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LGBTQ

No Gender Neutral Option for “Sir” or “Ma’am”

The other day, I was at Office Max, picking up ink for my printer. The clerk and I had a good conversation, joked a bit, while they rang me up. When the transaction was complete, I turned to leave and the clerk said, “Have a good day, ma’am.”

<cringe>

I hate that moment of being mis-gendered. Do I turn around and correct them? Or do I keep walking and let them think I’m a woman?

Yes, I’m fully aware that I have boobs when I don’t bind and a feminine face. But I also shaved my head, wear gender neutral clothes much of the time, carry a gender neutral bag, and I try to “walk like a guy.”

The worst is dealing with customer service on the phone. If I’m calling customer service, there’s a good chance I’m already not having a good day. Being mis-gendered on top of everything else makes my skin crawl.

Image by Scotty Myers Photography

I don’t blame these people for mis-gendering me. All they have to go on, at first, is my voice (that never dropped, though I do like to refer to myself as a “castrata”). (Ok, I’ve never had testicles, and I do sing soprano, so it’s close enough.) One of the first things they ask for is my name, and “Ruth” is unmistakably feminine. I suspect these customer service reps are people who work in cubicles, use a script, and are expected to say “sir” or “ma’am” as a sign of respect.

And that’s part of my frustration: We don’t have a gender neutral term to use in place of “sir” or “ma’am.”

I would love it if did. I’d love it if the default was to use a gender neutral term instead of “sir” or “ma’am.” Pick one word for everyone. We have “friend,” but that’s too casual, and terms like “sweetie” or “buddy” are even worse. We don’t have a gender neutral term that is professional equivalent of “sir” or “ma’am.”

What might that word be?

A few months ago, I contemplated this question during a morning swim (before I knew that I was supposed to focus on my form the whole time). The words “sir” and “ma’am” essentially mean, “you.” We don’t usually say “Have a good day, you” but that’s what’ we’re saying when we say, “Have a good day, sir/ma’am.”

So, what’s the gender neutral, non-weird term for “you?” “Human?” “Person?”

“Ma’am” is short for “madam,” so started to think that maybe there’s a gender neutral word we can shorten.

What about shortening “person” to “pe’n” (pronounced “pen”)?

I like “pe’n.”

I’d be ok with people referring to me as “pe’n.” I’d be ok with that being our new gender neutral replacement for “sir” and “ma’am.” I suspect many cisgender people would be upset about changing the term, perhaps find it offensive, to not acknowledge their specific gender. I’d want to challenge those people to think about why that is. What’s wrong with people referring to you as a person instead of a man or a woman?

That’s a question for another day: What if we eliminated excessive masculine and feminine terms and use gender neutral ones instead?

Now, some of you might remember that I prefer “sir” over “ma’am” when those are the only two options. As a Trekkie, I grew up thinking that all superiors in the military were referred to as “sir” because that’s what they did on Star Trek. Personally, I’d be ok with everyone being a “sir,” but I also don’t want to perpetuate the idea that the default term should be the masculine.

So back to the Office Max clerk. How did I respond when they mis-gendered me? I just kept walking. I bet the clerk felt good about that interaction. They did their job and made a customer laugh. I let them feel good about that.

My Bill Died

This legislative session, 1289 bills were introduced in Arizona. Every bill that didn’t receive a First Read by last Friday (February 22, 2019) is dead. If a bill doesn’t get a First Read, it doesn’t get assigned to a committee. If it doesn’t get assigned to a committee, it never gets voted on. I could not find a comprehensive list of all the bills that died (or that are still pending for that matter), but among the dead bills is my bill.

HB2289 would have given Arizona the ability to issue non-binary driver’s licenses. This law would have provided the legal recognition that non-binary people deserve to be treated the same as men and women. It would have helped alleviate the problems that arise when someone’s appearance is discordant to the gender they were assigned as birth.

The currently law only allows for male and female designations on IDs. There are no other options. Even if you present a non-binary birth certificate or a non-binary driver’s license from another state, they can’t issue you a non-binary driver’s license. Even if the MVD wanted to, it can’t issue a driver’s license with “X” for non-binary. (I know. I’ve tried. Ditto for leaving the field for sex blank. The computer won’t process the application without “M” or “F.”)  

During this legislative session, I called or emailed Speaker Bowers’ office almost every day. My friends called and emailed him too.  I never received a response, even when I specifically requested a call back. Each time I asked him to give the bill a First Read and assign it to a committee. My requests fell on deaf ears.

I never asked Speaker Bowers to support the bill. All I asked was that he allow it to be heard.

Issuing non-binary driver’s licenses is not a new idea. Currently, Washington D.C. and 6 states issue non-binary driver’s licenses: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, and Oregon. (Looking at the pending bills and previously passed laws in other states, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont are the most likely states to be next to grant non-binary driver’s licenses.)

Wait. Back up.

Arkansas! One of the states in the “bible belt” is more progressive and accepting of non-binary people than my state!

Granting non-binary people driver’s licenses that match their gender won’t change most people’s lives, and it shouldn’t be that expensive. It’s a matter of updating a form and some computer software. By not even letting the bill be heard, the State is telling non-binary people that we don’t exist, that we don’t matter, that we don’t deserve the same rights and acknowledgement as everyone else. The State of Arizona is saying we’re second class citizens at best.

This hurt. Having my bill die without being given a chance was a slap in the face and a kick in the gut. It made me want to figuratively crawl into a corner and cry.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/taedc/34757503063
Image by Ted Eytan from Werk For Your Health (Creative Commons License)

At the same time, I want to scream at anyone who says we don’t exist. I will shop in the men’s and women’s sections if I feel like it. I will cringe every time I hear someone refer to me as “ma’am” or “miss.” I want to take my non-binary birth certificate (thanks California!) and whip it out anytime someone claims we should be forced to use the bathroom based on what gender we were assigned at birth.

We know we exist. I’m not asking for your validation. I just want the same rights as everyone else.

If you’re curious about the status of a bill, you can look it up on the State’s website. A lot of good bills died last week.

Peeing in Public while Non-binary

https://www.flickr.com/photos/taedc/42153342040
Photo by tedeytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

So many issues related to people who are not heterosexual or cisgender come down to two issues: what to wear and where to pee. I’m non-binary. I was assigned female at birth (AFAB), but I had my birth certificate corrected last year. Where do I pee?

I Don’t Want to Die

My first rule for using the bathroom in public is, “Pick the bathroom where you’re least likely to get killed.” That may seem funny at first, but it’s a serious issue when you look at the incidents of violence against and murders of transgender persons.  

Gender Neutral Bathrooms “in the Wild”

When possible, I prefer to use a gender-neutral bathroom. When I don’t know where the bathroom is in a particular location, I’ll ask an employee, “Where’s your gender-neutral bathroom?” to see (1) how they react to the question and (2) whether they actually have one.

At many places, the gender-neutral bathroom is also the family bathroom or bathroom for persons with disabilities. Even at the public pool, I use the family bathroom instead of a locker room to get changed.

Sometimes, using the gender-neutral bathroom is the fastest way to use the toilet because cisgender people will automatically wait in line for other bathrooms. Last year, I attended an event at Symphony Hall. During intermission, dozens of people were waiting in line for each bathroom. I asked an usher where the gender-neutral bathroom was, and they directed me to a nearby single-user bathroom with no line.

Whichever Bathroom has the Shortest Line

My general rule for situations where there is no gender-neutral bathroom and there’s no safety issue is to use whichever bathroom has the shortest line, which is usually the men’s room. I can pee standing up. Ok it’s with a shewee, but still, I can do it!

Early on after realizing I was non-binary, I reached out to a few larger venues in the Phoenix to inquire about their bathroom policies to see how accepting they were. Surprisingly, Scottsdale Fashion Square told me that I could use whichever bathroom I felt most comfortable using. The Arizona Diamondbacks said that they have few gender-neutral bathrooms and those were the ones I should use. I’ve walked laps around that stadium. If the nearest gender-neutral bathroom is off in B.F.E. compare to my seat, I’m using the closest bathroom.

Gendered Bathrooms – But Go Wherever

There are public bathrooms, like the ones in Target, that are labeled for a single gender – men or women – but that have a policy that allows people to use whichever bathroom they want. The one time I needed to use the bathroom and I was set on using the men’s room, it was closed for cleaning.

When a company has a policy like this, I wonder why they don’t just say, “These are bathrooms. Use whichever one you want.”

All-Gender Bathrooms

I’m a fan of the water closet model for public bathrooms. Each stall has floor-to-ceiling walls and doors so you can’t see anything that’s going on in the stall next to you. You get as much privacy as one can get in a public bathroom.

Last week I attended the mastermind event, Shankminds Live, in Las Vegas. The venue had one gender-neutral bathroom with five water closet stalls. At first a few people seemed a little weirded out by being in a bathroom with people of another gender, but after a few moments, they realized it was a non-issue. When I asked my fellow Shankminders about the bathroom after the event, several people (men and women) responded that gender neutral bathrooms should be the norm everywhere.

One thing I will note about the bathroom at Shankminds is there were no urinals. From what I’ve heard from guy friends, some penis-havers like urinals – really like them. They like them so much, they wish they had one in their home.

I respect that some people would be sad if switching to all gender-neutral bathrooms meant losing the chance to pee at a urinal, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I know of at least one all-gender bathroom at a club called The Mint where there is a urinal area where people can pee standing up where they won’t be seen by the water closet users.

Remember: You all have gender-neutral bathrooms in your home. Sharing a toilet with another gender hasn’t killed any of us yet. It’s only an issue if you make it one.

LGBTQ Bills Introduced in Arizona

I did a quick search on the proposed bill for this session in the Arizona legislature and saw that there are at least five bills that are related to LGBTQ rights. I am hopeful that we’ll see progress this year.

HB2289: Non-binary Driver’s Licenses

This bill is my baby. This bill will allow the MVD to issue non-binary driver’s licenses and identification cards. All you would nee to do to prove your gender is to submit an affidavit that says you are non-binary.

This bill has the same verbiage as last year’s bill that died in committee. I was ecstatic to see that this bill has 16 sponsors, but then I saw that it was similar to the number of sponsors it had last year. They are all Democrats, but I believe some Republicans will be willing to support this bill, if for no other reason, because so many other states offer non-binary birth certificates and driver’s licenses. We’re going to have people who move here who only present non-binary documents. If the State refuses to issue non-binary driver’s licenses to these people, they’re asking for a lawsuit.

HB2156: LGBTQ Equality in Employment

It’s almost shocking that this isn’t a law yet. This bill will prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or marital status.

My first job in Arizona was for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. At orientation, the presenter went on and on about how they wanted everyone to feel comfortable working for the county and we should report any issues. I flipped to the back of the employee handbook to read the County’s non-discrimination policy. My heart sank when I saw that it didn’t include sexual orientation. This bill will prevent others from having the same experience and provide recourse against bigoted employers.

SB1047: Conversion Therapy Ban

If only one of these bills becomes a law, I bet it will be this bill that will make conversion therapy illegal for anyone under 18 years old. Conversion therapy for minors is already banned in 15 states and Washington D.C. Arizona, and every state, should be on this list. This bill also has support from both Democrats and Republicans.

HB2290: Death Certificates

This will require death certificates issued in Arizona to reflect the decedent’s gender identity. The murder rate in the transgender community is alarming, and there are issues with the police and the press mis-gendering victims as well as using the person’s “dead” name. This bill will require the state to acknowledge the person’s correct gender if it has been changed on a legal document. If the deceased has multiple documents with different genders, the gender on the most recently issued one will be used.

Not every transgender person has their gender or name legally changed, so this bill may not help them, but it will help those who have gone through the process. In Arizona, if you are female-to-male or male-to-female transgender, you can legally change your gender on your driver’s license and social security record.

HB2381: Crime Statistics

The Department of Public Safety collects information about whether prejudice played a role in a crime. Currently it collects data about prejudice based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, and disability. This bill will add gender identity and gender expression to this list. Hopefully this will lead to more complete statistics.

It’s encouraging to see Arizona lawmakers being so progressive. This is only the beginning of the legislative process. Each bill will have to get through committee and then receive a simple majority vote in the Arizona House (31 votes) and Senate (16 votes) before it will go to the Governor’s desk for a signature.

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.

Arizona Candidates Support Non-Binary Rights

Earlier this year, I had my California birth certificate corrected to state that I’m non-binary (meaning I’m not a man or a woman). When I went to my local Arizona Motor Vehicle Department to get my FAA-compliant ID that we’re all required to get by 2020, they denied my application even though I brought all the requisite documents. By law, the Arizona Department of Transportation only acknowledge two genders: male and female. The system cannot process an application with “X” for the sex or gender.

Contacting the Candidates

Arizona needs to update its laws to acknowledge that non-binary people exist. As of this date, seven states and Washington D.C. will issue non-binary birth certificates and/or driver’s licenses. I may have been the first person to present a non-binary ID, but I will not be the last.

I contacted all 176 candidates running to represent Arizona in the U.S. Congress and to serve in the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives (via email, their website, or Facebook), told them about this situation, and asked them two questions:

  1. If elected, would you support a bill that would require the State (or federal government) to have a non-binary option on all identifications that specify sex or gender?
  2. If yes, would you be willing to sponsor such a bill?

Followed up with each candidate up to three times over the last three weeks or until I received a response.

The Results

I received “yes” answers to question #1 from 36 candidates (20% of candidates contacted), and only 50 of the 176 candidates I contacted gave me any type of response. I was delighted by the number of candidates who said they support changing the laws to acknowledge non-binary persons. Here’s the list of everyone who would support a bill to add a non-binary option to government IDs:

U.S. House of Representatives
District 3: Raul Grijalva (Democrat, Incumbent)

Arizona Senate
District 2: Andrea Dalessandro (Democrat, Incumbent)
District 5: J’aime Morgaine (Democrat)
District 7: JL Mealer (Republican)
District 9: Victoria Steele (Democrat)
District 10: David Bradley (Democrat, Incumbent)
District 11: Ralph Atchue (Democrat)
District 13: Michelle Harris (Democrat)
District 15: Kristin Dybvig-Pawelko (Democrat)
District 16: Benjamin Carmitchel (Democrat)
District 20: Douglas Ervin (Democrat)
District 27: Rebecca Rios (Democrat, Incumbent)
District 29: Martin Quezada (Democrat, Incumbent)

Arizona House of Representatives
District 1: Ed Gogek (Democrat) and Jan Manolis (Democrat)
District 3: Andres Cano (Democrat) and Beryl Baker (Green)
District 4: Sara Mae Williams (Green)
District 5: Mary Robinson (Democrat)
District 8: Carmen Casillas (Democrat) and Linda Gross (Democrat)
District 10: Kirsten Engel (Democrat, Incumbent)
District 11: Hollace Lyon (Democrat)
District 13: Thomas Tzitzura (Democrat)
District 15: Julie Gunnigle (Democrat) and Jennifer Samuels (Democrat)
District 18: Denise “Mitzi” Epstein (Democrat, Incumbent) and Jennifer Jermaine (Democrat)
District 19: Lorenzo Sierra (Democrat)
District 21: Gilbert Romero (Democrat)
District 22: Valerie Harris (Democrat)
District 23: Eric Kurland (Democrat)
District 24: Jennifer Longdon (Democrat)
District 28: Kelli Butler (Democrat, Incumbent) and Aaron Lieberman (Democrat)
District 29: Richard Andrade (Democrat, Incumbent)

In addition to these 35 supporters, a number of candidates responded to my emails by saying they would support such a bill, but because of the circumstances related to their race, they could not publicly support such a bill at this time. I respect people in this situation, and I will follow up with them after the election if they win.

Commitment to Sponsor a Bill

“Arizona Flag” by Gage Skidmore from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Of the 35 candidates who would support this bill, 31 of them said they would sponsor such a bill.

The main reasons given by those who would not commit to sponsoring a bill were either because they commitments related to other issues to pursue or because they would be a freshman official and they did not know enough about the process to sponsor a bill yet.

Other Responses

Here are some additional responses I received to my inquiries from candidates who said “yes” and “no” to supporting a bill for non-binary rights:

Kelli Butler: “Thank you for spearheading this effort! I was a co-sponsor of HB2492 last session and hope to win my election so I can co-sponsor the bill again. This is an important step for equality and respect for all and I was extremely disappointed that the bill never received a hearing.” (Democrat, District 28)

Hollace Lyon: “My first, ‘gut’ reaction to your story was, ‘Just because one doesn’t declare a sex, doesn’t mean they aren’t a person!’” (Democrat, District 11)

Julie Gunnigle: “I am very concerned about what this means for non-binary citizens and their fundamental right to travel (not to mention the bigger picture of equal treatment by their government).” (Democrat, District 15)

John Fillmore: “I do not think I can support this.” (Republican, District 16)

The responses from these candidates give me hope for the next legislative session in Arizona, that we’ll be able to pass a bill that will acknowledge that non-binary persons exist, similar to the bill that died in committee last year.

Coming Out Day: Queer and Non-Binary

I am queer and non-binary. I used to identify as bisexual, but now I use the umbrella term “queer” since I can be attracted to any gender. Since I’m “non-binary,” meaning I don’t identify as a man or a woman, it would be contradictory to identify as “bisexual” since I don’t believe that gender is a binary concept. Sometimes I use the term “non-gendered,” since I often feel like I don’t have a gender. (Gender is a social construct, completely separate from a person’s biological sex.) I also use “gay,” as a catch-all term for non-heterosexual people, even though others use it to exclusively describe men who have sex with men.

Rainbow by Benson Kua from Flickr

Gender and sexual orientation each have their own spectrum, and I’m somewhere in the middle on both.

I don’t have a box, a stereotype to which I’m expected to conform or even suggested guidelines like those that come with identifying as a “man,” “woman,” “heterosexual,” or “homosexual.” It’s both freeing and frightening to live without such limits.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I decided to respond to the common statements and questions my friends have heard in response to coming out:

What made you gay?
Nothing made me queer. It’s just what I am. What made you straight?

How did you know you were queer?
When I realized my female peers didn’t think about women the same way I do.

When did you decide to be non-binary?
Again, this wasn’t a decision. I’ve never felt like being a man or a woman was right for me.

Photo by Roger Griggs

How does that work?
Could you be a bit more specific?

It’s just a phase.
Thirty-eight years is a long time for a phase.

You’re just confused.
I’m often confused about a lot of things, including how to best present myself, but I have no doubts about who or what I am.

Have you always been like this?
Yup.

Are you sure?
Yes. Trust me, I wouldn’t have come out if I wasn’t sure.
The only person who could get away with asking this question was my grandmother, because, well, she was old. Bless her heart.

How do you know?
How do you know what gender you are? How do you know what people you find attractive? Some things you just know.

Photo by Jason Hahn

I don’t want you to get AIDS.
Me neither.

What are your pronouns?
In general, if you’re using pronouns to refer to me, there’s a good chance I’m not there to hear you. I don’t care what pronouns you use as long as you’re respectful. When speaking to me, I prefer “sir” over “ma’am,” and a gender-neutral title instead of “Mr.” or “Ms.”

Can’t you just pick one gender to be attracted to?
Some people are only attracted to people with light or dark-colored hair. Others are potentially attracted to a person with any color of hair. Likewise, some people are only attracted to people with a penis or a vagina. For me, a person’s genitals is not a deal-maker or breaker in deciding whether I find them attractive.

Bisexuals are greedy and promiscuous.
Sounds like you’re jealous.

So, you want to have sex with everyone.
No. There’s a big difference between being potentially attracted to a person of any gender and wanting to bang everyone.

Oh, so you had a crush on me in high school, right? (From a female friend)
Absolutely not.
BTW – If an LGBTQ person hits on you, take it as a compliment, even if you don’t reciprocate their feelings. It’s not a big deal if everyone’s respectful.

How do you have sex when there is no penis involved?
There are lots of ways to be intimate when a penis is not a key player. Do we need to take you back to Sex 101?

Photo by Leslie Easton Photography

So, does that mean you [sex act]?
Woah there, Pooh Bear. Unless I’m sleeping with you, the details of my sex life are none of your business.

Are you the man or the woman in relationships?
That’s like asking which chopstick is the fork.

Does your family know?
Yup. And if they didn’t, they haven’t been paying attention.

Is it because your dad didn’t show you affection?
What?? No.

This is probably because your mom was too overbearing.
<sigh> No.

Do you know my friend, Chris? They’re gay.
The LGBTQ community may be less than 10% of the population, but that’s still a lot of people. We don’t all know each other.
But how cool would that be?

That makes sense.
A lot of things clicked when I realized what I am.

Life is going to be a lot more difficult now.
Probably. But I’d rather be authentic than pretend to be someone I’m not.

Have you ever been fired for being gay?
Thankfully no, but in Arizona, I could be.

I love you anyway.
That’s one word too long.

Do you really have to tell everyone? Shouldn’t you keep that private?
Why would I? That would be like telling a man to tone down his masculinity, or telling a straight couple to stop holding hands. My sexual orientation and gender have little impact on most people’s lives.

So, there you go. If you’re still curious about my sexual orientation or gender, including my coming out stories, check out my episode of The Out House podcast.

Being Non-Binary in a Binary World

One of the most challenging things about being non-binary is when I’m reminded that I live in a society that was not created for people like me.

Photo by Roger Griggs

Non-Binary Travel
There are everyday occurrences where there isn’t a gender neutral option. I cringe every time I hear someone call me “ma’am.” (Growing up on Star Trek, I’ve always preferred “sir.”) When I check into a hotel, the front desk clerk only has Mr. or Ms. to choose from in deciding how to address me. (If you don’t know me well, you don’t know that I have a doctorate degree.)

And let me tell you how much fun it is dealing with the TSA. I almost always set off the spinny-go-round scanner, usually on places where there’s no metal on my clothes. When I tell the female-identified TSA agent that I’m not a woman or a man, the supervisor has to get involved before I’m patted down and sent on my way.

Recently, one TSA supervisor asked which gender I was presenting as, and I honestly answered, “Neither.” (She was nice and politely asked me some questions as I put my sneakers back on about how to address someone who is non-binary. She said she’d never met a non-binary person before.) At another airport, a supervisor tried to tell me that I had to pick a gender, man or woman, for the purposes of the pat down, and I refused. At that same airport, the supervisor asked who I wanted to pat me down, and I said I wanted a non-binary person, or a gay person. They had neither, so I said, “Whomever is most comfortable doing it.”

Yes, I could avoid issues with the TSA by letting them think I’m female, but they need to remember that not everyone fits into their binary system. And I can handle the interaction, even though it’s stressful and exhausting.

I call this my ” gay mafia” picture.
Photo by Roger Griggs

Shopping for a Suit
I shrunk out of my suit years ago, but since I rarely have to wear it, I haven’t replaced it yet. Lately, I’ve wanted to replace it with a gray three-piece men’s suit – with real pockets in the pants and blazer. It’s hard to find a women’s suit that fits me with my muscular shoulders, long torso, and abnormally short limbs. (When I get petite length pants, I still need to get them shortened about 2 inches, when I’m wearing heels – and I’m 5’4”.) And besides that, I’m tired of blazers and pants that don’t have any functional pockets.

A major department store was having a sale, and their website showed that they had what I wanted. The clerk didn’t bat an eye that I wanted a men’s suit, but he apologetically said that he didn’t have anything that would fit me. He slipped a size 36S blazer on me, and he was right – the shoulders were too big. (With men’s suits, you fit the shoulders and tailor everything else.) They didn’t even have dress shirts I could wear. I have a 14-inch neck, but only need a 30-inch sleeve. The shortest length they carried was 32.

The clerk suggested I visit the boys’ department. He said I would probably wear a size 18 or 20, and he warned me that my shirt color options would be limited to blue, black, and white, and if I wanted a suit with a vest, I’d probably have to wait until Easter. The shirts and blazers in the boys’ department mostly fit, but they still didn’t feel right.

Thankfully, I have a friend who gets all his suits and dress shirts custom made by a tailor in Vegas. He said he’d give me their name. I hope he wasn’t lying when he said they weren’t that much more expensive than buying off the rack.

Mulling Over my Gender Identity

It’s been about three months since I came out about questioning my gender. For now, I’m most comfortable identifying as non-gendered. I don’t feel like I fit with the concept of being a woman or a man. This is quite freeing, and a source of insecurity. It’s also exhausting.

Self Portrait at Dawn by Jörg Reuter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been paying more attention to my physical body – how I wish it looked, and how these thoughts fit into my gender identity. For the most part, I’m not a fan of my feminine curves. I’d rather see myself with muscle definition – especially vertical lines on my abs and striations on my shoulders – but still maintain a thigh gap. I’ve never been a fan of my own boobs. They serve no purpose and I wish they would shrink. I’d rather have muscular pecs than tits.

I wish I could pass as male or female and/or be so androgynous that strangers aren’t sure how to interact with me because of my unknown gender. It would give me a “blank slate” to play with. As it is, my dress varies widely day-to-day. In one week I wore a feminine top with a bound chest, a shirt and tie, and a dress and heels. I was also giddy when my new Starfleet uniform arrived – the red mini dress from the Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Despite my desire to have an androgynous shape, I think my hips will disclose my biological sex. Even before puberty, my hip bones stuck out, and now, I have curves that I fear can’t be slimmed through diet and exercise. And while I know I have a “good butt,” I prefer to keep it smaller, firmer, and lifted. Being curvaceous does nothing for me.

Note: these are my thoughts about myself. I feel no animosity towards the female shape on other people and U.S. standards for beauty.

Image from Last Year’s Junkyard Photoshoot by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with Permission)

It became obvious that I want to be more androgynous when I was invited to the annual Junkyard Photoshoot. I went last year and had a blast. And I enjoy being a model – getting to show different emotions and aspects of my personality. When I model, I always want to feel my inner strength.

But this year, I declined the invitation. This is an open photoshoot where models and photographers get to show up, have fun reign of the junkyard to do almost anything we want. Most of the models are women, and many of them use the setting to pose in lingerie or less – very over-the-top sexy. (And a lot of female models do this type of modeling. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not for me.) I’d rather be in jeans and a tank top, feeling more like Wolverine than a centerfold.

I decided not to go for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. Questioning my gender and other events exacerbated my depression, so I didn’t feel strong and confident. It wasn’t a good space to be in for going into an artistic setting where there would be lots of people I’d never met before.
  2. I was afraid of feeling rejected by photographers who wouldn’t want to work with me. (I know, they can go fornicate with themselves, but easier said than done when I’m feeling vulnerable.)

I’m still mulling over lots of different thoughts about gender identity and how I interact with a mostly two-gendered society. The more I learn about myself, the more I realize that many social norms don’t apply to me.

Proud to Rock a Safety Pin

I’m glad the Safety Pin movement is gaining popularity in the States. After Brexit, people started wearing a safety pin on their clothes as a sign that they were an ally to anyone who might feel oppressed.

Proud to be part of Team Safety Pin

Proud to be part of Team Safety Pin

With Donald Trump winning the election this week, a lot of groups have voiced fears – LGBTQ, women, Muslims, immigrants, and racial minorities among them. As a response, the Safety Pin movement has come across the pond as a way for people to let others know that they will help if you don’t feel safe.

If you don’t feel safe out in public, I would be happy to stand with you, talk with you, walk with you, go with you to the restroom, and be a voice against prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. When I went out on my errands today, I stopped by Target to pick up a package of safety pins – the big ones.

Safety Pin Selfie

Safety Pin Selfie

Anyone who has known me since college might be surprised that I’m joining Team Safety Pin. I love the cause, but I despise putting pins in my clothes . . . I mean really despise. It’s something I almost never do. I’m so adamant about it that I’ve gotten in trouble for not wearing my nametag within groups that require it. Sorry, but not putting a hole in my shirt is more important.

So has the Safety Pin Movement convinced me it’s ok to risk my garments with pinholes? Not exactly. I put safety pins on my Ignite Phoenix zippy sweatshirt and my Scottevest hoodie. Before I go back East next month, I’ll put one of my winter coat. But for my regular shirts, I picked up a set of button magnets. Yes, it works. I have a safety pin magnetically attached to my shirt as I type.

And I support this movement so much, you’d be hard-pressed to get me to take it off when I go through things like airport security. They can wand and pat me down (like they always do) and see that I’m harmless. If I leave the house wearing a safety pin, it’s not coming off. (I’m stubborn like that.)