Queer with a Capital Q! Part II

I have recently been part of many conversations about what it means to be queer. Several of my cis-het colleagues have approached me about The Acronym (you know, the “LGBTQPAAII” under which all of us queer people are lumped). This acronym presents several major problems, one of which is the mixture of gender and sexual orientation. It maybe, kinda, sort of addresses relationship orientation, but not comprehensively so. This mix of identities is confusing for everyone: Am I queer because of gender or sexuality? Am I not queer if I’m aromantic but heterosexual? Are trans homos more queer than cis homos?

What exactly does it mean to be queer? When my parents were young, “queer” was used pejoratively to describe homosexual people. For some reason, my mother’s dorm at nursing school was given the label, “queer hall” and the libelers did not intend it to be a term of empowerment. One of my favorite family dinner moments occurred several years ago when I was visiting mom and dad. I must have kept referring to myself as queer because my mom finally got a bit upset and said, “would you stop using that word!” I was a bit surprised that she took offense at my self-identification and we started talking about it. She still felt the word queer was derogatory and offensive. When I asked, “what did you think I was, mom?” She responded, “I thought you were just gay.”

At this point, mom understands why I identify as queer and how the word encompasses all my…well, queerness, but I’m not certain there is an easily definable and universal meaning to the word.

Plus, to make it more complicated, there’s queer and then there’s Queer!

I’m going to muse now. Let’s see if this gets us anywhere:

queer might be homo-normative

Queer! certainly is not

queer assimilates into heteronormativity. Think weddings with white dresses and two parents in one house with children and the stock market and shopping at Target*… always shopping at Target

Queer! has it’s own timeline

Queer! doesn’t follow a typical career path

queer agrees and aligns with institutions and systems

Queer! subverts institutions and systems

queer doesn’t question (as much)

Queer! can’t stop questioning

I am trying to observe and document the difference between queer and Queer! without judgment, but I am aware that I have some judgment. So I will just try to not judge my judgment and be transparent about the fact that there is some judgment.

The thing that has been so hard to navigate in the past few months (years maybe) is the recognition that I am marginalized within my marginalized community! It’s hard enough being queer, but when one realizes they are Queer! and therefore too Queer for queer people… well, it hurts.

Methinks ’tis related to normativity.

There is nothing wrong with straight people. There is nothing wrong with wedding dresses and nuclear families and cisgender people. There is something horribly wrong with Target and I won’t back down from that one, but there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to fit in.

The “wrong” occurs when those of us who just don’t fit in are ostracized and humiliated and told we’re crazy and our visions are alien and our way of being is frightening and our silence is threatening and our voices are aggressive and we “should be this” and we “should do that” and we are too sensitive and our tears are hysterics and our anger is out of line and our anti-consumerist stance is tiring and our purple hair is a midlife crisis.

I had a dream last night in which all the players had purple hair. Maybe the Queers! are about to start a revolution.

Fuck normativity.

 

*In case it isn’t obvious, I do not bow to the Gods of Consumerism. I am quite certain that I was not given a body for the sole purpose of buying shit and amassing wealth. For me, Target is a symbol of rampant, unsustainable, unnecessary consumerism but I could have easily used ‘Costco’ or ‘Walmart’ in place of ‘Target.’ 

 

 

Advertisements

The Big Reveal: Does It Always Have To Be Awkward?

My spouse and I have both recently obtained new employment (yay). One of these days I might write about the tumultuous year following graduate school in which I could not get a job in my field for 18 months. My spouse got a job 10 days after graduation, but if you’ve been following my blog, you know that that job offer was rescinded after xe came out as trans. Xe didn’t find another job for 5 months! We have been asking the questions: Are our employment struggles a result of the economy? A result of being queer*? Or the result of our profession (we are therapists)? I suspect the combination of all those things made for a perfect storm called “I-can’t-get-a-job-despite-being-uber-qualified-and-undeniably-awesome!”

But all that changed last month when I landed job #1 and my spouse landed job #2! We have a job each! What?! After 3 years of graduate school where neither of us worked very much and another year of scary unemployment, one job each is certainly something to celebrate!

So here we are, in our new jobs, asking the question: When and how do we come out?

I have heard people say things like, “It isn’t anyone else’s business whether or not you’re queer*, therefore you don’t have to say anything” or “It shouldn’t have to be a big reveal. Just let people know as it comes up” or “Your work shouldn’t be about your sexuality and gender identity.”

True, true. All true. Except all of those statements leave me feeling rather yucky so I’m going to address them one by one.

1. It’s not anyone else’s business whether or not I’m queer

OK. But my colleagues talk about their personal lives. They refer to husbands and wives or talk about dating woes. My queerness* may not be their business, but I would like to participate in conversation with people on occasion. I do not want to hide my sexual orientation or my spouse’s gender identity. So do I just refer to my spouse as “xe” and wait for people to ask questions? Or do I refer to my spouse as “xe” and follow it up with “just FYI- my spouse is genderqueer and uses the gender neutral pronouns, ‘xe, xyr, xem?” I know not.

2. It shouldn’t have to be a big reveal, just let people know as it comes up

Well that is easier said than done. Even if I let people know “as it comes up,” it is STILL a big reveal. There is still an awkward moment of people either looking at my buzzed head and men’s department thrift store shirt with a “yeah-we-knew-that” look or they raise their eyebrows with surprise that they quickly try to mask, making said eyebrows dance on their foreheads like confused caterpillars, or they say something charming like “you know, I don’t care what anyone is. It’s all the same. We’re all just people.” I suppose all of the above responses are better than getting fired or reported to the authorities or taken out back and stoned, so I guess I should be grateful.

3. Your work shouldn’t be about your gender and sexuality, it should be about your clients and students

Yup. I agree that my personal life should not be the focus of my work, but I also strongly feel that people need to see positive queer* role models in the world. If I do not explicitly come out, I will most likely be assumed to be straight. Or worse, I will be assumed to be queer* but hiding it. My queerness* is not something I want or need to hide. I am proud to be queer* and I feel that the people I serve and the people with whom I work need to know they are in relationship with a queer* person. Otherwise we’re not moving forward. We’re hiding behind excuses.

So this all brings me back to the sticky point of how to tell the professional world that I am queer*. I have mostly been waiting for moments when it arises in a relatively organic way. It’s still awkward, but it seems to work-ish.

Sometimes I get really upset at the inequities in the world… no, more than upset. Sometimes I cry into my Americano, sometimes I rage and yell a call for action, sometimes I refuse to back down but stand my ground in the face of hate and discrimination.

Today, I am wearing the most amazing lavender corduroy pants and I choose to laugh at the closet from which I must repeatedly come out.

Sometimes lavender pants and laughter are the best medicine.

 

 

 

 

Just Because You Don’t Recognize It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Discrimination

If you haven’t read my post, “Oh, So Discrimination Is OK As Long As It Is About Gender and Not Race. Got It,” then you should check it out. It was my first post about a pending gender discrimination lawsuit in Oregon, involving my spouse. The defendants at New Vision Wilderness currently maintain that they did not discriminate against anyone. In fact, they keep describing everything that they feel did occur including disorganization within the company, miscommunication, and oh yeah, discrimination. They do not get it. The owners of the company maintain that one of their policies requires transgender people to hide their gender from clients and that they couldn’t hire my spouse because xe “refused” to hide xyr gender (which also isn’t true, but they have told so many falsehoods at this point I no longer get bogged down by them).

Let me break this down for you.

Company A has a policy stating that employees will not reveal any personal information about themselves to clients. This is a therapeutic modality, ostensibly designed to support clients in therapy to overcome their challenges without being influenced by their therapist’s interests or personality.

OK. I think that’s kind of a bogus therapy model but I will allow Company A the freedom to incorporate it.

So cisgender Sara is hired as a therapist. She starts working in the field and clients refer to Sara with feminine pronouns (she/her). Because she has long hair, wears clothes styled for women, and speaks in a higher pitch than men, clients assume she is female and identifies as a woman. Her gender is known despite the “non-disclosure policy” of Company A.

Then cisgender Stan is hired as a therapist. He starts working in the field and clients refer to Stan with masculine pronouns (he/his/him). Because he has short hair, a beard, wears clothes styled for men, and speaks in a lower pitch then women, clients assume he is male and identifies as a man. His gender is known despite the “non-disclosure policy” of Company A.

Then transgender Tornado is hired. Before xe starts working in the field, xe is told xe cannot use xyr pronouns because clients might be confused and besides it goes against Company A’s “non-disclosure policy.” Xe is only allowed to work if xe allows clients and staff to erroneously refer to xem with feminine pronouns and be misgendered as female even though xe has a shaved head, wears clothes styled for men and women, and speaks in a pitch that is… well, xyr pitch. Unfortunately, transgender Tornado didn’t even get this far because the job offer was rescinded after xe came out as trans*.

So it’s OK for cisgender Sara and cisgender Stan to be “out” as cisgender, but it’s not OK for transgender Tornado to be “out” as transgender.

THAT IS DISCRIMINATION, MY FRIENDS! And it should not be excused by ignorance.

Here’s the thing: Human beings are not perfect. We screw up. We have biases and judgments and we hurt each other. But one would hope that when such biases, judgments, and hurts are pointed out; when a mirror is held up to our actions and reflects discrimination, we can see how we screwed up and we atone for our actions. When we are unable to do this, we perpetuate inequality. We perpetuate hate.

Stop the hate. Spread the love.

Is There A Right Way To Misbehave?

I sometimes think the whole world is stuck in that old nursery school rhyme:

What are little boys made of?

Ships and snails and puppy dog tails.

That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

That’s what little girls are made of.

BLECH!

From the moment we are assigned a gender at birth, we are shoved into this rhyme. Even if our parents acknowledge that they have independent puppy dog girls and sweet little boys, something in our socialization process requires that most of us hang out somewhere inside the box of this nursery rhyme. And God help you if you try to break out.

Besides, queer*trans* people aren’t even mentioned! Where is our rhyme?

What are little queers made of?

Cells and hearts and really pretty parts

That’s what little queers are made of.

What are little queers made of?

Stress and strife and fighting for life

That’s what little queers are made of.

Heh heh. If only that nursery rhyme had been whispered into our ears as infants. We would have been empowered AND prepared.

But I’m guessing that rhyme won’t go viral, so here we are, “freaks” born into a world that only sees a narrow, binary concept of gender and sex. And even though those of us living in progressive parts of the United States are feeling less oppressed than previous generations, we still have to fight for space; fight to be seen.

I don’t think straight people understand the depth of invisibility that comes with being queer*. I am misgendered every single day. I am generally assumed to be straight (though how anyone looks at me and sees heterosexual is beyond me).

I have to speak up, speak out, get on my soap box, be loud, yell and wave my arms, write blogs, publish articles, shave my head, refuse to back down, stand my ground, fight for my community, fight for employment, fight for legal rights, march in a parade, and carry a metaphorical sword JUST TO BE SEEN in the smallest way.

And then, when I have finally yelled and jumped up and down and waved my arms and pointed to injustice enough times for the heteronormative world to take notice, I hear “Wow, you’re awfully aggressive. What happened to the nice, sweet girl we used to know?”

I will tell you. She’s gone.

I am no longer nice, sweet, and compliant. Nice, Sweet, Compliant Me was violated over and over and over. Nice, Sweet, Compliant Me took care of everyone else instead of fighting for what I knew was right. I stand my ground. I stand up for what I believe in and I fight for social justice.

Why is it that people love the saying, “well-behaved women rarely make history,” but when they actually encounter a woman who is not well-behaved, they attack her? Do we only love and accept women who misbehave in the proper way? I’m not interested in what is proper. I am interested in what is right.

So there.

Stop the hate.

Crying Into My Americano

I listen to the espresso machine whirring, the babble of conversation around me, the top 40 music; smell the smells of coffee and sugar. I sit quietly at the table, a waterfall of tears threatening to tumble from my eyes.

Why?

Because I am doing research on violence against queer* people and have stumbled upon some horrors of information.

The statistics are terrible. In Canada, 67% of hate crimes perpetrated against gay people consist of acts of violence as opposed to only 39% of hate crimes against other social identity categories (e.g: race and religion). In the United States, queer* people are 41.5% more likely to experience an act of violence than white, heterosexual people.

Did you catch that? 41.5% !

The unemployment rate for trans* people is 75% and the average life span of a trans* person is 23 years of age.

The statistics suck. They are unacceptable. They hurt my body and make me want to scream in the coffee shop. But that is not why I want to cry.

In my research I stumbled upon websites and blogs that are specifically “anti-gay.” They mostly espouse absurd, ignorant information and are written very poorly, allowing me to roll my eyes and feel somewhat smug, but nonetheless, they feel like knives driven into my heart. I ask the question: Why do you hate me so much?

One of the blogs says that gay people are unhappy. That we all suffer from mental illness, suicidal ideation, internalized oppression (although the writer wasn’t savvy enough to use that phrase), and depression as a result of being queer*.

Um, not so much.

Those challenges are rampant within our community not because we’re queer* but because we live in a heteronormative world that does not allow us to exist easily in our own bodies. Because we experience discrimination, violence, and hate on a daily basis. Because people INSIST on blogging about why they hate us so much and how we’re evil sinners who are going to hell.

Well guess what? Our community is also full of love, joy, peace, family, education, intelligence, dance, fabulousness, glitter, women’s basketball (Go Storm!), rainbows, love, love, love… the list goes on.

What I want to say to homophobic people is that I LOVE BEING QUEER* and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I wasn’t already queer* I would seriously wish to be. Sometimes I feel bad for straight people because they are missing out on the amazing experience of being queer*. As much as the violence and discrimination makes me want to cry into my Americano, I value loving who I love, seeing the world from outside-the-box, and not conforming to societal norms.

I should note, however, that I live in a rather progressive city in the United States. I have the freedom to speak out against micro-aggressions at work. I talk openly to family, friends, and colleagues about my life as a queer* person. I am super out-of-the-closet! Yes, I experience discrimination, but I do not fear for my life. Being queer* in other parts of this country does not allow the same freedom. Being queer in other parts of the world is a crime punishable by death. For that, I am truly sorry. That makes me want to sob into my Americano.

Stop the hate. The world does not need more hate, but the world could definitely benefit from more glitter and queer* basketball.

Gender 101

I am creating this post because people ask me questions about the construct of gender every day and it seems like it would be helpful to point them in the direction of a (hopefully) easy-to-understand document about gender. I feel that asking questions is a good thing and that one of the reasons gender is so misunderstood in our present culture in the United States is because no one asks questions! If we all accept the status quo, then we cannot evolve. So there.

Therefore, this is my attempt to break down the construct of gender to the best of my abilities.

1. GENDER DOES NOT EXIST ON A BINARY

What does that mean?

Man and woman are gender constructs that exist on opposite ends of a linear spectrum. For some reason we have built our culture around the erroneous belief that these are the only two expressions of gender even though non-binary gender identities have been a part of human experience for as long as humans have existed. Seriously. Look it up.

2. GENDER IS MULTI-FACETED AND COMPLEX

How do I know? My gender is multi-faceted and complex and I know who I am. I mostly identify as genderqueerfluid but I know people who identify as third gender, genderqueer, two-spirit, agender, pangender and a myriad of other gender identities and expressions and I believe that they also know who they are. I am shocked by the number of people who say that we are confused or kidding ourselves or freaks. How come no one questions my identity as a choreographer? What if most people in my life said, “Well, I’ve never met another choreographer and I really see you as an accountant so I am just going to talk to you as if you’re an accountant.”

Uh, what?

The above example is absurd, right? And yet the same thing is happening every time a transgender person comes out to their family and family members say “well, we still see you as [insert the wrong gender] and so we’re going to continue to use the wrong pronouns.”

3. CISGENDER VS TRANSGENDER

Cisgender: People who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth; if you were assigned “girl” and identify as woman you are cisgender.

Transgender: People who do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth.

Binary trans identities: Some trans people are assigned “girl” and identify as “boy” or vice versa; they still have binary gender identities. Man or woman. That’s it. Binary = two.

Non-binary trans identities: No identification with EITHER man or woman. I was assigned “girl” at birth but am genderqueer or gender fluid or genderqueerfluid. I use they/their/them pronouns.

I AM NOT A WOMAN

MY PRONOUNS ARE NOT A “preference” THEY ARE MY PRONOUNS

It seems that we should stop assigning genders at birth and rather let people figure it out as they grow up. If we want to proclaim something at birth we could say “This one has a vagina!” Or “I see a penis!” Or better still, “Fingers! Intelligence! Soul!”

I am not an expert. But I witness and experience discrimination every day because I am queer and trans so I feel called to be vocal about gender, sexuality, heteronormativity, privilege, and social injustice. I invite comments and questions. I invite discomfort and growth. I invite the unfolding of something big and spectacular.

For more information, I invite readers to check out Beit Gorski’s website. Xe IS an expert (and an awesome educator to boot) http://www.beitgorski.com