Carnival Outside the Binary: Expression


Tl;dr Expression is complicated, especially when we are conditioned to judge ourselves based on society’s expectations for trans people. I’m slowly learning not to care.


This was written for the September Carnival Outside the Binary hosted by the wonderful Carnival Outside the Binary.


So I decided to do this whole Carnival thing, even though I’ve never done it before (despite admiring and following the Asexual Agenda‘s beautiful Carnival for years). So, this is fun! I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut recently, so trying a new format (even if it is just me writing a blog post based on a prompt), is a good nudge out of the rut.


Sooooo…expression. This is something I’ve written a lot about in terms of presentation and perception and what it means to be a FAAB feminine nonbinary person. It’s a neverending cycle of frustrations with others and myself – why can’t other people see me as trans? Why can’t I just look more trans? Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.


And it becomes that much more heightened when you go on stage, because then everybody is looking at you.


The thing is, I’ve kind of given up on caring what cis people think. The smart ones, the ones I prefer to surround myself with, see me as trans. The decent ones that I don’t really feel like risking our relationship with (ie. Bosses, coworkers, doctors, you know…) see me as a woman because I haven’t bothered to tell them anything else, but they’re generally decent about me being me. The clueless ones see me as a woman even after I’ve told them I’m nonbinary. Such is life surrounded by cis people.


The thing that hurts is when trans people see me as cis.


It doesn’t usually come as someone going “nope, you’re cis”, it usually comes in how trans people talk about transness – when “gender nonconforming” is equated with trans, leaving no room for those of us who may appear “gender conforming”, when we claim that the ideal of a nonbinary identity is for a cis person to not know whether we are a boy or a girl, when we continue to fall into the myth that there is a “nonbinary” form of expression…


We spend so much time saying you can never know a person’s gender and yet, we still regurgitate this myth of androgyny and confusion of gender expression that it becomes a form of judgement. Hell, I find myself judging. I can be sitting there in a skirt and heels and judge the person sat right next to me wearing the same thing for not being trans enough. I have to bite my tongue and remind myself that they are probably thinking the exact same thing about me, that I am thinking the exact same thing about me, and if I can’t even accept my identity, how the hell can I expect others to?


I’m not saying this to put a flashing neon sign over my head marking me as “transphobic”, I’m saying this because I think it’s important to understand that, no matter what is being said in the trans community, our greater Western society is still conditioning us to expect certain expressions from trans people. I have been conditioned to expect trans people to look a certain way. When we don’t, I am conditioned to question our transness, even myself. The person doing the most harm to me is myself.


A better way to put that: Society has taught me to hurt myself because I don’t fit the mould it wants me to be.


(Side reminder: Androgyny is safe for cis people. It means they know who we are. When nonbinary people can be anything, from androgyny to hyper masculine to hyper feminine to anything else we can imagine, that’s terrifying for cis people because suddenly the trans person could be anywhere. )


Unlearning that bullshit takes a lot of time and energy. It’s work. That’s all. Hard, difficult, frustrating work.


But now, I’ve taken to flaunting my femininity. It’s an age-old queer tradition – take the thing that people judge about you and flaunt it in their faces. Make it so they can’t ignore you, make it so there is absolutely no way it’s a mysterious elephant in the room. If I enter a queer space, and especially if I’m entering a trans space, I go all out – heels, skirt, sometimes even make up (to be fair, I hate make up and am lazy as shit).


Here’s the thing: I know when a trans person looks at me and doesn’t see me as trans. I also know that that means they’re not the kind of person I want to spend time with and there are plenty of other trans people who do see me as trans.


If someone can’t see what I’m telling them, that’s their problem, not mine. My femininity is my power. My expression is not my gender, not by a long shot, but it makes me feel good and I love it and so I will keep expressing the way I am.


And, you know what? My expression and gender don’t need to have anything to do with each other unless I want them to.


So, at the end of the day, no matter how frustrating and painful it can get, I know it’s not my problem and that, as long as I feel good, am not hurting anyone else, and stand in solidarity with all other trans people, I’m good, expression be damned.


“Learn your history”

Tl;dr Asking younger queer folks to “learn our history” without really understanding the depth of the question easily becomes a form of gatekeeping instead of an invitation into queer culture.


So there’s this thing that happens that I feel very strongly about because it’s one of those things that appears really clever on the outside and actually is super harmful to young acespec, arospec, and nonbinary people (and, being a young aroace nonbinary person, I might have a personal stake in the issue). It’s this thing where older queer people look at us younger queer folks and tell us to “learn our history”.


Now, if you’re not aware, I love history. I love studying history. I love learning history. It’s one of my absolute favorite things. It’s so meaningful to me, as a queer person who does not always have touch with my culture, to have a history and a culture I can write myself into. AND, as a traditional dancer, I experience the importance of history and lineage every day.


Every queer person should be able to learn queer history. Queer history is our touch with our long erased and invisible community. Taking that back what has been erased is an act of power.


But, I bristle every time an older queer person tells me “you young folks need to learn your history” because what I hear isn’t an invitation into the community, what I hear is a door. What I hear is, “if you don’t learn our history, you don’t get to be part of queer culture”.


For some people, it’s even “if you don’t learn our history the way I tell it, you’re not queer like I am.”


Historical knowledge has become a condition for queerness and I’m not ok with that.


Let’s talk about how difficult it is to access information on queer history. Especially for young queer folks who may not have regular, safe, private access to the internet, there’s really no way to know queer history. And even for those with internet access, a lot of our history is in books hidden in academic libraries, in oral history projects that sometimes only exist in one place or context, or in incomprehensible papers on “queer theory”. It’s not easy for a young person, especially ones who don’t have support (and thus, are the ones most in need of our community), to “learn our history.”


Let’s also talk about how the people most faced with these demands are young acespec, arospec, and trans folks and how those are identities that have been most denied historical record. Yes, we are still talking about how Stonewall has been whitewashed and turned into an emblematic moment for cis gay men (what?!). Yes, we are talking about how discussions about the AIDs crisis still mysteriously forget about the trans women harmed (and still facing harm) by HIV/AIDs in favor of stories about (you guessed it) cis gay men (certainly, cis gay men were deeply, deeply destroyed by AIDS, but to simply ignore the trans people who were part of that story is a different kind of destruction). Those are the two big examples that are thrown around by older queers the most, but let’s not stop there.


What about Magnus Hirschfeld? This is the guy who performed the first modern gender affirming surgery. Or, Alfred Kinsey, creator of the beloved Kinsey scale? Both of these people also included asexuality in their research. Hirschfeld even used the term “asexual” (Kinsey just called it group X, but hey…it’s there). How have we forgotten that?


And what about nonbinary identities? Isn’t it interesting that when nonbinary people in the western world are expected to justify the history of our identity, we almost always end up using non-western examples? Non-western examples that couldn’t possibly be nonbinary because the concept of nonbinary exists because of the Western gender binary. Instead of recognizing that history and culture exists in context, instead of having examples within our own cultural context, we have to drag other cultures into a Western lens and use a vaguely orientalist method to have touch with our history.


And through all of this is painful, obnoxious whiteness. Queer people of color are either ignored or used to support white queers. And that’s not a way to do history.


History isn’t neutral. The people being told to “learn our history” aren’t necessarily the ones who have access to it. Often, it’s the ones being denied a history and then told to learn the “mainstream”, whitewashed cis gay allo history.


While we’re at it, let’s also talk about how older queer folks don’t have a fucking clue about the culture us young queer folks have been creating. How “learn your history” has become shorthand for “I’m too lazy to learn all these new words and ideas you’ve been making, learn mine instead”. How this is specifically used to attack acespec and arospec communities (who have been building models and creating words and defining our identities pretty damn well, in my opinion). How I often find myself biting my tongue as an older queer person completely misuses a term, rants about how they didn’t have to deal with pronouns during their time, or describes gender in terms of how someone looks, thus completely disregarding and ignoring my own transness.


Older queer folks are gems. They hold a living history that academia and official historical records have denied us. They have built our community for us and given us our culture. I am forever in awe and eternally grateful.


And honestly? Most older queer folks don’t tell me to learn my history. They tell me how excited they are to see a new generation of young queer folks being badass and epic. They tell me their stories. They tell me our history. Or they help me find it when I ask.


But there are the gatekeepers throwing around their age as an excuse to judge young queer folks. I cannot respect any older queer person that demands things from me in the name of “respect” who can’t be bothered to get to know my community and my culture.


So, here are the questions I now consider whenever an older queer person thinks that younger queer folks need to “learn our history”:


  • What history exactly do you want me to learn?
  • Where can I learn this history properly and truly without whitewashing, orientalism, or erasing trans, acespec, and arospec identities?
  • Will you take some time to learn about my queer culture and what it means to be a young queer person in 2018?


Most answers to these questions will be honest, open, respectful and allow for dialogue, so it is easy to know when someone is being an asshole and when someone truly wants me to learn queer history.


So “learn our history” isn’t a bludgeon we get to use on each other. It’s not even a command or a request. It’s simply an acknowledgement that we have been denied history for so long and we are taking it back. Let’s not twist it into a way to gatekeep.

Some August Reading

August is HOT (so were June and July). I’m not one for the heat, but I did get some good reading done. We’ve got some conversations around trans representation (and how to do it right), asexuality, and queer history. And a small tribute to the incredible dancer, Angela Bowen.


Lost this Month


Silva, Galway, Ireland

A friendly person who enjoyed cooking

Read more


Casey Hoke, Los Angeles, CA

Trans activist, artist, and speaker

Learn more about his work

Donate to the Pride Center at Cal Poly Pomona in his memory

Dancer, Professor, Queer Activist Angela Bowen Dead at 82


“Most recently a professor at California State University, Long Beach, Bowen taught in the English and the women’s, gender and sexuality studies departments. Bowen was a beloved fixture on campus who passed on her organizing and activism to her students. Bowen’s career in higher education was just one of many acts in her 82 well-lived years.”




‘Interstate’ Proves that Trans Inclusion Makes Better Musical Theater


“So I think it proves that, when people say, “Oh, there’s nobody who can fit this role” or “Oh, you’ll never be able to cast this,” you just have to try a little bit harder. You just have to be committed to doing that, because they’re out there, and it’s important to cast somebody who is a trans person in a trans role.”


This Guide to Trans Inclusion in the Media May Change Hollywood As We Know It


“According to TRANSform Hollywood, 80 percent of Americans say they don’t personally know a transgender person — not at work, not at school, and not in their families. “That’s where Hollywood comes in,” says the guide. While many Americans might simply be unaware of trans people in their lives who aren’t publicly out, or whom people assume to be cisgender, those who say they don’t know a trans person will likely learn everything they know about trans people from film and television. That’s why it’s so important that the people they see in these roles are trans and represent the reality of what that means — and ideally, what being trans could mean in a world free of transphobia and rampant discrimination.”


Ace Jam created a space for games with asexual characters


“Ace Jam, then, was an important step in bringing attention to a-spec people, and creating more respectful media that reflects them. The jam page curated helpful resources for developers wanting to create well-rounded characters without resorting to tired tropes. It also encouraged developers of all skill levels to take part without pressure or judgement, empowering many developers who are themselves asexual or otherwise a-spec to take part.”


“Bi Ace… is that a thing?” 


“For a while, I thought I was exclusively into men. Then, for two years, I thought I was only into women. Fast forward a bit, I discover that I’m into no one physically, but I do like the way certain faces look, both male and female. And that was confusing at first. We’re conditioned to associate the acknowledgment of a nice face to sexual attraction. It’s a part of heteronormativity that is taught to us and projected onto us from the time we are born until we die. I’m still working on convincing my friends and family that you can like someone’s face and never want them to be anywhere near you. The two are not mutually exclusive.”


Hugh Ryan Recounts Our Forgotten Queer History—And Makes Us Remember Our Past


“I think the importance of queer history is both seeing actual queer people, like we are today, functioning in the world and understanding how their lives and their actions and their identities changed all of history, but also seeing queer people who are not like us and that show that what we think of as the way sexuality and gender functions has not always been the case.”


We need to stop doing this

Tl;dr there is absolutely no justification for a cis man to play a trans woman in a film, even if it is “well-done” and I am disappointed to see the same patterns of cis-centered dehumanization and obsession over transition in the film “Girl” as I see in every other trans film ever. 


I cannot write this without first mentioning that there is work happening that is the exact opposite of what I’m discussing here. The new FX show Pose has multiple trans women playing trans characters and a storyline that digs deeply into existing culture (and even dance) that belongs to trans communities. So, while I rant about the negative below, I would encourage you to honor, support, and encourage the amazing work that is being done about this nonsense. 


So someone threw this article on my radar recently and I honestly don’t even know where to begin. In one breath, the writer both blames Hollywood for all terrible trans representation ever (ok, not really, but it gets close) and tries to justify the practice of having a cis man play a trans woman.




Here’s the deal: I wanted to be excited about “Girl”, a new film about a trans ballerina. I really really really wanted to. I’ve actually found much more support and home as a trans person in ballet worlds than modern dance worlds and I was totally rooting for ballet to go out and get a nice film about it before the rest of dance caught up.


But I’ve watched as bits and pieces fell into place and then I saw it win an award and then I read this article.


I really don’t care how “well-done” a film is or how good the actor is, there is no reason a cis man should ever play a trans woman (and no reason a cis woman should ever play a trans man).


Confusingly, this article’s argument is that, because trans people should be able to play cis roles, we should be striving for everyone to be playing everything and obviously this actor was the right person for the role. That makes no damn sense. Additionally, the author  quotes Jazz Jennings’ mother, a cis person who is apparently more of an expert on trans representation that Jazz herself or any other trans person, to support this argument.


Yeah, I’d love to see trans people in cis roles. Trans woman should be playing roles of cis women and trans men should be playing roles of cis men. That is because trans women and cis women are both women and trans men and cis men are both men. When a cis man plays a trans women once, maybe that’s ok (maaaaaybe, that’s getting into conversations about crossdressing in performance that are really well beyond the scope of this simple blog post), but the constant pattern of casting cis men in the roles of trans women is simply representative of the belief that trans women are still men.


If, for some strange reason, we had to cast a cis person in the role of a trans woman, then it should still be a women.


It’s that simple. If this writer was really arguing that it should be acceptable for a cis person to play a trans role because trans people should be fine to play cis roles, then we should consider who is playing which role and why. As long as cis men (or boys, in this case) are cast as trans women (or girls), all we are saying is that trans women (or girls) are really men (or boys). And, if you don’t think that’s wrong and disgusting, then we have a major problem and I don’t understand why you’re reading this blog. (Have I repeated this enough to get my point across yet?)


My other frustration with “Girl” and this article is, as always, the obsessive fixation on transition and trans bodies. Why the hell would any film about trans people need a shot of a trans girl “standing naked before a full-length mirror, staring at her penis as tears form in her eyes” if not to satisfy cis curiousity about trans bodies? I literally cannot think of any other reason to include such a shot. Cis people aren’t comfortable unless trans bodies are dehumanized – exposed in a way that cis bodies are not, treated as horrific and Other, and then rounded off with the reassuring message that the person in that body will be following the standard, cis-sanctioned steps to change their body (I talk about cis-sanctioned transition here ).


And it’s that much more horrifying when we remember that, in the film, it’s not even a trans body. Apparently, that would be too scary for the cis people. /end sarcasm


I know a lot of trans ballet dancers. There are SO MANY stories to tell about transness and ballet. Why take the classic “young trans person coming of age through their transition” story that has been told so many times already and shove it into ballet? (side note: the number of narratives that replace character development with transition is ridiculous and that just needs to stop).


I want to know about the huge number of older trans people that find home in ballet as adult beginners (and then adult intermediates and advanced, etc…). I want to know about the retired professionals who only transitioned after the end of their career. I want to know about the people that walked away from ballet and I want to know about the people that have embraced it. There is so much more in this community than a story that’s already been told a bajillion times in a slightly different way.


So, I’m disappointed, but not surprised. If I have a chance to see the film, I won’t see it. I refuse to watch any film where a cis actor plays a trans character and that won’t change even if it is about dance (and apparently done slightly better than some other films).


And, I hope the next time around, ballet does better, because I KNOW it can.


Some July readings

Another busy month of lots of reading, including something that quotes me (not that I’m surprised and vaguely pleased with myself or anything)! I’m pretty pleased with this collection – it’s eclectic and a bit random, but all worthwhile reads that I do highly recommend.



Lost this Year


Roxana Hernandez

Honduran immigrant, died in ICE custody in New Mexico

Read more


Cathalina Christina James, Jacksonville, FL

Loved to travel and dance

Read more


Keisha Wells (Pokey), Cleveland, OH

“Loved the most expensive high heels and stilettos”

Read more




The Tumblr bloggers building a canon of asexual history


“Combing through archives, bloggers have claimed historical figures like the 17th-century French poet Catherine Bernard as one of their own. Queer historian and dancer Jo Troll depicted Bernard as “an outsider looking in on relationships and find[ing] it easiest to see the negative messiness of a relationship.””


How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace


“Despite its ubiquity, white superiority is also unnamed and denied by most whites. If we become adults who explicitly oppose racism, as do many, we often organize our identity around a denial of our racially based privileges that reinforce racist disadvantage for others. What is particularly problematic about this contradiction is that white people’s moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging complicity with it. In a white supremacist context, white identity largely rests on a foundation of (superficial) racial tolerance and acceptance. We whites who position ourselves as liberal often opt to protect what we perceive as our moral reputations, rather than recognize or change our participation in systems of inequity and domination.”


Disability Tales: PRIDE


“Pride season is here, and is love really saving us? Or is it saving the lives of the cis, white, and able bodied world that Pride caters to? Convincing others why we don’t care, want to, or feel comfortable celebrating “Pride Month,” Is a laborious process. More than likely these heavy conversations will lead to burn out, and feeling isolated. Our friends and family who are able bodied and neurotypical can’t seem to recognize why we don’t feel like going out to our local “Pride” themed events.”


The joys of being overdressed


“What happens when we stop worrying about what other people think and start dressing for ourselves, or for the person we want to be? It might not be the answer to all our problems, but I’m not going to pretend that the idea of being a bit unsettling because I’m not dressed the way I’m “supposed” to isn’t appealing. I refuse to become invisible to pander to someone else’s idea of “normal”.”


As de Corazones: Does Sex Really Matter in a Relationship?


“Uplifting perspectives and representations that challenge normative sexual expectations in society is important in altering how the public perceives the role of sex in relationships. It’s also crucial to acknowledge the origins of the films production company Meraki Films. Being based in Peru, Meraki is providing an often unheard perspective on the field of representation and (a)sexuality in As de Corazones through addressing the issue of sexual expectations in relationships and society overall.”


The Political Provocations of Asexuality


“One pernicious outcome of this kind of thinking is that it implicitly derides the notion that asexual expressions of intimacy might be just as good as sexual ones. While “critics of asexuality warn self-identified asexuals not to pigeon-hole themselves as sexual too soon,” writes Chasin, “nobody seems concerned if non-asexual people pigeonhole themselves as sexual or non-asexual too soon.” For Chasin, sexual freedom can never be truly achieved until every person is free to be sexual… or not.”


Why the British Media Is So Transphobic


“And we’re actually being expected to be really highly specialized in a lot of things, like gay history and feminism and endocrinology and the history of the LGBT movement and politics — and sports science, I’ve never cared about sports and then I had to look up the rules about trans women in women’s sports because every time I would do a panel someone would ask about that. You’re forced into being more and more of a really specialist expert just to defend the fact that you’re existing in the world.”


some June readings

June was a strange month of having absolutely no time and still reading anyways. We’ve got reading about disability, intersex rights, asexuality and (this one single time!) a video!



Lost this Year


Gigi Pierce, Portland, OR

An “incredibly loving, gifted, beautiful disaster”

Read more



Video: Square dancing was a white supremacist propaganda campaign. Yes, seriously.





Resolution 110 Aims to Change the Conversation on Intersex Rights


“This may be a disproportionately extreme example, but the fact remains that intersex genital mutilation is an example of state-sanctioned child abuse. Not only is it a human rights issue, it’s also an identity issue. By interfering with the right of a child to develop their own gender identity and make an informed decision on surgical intervention, medical practitioners are essentially erasing a community which has never been given the right to flourish.”


Asexuality & Addressing Asexual Stigma through Art


“Aces are, in fact, capable of reproducing by removing a limb or two and letting it grow into its own person. We are just waiting for the right time to chop ourselves up and grow our dark legions to overtake you all. So if you don’t want to live in a dystopian wasteland chiseling marble idols of your future Asexual Overlords with sporks you better be nice to us now……………….”


Can We Stop Arguing About the “Right Way” to Be a Disability Activist?


“But such debates aren’t entirely pointless. Online activism can be fleeting and superficial, and it’s sometimes hard to know for sure how effective it is. Meanwhile, traditional political action can be self-indulgent. It’s high on spectacle and empowerment, but sometimes the drama of live protest overshadows its goal”


A Work of the Body: Deconstructing Preconceived Notions of Disability and Dance in Piece by Piece


“What’s even more powerful is the way that Bogue and her artistic collaborators changed their perceptions—and the audience’s perceptions—of what a dancer can or ‘should’ look like. Dance, even more than theatre, has strict ‘standards’ of how bodies on stage are ‘supposed to’ appear. Rutherford says that as a concert dancer, she was trained to see dancers one way, but that after this experience, she sees dancers differently. ‘You know,’ she says, ‘there’s not just one shape for a dancer, there’s not one style of movement for a dancer. A dancer can be anything.'”


Let’s use names

Tl;dr Talking around an identity word instead of using it, even if for the most well-intentioned reasons, really just others folks with that identity and denies their existence. Names have power, so let’s use them!


I recently received in-person feedback from one of my audience members during a post-showcase session – they were mainly adamant that I should never ever say the dreaded “f-word” (oops), but they also made a vague allusion to “my message”. I asked what that was, the answer was “wanting to be respected and treated right”. It took a couple more questions and a very blunt, “I would like you to name this”, before they actually said “trans…gender?”


No one wants to say the word “trans”. It’s kind of hilarious.


I was also recently asked by a well-meaning person “is saying LGBT offensive????”


To be honest, I was so surprised by the question that I didn’t answer as well as I could.


Here’s the thing: cis folks, straight folks, and yes, allo folks are so scared of messing up that they don’t try.


That’s fair. I definitely do that a lot in my life. I’m a perfectionist dependent on validation and sometimes it is scary to do something knowing full well that I will fuck it up. Lie, it’s not scary, it’s TERRIFYING. I get it.


But when someone is too scared to try to use proper terminology around queer/lgbt+ identities that they end up condemning us to nonexistence by talking around the word.


Every time a cis person says “your identity” or “gender non-conforming” or “who you are” or basically anything that isn’t “trans”, what they’re doing is taking the words I have taken for myself and replacing them with what they’re comfortable with.


When someone doesn’t use the word “trans”, they are othering it, they make it seem weird, strange, untouchable, and it means my transness gets less notice and respect as it becomes jumbled around and confused while the cis person fumbles around trying to say the word without actually saying it.


It’s kind of cute to watch someone try really hard  not to say the Wrong Thing and constantly miss the obvious choice. You can learn a lot by seeing what choices a person makes – what kind of trans visibility they’ve been exposed to, existing knowledge of queer communities, where they are in their personal allyship journey.


But, at the end of the day, all this circumlocution does is create a giant black hole where trans people don’t exist (but there are lots of people with vague, undefined identities that are theirs!)


It goes back to all those old folk tales – names have power. There is even the longstanding belief that naming a thing makes it real.


When non-queer people are afraid to use basic (I mean basic, “trans”, “lgbt”, “gay”, “bisexual”, not the slightly more complex words) terminology, they aren’t being polite, they’re denying my existence.


Here’s a thing: I have the same problem when it comes to discussing race – I’ll happily talk about black folks, PoC, latinx folks, API folks, until I’m facing a person of color and I panic and I go “oh no! what if this specific term I’m using is WRONG” and start doing verbal gymnastics to avoid saying the damn word. I’m sure it’s just as hilarious for people of color to watch as when I let a cis person fumble.


I’m learning to sit with that panic and say it anyways. Like seriously, how the hell can I be an ally to black folks if I can’t say the word “black” when a black person is listening? I’m learning to accept that I WILL make mistakes and to look forward to them as opportunities to be better instead of signs of my own inadequacy. I’m learning to be uncomfortable.


I’d love to encourage my fellow white folks to do the same.


I’d also like to encourage cis/straight/allo folks to do the same.


There’s nothing insulting or dirty or wrong about the word “trans” (and no one needs my permission to say “LGBT”). It’s an incredibly important word. So say it! Normalize it! Let me exist on my terms, with the terminology I chose for myself!


Let’s name the things and call them what they are!