really, really horrible at telling jokes!


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Hey, my name is Virginia and I'm 14. I'm not sure of my sexuality, but I know I'm not straight, which I'm very open with at school and with all my friends. However, I'm not out to my parents. I sort of decided I wouldn't tell them until I was 100% sure, but I feel like they should know since so many of my peers do. I know you're not supposed to come out until you're ready, but can I be out to my school and not my family?

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Hellooooo Virginia!

The short answer here is: you can absolutely be out to your friends at school before being out to your family, and there is nothing wrong with making that choice if it is what feels best to you right now.

However, there is a little more to this dilemma, which I am going to take in two parts. First, let’s talk about waiting until you are “100% sure.” I get it, I reallllllyyy get it, but I don’t know that there is a guarantee that you will ever get to 100% on the SURE-ABOUT-IT meter, you know? Some of us do get there, but not all of us, and as someone who hasn’t ever felt SURE about one word lasting for my lifetime, I can tell you it is okay to never make it to 100%! I’ve been talking about this a bunch lately, but I think it bears repeating – our desires and identities and sexualities can change over time, and that doesn’t make any identity on our life’s continuum any less valid than any other identity! Meaning, if you come out to your parents today as ‘not straight,’ that is enough of a descriptor, and you don’t have to stay inside of those particular words forever.

Your parents likely don’t expect that you will only talk to them at the ‘end points’ of your life journeys. For starters, most of these journeys don’t have clean ‘end points,’ and I’d imagine most parents would want to be a part of the experience, the questions, and the beautiful parts that come in the in-betweens. If you think that your parents will be accepting of your sexuality overall, then telling them you don’t know exactly who you are yet, but that you know you aren’t straight, is a damn fine way to come out!

Second, I want to talk about the conflict you might be feeling in keeping something about yourself from your parents. This kind of decision is a really hard one to make, because you are negotiating between wanting to feel ready, and also wanting to feel like you can be open about who you are with people that you probably interact with a lot, and who also probably mean a whole bunch to you. It really is a tough call to make, which is why it is so personal to each person’s experience, and why it is so important to check in with yourself often about how you’re feeling.

The way I view it, you are weighing the feelings against each other to see which is the best decision for your heart and your wellbeing at the moment. If the weight of keeping something from your parents starts to be the bigger, more cumbersome feeling, then I think it is good to consider coming out (even if, as we talked about up there, you aren’t 100% certain of your identity just yet). Now, of course, if you are afraid that your parents will be very upset, or take extreme measures, this becomes a very different conversation (and one that involves having a clear plan in place before taking action), but your message doesn’t seem to suggest that this is part of your fear, Virginia. It seems, rather, that this is about timing what is right for you, what’s right for them, and when you should shift to a place of conversation with your family.

If you can, journal about it, or even just spend a few minutes before you fall asleep each night checking in on how you’re feeling. Make a system, even! Maybe you keep a notebook by your bed and you rank your “I want to tell my parents” feelings next to your “I’m not ready” feelings using a numbered scale or by putting a tally in the column that feels stronger to you. Then, over time, you’ll be able to see if those feelings change or if, perhaps, you really are more ready than you’d initially thought.

The bottom line is that there is no “wrong” answer here. This is your process, first and foremost. Your parents will have a process, too, but for now you have to do what makes you feel most comfortable, most safe, and most balanced.


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“So I’m a nonbinary trans man and I’m starting college next year. At college I want to start going by my preferred name and pronouns, maybe presenting a bit more masculine, etc. BUT. I’m confused on one thing… Should I tell people I’m trans when I meet them? Like, I don’t want to like, have to explain what being trans is or stuff right when I meet people, especially since I have trouble with social anxiety already. But I’m worried they might assume I’m a girl if I don’t explain.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Liam Lowery Says:

Hi there, Anonymous. As a non-binary trans man who started going by my preferred name and pronouns in college, I’m glad you reached out with this question. The fact that you’re reaching out at all indicates you have your stuff far more together than I did as an incoming freshman, but I will tell you the top three things I wish I had known when I started undergrad.

The first and most important thing I can tell you is to let people pleasantly surprise you.

When I rolled into my all-girls dorm and met my lady roommate, I stutteringly told her I was trans Actually, I may have said, “I’m a dude, kind of like inside?” I braced for impact, assuming she would ask to change rooms. Instead, she said “cool” and asked me if I wanted to order pizza. Don’t discount that you can get lucky.

What’s more, all the women in my dorm who I feared would shun me were friendly and generally disinterested in my gender identity. That’s because from the first week on, we had papers to write, philosophy texts to read, passages in Russian to translate (maybe that was just me). On top of that, people were hooking up, fighting, and going to Taco Night at the cafeteria. Which is to say that once you are in school and dealing with the day-to-day, it will likely not be as challenging as it seems in the abstract.

My advice is to practice your script for when you meet people initially. Maybe you want to say you’re non-binary, maybe you just want to say your name and preferred pronouns. It will probably change, but the important thing is that you set boundaries for your everyday interactions and introductions that are comfortable for you. Once you do this a few times, you will get used to it and feel out how much you want to say and when.

Now, to the second big thing I wish I’d realized sooner. There is a major pitfall to be wary of, especially as a trans person: you will feel pressure to do the unpaid work of educating people when there are others who are tasked with that responsibility. Try not to fall into this role.

Early in my time in undergrad, when I did happen upon some poor unfortunate soul who had no clue what gender identity was and had never heard the word trans before, I would talk with them at length about gender identity and why it mattered. I had at least thirty of these conversations in my first month of school, I kid you not. It left me feeling burnt out and unsatisfied.

Here is the thing, Anonymous: you are at school to learn, just like everyone else. And hopefully, have a blast and make a lot of friends. But you are not there to be anyone’s personal gender identity educator, even if you happen to be an expert in the subject area.

Looking back, I realize that those people who had burning questions about what gender pronouns are should have just googled it. I mean, give me a break here—gender pronouns are what they sound like!

Asking me those simplistic questions just because they knew I was trans was disrespectful of my time. If nobody is paying you to do that educational work and there are a lot of great resources available to people who want to be allies, you do not need to be that resource. Stepping into that role instills an expectation that trans people exist to educate cis people. If you want to get involved on your campus, advocate for your school to include a transgender 101 training at orientation so that all students will get some info on trans identities—that would reach more people than a one-on-one chat with you.

The other important pitfall to side-step is one I never realized until I was done with school, and it might be even more important than the whole “you are not everyone’s gender professor” thing.

My RA didn’t really get it when I told her it was important that she take the sign with my given name off the door. Instead of complaining to the building manager, I ripped it off and put up on that said Liam in big, honking block letters. I did that, more or less, all through college: I would email professors at the beginning of the semester and ask them to change my name on their class rosters. Usually they would, sometimes they wouldn’t. I would get called by my given name in class, be embarrassed, and stop participating. Or if I felt brave that day, I would clear my throat and say, “Actually, I’m Liam.”

Those moments were far from personal triumphs. What I should have realized is that there were salaried staff members at my university tasked with helping students—including me—deal with administrative issues. By making my problems and myself invisible, I was giving them a free pass not to engage with the issues transgender students often face at colleges.

Look for opportunities to lessen your load so you can take full advantage of being a college student. For instance, contact a dean at your school and ask them to inform professors about your preferred name. Let people do their jobs for you, and by extension you will show them how to do it for other trans students.

There you go, Anonymous—those are the things I wish I knew when I started school that have remained relevant (at times, too relevant) since graduating. Good luck at college, and remember: you’re there to learn and occasionally have fun!

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