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The Undeniable Ruth

Why Being Non-Binary Matters

Non-binary Ruth Carter

I’m speaking to a group of lawyers this week about being non-binary. Since I’m always me, I asked my Facebook friends to tell me what question they have or have had about my non-binary experience or non-binary people in general to help me prepare.

One friend sent me a direct message and respectfully asked, “Why is a non-binary identity important to you? Why does it matter?” She went on to say that my name, gender, or pronouns wouldn’t change our relationship. (My friends know that I welcome all sincere questions. If they’re trying to be respectful and inadvertently say something wrong, I will not be offended.) It’s a valid question, and one that does not surprise me coming from a person I know to a cisgender heterosexual.

Photo by Scotty Myers Photography

Non-Binary People Exist

Being non-binary matters as much as it matters to be any other gender. Unlike men and women, I live in a society that often doesn’t acknowledge that I exist. Whenever I need to use a public bathroom or fill out a form and there are only male/female options, the message I hear is that people like me don’t deserve the same acknowledgment as men and women, that they don’t believe I exist, or that I don’t matter.

When there are only male and female facilities available, if I’m not welcome to use either option, then I’m not comfortable using any of them. Earlier this year, I attended a conference where there were only men’s and women’s bathrooms. I didn’t want the organizers to have to deal with an uncomfortable situation of someone complaining that I was in the men’s room, so we agreed that I’d use the bathroom in my hotel room. (The conference was in the same hotel where I was staying.) This worked fine until the last day, when I’d checked out of my room. I felt like an imposter using the women’s room when I needed it.

I live in a society that doesn’t even have terminology for non-binary people. There is no gender-neutral term for “sir” or “ma’am,” though I’m in favor of adoption “pe’n,” short for “person.” Most people don’t know that the non-binary alternative to Mr./Ms. is Mx. (pronounced “mix”). When my sister got pregnant, I had to pick my own title since there is no gender-neutral term for “aunt” or “uncle.” (This is a common question in the Non-Binary Gender Pride Facebook group, also what do you call a non-binary parent, significant other, spouse, or child.) My sweet nibling has aunts, uncles, guncles (gay uncles – they picked their title too), and an oggy (me). (“Oggy” rhymes with “doggy.”)

I’m Legally Non-Binary – and Still Not Recognized

I have a non-binary birth certificate. (Thank you, California!) I am legally recognized as being neither male nor female, and yet, I can’t get a driver’s license in Arizona that reflects this. The State Department will not issue me a non-binary passport. The State Department won’t even issue one to Dana Zzyym, an intersex person, even though it’s been court-ordered to do so. When I travel, I bring my passport and my birth certificate in case I have to explain why some of my tickets says non-binary and some say male or female – because not all airlines have the non-binary gender option, but I should be able to use it since I’m legally non-binary.

In most places, I can’t even walk down the street on a hot day with my shirt off like my male counterparts without the risk of getting a ticket for indecent exposure, even in California. (Arizona law says “female areolas” must be covered. I don’t think a judge would throw the case out if I went in with my birth certificate that proves I’m not female, and thus, I can’t be in violation of this law.) Thankfully, MeUndies hooked me up with a nude bralette so I can at least give the illusion of toplessness at a distance. I could also wear my nude chest binder, but I tend to overheat in that thing.

Men and women in the U.S. have never had to fight just to say they exist. Women have to fight for equality, but they’ve never had to fight to be recognized as different from men. In regard to legal rights, my friend’s question made me think:

Non-binary people are different than men and women. We often live in societies that only recognize males and females – socially and culturally. When I realized that I was non-binary, something clicked into place. Up until then, I thought I was just a weird girl. I didn’t understand why the other girls and women seemed so different than me. When I realized that I’m non-binary, it made sense why I felt like I was so different than the other girls I grew up with – because I am! And even though we’re different, and live in a binary-centric society, we still deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else, and to be acknowledged for who we are.

I guess that’s why being non-binary mattes to me. I want to be seen as who and what I am. 

Tri Bike!

A few months ago, I took the plunge and got a triathlon bike. It was a substantial process because I went and had a proper bike fitting done.

Bike Fitting

At my first meeting with Barry the bike fitter at Cyclologic, we talked about all my past injuries, he checked my legs for strength and range of motion, and he took a some of measurements. He then put a bunch of dots on my body – one on my hip, knee, ankle, and shoulder (at least) – so it would be easier for him to take photos and measure my angles.

Then it was up on the bike measuring contraption. It was like a bike in that it had a seat, pedals, and handlebars, but there was no actual frame. He could raise and lower each component as well as move them closer or further apart to determine my ideal fit. There were cameras on two sides to shoot video and images, and the whole platform it was on could spin. There was also a special seat cover to detect how I distributed my weight on the seat.

The entire fitting took about three hours which culminated in figuring out all my measurements and then looking for a bike that fit my proportions.

The Delta Flyer on her trainer.

New Bike

At 5’4”, I’m the same height as the average woman, but because of my proportions, I’m tiny when it comes to bikes. I had to get an extra small frame. When I stand over my bike, there is less than 1 inch of clearance between the top bar of my frame and my crotch.  

The upside of needing an extra small bike is that I was able to get a good deal on one from last season. They only had the “guy color” left – black with red. (The “girl color” was peach and gray.) The moment I saw a picture of it, I knew I was going to call her the “Delta Flyer” because it reminded me of the uniforms on Star Trek: Voyager.

First Ride = First Fall

My first ride on my triathlon bike was the first time I rode with my feet clipped to the pedals. In the weeks leading up to getting my new bike, I paid close attention when I was training on my mountain bike to see which foot I push off of to start riding and which foot I put down when I come to a stoplight. It turns out, I do everything the opposite on my triathlon bike.

On my first ride, I clipped in my right foot, pushed off with my left, went about two feet, and fell over, with my right foot still attached to the pedal. I couldn’t keep the bike moving forward while trying to clip in my left foot. Once I switched to doing everything with my right foot, I was fine.

Switching from a mountain bike to a road bike was like changing my shoes from sneakers to ice skates – all my weight was balanced over skinny tires! It took awhile to get use to keeping my balance on a lighter bike and narrower tires.

Now that it’s warmer, most of my rides are on the trainer, a device that turns my bike into a stationary bike. On the upside, I don’t have to worry about traffic or having to stop at lights. On the downside, it’s pretty boring. I always watch movies to help pass the time on my bike.

I love my tri bike. My hip is slowly adjusting to riding in the “aero” position. I only ride in the aero position about 10% of the time, but hopefully that will increase, and I’ll be able to take full advantage of the benefits of my bike in races.

Prepping for Plastic-Free July – Part 2

It’s less than a month away from Plastic-Free July – a month where I will try to avoid single-use plastics in my life. Some people suggested that I stock up on products that contain plastic so I won’t have to buy them during July, but that goes against the purpose of doing this challenge. In fact, I’m doing the opposite this month: Whenever I run out of something that comes in plastic, I will try to replace it with a plastic-free product.

Looking around the house, I can see some products for which I’ll have to find a plastic-free alternative:

Frozen Foods: I regularly buy frozen spinach and berries for smoothies, and other frozen vegetables for meal prepping. I’ll have to switch to fresh veggies and fruit when I run out of them. I’ll probably switch to spinach and/or kale for my smoothies. I don’t know if berries will be in season at the farmer’s market. I’m sure I can’t get plastic-free ones at the store. I may have to switch to other fruits like mangos. I’ve never seen non-frozen peas in the store, so I’ll likely switch to broccoli and green beans for my green veggies.

Bread: The Whole Foods near my office has non-packaged bread in its bakery section. Einstein’s will likely be my go-to place for bagels. I’ll also look for plastic-free bread when I hit the farmer’s markets. I’ve considered baking my own bread, but it’s hot in Arizona in the summer. The last thing I want to do is add excess heat to the inside of my home.

Paper Towels: My last roll of paper towels is on the dispenser in the kitchen. When I use the last one, I’m switching over to multipurpose washable cloth towels instead. I bought a pack of 12. We’ll see if I need more than that to last me until I do laundry on the weekend.

Face Soap: I use an exfoliating face soap that comes in a squeezy plastic tube. I’ll use regular soap on my face (that comes in paper or no packaging), and I wonder if I’ll notice a difference. I’ve seen recipes for scrubs I can use if I need it.

Moisturizer: I’ve used the same moisturizer for over two decades. I love it. It’s a great product. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I run out. I plan to call the parent company to ask if they have any products that come in glass. The recipes I’ve seen for lotion, so far, all have to be refrigerated, which isn’t convenient when I travel. We’ll see what happens.

Lip Balm: I’m addicted to lip balm. I usually have in my bag and/or pocket, in my desk at work, and 2-3 on various counters and tables throughout my home. They’re all plastic tubes. I have until my current stash runs out to find a lip balms that come in a metal tin or a paper tube. I just have to find a quality one that works for me.  

Trash Can Liners: I don’t compost (yet) so sometimes my kitchen trash can be wet from coffee grounds and bits from fruits and veggies. Usually, I line my trash bin with a plastic shopping bag. (At least, I’m reusing them.) As alternatives, I could try using paper shopping bags as a liner or lining the can with newspaper. If neither of those work, I may have to forego a liner and wash the bin after I take out the trash each time.  

Unfortunately, there are few necessary non-negotiable items in my life that only that come in plastic:

  • Prescription Medications: We are all better people because I take meds. I am looking into a charity that repurposes the plastic bottles from medications and vitamins.
  • Sunscreen: I’m not going to get skin cancer while saving the planet. I use a “reef-conscious formula” that comes in a metal spray can, but it has plastic in the dispenser and lid.
  • Contact Lenses and Solution: Besides laser eye surgery, I don’t think there’s a plastic-free alternative to lenses and solution. I’m sure there are recipes for making your own contact solution, but given that these products literally go in my eyes, I’m sticking with ophthalmologist-approved and prescribed products.

I’ve been working towards Plastic-Free July for almost a year now. You can read about earlier preparations in Preparing for Plastic-Free July – Part 1* and the zero-waste and low-waste substitutes* I’ve already made in my life. (* Note: Both of these posts contain affiliate links.)

Is anyone else trying Plastic-Free July?

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.

Blind Dog Living: 90 Days In

When Rosie lost her right eye to glaucoma and became a pirate pup in 2015, our doctor said it would only be a matter of time until the illness took her other eye. They said most glaucoma dogs lose their second eye within a year of the first one.

Rosie made it 3 years and 9 months.

This post contains affiliate links. If you follow the link and make a purchase, you pay the same as everyone else, but I get a small commission. Any link marked with an asterisk (*) is an affiliate link.

Day 1: Sudden Blindness

Monday, November 19, 2018 (the Monday before Thanksgiving): Rosie woke up blind. When we went for our morning walk, she stumbled when the surface of the ground changed from sidewalk, to gravel, to grass. That’s what tipped me off that she wasn’t just tired. Not that she could see much before then – between the glaucoma and her eye drops, Rosie’s view of the world was like looking through a straw after her first eye surgery.

I called our puppy ophthalmologist’s emergency number (it was before 6 a.m.). The doctor gave the go-ahead to give Rosie’s emergency meds and told me to make an appointment with our regular vet. I mixed glycerin with milk and slowly poured down Rosie’s throat with a big syringe. This dehydrated her and hopefully brought down the pressure in her eye.

How About Today?

I got an appointment with our vet just before noon where they confirmed what I already suspected: Rosie was blind. Her glaucoma had spread and the pressure in her right eye was too high. It needed to be removed.

I asked our vet if they had availability on the schedule to do Rosie’s surgery the next day. She went to the back to check the surgeon’s schedule. When the vet returned, she said, “How about today?”

At 12:30 that afternoon, I left Rosie in the trusted care of our vet where the same surgeon who did her first enucleation would be performing her second one. The hardest part was not being able to explain to Rosie what was about to happen. I couldn’t tell her, “These nice people are going to put you to sleep, and when you wake up, your head isn’t going to hurt anymore, but you’ll never see again.”

Support from the Blind Basset Community

One of the first people I reached out to after leaving Rosie was Daisy the Blind Snowflake – an all-white blind basset I knew from Instagram. Her mom told me that adapting to blindness is harder on the human than the dog and gave me some tips. That was reassuring.

Sarah and Thomas to the Rescue

I picked up Rosie from the vet at 8 that night. The vet tech was very sweet. She told me while Rosie was in recovery, it was just her and another dog in that area, neither one in a kennel or cages. At one point, Rosie randomly walked over to the other dog and gently bumped her head into them.

I snapped Rosie’s protective cone from her first surgery around her head, loaded her into the car, and drove her home. Newly blind and still groggy from surgery, she didn’t want to move much. When I unloaded her from the car, she refused to walk, even with a gentle tug on the leash.

I had a moment of mild panic. What was I going to do? I can lift my 68-pound dog, but I can’t carry her the 100ish feet from my parking spot to our condo. I immediately called my neighbors, Sarah and Thomas, who bolted over to help. Thomas scooped up my potato sack of a dog and carried her all the way to her bed.

It turned out, Rosie was freaked out by the cone. As soon as I unsnapped it, she was fine. I made her a deal that she could have breaks from it while I home, nearby, and awake, if she didn’t scratch at her stitches.

Day 2: Surreal

The day after surgery was surreal for me as I looked at my beautiful dog with her swollen purple eye and thought, “My dog is really blind. This isn’t going to change.”

She can’t see shapes. She can’t even see light. She literally has no eyeballs. Her world is dark.

There were some sad moments for me that day, but I found comfort in reminding myself that adapting is harder for me than Rosie. As I was experiencing these thoughts, she was comfortably relaxing on the lawn.

Day 5: You’re Killing Mommy

I often participate in Buy Nothing Day on Black Friday, but I had to make an exception. I was working in my home office, and Rosie was crashing around the living room in her cone.

Bang bang bang bang bang!

I try to be patient with Rosie, especially in times like this where she can’t help it, but the noise was making me insane. I think at one point I actually said, “Rosie, you’re killing Mommy.”

A quick run to Ryan’s Pet Supplies saved my sanity. I got Rosie a soft inflatable doughnut to replace her plastic cone. I think we were both happier for it.

Imperfect Navigation

Basset hounds are scent hounds. I figured navigating as a blind dog would be easy for Rosie. I was surprised to see her that she couldn’t beeline toward a scent.

For example, Rosie’s bowls are in the kitchen. You have to go around the counter to get to them. When she walks to meals, I have to watch to make sure she doesn’t walk into a chair that’s under the dining table. There’s plenty of navigation space. Sometimes she sniffs at her water bowl before realizing that her food bowl is next to it. Even though she has a top-notch sniffer, she’s still navigating in the dark.

Going for walks is a daily adventure for us. We switched to walking with her car harness after her second surgery – a suggestion from the vet tech. At first, it was like walking a marionette. I always have to be on the lookout to make sure she doesn’t inadvertently walk off a curb. When I let Rosie lead, she frequently walks in ovals in the parking lot. I’m not sure why she does that.

I learned that other owners taught their glaucoma dogs verbal commands for “right,” “left,” “slow down,” and “hard stop” while they still had some vision. Yeah . . . Rosie and I didn’t do that. She spent the last 4 years mostly being self-directed on our walks and often walked off-leash. Going back to wearing a leash has been quite the adjustment for her.

One thing I do during our walks is I let her bump into things. Not hard. When we’re approaching a car or a wall, if she wants to keep walking toward the solid object, I’ll slow her down and let her gently bump it. I figure she’s not going to learn how close things are without experiencing it.

Rules for Blind Dog Living

Here are some of the rules I’ve learned for living with a blind dog:

  1. Don’t move the furniture. (I’m not one of them, but apparently there are people who recreationally rearrange their furniture.)
  2. No clutter on the floor. Don’t leave things like shoes out where your dog can trip on them.
  3. Open doors slowly. You never know where your blind dog is on the other side. Your dog cannot tell how fast the door is moving and get out of the way.
  4. You can help your dog navigate by tapping on the floor or wall near where you want them to go.
  5. Protect your blind dog from approaching dogs. During our first week of blind living, a rambunctious dog came up too fast on Rosie. (He just wanted to play.) That was the moment I learned to step in front of Rosie to physically block her from fast approaching dogs. 
  6. Use a harness to walk your blind dog. You don’t want to pull at their neck.
  7. Use a “blind dog” leash.* Rosie has the leash and collar.* This way, anyone approaching us will see that she’s blind and be more thoughtful.
  8. Use scent-based play. We like to play hide-the-treat where I’ll hide pieces of dog treats in shoes, in her bed, behind doors, etc., where she has to sniff them out. Rosie also loves pushing around her Kong treat ball.*
  9. Give all other treats directly to the dog’s mouth. For dental sticks,* bully slices,* and Milkbones,* I hold one side of the treat near her face, and let her grab it with her mouth.

Day 90: Getting the Hang of It

I’m still getting used to having a blind dog. I’ve seen a big improvement in how well she navigates our condo and our complex. She’s gained a lot more confidence in the last few weeks.

She often sticks close to walls and furniture both when walking and laying down. Whenever she lays down at home or in the office, her butt or side is usually touching something. I think this gives her a sense of security about where she is. Whenever I’m looking for her, I scan the edges of the room.

One of the things that gives me the warm fuzzies is seeing her recognize familiar people and dogs. Her tail wags like crazy when she realizes she’s found a friend, sometimes followed by happy whines.

Over the last 90 days, Rosie and my lives have changed a lot. She doesn’t need eye drops anymore. We walk slower. I have to get out of her way, because she’s not getting out of mine. I try to be careful about scary noises like the food processor and vacuum.

On the flip side, a lot of things have stayed the same. Rosie is still my baby. She’s still as stubborn as ever, and probably now even more spoiled (as she should be).  

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Whenever I book a hotel room, if there’s a box on the reservation form for notes or requests, I like to type in something about being non-binary or I’ll put in something silly. One time I asked for the hotel to put a “high five” in my room, just to see what they’d do with that. I would have been tickled pink if they had taped a piece of paper with the outline of someone’s hand on it to the wall. Unfortunately, they ignore it.

I like to have fun when I travel. I’m also the person who shakes out the Gideon Bible, just in case there’s money in it.

Don’t worry. My silly antics aren’t just limited to hotels. I regularly ask servers at restaurants for a pony when they ask if they can bring anything else. Usually they smile and say something lighthearted back. But one drew me a picture of a pony on my bill. She got an extra tip that night.

Last month, I spent a few nights in Vegas for the Shankminds live mastermind event. When I booked my room at the Park MGM, I asked for the staff to refer to me as “Your Grace” and for the hotel to put an octopus made out of towels in my room.

This was what I saw when I walked into my hotel room.

I shall call you “Ocky.”

I giggled when I saw this little guy. I put him on a side table and smiled every time I looked at it for the rest of my trip. (If there is such thing as a spirit animal, I’m pretty sure mine is an octopus.)

I think asking for a towel octopus will be my new thing when I travel. I’m curious to see how other hotels execute my request.

Paying to be an Arizona Lawyer

I just paid $505 for my Arizona bar dues. That’s right, Arizona is a pay-to-play mandatory bar. I paid $505 just so I can be a lawyer for the next year. That’s about $42/month and just under $10/week just so I can work in my profession.

Now, I’m not opposed to a mandatory bar, as we are a self-regulating industry. I am opposed to a state bar not giving their members their money’s worth. I’m definitely not getting $505 worth of value from the State Bar of Arizona, even with our member discounts. I have yet to meet a fellow Arizona lawyer who disagrees with me.

One thing that makes me furious with the State Bar is there was no need to raise our bar dues from $460 (which was already at the high end of state bar dues). The Board of Governors approved the raise despite seeing that the State Bar was forecast to have a multi-million dollar cash surplus at our then rate.

Benefits of the State Bar of Arizona

Before I continue my rant, let me give credit where credit is due. There are some benefits to being a member of the State Bar of Arizona (besides getting to do my job):

  • Ethics Hotline: The State Bar has a number where you can discuss your ethical questions with a qualified lawyer. They will usually not give you a direct answer to your question (unless it is a black-and-white issue). My first year as a lawyer, my goals were to make a profit and not get disbarred. I was on a first name basis with one of the State Bar’s ethic’s lawyers because I called so much.
  • Fastcase: I don’t pay for Westlaw or Lexis. I do most of my case law research with Fastcase through the State Bar. It’s not worth $505/year, but it’s a valuable resource.
  • Arizona Attorney Daily 5: I like getting this email every weekday from Tim Eigo, the editor of Arizona Attorney magazine. It has information about newsworthy legal stories in current events, many of which that are relate to my practice areas.
  • Conference Rooms: When I started my firm, I used a mailbox at a UPS Store for my address and worked from home. When I had to meet with clients, I used the conference rooms at the State Bar in Phoenix which were free to use. They need a better scheduling system, but it’s useful to those of us who live nearby.
  • Investigate Ethics Complaints: One thing the State Bar does is investigate complaints against lawyers. If you read the Lawyer Regulation section of our magazine, you know there are some lawyers who either need help, have no business running a law practice, and/or have no business being a lawyer. Someone needs to be the watchdog over us.
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Back to Ranting

One thing that annoys the crap of me about the State Bar is the fact that they charge for continuing education events (CLEs) at their own facilities. They don’t pay their speakers, so their costs to put on an event is close to nothing, and yet they charge $54-$149 per person. You will not see me at one of their CLEs as a speaker or a participant unless they change how they operate.

What I’d Do Differently

If I ran the State Bar, I’d immediately assess the budget – what’s needed and what’s not. When I asked the Bar what our dues pay for, I received a response that said our dues cover about 60% of their budget. (And don’t forget that cash surplus they’re sitting on.)

Additionally, the State Bar should either offer their CLEs at their facilities for free or pay their speakers. With the money they’re sitting on, they could bring in some top-notch speakers who are worth every penny.

I don’t know how the State Bar goes about getting discounts for its members, but I want better ones. They should look for ideas on the Local First Arizona directory to see if there are companies who might was to partner with the Bar – for office supplies, office furniture, document shredding, marketing services, and company shwag. Let’s keep our money supporting our community where we can. I’d also find value in discounts for airline tickets, a custom tailor, and hotels outside the Phoenix area, and because I’m concerned about lawyer safety, I’d love to see discounts for self-defense classes and bulletproof undershirts.

(The one place a lawyer can’t take their gun is into a courthouse. If someone was targeting one of us, that would be a place where we’d most vulnerable. I don’t own a gun. I want a bulletproof undershirt because of the rates of violence against transgender persons.)

Putting my Money Where my Mouth Is

My rule is you can’t bitch unless you’re willing to do something about it. The minimum I can do is vote in the next Board of Governors election this spring. For any incumbents, I’ll look at how they voted on the last bar dues increase. In the candidates’ personal statements, I want to see their ideas to reduce our bar dues and/or provide greater value to the membership. I hope my fellow Arizona lawyers will do the same.

Peeing in Public while Non-binary

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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.