“If Only You Were Born Now” – Up-and-Coming Identities

Originally Appeared on RoleReboot.org.

I frequently find myself thinking ‘If only you were born now,’ while working with middle-aged gender variant people.  The few times I actually say it out loud, it’s painfully clear how unhelpful it is.   A few days ago I found myself trying to explain the concept “genderqueer” to a married, middle-aged natal male who currently identifies as transgender.  He was saying he feels part male and part female, not female enough to start hormones or have re-assignment surgery and transition, but not male enough to continue to pass as male.  I recall saying something along the lines of “all the college kids are doing it.”

To at least a certain subset of 20 year-olds, this man’s problem wouldn’t be perceived as a problem at all.  Identities including ‘both male and female,’ ‘neither male nor female,’ ‘third gender,’ ‘non-gendered,’ and ‘androgynous’ have become increasingly easy for young people to conceptualize.   “Oh, you’re just genderqueer,” I can imagine them saying.   But how does one come out as genderqueer at fifty?  How does one explain to spouses, colleagues, children and other relatives who have never considered identities outside the gender binary?    There would be very real and potentially serious social consequences to coming out for this person.

Even if I could bring him on a fieldtrip down to a local gender studies department or campus LGBT alliance to see first-hand what a genderqueer identity might look like, his peers would still lack any exposure to this concept.  Many adults are still struggling with the idea homosexuality, and most would have a difficult time really understanding transgender identity.  But at least the ‘one-gender-trapped-in-the-body-of-the-other’ idea fits into the gender binary most people are used do, as does attraction to the opposite gender.  Genderqueer is an identity which demands thinking way outside the box, calling into question the very concept of gender as we know it.

Even for those transgender folks who have transitioned, there is sometimes a level of generational envy.  I have often heard transgender individuals fantasizing about how things might have been different if they were born now, with the availability of hormones, surgical advancements, and the increased awareness of transgender children and teens.  Kids now have the option of intervening early enough that puberty never steals their chances of passing as their identified gender.

College is, after all, the perfect time to formulate one’s identity.  Had this middle-aged man experimented with transgender and genderqueer identities in college and chosen/begun his career and long-term partnership already identifying as such, his life would be very different.  College is a safe place and time in which one’s peers are also, in their own ways, testing out different identities.  But, as a wise supervisor of mine frequently says, “one can only choose from among the culturally available identities.”  For most of the middle-aged people I work with, transgender and genderqueer were not a part of the cultural landscape yet when they were adolescents.

A few months ago I attended an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City.  A beautiful, confidant young woman took her place at the “human microphone” in order to speak.  She began by saying, “I am a black, pansexual woman.”  I remember distinctly the pang of envy I felt.  Fifteen years ago I was a gender studies major (back when it was still called women’s studies).  I lived in the gay dorm and hung out with the least gender conforming kids on campus.  But I had never heard of “pansexual” until a few years ago.  It might not have taken me until my 30s to solidify my queer identity if I had.

For me, the labels that existed when I was in college didn’t quite fit.  In retrospect, this was because they all fit into that traditional gender binary.  Lucky for me, dating men and passing as straight fit my identity well enough.  I had the privilege of putting the knowledge I was queer on the back burner until an identity that fit me better was imagined by our culture.

For others, the feelings of being gender variant are so profound and all-encompassing that life simply cannot go on, at least not without suffering and struggle.  I believe this is why so many parents are working to open up space for their children to explore minority sexual and gender identities.  Once that stage in life when our identities are naturally in flux has passed, there is no way to get that time back.

I often wonder what my life would look like right now if I had had pansexual Identity on my radar in college.  It might look exactly the same, but have simply feel more authentic for longer.  Despite my envy, I am deeply encouraged by and utterly respectful of the kids that are coming up now.  They are fundamentally re-thinking gender and opening up space for fuller and richer lives for those who don’t fit easily within the gender binary (and really, for everyone).

That said, we always need to be looking forward, making more space, thinking further outside the box.  There are children growing up right now who will live their whole lives in silent desperation because they fit identity categories the culture has yet to offer.

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero

To the Queer Kids of the United States: Amendment One is a Form of Bullying

Originally Appeared on RoleReboot.org, also appears on Feministing.com

This letter is to all the queer kids, the gay, lesbian, and bi kids, to the young adults who identify as transgender, genderqueer, pansexual, and/or androgynous, to the questioning kids, to the kids who were born intersex, to the high school and college kids in North Carolina and around the country.  This is to the elementary and junior high kids who are gender variant.  This is to all the kids who don’t fall neatly into the categories of “man” or “woman” or whose sexual and/or affectional orientations aren’t exclusively toward someone who falls into the opposite neatly-defined category.

Yesterday, a group of grown-ups voted overwhelmingly to use constitutional powers in the state of North Carolina to define marriage as between “one man and one woman.”  These were no doubt many of the same grown-ups who for much of last year were all riled up about bullying in schools and teen suicide.  As you probably know, the state had already used its constitution to ban “same-sex marriage.”  Apparently it was not enough to stop gay folks from marrying, the voters of NC felt the need to be absolutely sure there would be no way you would share equal rights, through civil unions, or any other measure.  Instead of democracy being utilized to protect minorities against hostile majorities, in this case, it is being used to legalize discrimination.  If this was really about marriage and its meaning, why not stop at a marriage ban?  This is bullying pure and simple.

When I was in high school, there was a rule that in order for a same-sex couple to attend the prom, they had to appear before the principal, “explain the nature of their relationship,” and get permission.  According to wikipedia, bullying is a form of “aggressive behavior,” involving “intimidation or coercion” that is often characterized by an “imbalance of power.”  Our school administration had more power than students, and was coercing same-sex couples not to attend the prom by setting up an intimidating situation.  What high school couple, gay or straight, would feel comfortable having to explain “the nature of their relationship” to the high school principal?  Grown-ups can bully kids as well as other kids.

That was 16 years ago.  I would like to think that if your school principal made rules at your school blatantly intended to bestow certain privileges on straight kids, and outright deny them the queer kids, grown-ups would be up in arms, civil rights lawyers would be on call, change.org petitions would be circulating, and youtube videos would be going viral.  What if the football coach decided to require you to be straight to be on the team?  What if the criteria for being on the honor roll necessitated being cis-gender?  What if the graduation requirements included “gender normative behavior,” clearly identifying you as “male” or “female?”  Adults would never stand for other adults bullying you in this way and stomping on your rights.  And yet… haven’t they?  Denying crucial rights of being able to protect yourself and your future family sets up a series of intimidating situations.  These scenarios, like not being able to come to your partners aide at the hospital, facing loss of rights to your own children, and financial discrimination, are meant to coerce you into gender and hetero-normative behavior.

Amendment one is bullying, pure and simple.  It may not send a kid to the brink of severe depression, or worse, the way daily threats and slurs by other kids could, partly because, as young people, your peer group is so critically important.  However, amending the constitution of a state to make sure you will not have rights that straight people have adds to an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation.  Any grown-up who doesn’t see that is kidding themselves.  Perhaps when they cast their ballots yesterday, North Carolina’s adults weren’t thinking about gay kids sitting in their rooms contemplating whether it’s preferable to live in this world queer or not live in this world.  Perhaps they were picturing other adults who those voters imagined could weather that emotional burden.  Perhaps they were not thinking of human beings at all.  Perhaps they think that by passing this law they will somehow prevent or contain your queerness, but we know that’s as absurd as thinking keeping you ignorant about sex is going to stop you from having it.  Eventually it is going to occur to you that our society is bullying you.  The emotional toll of living in a society that would amend constitutions to deny you rights and the inevitable outcome that will have for some of you will be blood on the hands of those grown-ups in North Carolina.

I know what you’re thinking queer kids.  How are they even going to figure out which relationships will count as “one man and one woman?  Will transmen count as men?  Where will the line be drawn?  Will full gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy be necessary to be considered solidly within one or the other gender?  Or will natal biological gender stand no matter the steps one has taken to change one’s biological sex?  How will a natal woman who identifies as male but doesn’t have a penis determine who he is legally permitted to marry?    Thus, does this law actually also require one must be cis-gender to marry?  What about the almost 2% of North Carolina’s population who were born intersex and thus don’t fit biologically into male/female categories?  Will they be allowed to marry anyone?  No one?  What about the folks who identify as genderqueer, androgynous, neither male nor female, or both male and female?  Will these folks be able to marry?

I don’t need to tell you the answers to these questions, because you already know.  The answer is they don’t know.  The answer is many of those grown-ups who are so enraged about kids being bullied don’t even know these identity categories exist.  Perhaps they’ve never sat and talked with someone who is suffering the torment of feeling her gender identity does not fit with her biological body?  Perhaps they’ve never considered that male and female might not be neatly defined, discrete categories for everyone in society?  Perhaps some of them are themselves transgender, gender variant, or were born intersex, but feel you should live your lives in silence and conform to gender norms as they did.  Perhaps they believe by stopping you from marrying, they can force Pandora’s box closed and never have to wrestle with any of these questions.  But they can’t, because of you.

This is not one of those letters apologizing for the bigotry and ignorance in the world you are about to inherit.  It is a call to action and a recognition of your tremendous power.  The balance of power may lie with the bullies now, but that is going to change.  Many of you voted and advocated against this amendment yesterday, and many more of you will be voting soon.  You young people are overwhelmingly more likely than your parents and their peers to support equal rights.  You are thinking outside the gender binary and questioning traditional notions of identity with language and ways of being that are not even on the voting public’s radar yet.  As more parents demand rights and respect for their gay and gender non-conforming kids, and as you all become increasingly empowered, your voices will become louder.  Through natural demographic shifts your numbers and the numbers of your allies will increase.  As you continue to use the internet and social media, tools you utilize better than any of us, that power imbalance will start to shift, as you become more and more visible.  So if you are feeling bullied today I want to validate that feeling and say that yes, you are being bullied, but it is not forever.  It gets better.  You are going to fix this.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero