On allyship and being enough

tl;dr For my cis allies – you’re doing enough. It might not feel like it, I definitely might not think it all the time, but you are. The only necessary thing is to care. Promise. 

One of the huge things I struggle with is the feeling that I am never doing enough. And this is something that particularly affects me in terms of allyship. As a white person, I am never a good enough ally to people of color. As a trans person that can slip through a lot of cracks by appearing cis, by not changing my legal name (and, in fact, going by said name at times), by being able to argue gender theory with flouncy, academic language, I am never a good enough ally for queer people who are more visible and, thus, more vulnerable. As an able-bodied person, I often overlook issues of accessibility and need constant reminders that what might work perfectly for me does not accommodate everyone and is, thus, imperfect.

We talk a lot about guilt and how, for allies, it’s not about us. Our guilt is simply a way to derail a conversation, it’s inefficient and unhelpful and best ignored. But at the same time, the guilt is still there and ignoring and suppressing it won’t make it go away.

I get so sick of cis guilt and cis pity and the way cis people performatively jumping on “save the trans!” bandwagons without actually having a fucking clue of what they’re doing. It’s tiring. It demands a lot out of me. I hate holding cis people’s hands and spoon feeding them successful allyship while they moan about how guilty they feel about transphobia.

But I’ve also been on the other side of the equation and I know the guilt and the cluelessness and the general feeling of never doing enough. Which, especially for someone with anxiety, can easily spiral into believing I’m a bad person. It’s my responsibility and I’m working on it. Someday, I might be the ally and the person I would like to be. But it’s slow going, and it’s hard and I need to be patient with myself.

I need to believe I am doing my best. And to do that, I need to believe others are doing the same.

So, I usually don’t do this, but this post is specifically for cis people. I’ve written a lot about how you can be a trans ally, I’ve given instructions and lists and ideas of what makes a good ally. But here’s the thing – I know you are doing your best.

Everyone’s best is different.

It’s hard. It’s especially hard for me if your best isn’t what I need to it be. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing it. And it doesn’t mean it’s not enough.

I, and other trans people, can’t stand here and hold your hand. It’s a lot of work and we have loads of other work to do, so I trust you’re doing your best, I trust you are learning, I trust you will get where I need you to be when you’re ready.

You’re a person too. So, take your time, take care of yourself, and cut yourself some slack.

Mistakes are forgivable. Distraction or focusing on something else for a while is completely understandable.

The only unforgivable thing is refusal to try and refusal to care. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I do believe anyone who’s read this far is not guilty of those two things.

Just because you can do more doesn’t mean you aren’t doing enough.

You can’t do everything. That’s fine. No one can. We’re all problematic messes of imperfection. It’s honestly kind of beautiful.

Just keep caring. That’s all I ask. That’s more than enough.

(And keep this on hand for whenever you need it, because I probably will never write something like this again).


Trump, military service, trans people…why this matters

tl;dr Due to the way military is linked to American society, a certain idiot’s twitter attempt to ban trans people from the military could have some pretty terrible effects, so we really need to think about how we support trans people.

[cw: Trump, transphobia, mentions of trans violence]

I’m opposed to trans people serving in the military.


I’m opposed to anyone serving in the military.


I am completely and utterly opposed to the military-industrial complex and the way military has embedded itself in our culture. Military service comes as much from coercion and oppression as it does from choice. Probably more so. Military service promotes US imperialism through violent tactics.


There was a lot of talk about this with DADT. Some queer people opposed anything that opened doors for more people to serve in the military because of this.


But we have to realize that, no matter our feelings on the military, it is deeply, deeply rooted in our society and any move to explicitly keep a group of people from serving both reflects current society and will be reflected back in society.


I mean, there’s a reason DADT was repealed first, before DOMA.


Trump and his republicans have done so many unspeakable things. The possibility of an Obamacare repeal is very real and will cost so many lives (though hurrah for our current healthcare victory, let’s hope it lasts). The travel ban has denied entry to people from muslim predominant countries and, as it continues to have life and presence in our media, it propagates racist, islamophobic nonsense that is being used to justify terrible discrimination well inside our borders. This is overwhelmingly terrifying, and it’s only two of the many things happening…


And yet, there’s still something particularly chilling about banning military service. People have already commented to point out the huge number of trans people that serve in the military who have effectively now lost their job. That alone should be a huge warning sign.


But why trans people? These assholes hate everyone. Why did a certain idiot target trans people this time?


Because we’re the weakest, the most vulnerable, and easiest to destroy in society. The choice reflects us, our society that we have made. If someone was on a mission to remove all marginalized groups from society (not naming any names here, but…), they’d start with the weakest, get an easy win, and then move on.


The position of trans people in the military is already pretty fraught. It really was only just a year ago that it became explicitly clear that trans folks could serve. And before then, there were trans versions of don’t ask, don’t tell, requirements of passing (which is so gross, I can’t even comment), trans people being barred from service because gender identity disorder was in the DSM-IV as a mental illness (and gender dysphoria still is in the DSM-V). And there’s still this underlying believe that most cis people hold that trans-related health care “frivolous” and a “commodity” as opposed to an absolute necessity, so it’s easy to go “meh, don’t really want to pay for this if I don’t have to”, which is really not a way any employer should consider their potential employees, let alone the fucking military.


Add that to the high rates of violence against trans people. Employment discrimination. Housing discrimination. Stupid, gross bathroom bills designed to keep us out of public spaces. Inaccessible medical costs. Sexual violence. Even the fact that many shelters turn away trans women.


We’re talking a highly, highly vulnerable population that is already easy to “pick off”, for lack of a more polite word for what’s happening here.


And this new thing – banning trans people from the military is the highest form of legitimization these assholes can give to the people killing and harming my trans siblings. Whether we like it or not, it’s the highest authority and model of behavior we have in the United States. Society will follow. The idiot tweets that medical costs for trans people are a burden. That’s the beginning of a trend of all medical insurance companies to drop their funding for trans-related medical costs. That’s the beginning of employers getting away with refusing to take on trans employees because of the burdens. That’s the beginning of more murderers being able to make use of the fucking trans “panic” defense to get off after murdering another trans person.


It’s already happening, and now it’s going to get worse, because the military is being told to point its finger and we are Americans.


This should be a wake-up call for everyone. Not like we shouldn’t already be wide awake considering the context this is happening in. We need each other and we need our allies more than ever. We need to fight this. We need to put more money into protecting trans people, on both local and national levels. We need to fund the services that provide all trans-related healthcare and ensure that health insurance will cover it. We need to create job opportunities for trans people and support trans creators. We need to establish safe and affordable housing for trans people. And we need to make sure every trans person knows they aren’t alone.


Because we aren’t.


So let’s stand together and show Trump and every other fucking asshole that wants us gone that we aren’t as vulnerable as they thought. We’re not their easy win.


No, letting me choose isn’t a solution

Tl;dr Asking nonbinary people to choose between two binary options instead of accommodating us, while better than nothing, is actually a way to continue to not actually support nonbinary people.


In a binary universe, nonbinary people are usually seen as “in between” or a “mix” of the two binary genders. This makes sense – when we’ve been conditioned to believe only two options exist, it’s really hard to not use those options as a reference when trying to understand a third (or fourth, or fifth) option.


And while I really hate referring to myself in terms of binary genders, there are circumstances when I will, because the person I’m talking to isn’t quite ready leave behind the references. It’s like training wheels. With some people, I can happily rip them off and they’ll happily go careening into the gender unknown, but some people really need some time to get rid of their training wheels. I mean, when I learned to ride a bike, my grandfather had to trick me into thinking he was holding me up. Brains are weird.


There is one trend, though, that I would really like to see squashed into the dirt, and it’s this idea that nonbinary people can choose between the two genders at whim. This can happen in a number of circumstances. Sometimes in a dance class, men and women are offered different movement options, and if I flag that with a teacher as a problem, they tell me I get to choose. Sometimes it’s when there are two unmoveable categories, I’m thinking of Asia Kate Dillon being asked to choose between “actor” and “actress” for the Emmys. That particular example is actually pretty cool, because it turned out that neither category has a gender requirement, but, at the end of the day, they were still forced to choose between two gendered options. There’s also the time I was working at a camp and, the last night, staff got two cabins – a women’s and a men’s. When I asked where I should go, the director just shook her head and told me to choose.


These are just examples, but really, it’s any situation in which the categorization of male/female seems absolutely and utterly necessary, to the point that no one knows what to do with someone who falls outside of that category. Instead of accommodating us, they tell us to make the decision, putting the responsibility on us.


Sometimes it’s necessary to choose, leave the training wheels on for another day. Choosing is better than nothing, it gives a level of freedom and power over our identity that we wouldn’t otherwise have.


But asking us to choose, not only puts the responsibility on us (which is really, a very twisty way to not actually accommodate nonbinary folks), it is literally forcing us to misgender ourselves. When I’m given two options and told to choose, even if it is intended in the most well-meaning way possible, what is really being asked is still “so which binary option are you really?”


Not only would making any choice be a form of misgendering, I feel like I’m being tricked to tell the asker things I don’t want to tell them. If I choose the male option, I fit into a pattern of trans masculinity and fulfil the cis person’s tricycle narrative of “man born in a woman’s body” (because society has decided I have a woman’s body, even though it really is just my body, and, thus, nonbinary). If I choose the female option, it’s proof that I’m not really that trans because I choose something that correlates to my assigned gender.


And, at the end of the day, I’m being forced into a box that isn’t mine, except with the appearance that I’ve chosen that box. And I’m all for boxes, but I like being able to choose mine, not forced to choose between two that definitely aren’t mine.


This needs to stop. Nonbinary people aren’t Schrodingers gender – nothing until asked to choose. We’re not secretly binary. We’re nonbinary. Whether or not we’re comfortable choosing between two binary options (and some of us are more than others), we shouldn’t have to choose unless we want to.


Asking me to choose is a very good way to get me to rip the training wheels off immediately. Because seriously? I’m really sick of people assuming that, deep down, I am one binary gender or the other.

Cookies and allyship

Tl;dr Even while loads of self-proclaimed allies do not deserve cookies, there is quite possibly a use for ally cookies in the form of positive feedback and reinforcement to encourage those allies that are already putting in the energy.

November 2016

I’ve always supported the idea of not giving allies cookies. Like yes, you are a decent human being, congratulations, now shut up./end sarcasm

But, at the same time, I’ve found myself willingly giving out “cookies” quite a lot and, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s not necessarily bad to give an ally a cookie when they do a Good Thing, no matter how small it is.

Let’s take pronouns for a second:

Scenario 1: I have the super well-meaning cis ally who wants to use ne/nir/nim, which I tend to mention as my preferred pronouns alongside “they”, but this person keep stumbling. I tell them to just use ne/nir/nim in writing for practice and use “they” when they’re speaking, because it will be easier. They refuse. I tell them to just use “they”, they refuse because they know using someone’s correct pronoun is a bare minimum and feel like using “they” is like a kind of concession and they really really want to do the Right Thing and call me by the Right Pronoun, even though it’s something that’s causing struggle and I’ve asked them not to do so. Conversations with them suddenly become very difficult.

Scenario 2: A slightly less well-meaning cis person wants to prove to others that they’re a really good ally without doing much work. They start using my pronouns in front of everyone without checking if it’s someone I want to be out to and policing people I barely know. Suddenly, I’m inundated with people who barely know me demanding an explanation for my weird pronouns (and claiming they’re grammatically incorrect) and assuming a Gender 101 comes with the explanation.

Scenario 3: I ask a clueless, but well-meaning cis person to refer to me as “they”. They struggle with it. A lot. It’s frustrating. I ask them again. And again. And again. Every time, they apologise, say they try to do better, and then continue to refer to me incorrectly. I eventually give up. A year later, they use the right pronoun.

So, who gets the cookie?

Ally 1 definitely knows their stuff. They’ve done reading outside of what I’ve told them to understand that pronouns are important, they are aware of how much of a difference a pronoun can make, and they are even aware that “preferred pronouns” are most often secretly “correct pronouns” and that trans people may not always express what they want/need immediately due to prior experience with difficult people. Except they don’t listen, even after I ask them twice. Now they’re just draining my energy. I feel embarrassed and exposed by this constant focus on their obsession with treating me Right. This “ally” has decided what’s best for me while ignoring my requests. No cookie.

Ally 2 makes the pretty common mistake of a “one size fits all” fallacy. In some ways, they’re the other side of Ally 1, though I’d argue they’re lacking in some knowledge, because they seem to have no understanding of the dangers of outing someone. They are similarly exposing me, draining my energy, and putting me in  a position where I am constantly on the defensive and have to educate others. They are also guilty of not listening. While Ally 1 doesn’t listen to what I say, Ally 2 doesn’t listen to what I don’t say. Because I don’t tell them when to use my pronouns, they assume my pronouns should be used the same way in all scenarios. Without background knowledge, it’s an understandable mistake, but it’s still harmful.

More importantly, this is a self-proclaimed ally. They are using my pronouns not so much to respect me, but to show others that they are a Good Ally (ie. One that deserves a cookie…) Of course it is hard to judge the intent of someone else, but here, it is very clear in the fact that the job of the explanation falls back to me. Ally 2 makes no attempt to explain why they are using these pronouns or to protect me from the people who are all suddenly very curious about my gender, which they could easily take the time to do. All they’re doing is the surface, showy form of allyship without taking the time to really figure out what that means for the people they claim they are allied to. No cookie. (Especially not if they ask for one).

Ally 3 is a person. Admittedly, a frustrating person. However, even in the throes of my frustration, they apologize. They try to do better. They fail. They try to do better. When I’ve given up on them, they haven’t given up on treating me correctly, even if I don’t see the results of their work until much further down the line. And it was hard for them. By using the right pronoun, they’ve accomplished something that didn’t look possible. So…would I give them a cookie? Hell yeah. They deserve to have their work and commitment recognized.

I think something that’s absolutely necessary to remember is that everyone comes from different places. Something that might look like “basic decency” to one person may be a giant mountain to another. What I need out of allies isn’t a set of rules to follow – I really don’t care if someone always gets my name right if they then use that as a bragging point with their friends (actually, I’d prefer they’d get my name wrong, because that’s a much easier issue to tackle). What I need is the recognition of my humanity and the willingness to try something hard in order to best recognize my identity respectfully.

Allyship is about engaging with something out of your comfort zone, it’s not about 5 Ways to Check Your Privilege or 10 Things Cis People Can Do for Trans People, it’s about approaching a problem to the best of your ability, being willing to fuck up and doing better. And if someone is really doing that, they need cookies, because they’re in a place that they don’t understand. There are no boxes to tick off, there is no “I did this, so I’m obviously learning”, no measurable sign that their allyship is effective. The only way they can know they are on the right path and should continue is if I say “hey, thanks for asking” or “I really appreciate how you did that”. It’s positive feedback, it’s how we learn.

And, above all else, it is a way of prioritising trans voices. Ally 1 and 2 both follow lists and checkboxes of how to ally with trans people, but their hugest mistake is listening to set criteria more than they listen to me. They’ve decided that all trans people need the same thing. Except we’re much more diverse than any random article on the internet will make you believe. The only way anyone is going to get allyship right is by listening as hard as possible to as many trans people as possible.

If an ally shows they are listening and trying and changing to the best of their ability and recognizing, above all else, that every trans person is different, of course I’m going to give them a cookie or say thank you or let them know I see what they’re doing and appreciate it. Because these are the people that are going to become my best allies and I’d be a fool to not encourage that.

(That said! Checkbox lists are great places to start taking on allyship because it’s a great way to get first steps without having to drain a trans person’s energy and then, with that new knowledge, it is much easier for me or another trans person to have the space we need to give allies things to listen to).


My gender is not revolutionary

tl;dr Trans identities are no more political than cis ones and to pose the existence of trans people as “revolutionary” puts a lot of pressure on trans people, instead of challenging cis people to actually consider the implications of their gender identity


So, someone sent me this article a while ago. Don’t actually click on that link, it’s full of terf-y, cissexist logic that would make even the most patient person groan and pull out their hair in horror. It’s not worth your time. (And don’t worry, the someone and I have had a long conversation about what’s acceptable to send me for the future, that’s not the point of what I’m saying, and they are still a wonderful friend that I trust because they apologized and really worked through my response).


I’ve also been thinking about that new National Geographic thing with Katie Couric called “Gender Revolution!”


And take this quote: trans people are the ‘ultimate symbol of a rejection of conformity’


And see, all three of these examples, even while one is hands-down vile, another is supposed to be exciting representation for trans people and the last is just attempting to pose some questionable rhetoric as a problem (I mean, I have opinions), have the same problem – the assertion that non-binary and/or trans genders are, in some way, particularly revolutionary.


And this is a really dangerous, because it somehow implies trans identities are consciously political and radical.


Now, don’t get me wrong, everything’s political at the end of the day. Queer existence itself is a radical political act and non-binary existence is definitely part of that.


But as long as we fail to see the political implications of binary, cisgender identities, it’s very weird and creepy to call trans identities revolutionary.  I didn’t wake up in the morning and go “hey, I want to destroy the binary system of gender, so I’m going to revolt and be non-binary”, it happened the other way around, I woke up and went “I’m non-binary, so I’d like to challenge the binary system of gender because it makes my life difficult”. These are two very different things.


But we act like some identities are more political than others.


Nope. All identities are political. The supposed neutrality of cis identities is, in fact, very very political. It encourages and perpetuates a society in which the what is considered the “default” (cis, here) holds privilege and power over the “other” (trans, here), because the power of the default is so accepted and normalized that it is never viewed or questioned.


So maybe before acting like my gender is a revolutionary act, cis people should recognize exactly how powerfully political their own identity is, because that’s what I’m revolting against. The gender revolution isn’t going to come from my existence, no matter how hard I try. It will come when cis people break down the power their genders hold (specific side-eye towards cis men).


As long as we blithely call trans identities revolutionary, we’re just pulling away the spotlight from where the revolution needs to happen and shining it on a bunch of people who are, honestly, a bit exhausted from all this revolution forced on us simply through our existence. (I mean, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m exhausted).

Teaching the genderbread person

Tl;dr I taught the genderbread person in a successful way that recognized what a mess it is, so I’m sharing the lesson plan in case anyone else may want such a thing.

August 2016

So, as I get back into the swing of writing blog posts after being too busy, I want to start by sharing something from my time off.

I recently led half a workshop on gender identity and was given the challenge of using the genderbread person. Instead of rejecting the idea and doing my usual thing, I took on the challenge, and was pretty successful. I want to share my lesson plan of sorts (with side commentary) in case this is of interest to anyone else who is done with staring at the genderbread person in horror.

(As a quick disclaimer: Some of the people in the workshop were trans, some had been living with out trans people for 1-2 weeks by this point, some were just really really smart, all of them were high-school aged or older. I did pretty much this exact same thing two days later in a one-on-one session with someone that was a little less read-up on gender and it worked, but it definitely took some tweaking. What was really good about this plan was that it worked for a “mixed-level” group. I was asking people who were familiar with the genderbread person to analyse it and question it more closely, while I was also guiding people through the basic “gender/trans 101”. That said, I definitely think I was lucky with the group and it would require a lot of thought to take this to other audiences.)

The lesson:

(at the beginning, I avoided the word “biological sex”)

Start with big question: What is gender?

  • emphasise self-identification

What is assigned sex?:

  • sex assigned by a doctor to almost every baby born (ASSIGNED doesn’t say anything about the baby)
  • body configurations can impact an assignment, but the assignment doesn’t necessarily say anything about body

What is presentation?

  • How we present ourselves to other people.
  • (The next time I do this, I would include “perception” here too, as it was brought up later in the workshop.)

What is missing?

Answer: Biological sex

(at this point, no one had brought up biological sex, when I did the one-on-one, it was brought up, so I reworded it to be more along the lines of “what hasn’t been necessary to this discussion so far?”)

Hand out genderbread person (I used the original version from itspronouncedmetrosexual as the later versions are just as frustrating, but take longer to piece apart, for this one, the limits are obvious)

What’s the same here?

  • Idea that gender identity is separate from other categories
  • Expression is basically presentation

What’s different here?

  • Terminology (ie. Presentation v. expression)
  • Biological sex
  • Sexual orientation

What’s missing?

  • Assigned sex – genderbread person replaces what is assigned and constructed by society with biological sex
  • Emphasise: Biological sex is not necessary to discuss, EVER. (why is it on the genderbread man? ick)
  • (could also discuss romantic orientation here, I would do it later)

Using the genderbread person:

  • As “warm-up”, I asked everyone to place themself on the genderbread person scales
  • I then asked them to place me on the genderbread person scales, with the disclaimer that I was well-aware we were breaking the rules we set up in the beginning that no one can define a person’s gender except that person (I might have a thing for making people uncomfortable). (side note: I had been living and working alongside these people for 2-4 weeks by this point, but had not been explicitly out, so they had had time to build up assumptions about my identity)
  • We discussed a few of the ways people tried to place me, how people tried to work with the fact that they were being asked to break the rules, what people were comfortable saying, what they weren’t, what assumptions they realized they had about me
  • I shared my personal genderbread person with lots of parts crossed out, dots off the scales, etc.

I used this model and discussion to ask: “how would you change the genderbread person?”

  • sexual orientation scale is super-weird
  • this is where I would discuss romantic orientation
  • gender a lot more complicated than this – impossible to fit into these boxes
  • general conclusion: it’s confusing, we might not be able to understand it, and that’s ok

Final reflection circle – EVERYONE has to say something, it can be stupid or simple, but it has to be something

  • something you learned
  • pronoun

So, it’s definitely not a perfect lesson, and is clearly bound by the situation I was in, but it made a huge impact on the group I was working with. I’m pretty proud of myself for getting this done and for the impact it clearly made on the participants.

Trans Day of Visibility 2017: FAAB Feminine Visibility

tl;dr Visibility for femme, FAAB nonbinary is complicated because femininity is devalued by society, so FAAB trans people are assumed to be vaguely masculine. So, this TDoV, I would like to make this particular experience more visible. 


So this Trans Day of Visibility, I really want to talk about visibility for People Like Me and what that means. Because the thing is, visibility is different for everyone and the trans umbrella is HUGE umbrella and accounts for loads and loads of different experiences. And it’s often simplified down to “visible” and “invisible” identities, but there’s a lot more to that.


First off, what do I mean when I say People Like Me? I mean trans-identified, nonbinary, female assigned at birth (FAAB) femmes.


Now there’s a lot of discussions about the use of FAAB/AFAB/CAFAB and MAAB/AMAB/CAMAB language and I agree with a lot of the reasons for not using it. It is a way for cis people to ask “But what are you reeeaallly??? Tell me about your parts please!” without technically asking a person about their genitalia which is on every list of Transphobic Things to Never Do Ever (and some people still haven’t figured out is just…not a thing to ever do ever?). To be clear, I do not, in any way, believe that it is necessary for a trans person to ever use this language.



But, for me, my identity, and my visibility (or lack thereof) comes directly from the intersection of being FAAB and feminine. It is useful for me to describe myself in those terms because it illustrates a huge tension in my life. Being both FAAB and feminine is what creates my invisibility. Those two traits placed together mean that I am (almost) always perceived as a cis woman. They mean that it’s impossible for me to be visible as my gender.


I’m a little less attached to the term “femme” because it has a history that doesn’t quite lend itself to the FAAB nonbinary experience. It’s been an important term for trans women and for lesbians and I honestly go back and forth on whether it’s a term stuck in those communities or something I can use.


I tend to use “femme” in the same way I use “queer”. It’s not a descriptor, but a way of positioning myself socially and politically. When I describe myself as “feminine”, it is simply that I like my pigtails and wear dresses and am generally feminine in nature (although that is, of course, completely up to interpretation. Someone once told me I was “masculine” simply because I “got things done on time”…so….).


For me, femme is a power that comes from being feminine. And it represents my choice to be feminine despite the way society values masculinity. And beyond all else, femme is about the fact that, no matter how feminine I appear, I should be taken seriously.


Because society prioritises masculinity. And this isn’t just a cisgender, heterosexual problem. This is something seen in queer communities, and I see it all the time in trans communities. We talk a lot about how trans men get more quality visibility and representation because society can understand why someone would want to be a man. Similarly, FAAB nonbinary folks that lean towards the masculine (especially the white ones), have become the image of what it means to be nonbinary. Leaning or moving towards the masculine is understandable in a society that prioritises it, even if it’s not actually acceptable.


The increased visibility of masculine-leaning nonbinary FAAB folks and society’s understanding of moving towards the masculine creates pressure for all FAAB folks to present in a masculine way. And this is something I thought I had to do for a long time. I was terrible at it, but I truly thought the only way I could be trans was if I actually showed that I was “changing my gender” in some way, and that I was less trans by not succeeding at it. I learned two things from this general disaster:


  1. Viewing any FAAB person as nonbinary is often a retrospective act. It’s understandable for a woman to “want to look” masculine, and there is a beautiful history and tradition of butch women that has its own visibility and impact on how society perceives gender. Especially in places like the middle class, liberal, predominantly white town I come from, where “women breaking gender roles” is a value, a FAAB person that doesn’t dress feminine could easily be a woman. It’s not until you tell someone, “by the way, I identify as nonbinary” that they pause and go “oh yeah, I can see that” or, in my case, “you don’t look like it”.


It doesn’t matter how FAAB nonbinary folks present, we are still “female until proven otherwise”. Our visibility always has to be accompanied by explanations. Even many of the most visible among us are not visible enough to be able to live as our gender without having to explain it. You could even argue that visibility is impossible.


At the same time, I also learned this:


  1. No one was going to take me seriously. Because point 1. No matter how I dressed, even if I actually succeeded at looking masculine, I was always going to be considered a woman.


Among cis people, I’m perceived as a woman and, even though we have made advances for the rights of women in Western society (and other societies, but I’m talking about the one I live in at the moment), women, especially feminine ones, still aren’t taken seriously. Masculinity and manness is still directly linked to access to power.


And among trans people, I’m not “trans enough” because I “present as my assigned gender.” I have “passing privilege”, which is a giant can of worms I don’t want to really open at the moment. I’m the “easy” version of trans because, even if I told a cis person I was trans and explained my identity, they’re most likely to just conveniently forget it and decide I’m a strange cis woman, instead of lashing out in a violent, discriminatory way. And I honestly used to believe that meant I had less of a right to be trans than other trans people. That my trans experiences were less important.


Story time: Tiny little fresher me gets to uni and engages with the lgbt+ society at their school full of excitement about meeting OTHER TRANS PEOPLE (and is also graced with the existence of OTHER ACE PEOPLE and nearly collapses in surprised excitement, that’s another story). I, and a bunch of other trans people, work with our then trans rep to put together a trans 101 event. I definitely wasn’t the most integral part of the event, but I helped with some logistics and was present for the planning. During the event, I was sitting with the other trans folks. A trans person that wasn’t involved in our planning, but was Very Important politically within university lgbt+ spaces was asked to speak at the end and they offered for all of the trans people who had organized the event to introduce themselves. Going down the line, I was set to be last. Except, when it came to my turn, the speaker continued on to start closing down the event before I could open my mouth. Luckily, some of the other trans people there spoke up for me, but by that point, I was flustered and embarrassed and the harm had been done. Another trans person had decided I didn’t deserve recognition as a trans person. Or, that I wasn’t trans. Or, if I was trans, it didn’t matter.


And, it’s not usually this blatant. Sometimes it’s a trans person that completely subscribes to the idea that presentation and gender are not the same thing, but who only starts to discuss trans things with me when I cut my hair short, or stop wearing heels, even though they’ve known I’ve been trans the whole time. Sometimes it’s just sitting in a trans group, surrounded by trans masculine people and trans men and feeling expected to nod along and agree with their experiences because we’re all FAAB, so our experiences should be shared, even when the experiences shared by trans women sometimes resonate more fully with me. Sometimes it’s the trans person at a TDoR ceremony who asked me rather belligerently why I was there. Sometimes it’s the fact that, while every trans 101 makes a point of mentioning that presentation is not the same as gender, the examples used of FAAB nonbinary people in educational literature about transness are almost always masculine leaning. If I listen to the subtext enough, I start believing that my trans experience is worth nothing because of my femininity. Because society devalues femininity.


So, for me, femme isn’t about being feminine. I am feminine, partially in my incapability of being masculine. But femme is the thing that allows me to embrace my femininity instead of being frustrated by my non-masculinity. Femme is what says “so what if you perceive me one way? I still matter. My experiences are important. And you are going to take me seriously even if I have to step on your toe with my very painful high heel in order to ensure that happens.”


(Ok, I have stepped on my own toes with my heels, it’s not something I would wish on my worst enemy, but still…the idea is there).


And that’s the thing: Visibility for FAAB feminine nonbinary people like me isn’t about being seen, or being seen as our gender identity, it’s about being listened to. It’s about saying “yes, what’s visible isn’t what you expect, but the things I have to express are still important” and accepting that maybe Visibility, in the simplest sense of the word, isn’t possible.


It’s about the fact that us FAAB, nonbinary femmes are so often silenced – by cis people who decide we’re actually cis women with a fancy name for our identity, by cis people that get it on a surface level but keep looking for that one masculine thing that will validate our identity, by trans people who believe we are less trans, by trans people who simply think our struggles are less important and that we might as well be silent and support the trans people that face Real Oppression ™, and even from other FAAB nonbinary people who have defined their identities so much through masculinity that they struggle to understand that other FAAB nonbinary people may not share that experience.


But, the fact is, we are still trans. And our existence and our experiences do not deny or invalidate any other trans experience. It’s just a different way to experience society’s weird notions on how gender and gender presentation works. And, most importantly, we matter. We deserve to be taken seriously. We deserve to be heard.


And, in the past, I’ve allowed Trans Day of Visibility to silence me. I’ve sat and thought long and hard about hypervisibility and how it’s harming trans women (and it is! If you haven’t stopped to read a bit about it, I highly recommend doing it because yes! Important!), I’ve liked hundreds and hundreds of images of trans masculine people with captions talking about mixing genders, androgyny, or the importance of visibility for nonbinary people, I’ve discussed the ways nonbinary visibility is complicated because society only sees the gender binary. All of these things are important. All of these things are necessary discussions and actions that, to be perfectly honest, should happen on more than just one day a year.


But this TDoV, I’m talking about me. Because visibility is a huge issue, and every trans experience is important and requires recognition. And that’s it: every trans experience requires recognition. Including mine. And, in my case, visibility might not be possible, but that doesn’t mean my experiences are not worthy of sharing. It doesn’t mean I should be silent.