When I was born, the doctor dictated the way I would live the rest of my life simply by proclaiming “It’s a girl” to my excited and tired parents. Those four words would determine which pronouns people addressed me by, the social standards I would be expected to live up to, how I would be expected to dress, and which bathroom I’d be expected use, among many other things – until 16 years later when I would come out to friends and some of my family as trans* non-binary (See Glossary).
For 16 years my family addressed me as daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, and my friends used she/her pronouns when speaking to or about me. By coming out as trans* non-binary, I’m expecting that these people not only accept me -- my gender identity -- but also change 16 years’ worth of habits.
Besides the long process of coming out, explaining to friends and family who I truly am and, in some instances, defending that there are many other struggles that I, along with many other trans* folks, experience on a day-to-day basis. Which restroom will I use if a gender-neutral option is not available? How will I respond if someone misgenders me? What will I do if someone uses an offensive slur regarding my androgyny or my sexuality? These are a few situations that make day-to-day life as a trans* person generally more difficult and uncomfortable.
I realize I am privileged: My friends and family accept me. I have never had the displeasure of experiencing extreme humiliation or general bullying due to my sexuality or gender identity. I have received supportive resources in regards to my gender identity that many do not have, and overall I have accepted myself for who I am, which is something that many people facing gender dysphoria struggle with everyday. While being trans* is a big part of how I conduct my day-to-day life, I should not be treated differently than those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. I am not just a trans* kid — my lack of gender does not dictate my value.
Imagine walking up everyday to two restroom doors. One door portrays an image of a woman in a dress, the other a man in slacks. I am unsure which door strangers would feel comfortable with me walking into, and I am unsure which door I feel more comfortable walking into. Each day that I have to use a gender-specific restroom, I am forced to shove myself outside of my boundaries to use whichever restroom other people feel more comfortable with me in. Gender is not black and white – or pink or blue in this case – and should not be treated that way. Until my freshman year of high school, I avoided restroom use in my school and still avoid using restrooms in public places at all costs. There are some days that I felt — and still feel -— so uncomfortable that I might not eat or drink just so I didn’t have to use a gendered facility.
But there are ways that this conundrum can change. Besides the obvious and, albeit, costly option of building a gender-neutral restroom for use with every gendered facility, making individual stall restrooms gender neutral or informing people of the availability of a gender-neutral restroom within the building would be a huge step forward.
The use of correct pronouns is another general sign of respect for members of the trans* community, but this can be an extremely difficult topic to bring up to new acquaintances and old friends. A really great way for people to feel more comfortable introducing which pronouns he/she/they/zhe* prefer when meeting a new person is by teaching people to ask, “What are your preferred pronouns?” While this might sound funny or awkward at first, it is extremely helpful for people who are scared of the way others might respond poorly. Sometimes gender-neutral pronouns could confuse people. It’s OK to explain why it is necessary to ask about preferred pronouns, but try not to target a certain person, and try to use this greeting even if you are not aware there is a trans* person in the group. For me and many of my friends, using incorrect pronouns is a stab at the legitimacy of a person’s gender. While it can take a while to get used to, especially when you have to learn a whole new word or form of grammar (they or zhe), the effort it takes feels important.
For 16 years I was held to the wrong standards, made uncomfortable by pronoun usage, and experienced overall gender dysphoria because I was born with certain physical anatomy. Had my schools, camps and other programs I attended used these methods, participating in day-to-day activities might have been easier for me. Gender dysphoria is something that many people besides me experience. Inclusivity of these folks is a must, especially in a so-called safe space. Participating in simple tasks such as introducing a greeting in which people ask preferred pronouns, or addressing that there is a gender-neutral restroom available are ways to make all folks much more comfortable in their own skin.
Adjusting to these small changes goes beyond making one person’s day; it contributes to the fight against oppression for all gender queer* people — and teaches acceptance for all.
Alex, age 20, uses they pronouns “For me it’s kind of complicated, I guess it is for everybody. I was really lucky in that when I was a kid, I went to a Montessori school and all my teachers were … queer people and, like, my family didn’t force any sort of presentation on me, so I was able to express gender in a way that didn’t feel like… I was kind of just “doing me” and I didn’t have any sort of language attached to that. … I went to a Christian high school with a uniform for my first two years and I tried really hard to be … like, hetero and cis without really realizing it. I just remember just feeling uncomfortable all the time and thinking, like, because I was wearing a skirt (my uniform), and I just kind of wrote it off as like me being fat or ugly. But now I can recognize that as sort of a dysphoria thing. I don’t identify as having been trans* my whole life … my gender is more complicated than that. …
Once I started going to [a new school], I accepted my queerness, in terms of like … bisexual. Then I got on Tumblr and heard the word gender-queer. So then I identified as pansexual in this really uncritical way. I was like, now I’m really inclusive and stuff. It was kind of gross. It wasn’t until I went to [college] and started taking woman’s studies classes and meeting folks who performed gender in different ways or were conscious of their gender in a different way than I was used to that I started to be like, maybe I don’t have to be this thing.
At the end of my first year of college I came out to a few people and asked if they could use they pronouns. Eventually I started identifying as a trans* guy and using ‘he’ pronouns, but in a way that I was trying to make myself into something really binary. … Now I only use ‘they,’ and I like where I’m at now. I feel like in six months I’ll feel differently about my gender, still. I guess I’m still figuring stuff out.
… My gender’s not really a thing. So like, bathrooms are really hard. And like going out in public and needing to use the restroom and not wanting to go into the men’s or feeling like I could go in there without getting harassed. But also, entering into a woman’s restroom, I’m read inconsistently, so some people might be like “that’s cool” or other people might be like “what’s this dude doing in here?” I mean, I don’t want to violate the safety of that space. So, it’s like I don’t know what to do.
… I’m misgendered all the time. I mean I’m literally misgendered everywhere, so that’s kind of — whatever. But also, not wanting to take up more space than I have the right to. Like being in a space that’s explicitly for women, and there aren’t a lot of safe spaces for women. … I am privileged as someone who’s masculine…and I don’t want to deny women … the space that they need/deserve in the world.”
Joey*, 21, uses he pronouns “I had a very complicated high school experience… I grew up pretty rural and very conservative, and so I really didn’t know any queer people or have access to any queer resource stuff. … I had no exposure. By high school, I figured out how Google worked and eventually came across some trans* forums. I personally began to identify as trans*, but it seemed like way too big and scary of a thing in the context of my family and lack of community. …I tried really hard not to be trans*. I tried to find a space [at college] within a community of women that felt OK to me, and I just couldn’t. … I couldn’t deal with the gendering.” “There is this part of a femme identity that’s really important to me to hold on to and to express. Being now somewhat consistently read as a guy in public spaces and in society has allowed me to present more femininely....It’s scary because misogyny is a very real thing, and misogyny against feminine presentations is something that is expressed scarily regularly and at the root of homophobic stuff with femme men, and being a femme guy and presenting the way I do in bathrooms — it’s scary. … I mean, I’m very privileged as a White guy-ish person to not have experienced a lot of the kind harassment that many of my community members have....”
“Not having access to single-stall bathrooms. Worrying about the future, looking toward career possibilities and things like that …. And my documentation … I can’t change my gender marker on my license, for example, unless I have surgery. … I think that’s messed up — that that’s something that has to validate a change of gender marker, that could allow me to get jobs.”
Liev, 16, uses all pronouns, gender fluid “I would probably say [I came to terms with my identity] last year. I sort of was being a more active participant on the Internet and learning about all these things. My first thought was like I’m full on trans*, and I didn’t really understand there were other options. … I guess I started doing like… drag. Just to sort of see how it looked. And that was really fun, so for a while I was like, Oh I’ll just be a drag queen, I’ll be a dude on the weekends, I’ll make money and stuff. And then I was like, Crap, I really like this it’s really cool. …So, I guess it just sort of grew from there.
With my parents, I think they still don’t really understand it. My mom wants me to use a fake name for this interview. I won’t use a fake name, I’ll use my dude name. She’s just kind of like, ‘You’re exploring, you’re sort of finding yourself.’ And that’s totally what I’m doing, but I’m like ‘Let. Me. Do. That.’ So, I mean, I’ve had to buy my own binders and stuff. Because she’s like ‘that’s weird.’ She’s like, ‘Don’t hide yourself, be proud, don’t be ashamed.’ … I’m not ashamed that’s none of the deal. …They don’t really understand it, but at least they’re kind of respectful … and not like jerks about it.
“People, if you casually mention it, don’t really ever attempt to change pronoun usage or name usage. That kind of sucks, I kind of wish people would pay a little more attention …. Also peeing is always, like, the worst. … I’ve never experienced anything too big. I’ve never been kicked down a flight or stairs or anything. It’s just little stuff. People — in the super market when they’re like ‘thanks ma’am’ or they’re like ‘thanks’ because they have no clue, and I’m like ‘sorry, neither do I.’”
*Editor’s note: Names have been changed.
The author is a junior at an Atlanta-area high school.