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January, 2019:

Everyday Non-binary Challenges

Earlier this week, I was featured in an article where agender and non-binary people (not male or female) debunked myths about our identities. I got to share some the everyday challenges I face as a non-binary person in a binary-centric society. I want to use this week’s post to expand on some of these experiences.

TSA

Almost every time I go to the airport, I set off the body scanner and need to be pat down, even if I’m am in cotton from head to toe. The TSA’s policy is to have an officer of the same gender pat down the passenger. Usually after I step through the scanner, the female-looking officer reaches for me and I say, “I’m not a woman.” Then the male-looking officer reaches of me and I say, “I’m not a man.”

That’s usually when they look at each other with puzzled faces, telepathically trying to decide what to do next. Sometimes they call a supervisor. Sometimes they ask, “Who would you like to pat you down?” One TSA officer said, “You have to pick one,” and I retorted, “No, I don’t.”

For most flights, I wear my binder to get through security and then head to the gender-neutral bathroom to take it off before my flight. It’s not the most comfortable thing to wear for hours on a plane, and I tend to start overheating when I wear it for more than four hours.

Speaking of airports, why do we have to specify male or female when we buy a plane ticket? I called my airline and asked what a customer should do if they have a non-binary driver’s license. The representative said the TSA checks if your name and birthdate match your ticket. They don’t check your gender. I’m tempted to mark “male” the next time I buy a ticket and see what happens. I only know of one situation where a male was named “Ruth” and it’s a dragon, so it will probably be easy enough to tell TSA I picked the wrong gender if they notice the disparity between my ticket and my driver’s license.

“Ma’am”

I was raised with Star Trek, so I’ve always preferred “sir” over “ma’am.” In the last two years, I’ve become more aware that there is not a gender-neutral option for these terms. (I’ve given some thought to what that term should be but that’s a topic for a different post.)

I tend to get the most annoyed when I’m on the phone with customer service. They’re trying to be respectful by calling me “ma’am,” and it makes my skin crawl every time I hear it. My desire to get my needs me and finish the call as fast as possible is usually stronger than my desire to tell the representative that I’m non-binary. It’s not as if the company would know my gender the next time I call anyway, so I don’t bother correcting them. I just cringe and finish the call as quickly as I can.

In group settings, I’ve tried to train myself not to react when I hear someone say, “ma’am,” much like how someone who’s legally changed their name learns to tune out and not respond when someone uses their dead name. My perspective is, if they’re using “ma’am” they can’t mean me. Doing this has nearly had adverse consequences once, involving light rail security. (But that’s a different story.)

No Option for “Mx.”

The gender-neutral alternative to Mr. or Miss/Ms./Mrs. is Mx. (pronounced like “mix”). It’s in my email signature so people know what to use, but I’ve never seen “Mx.” on a form. I suspect a lot of people don’t know about it.

For the State Bar, I tried to change my first name in their listing from “Ruth” to “Mx. Ruth,” so when someone looked me up, it would say “Mx. Ruth Carter.” I got a call within minutes of making that change on my State Bar profile from a representative who understood what I was trying to do, but who said I couldn’t change my name on their website like that.

I get the same frustration when I have to fill out a form that asks for gender and they only have “male” and “female” options. I’d love to see “non-binary” as an option, but I’m satisfied with a option for “other.”  

I face challenges with being non-binary every day. Some are more draining than others. If I’m having a particularly rough day, I find this video validating: h

Frequently, I send it to people who don’t “get it” when someone says they’re non-binary. I appreciate that they say it’s ok to be confused.

If you have any questions about my experiences as a non-binary person, I’m happy to answer them, as long as you ask respectfully.

Winter Swimming is for Masochists

I’ve never doubted that I’m a masochist. Between being a gymnast, going to law school, getting 14 piercings, and now being a triathlete, I’ve put a lot of time and money into torturing myself for fun.

Winter swimming is definitely in the category of being an act of masochism.

This is my pool – steam coming off the water at 6am.

I live in the desert. Compared to the rest of the U.S., it usually doesn’t get that cold here in the winter. As a result, my blood has thinned since I lived in the Pacific Northwest. When it gets cold here, I feel extra cold. When I walk my dog on these chilly mornings, I’m bundled in running tights, jeans, socks, long sleeves, a sweatshirt, and a hat. I don’t wear that many layers to the pool, instead opting for sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and a hat over my swim suit, and only flip flops on my feet.

When it’s 45 degrees outside, going to the outdoor pool is chilly experience. When the temperature is in the low 30s, it’s almost painful. It’s basically a reverse polar plunge to strip off my outer layers and jump in the water.

Recently, I went to the pool when it was 36 degrees outside. As I waited for the staff to open the door at 6am, I shot a quick video to send to my coach:

It’s 36 degrees outside.

I’m wearing flip flops.

My lips are blue.

I’m going swimming.

Fuck you, David.

Don’t worry it’s not offensive. My coach has a not-so-secret goal of making his athletes curse his name. I enjoy the challenge of training, so it’s rare that he gets me to curse. I’m sure a giant grin spread across his face when he saw this. (Every masochist needs a sadist.)

Coach David and Athlete, Post Swim at the Atlantic Ocean (July 2018)

The pool itself is heated, but it’s not hot. Typically, when it’s this cold, it takes about a lap before I can fully feel my hands and get used to the temperature. The other day, a fellow masochistic swimmer jumped in the water before me.

“Is it warm?” I asked.

“It’s refreshing,” he responded.

That means “No.” I put on my goggles and jumped in, submerging my whole body. When I resurfaced, I looked him and said, “It’s infuriating.”

By the time I finished my first two laps, the water felt fine, but the experience of getting to that level of comfort shows how much we really want to be there.

Of course, getting out of the pool is the reverse experience – going from the comfortable heated water back onto the freezing cold pool deck, this time soaking wet. I stay outside only long enough to step into my flip flop, throw my towel around myself, and head inside to the family bathroom.

In the summer, when I get out of the water, I pull on my short over my wet bathing suit and sit on my towel to drive home. That is not happening in the winter. I want to get out of that wet swim suit and dry as soon as possible. I usually peel of my swim suit and throw it across the room to the sink before toweling off and pulling on my warm sweats. I wrap my wet suit in my towel and drive home with the heat blowing through the vents.

Why do I go swimming outside in the winter (besides being a masochist)? I’m training for my first Half Ironman, and training doesn’t take a day off because it’s cold. Seeing consistent improvement in my time and technique makes it all worth it.

I Minimized My Hair

Love my new fuzzy head.

For me, being a minimalist means that, when something doesn’t add value to my life, I get rid of it. Every January, I flip all the hangers in my closet, and only flip each one back after I’ve worn the garment. At the end of the year, whatever garments that still haven’t been flipped back are removed from my closet. This year, along with the hanger flip, I put all my t-shirts in a box and they’ll go back in the drawer only after I’ve worn them. There’s no point in holding onto clothes I don’t wear.

A few months ago, I didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror each morning. My hair was doing nothing for me. No matter what I did, I didn’t like it, nor did I like having to put energy into styling it each day. On the mornings I went swimming, I didn’t bother styling it. I rocked my bedhead to the pool. It was going to get wet and messed up anyway.

The Decision

After weeks of frustration and doing my last photoshoot of 2018, I decided to shave my head – and commit to keeping it that way for at least a year. I went to the salon and had them run a number zero clipper all over my head.

Awh…much better.

Living Buzzed

For the most part, I like having a buzzed head. From the moment I wake up, my hair is ready to go. I wash my hair with my shampoo bar (affiliate link) after getting out of the pool, but otherwise, I spend no time on my hair day-to-day.

I find myself rubbing my head when I’m stressed. I like the way it feels, and I never have to worry about messing it up.

In terms of wardrobe, buzzed head works with my typical jeans and t-shirts wardrobe. I feel like a badass when I wear a tank top. The only time it’s been a challenge was when I was picking out my outfits to perform in Rev. Patrick’s Holiday Concert. I felt unbalanced wearing a big sparkling gown with my no hair. There was too great of a contrast, much like when I tried to wear dangly earrings with super-short hair in my younger days. It works for some people but not for others. I’m one of the others. (I haven’t changed the studs in my ears for years.)

What worked for me instead of a gown was a jumpsuit. I’ve always been a fan of them. I’d love to have a Star Trek-inspired jumpsuit for everyday wear.

Maintenance

When my hair shifts from feeling fuzzy to being soft like crushed velvet, I re-shave it, usually every 10-12 days. I purchased a set of clippers so I can maintain my hair myself. I felt nervous before I shaved my head myself for the first time, but it’s really fun. And I learned the hard way you can cut your ear with clippers.

Typically, two factors determine when I shave my head again:

  1. Whether I have a bike or run workout the next day. I keep my hair until that workout is done to keep my head a little warmer. (I also wear a hat for workouts in the winter, but it’s chilly out there!)
  2. When I have enough time to shave my head and vacuum the floor. Even with almost no hair, buzzing my head leaves a mess all over my bathroom.

No Regrets

I have no regrets about shaving my head for a year. It’s so easy. I like how it looks, and more importantly, I like how it feels – physically and emotionally. Some of my friends have been less than supportive, saying that I look better with hair, and maybe that’s true. But I’m the one who has to live with it.

For now, I’m happier without hair.