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transgender

My Pronouns are They/Them

I am non-binary, meaning I’m not a man or a woman. When people used to ask me what my pronouns are, I used to say I don’t care as long as you’re being respectful. I was fine with “he,” “she” or “they.”

Now I realize that I didn’t care as long as you knew that I’m non-binary. It’s important to me that people know that I’m not a cisgender female, which is what most strangers assume I am. Being misgendered is one of the things I despise. Because of this, and to raise awareness that non-binary people exist, I decided that my pronouns are they/them.

(In case you didn’t know, cisgender person is someone who is the gender they were assigned at birth. The prefix “cis-” means “same.” The prefix “trans-” means opposite.)

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It’s OK If You Make Mistakes

Changing how you refer to me may be an adjustment. It’s ok if you make mistakes and occasionally trip over your pronouns. (I occasionally do this with others’ pronouns.) Just correct yourself and move on. And if you hear someone refer to me as she/her, please correct them.

I expect most people are going to make mistakes most of the time. I have a friend who is the parent of a non-binary child who uses they/them pronouns. She still makes mistakes, and she’s had years of practice.

It’s “They Are,” Not “They Is”

A friend asked about how the grammar works when using “they” to refer to a single person. In English class, we were taught to say, “he/she is” for an individuals and “they are” for two more people. My friend asked if she should say “they is” or “they are” when talking about me, and it’s still “they are.” When you use “they” to talk about an individual, it’s the same as if you were speaking about a person of unknown gender:

  • When are they coming over?
  • Someone lost their keys.
  • Who put pants on the naked statue? High five for them!

According to Merriam-Webster, “they” has been used as a singular pronoun since the 1300s. It’s become more commonly used with increased awareness of non-binary and intersex people. (“Intersex” is the term used for people who used to be called hermaphrodites.)

Telling the Office

Until now, all my email signatures said, “Pronouns: He/She/They.” I updated those to say “Pronouns: They/Them” as well as my LinkedIn profile. The next step was to inform my officemates. I sent out a note to everyone in the building, letting them know about my pronouns. No one cares that I’m non-binary and pansexual, so I knew this would be a non-issue as well. I did get a few unexpected responses:

  • One person asked what “cisgender” meant and asked about the proper phrasing when referring potential clients to me – changing from “I think she can help you,” to “I think they can help you.”
  • Another officemate suggested that I consider using a non-binary nickname since Ruth is such a feminine name. I’m already established as Ruth Carter, and I don’t want a different name. If Dana, Kelly, and Ashley can be gender neutral names, so can Ruth. There’s at least one instance in literature where Ruth is the name of a male character.
  • Someone asked why I don’t use “he/she” since “he” and “she” refer to an individual. I responded, “Because I’m not a man or a woman.”

Questions are Welcome

If you have any questions about my experience as a non-binary person or non-binary people in general, I’ll do my best to answer them. I won’t be upset if you inadvertently say something incorrectly. 

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.

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.