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LGBT

Am I Non-Binary?

Earlier this year, a court in Oregon let a person legally change their gender to “non-binary.” It’s fantastic that the law acknowledges that there’s more to gender than merely male or female.

europa rainbow by  ** RCB ** from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

europa rainbow by ** RCB ** from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

As I thought about this ruling, I began to reflect on my upbringing. When I was growing up, children were classified as a “boy” or a “girl” based on their genitalia. By the time I was in preschool, I understood that boys and girls were told to use different bathrooms, play with different toys, and wear different clothes. As I got older, I learned that some people are homosexual and bisexual. I also learned that some people are transgender, meaning that they were born in the wrong body, and probably wanted a sex change; and some people are intersex, meaning they have both male and female genitalia. In all these situations, gender was represented as a binary characteristic.

I wondered, if I grew up in a culture that acknowledged gender as a spectrum, would I self-identify as non-binary. I’ve never fit in with the “girly girls” in school, and I didn’t want to be like them. In fact, I got in trouble when I was nine because I refused to talk to most of the girls in my class because I thought they were annoying. I find it delightfully ironic that I was a gymnast – a sport that is so inherently feminine and has drastic differences in men’s and women’s events. It’s also fierce as hell which is why I love it so much. I asked my teammates, who I spent years with, seeing each other at our best and our worst during our tween and teen years, to describe me. Some of their descriptors were “strong,” “powerful,” “determined,” “focused,” and “true to yourself.” I definitely wasn’t one of the balletic athletes in the gym.

Learning about this ruling made me the question my gender identity. I have no issues with being biologically female except that I think tits are overrated, and I would have an ablation in a heartbeat if it came with a guarantee. I have no desire to have a penis. If pushed to declare which pronouns I want, I can see myself choosing he/her – don’t ask me why, and, to be honest, I really don’t care what pronouns you use for me as long as you use them respectfully. As a model, I prefer poses and looks that are somewhat androgynous and portray me as strong – or at least possessing an inner strength.

I shared some of my thoughts about questioning my gender with my friends, and it was comforting to hear that I’m not the only one who doesn’t fit in a stereotypical box. Some are agender. Some have biologically male parts, no desire to change that, but feel they are more feminine in terms of their personality. The best response I got was from a friend who says she doesn’t identify as a “lady” or a “man,” but rather an engineer, an inventor, a housewife, an athlete, a seamstress, and a parent. I think she’s right in that what we do is more important than which bathroom we use or which gender box we check.

If you’re questioning your gender identity and/or gender expression, you’re not alone. We may not talk about it much, but a lot of us don’t feel like we fit into the male/female binary. You don’t have to decide on a label for yourself today and if you select a designation for yourself, you’re not stuck with it for forever. For me, for now, I’m content to classify myself as gender non-conforming and continue to be open to further self-exploration and experiences.

Now What?

Grandpa Jim says you can do anything for six months. Let’s see if we can do four years.

Keep Looking Forward - Gorgeous photo by Peter Shankman

Keep Looking Forward – Gorgeous photo by Peter Shankman

This morning I woke up to see that our next President is Donald Trump – a narcissistic, misogynistic, bigoted liar who brags about sexually assaulting women is the next commander in chief. (To all my friends in the military, I’m sorry your new boss is a dick.) The worst part about this is over half the country voted for him. They wanted someone who is prejudice against women, people with disabilities, LGBT people, Latinos, Muslims, African Americans, and immigrants to be in charge.

How the fuck did this happen?

I didn’t think it was possible to feel worse than how I felt after Proposition 8 passed in California. Today I learned that I was wrong. I started today completely heartbroken. How is it possible that half the country hates me and many of the people I love? I wanted to give all my friends reassuring hugs and tell them that we’ll get through this. I also had the urge to buy a bulletproof vest and a paintball handgun because the world felt a lot less safe today.

As the initial wave of pain and fear began to subside, I had another thought: “Get busy living or get busy dying.” We’re stuck with this guy for the next four years (1,461 days). How much good can I do in that much time? What about you? If anything, these devastating results infused me with an angry energy that reminded me that I have an obligation to be the best version of myself. I’m not asking for anyone’s approval; I don’t need it. My gut feeling has never lead me astray, and I’m lucky to have amazing friends and mentors around me, to remind me that ignoring the norm is often my job. Sometimes it feels lonely, but I’m not trudging the road alone.

So now what? As the Zen saying goes, “Chop wood and carry water.” Keep doing the next right thing, always mindful that there’s much work to be done. I feel the need to learn more, do more impactful work, and go on more adventures. I won’t become fearless overnight, but I don’t want my ever-present anxiety to be an insurmountable obstacle. More than ever, I am aware that we don’t have the luxury for of waiting for someone else to create change. It must start with each of us – boldly go and be the change.

And at the end of a hard day, if you need an extra boost, check out Uplifting News or do a search for “Restore Faith in Humanity.”

Make High School Dress Codes Gender-Neutral

I had the pleasure to seeing Gloria Steinem speak in Phoenix last month. Geez, this woman is inspiring and knowledgeable about gender inequality. She re-invigorated me to keep pushing for equality for all genders. I would love to see our society get to the point where a person’s character and acts matter more than which bathroom they use.

I Have A Personality by EPMLE from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I Have A Personality by EPMLE from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate is not equal back in 1954. That’s over 50 years ago! And yet, we still see substantial inequality throughout social norms and even formal rules – for all genders.

This inequality is pervasive in our culture, even in something as simple as clothing. Thing about quality and variety of clothes available in the men’s and women’s sections and what a person is expected to wear at certain occasions. What messages are conveyed with different looks? In general, men’s clothing is designed to show a person as powerful and intelligent whereas women’s clothing is much more focused on portraying the wearer as pretty rather than capable. Why are these norms so drastically different?

Looking at gender norms and clothing made me thing about dress codes and question why some institutions and companies have different uniforms and dress codes for different genders. When I see this in schools and industries, I have concerns that the organization has problems with sexism.

Google allegedly has the simplest (and best) dress code: “You must wear clothes.” This tells me the company cares more about your job performance than how you look, and they have confidence that their employees are responsible enough to dress appropriately for their job tasks.

I don’t endorse the Google dress code for every situation, particularly not for high school where students act more impulsively, in part due to their still-developing brains. I do, however, endorse a gender-neutral dress code, particularly after seeing how ridiculous dress codes are for females at some high schools:

These are my recommendations for a gender-neutral high school dress code. It’s more restrictive in regards to images and verbiage on garments, but that’s mainly to make the rule easy to understand and enforce. The main rule is to come to school in clothes that are clean, tidy, with no rips or stains. Here are the details:

NO: Pajamas; Workout wear (exception for socks/sneakers); Visible undergarments; Verbiage or images on tops (exception for small logos or t-shirts/sweatshirts from a legitimate school); Hats or hoods in the building (exception for religious wear); Visible cleavage – chest or butt; Excessively baggy or tight garments; See-through garments; Sleeveless or backless tops

Shoes: Must be worn, closed toe, closed heel, socks must be worn except for open top shoes (flats, heels, etc.)

Pants, Kilts, Skirts, and Dresses: Bottom hem can’t drag on the floor

Shorts, Kilts, Skirts, and Dresses: Bottom hem must reach tips of fingers when standing with hands at sides

Shirts, Sweaters, and Sweatshirts: No midriff shown when raising arms above head; Entire shoulder must be covered

Hair: Must be clean and reasonably styled (meaning you at least ran a comb through it, purposely messy styles are ok)

This dress code may be more challenging for students who wear women’s clothing because more garments are designed and created that violate these rules. For those who want to express themselves with these garments, they can – on their own time.

The next time you’re confronted with a dress code with different expectations for men and women, ask yourself what these expectations say about how that situation views the roles of different genders. If you see inequality, I hope you’ll challenge it.

Which Pronouns Do You Prefer?

Have you ever thought about which pronouns you prefer? In the U.S., a child is referred to as she/her or he/him based on their biological sex. Why does this culture feel the need to divide people based on genitalia? It’s weird.

Nametags with Pronouns by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Nametags with Pronouns by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Would you be offended if someone referred to you as the opposite gender than your biological sex? Why? I asked my neighbor Ana this question, and she said it would be offensive because she would interpret it as someone not acknowledging what she knows to be true about herself. That made sense to me. Asking a person which pronouns they prefer is really asking the person, “What is the respectful way to refer to you (including when I talk about you behind your back)?”

At some LGBT groups, including One-n-Ten in the Phoenix area, at the beginning of each meeting, everyone introduces themselves by first name and what pronouns they prefer. Including this information in the introductions not only provides a platform for each person to disclose their pronoun preference, but also acknowledges that gender is a non-binary social construct.

Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

I’m somewhat gender non-conforming socially (always have been, always will be), but biologically speaking, I’m female. One of the advantages of being bisexual is I don’t feel obligated to conform to any social constructs regarding gender or sexual orientation. In my wardrobe, I have beautiful dresses and neckties (yes, I can tie a full Windsor knot by myself); and my underwire bra is right next to my chest binder. My appearance ranges from very feminine to androgynous, and I don’t feel obligated to act any particular way.

I considered the pronoun question for myself. Given the option to be referred to as she/her, he/him, they/them, I’m fine with any of those (as long as the person is speaking respectfully), though I prefer she/her/he/him to they/them because they acknowledge me as a singular person. Although they/them are used as plural pronouns, they can be used to for individuals too. Perhaps this is the best option we have in American English for a gender neutral pronoun.

And of course, as a Starfleet officer, I prefer “sir” over “ma’am,” though I won’t correct a person if they’re just trying to be polite.

Which pronouns do you prefer?

Bigots Pay More

I’m frustrated about the slew of anti-LGBT laws that have passed and are under consideration all over the country. I was happy to see celebrities responding to the transphobic bathroom law in North Carolina – Bruce Springsteen cancelled his show and Mumford & Sons donated the profits from their North Carolina show to a local LGBT organization.

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I don’t live in North Carolina or Mississippi, but I want to respond to these anti-LGBT laws too. I’ve been reading the labels on products in my kitchen and bathroom to make sure I’m not buying things from those states. Originally I considered adding a “bigot fee” for any speaking engagement in a state that has an anti-LGBT law in place, but then I had a better idea.

I raised my speaking fee and added the opportunity for discounts for those that qualify:

  • Equality Discount – for states, cities, and counties that don’t have anti-LGBT laws in place: $1,000 discount (Companies that opposed these laws before and after these laws passed also qualify – it’s not their fault the people in power are closed-minded jerks.)
  • Gender Neutral Bathrooms Discount – must be at hiring company and venue locations: $500 discount
  • Equal Pay Discount – if the hiring company can demonstrate they give equal pay to all genders in comparable positions: $500 discount
  • Non-Discrimination Discount – if the hiring company lists sexual orientation and gender expression in its non-discrimination policy: $500 discount

If a company wants to hire me and they qualify for all the discounts, it’s a $2,500 savings. These are issues that are important to me and I’m happy to give discounts to those who share my views enough to implement change and stand for equality.

National Coming Out Day Still Matters

Happy National Coming Out Day! For those of you who are reading my blog for the first time or up and living under a rock, I am bisexual. If you have a problem with that, well then, that’s your problem.

Still Fighting by  aprilzosia from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Still Fighting by aprilzosia from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A few days ago I wondered if this holiday is still necessary. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states and it seems like every year, I hear about a high school selecting a gay teen homecoming queen or an LGBT duo as the cutest couple. It’s clear as a country we are making progress.

I kicked this question out to my friends on Facebook, and the overwhelming response was, “Yes, National Coming Out Day is still necessary.” Even though same-sex marriage is legal (and really we should just start calling it “marriage”) discrimination is still a big problem facing the LGBT community. Even in Arizona you can be fired because of your sexual orientation – so your employer’s wedding gift to you could be a pink slip.

It seems that more families are accepting when a loved one comes out as LGBT, but there are still a lot of people who face abuse, abandonment, and violence as a result. People who are LGBT make up at most 10% of the population, yet up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT.

It is my responsibility to determine what is right for my life; and as long as what you’re doing is not illegal or harming anyone, I’m not going to tell you what you should do in yours. I won’t tell you what religion to follow, whether you should have a child, or what you find attractive, but unfortunately, there are still closed-minded people who think that everyone should live as they do and that the government should enforce it. These tend to be the people who support the First Amendment except when it conflicts with their agenda.

As I thought about this post, I was reminded how lucky I am. I have an education and I work in an industry where my sexual orientation has never been an issue. (If anything, it’s been an asset.) I am part of an amazing community that loves and supports me. But there are lots of people who are not so lucky, who are dependent on their family financially because they are under age and those who will be ostracized from a community that claims to love them if they ever disclose that they are LGBT.

I’m glad to say on this National Coming Out Day that the U.S. is making progress towards equality in regards to sexual orientation and gender identity, but we are not there yet. (As a planet, there is still much work to be done as homosexuality is still a crime that is punishable by death in several countries.)

Day 26/90 – Marriage Equality!

Day 26 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal and protected the by the U.S. Constitution!

Rainbow by Benson Kua from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Rainbow by Benson Kua from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It seemed like this ruling was going to be a given for same-sex marriage, but conversely, it means so much. Remember, homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association until the 1970s. Just under 30 years later, I was at San Francisco Pride right after the Lawrence v. Texas (which legalized consensual sodomy between adults) came out. I was a newly-out baby queer, just basking in the fabulousness of the Castro. I hope people at Pride festivals this weekend are having a similar experience.

During my lifetime, we went from calling homosexuality an “alternative lifestyle,” to legalizing gay sex, to legalizing same-sex marriage. Not only have we legalized getting laid and getting hitched (woo-hoo!) the Supreme Court has legitimized same-sex marriages. At this point, we don’t need to say, “gay marriage” or “gay wedding.” When two people decide to get married, they have a “wedding.”

As I drove into work, I listened to some of the reaction on NPR from people who were unhappy about the ruling. I thought, “Ugh. Just leave each other alone,” before changing the channel. I always thought it was strange when opponents said that legalizing same-sex marriage would damage heterosexual relationships. I can think of only two instances when someone’s relationship creates a problem in my life – and I use the term “problem” loosely:

  1. If I’m attracted to someone and thinking about hitting on them. (Note to self: always check the left hand.)
  2. If my friend is connected at the hip to their significant other whom I don’t like. (The same is true for a friend who is perpetually with their best friend and I can’t stand the best friend.)
queer pride butt

That’s my butt & my Queer Pride shirt (2003)

Neither of these issues have anything to do with sexual orientation (or race, religion, gender, etc.). I hope as a country we are moving towards the idea of protecting individual rights, including the right to your own beliefs – with the caveat that this doesn’t give you permission to dictate what’s right for others. Stay out of my wallet, my sex life, and my reproductive organs. I don’t tell you what’s wrong with your relationship or life choices (to your face) and I would appreciate the same courtesy.

FYI – Your relationship – no one’s relationship – has ever legitimized or minimized any of my romantic relationships.

I probably spent two hours after the announcement reading the reactions on Facebook and Twitter with giddy excitement. I finally had to tell myself, “You need to calm the fuck down and get some work done today.”

It was a good day. Congratulations everyone! Thank you U.S. Supreme Court – at the five of you who made the right decision.

In case you missed it: Day 25 of the 90 Days of Awesome – I got to Teach a Webinar on Social Media Marketing for Lawyers!

Wheaton’s Law is my Religion If Brewer Signs SB 1062

The Arizona legislature passed SB 1062/HB 2153 last week. They call it a law to protect your right to “exercise your religion” but what it really does is give businesses the ability not to do business with someone if it violates their “religious beliefs.” What it does is give businesses the ability not to do business with members of the LGBT community.

My Wheaton's Law T-Shirt

My Wheaton’s Law T-Shirt

This law is fucked up on a lot of levels. While so many states and cities are legalizing same-sex marriage and updating anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, Arizona is moving backwards and trying to legalize segregation. It’s frustrating that the majority of the Arizonans oppose this proposed law, including several business organizations, but an influential minority was able to push it through both houses.

Here’s what’s really fucked up about this law – your “religious beliefs” don’t have to be affiliated with any officially recognized religion;” they only have to be your sincerely held religious beliefs.

I’m pretty agnostic but I do have some firmly held beliefs that are as dear to me as some religions are to others. One of those beliefs is Wheaton’s Law – “Don’t be a dick.” This rule was created by actor-author-gamer Wil Wheaton to encourage good sportsmanship during online gaming, and it has spread to and been adopted in everyday life. If you want your own Wheaton’s Law t-shirt, it’s available online.

Sign at Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria

Sign at Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria

And yes, just because Wheaton’s Law isn’t affiliated with any official religion or culture that requires some type of worship practice, it doesn’t mean it can be a religious belief. According to Dictionary.com, a religion is merely, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” Note that superhuman agency and ritual observances are not required; therefore, Wheaton’s Law can be a religious belief.

Open to everyoneSo if Governor Brewer signs this bill into law, it will give me, and anyone else who considers Wheaton’s Law to be part of their religion, the ability to refuse to do business with anyone who acts like a dick. This will include any members of Arizona Senate and House of Representatives who voted in favor of this discriminatory law. I wonder how fast they would change their stance on this law if suddenly their grocery store, gas station, salon, landscapers, golf course, gym, neighborhood bar, and the private school where they send their kids refused to do business with them. (Hat tip to Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria for posting a sign that says they refuse to do business with Arizona Legislators after this bill passed.)

Some groups, like One Community, are taking the high road and saying that all are welcome to do business with them and encouraging others to do the same. And good for them – I’m too pissed off to be the bigger man on this one.

Please contact Governor Brewer’s office and tell her to veto this hellaciously discriminatory bill. You can call her at 602-542-4331 or 520-628-6580. You can also sign the petition about SB 1062 on Change.org.

[Note: I sent Wil Wheaton an email about claiming Wheaton’s Law as a religious belief if SB 1062 is signed. He didn’t respond so I interpreted that to mean that he didn’t object – at least not enough to tell me about it. I mean no disrespect to Wil Wheaton or Wheaton’s Law with this post.]

Boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympics and its Sponsors

Like many of you, I’m disgusted by the Russian law that prohibits discussing “non-traditional” sexual relationships in the presence of minors or suggesting that such relationships are equal to “traditional” ones. Russian officials claim the law is designed to protect minors.

Bullshit.

When laws are written to “protect the children” when their physical safety isn’t at risk, it’s the government’s way of trying to justify their closed-minded assholery.

Olympic Rings on Tower Bridge by Jon Curnow from Flickr (Creative Common License)

Olympic Rings on Tower Bridge by Jon Curnow from Flickr (Creative Common License)

This law pissed me off and I’m proud of anyone who is standing up against it. I was really pissed off this week when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) claimed that they have no grounds to challenge the Russian law and that they are satisfied with the situation as long as “the Olympic charter is respected.”

Let’s look at the Olympic charter. Page 11 contains the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism,” which include the following:

  • “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” and
  • “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Tell me again how the Russian anti-LGBT law doesn’t violate these principles?

I can understand why the IOC doesn’t want to call off the games or try to move the venue but to say that there’s nothing they can do about the Russian law suggests that their scared of what will happen if they speak out against it. But by staying silent, they are condoning it. How can they claim to have fundamental principles in their charter if they won’t stand up for what they believe when they are challenged? And I understand why countries aren’t boycotting the games – I don’t think the athletes should be punished because the host country is run by bigots. If the athletes want to boycott the games, that’s their prerogative.

When the anti-LGBT law was passed, the boycott of Russian vodka started. I don’t drink, but I fully support this effort. When I heard that the IOC wouldn’t speak out against the law, I was angry and disappointed. My friend ask what I was going to do about it and I said I was going to boycott the games – and I love to watch the Olympics. She suggested that I boycott the Olympic sponsors too.

That makes perfect sense! They have money on the line and are expecting a good return on their investment. For people who feel strongly about this issue should put their money where their mouths are and not patronize the companies who are sponsoring the games – at least for the duration of the 2014 Olympics and Paralympics (February 7-23 and March 7-16, 2014). The 2014 games sponsors include Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa, and Proctor and Gamble. If you want to join the boycott, you may be paying cash for everything and you’ll have to read the labels of your personal and household products for that month.

I’m a huge fan of spending money with companies who represent your values. I don’t shop at Walmart because of the way they treat their employees; I don’t patronize Barilla because of their anti-gay stance; I won’t shop at any store during the holidays that has a Salvation Army bell ringer outside because they discriminate against the LGBT community; and even though Chick-fil-A doesn’t support anti-gay groups, I still can’t bring myself to go there.

One thing that will convince me not to boycott the Olympic sponsors is if the companies add pro-LGBT images (same-sex couples, rainbow flags, etc.) to their Olympic marketing materials. I understand why a company can’t back out now, but they would have an awesome effect if they said “fuck you” to the Russians and filled Sochi and the Olympic TV coverage with rainbows.

Coming Out Day 2012

October 11th is National Coming Out Day. (In case you didn’t know, I’m bisexual.) I wish holiday didn’t have to exist. I wish sexual orientation was a non-issue and that people could be attracted to any gender without anyone raising an eyebrow.

Rainbow Flag

Rainbow Flag (Photo credit: Rev Dan Catt)

Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Children across this country and the world are being told that they’re going to hell if they’re gay. (I generally try to stay out of people’s religious beliefs when it comes to who/what they worship, but I take issue when a minority is being told they’re going to hell for something they can’t control.) These kids are being teased so badly in school it’s driving some of them to drop out or commit suicide. Depending on which study you read, 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT.

This problem continues into adult society where many people can still be fired because of their sexual orientation. And in most states, a committed homosexual couple is treated differently under the law than a committed heterosexual couple. The question that comes up for me is “Why do you care?” If you’re a hetero, two homos getting married does not pose a threat to you or your relationship. Why should you get over a thousand benefits under the law when you get married but they can’t? It broke my heart when I learned that at least one person in my family voted in favor of Prop 8 in California in 2008, and my family knows that I’m queer.

I also don’t understand people who say that gay unions should be legal but the word “marriage” should be reserved only for hetero couples. Seriously? The Supreme Court ruled that separate isn’t equal a long time ago. I don’t care if you call it “marriage,” “civil union,” or “oogie boogie,” whatever term you want to use for governmentally recognized homo unions should be the same as hetero unions. If individuals and religious organizations want to use a different word, that’s their prerogative.

We’ve made a lot of progress in terms of gay rights in the last few decades. I try to remember how far we’ve come when I feel like a lonely gay in a hetero world. It gives me hope that it will get better and some day we’ll be equals.

This is the song that reminds me that even when I feel like a freak, I’m not a freak alone.

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