Category Archives: gender

Why Do We Have to Gender People to Be Polite?

Today’s gender pet peeve: why does being polite in so many languages have to require gendering?

I mean, in historical terms, I know the answer. Gender has been infused into everything we do as a society for so long, and manners are just one part of society and culture. A lot of languages use gendered terms to refer to people, and so it make sense that polite forms address would follow this pattern. But it’s still annoying.

Earlier in the day I’m writing this post, I had a server who called everyone they presumed to be female “my lady” or “my ladies.” Not only gendering, but ownership, too! Gee, how refreshing. It was particularly cringe-worthy when he did it to folks of color.

Slowly, queer communities are starting to come around on this language. Terms like “Mx.” are available, and neutral terms like “friends” are being used in place of “ladies and gentlemen.” But the mainstream is still going to Mr./Ms./M./Mme./Herr/Frau/Signore/Signora everyone, and it’s frustrating. Personally, I think misgendering is much more rude than “casual” forms of address!

It’s always one of the most frequent questions I get when I talk about personal data and gender: “I understand that calling someone by a first name avoids the gendering, but my boss insists that we need to address people politely if they’re giving us money.” And sadly, this is frequently where things come down. My only answer is to keep pushing, try to demonstrate the impact (including financial) of misgendering, and hope that the culture will continue to evolve so that “casual” forms of address are no longer inappropriate. Or hey, if nothing else, ask folks how you should address them! When you collect addresses, offer a “prefer first name” choice next to all your salutations. That way, nobody gets offended.

Legible Identity Privilege

comic about a lesbian woman confused about her partner's fluid gender. "Yeah but what is your GENDER? Right now?" "My gender doesn't fit on one side of the spectrum or the other. It's easier to just say that my gender IS Marco!"

Is there such a thing as legible identity privilege?

This thought was tumbling around a lot in my mind for a while, particularly in discussions of what it means to be femme and presumed as female, but also when cis folks would ask me about assuming pronouns when you’re “pretty sure you know” someone’s gender versus when it’s unclear.

As a starter, I’ll say that if there is a legible identity privilege, it’s certainly not anything like as strong as other privileges such as being white. As a white non-binary person, I am less vulnerable to violence and harassment than any black or brown person, full stop. I explicitly reject any arguments that white non-binary people make around “binarism” putting them in a riskier place than a black trans woman, for example. See b. binaohan for why that’s fucked up.

But considering this as its own possible thing, I have a few thoughts. One is that, like “passing privilege,” this has a lot to do with specific cultural context and how other people perceive you. The two are also related. A trans man who is presumed to be a cis man might experience “passing privilege” alongside legible identity privilege, because he “passes” for a cis man and also “man” is a legible identity. Conversely, a trans woman who doesn’t conform to particular beauty standards and expectations might not “pass” for a cis woman, but could have a legible identity in cultural context–it is clear to most people around her that she intends to be read as a woman, and she is a woman.

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#whyqueer 3: Decentering (or Expanding) Gender As a Relationship Axis

One of my favorite reasons for identifying as queer is all about fucking with how we center our understanding of relationships and attraction. In the last post, I covered how other terms don’t work well for me because they’re clunky to use as a non-binary person. But also, I don’t find terms that relate to gender to be particularly useful for describing those to whom I’m attracted. Gender just isn’t my main focal point for classifying my relationships and attractions, and I find it strange that a single trait would be so central to how almost everyone talks about these subjects. Even terms like “pansexual” are implicitly about gender–they just mean “all of them.”

Personally, I use other sorts of categories to vaguely describe the pool of folks I’m interested in. I’m attracted to queerness, dominance, and (with some notable exceptions!) femmes. I suppose I could come up with specific terms for these attractions, but I like “queer” as a way of saying “hey, you might want to ask me some more questions to understand my sexuality.” I can then describe my attraction in sentences and paragraphs, and that’s more likely to lead to a connection anyway.


Here’s my current theory of how the medical establishment thinks about gender identity and transition:

  1. Gender is pretty abstract. It’s more of a decision to group oneself in a certain way than a concrete provable fact. This is a problem.
  2. We can’t just let anyone who wants to medically transition. How would we know who “qualifies” if we just let anyone who believes themselves to be male or female access medical care for that gender? Transition would be rampant! (Or something.)
  3. Since we need a requirement to access medical care, masculinity or femininity might as well be the requirement. It’s easiest to quantify your gender in medical terms if you present as masculine or feminine. Femme trans boys and butch trans girls are just confusing.
  4. Don’t even get us started on those genderqueers–especially those who aren’t interested in a more androgynous. What do they even want? What kind of dysphoria could they possibly be experiencing? There is very little to be sympathetic to, here.

Now I know there are empathetic medical professionals, professionals who understand the difference between identity and expression, and those who don’t think of trans people as requiring a certain level of tragedy and pity to medically transition. But sometimes, it feels like the profession is stacked against us.

An Update with Some Honesty About Spoons

Fact: this blogging thing never does get easier.

I keep hoping that consistent posting will one day become natural, that I’ll be able to write and schedule posts every weekend, but that is just not a thing. I’m being honest with myself about emotional and mental labor, and the fact that this world we live in doesn’t give us enough time to heal and just be present outside of our paid working hours. I’m also realizing that as an ADD adult, my attention span will never stick with a particular project for more than a month or two, and that’s okay.

This blog isn’t going anywhere, though. I have a post scheduled for this coming week, in fact, about a really fantastic book I want you to read. I’m just acknowledging that I’ll probably never follow the best practices of posting regularly and self-promoting, that there will be spurts of activity and then months-long gaps as there have always been. But I’ve also been blogging for more than ten years in some form, so I think that’s likely to stay.

There’s another fact in here, which is that I’m not totally comfortable being “a voice” in activist spaces when we don’t as a community acknowledge the labor of people of color who are doing most of the work here. I recently wrestled with the question of whether to write a book about non-binary gender and ultimately decided that I am not the person to write that book right now–because I don’t have the time and energy to do a full, comprehensive survey of non-binary people, focused on the voices of people of color, and the world just doesn’t need a white centered 101 to non-binary identity. I also think that if I do write that book in the future, I likely can’t in good conscience do it without a co-author of color. Since I don’t have collaboration/social spoons right now, I’m instead stepping back. If you’re hungry for queer voices, I recommend you start with checking out black girl dangerous and proceed from there.



Practical Tips for Trans-Inclusive Data

graph of genders in the colors of the trans flag with options "male," "female," and "annoyed with your question"

As this post goes live, I’ll be sharing a talk at AlterConf DC called “5 Simple Steps for Trans-Inclusive Data.” This talk originally crept into my brain as an idea for a very long blog post, and as I was preparing to cut that idea down to twenty minutes with Q&A time, I decided to also execute the original plan, since I can’t possibly say everything I want to about how to make data more trans-inclusive in fifteen minutes.

The post that follows is a detailed guide of specific steps you can take to make whatever data you work with more trans-inclusive, building off of the talk content. Skim through the list below and use any tips that you find applicable! I’m drawing from my experience working with member and donor data at national non-profit organizations, but you can apply this advice to any kind of human-centered data you collect including data on customers, employees, patients, survey respondents, and app users. My starting point here is that trans people can show up in any data set, and so it’s important to address the needs we have around privacy, comfort, and affirmation not as a special population but as a regular part of data strategy. Rather than othering trans people, consider our experiences an opportunity to improve your data collection, storage, and analysis practices for everyone!

If you’d like to hear more after reading the tips below, check out my speaking page for more information. I’m hoping to do more “dataqueer” talks and workshops in the future.

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Practicing Polyamory While Healing from Relationship Trauma

This post is part three of a four-part series on polyamory, healing, and societal wounds. Start with part one.

In thinking about models for polyamory that don’t revolve around competition and scarcity, I couldn’t help thinking about healing and recovery. In the last post, I talked about healing from the societal wounds of capitalism and an alternative model for poly relationships. In this post, I’d like to talk about a different kind of healing, from interpersonal relationship trauma. This post does not describe details of my relationship history, but it does provide some thoughts on healing from emotional abuse and how abusers can manipulate a scarcity mentality. It also draws parallels with my experience of EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). For this reason, I’m putting most of the post below the cut tag. Please proceed with caution if this content may be triggering for you.

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Thoughts from an Uncategorized Non-Binary Person on Invisibilia’s Bigender “Categories” Story

I finally got my iPhone to successfully play Invisibilia, a much-lauded new podcast from the producers of This American Life. Overall, I really like the show, but I was disappointed and even a bit disturbed by the story in “The Power of Categories” focusing on Paige, a bi-gender person. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why I feel this way. The hosts cover Paige’s story sympathetically, and seem to have done their research. It’s for the most part a scientific take on the topic. But maybe that’s why, as a genderfluid, genderqueer, non-binary person who can’t quite even pick one word to describe my gender, it rankled me.

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A Radically Queer Gift Guide: Gifts for Masculine Queers

This third installment in the Radically Queer Gift Guide focuses on what to get the trans men, butch women, and otherwise masculine-leaning folks in your life. While this is not my own identity, I’ve found that Etsy is a treasure trove of ideas for trans-masculine folks and so I’ve compiled a few of my favorites here. If there’s a femme trans guy on your list, some of these suggestions might be especially relevant.

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Trans at the Intersections, #transchat Reimagined on the Rooms App

IMG_1035.PNGWhen the folks at Facebook reached out a few months ago to ask me to create one of the first handful of rooms on their new smartphone-based social platform, called Rooms, I immediately wondered if this might be a better way to implement the vision we started working toward with #transchat on Twitter. Today I’m excited to announce the debut of a Room called Trans at the Intersections, which you can join by using the image in this post within the Rooms app.

Facebook says, “Rooms lets you create places for the things that you’re into,” and I think it’s pretty cool that one of the first Rooms will be an explicitly anti-racist, radical space where trans people can get past the 101 and talk amongst ourselves about our lives at the intersection of trans and other identities. I hope this will be a space for talking about racism in Trans communities, discussing trans feminisms, sharing ideas about sexuality outside the binary, and other topics we think about from day to day. You don’t have to identify with the word “trans” to join, since that umbrella term itself can be problematic, but members should somehow identify as outside the compulsory white mainstream gender system whether trans, non-conforming, non-binary, or something else entirely.

The potential of this platform is something like what many of us fondly remember from 90s message boards–you can choose any pseudonym to identify yourself in the Room, and thus don’t have to come out outside this Room. Unlike Twitter, this is a curated space, meaning that any derailing, racist, and/or transmisogyny will not be tolerated, and members engaging in this bad behavior can be banned. I’ll be actively seeking curators in the coming weeks. For now, come join the discussion! You can download the app at, and then just use the image in this post to join the Room.

**Note: while we will try our best to curate fairly and avoid privacy violations, I want to recognize that it isn’t possible to create a truly “safe space.” You don’t have to disclose identifying info or join Facebook to use Rooms, but anything you share could be shared publicly and linked to your pseudonym. It’s also not possible to know to certain that those who join aren’t transphobic jerks who are trolling the Room silently for content to share, so I would recommend using a unique pseudonym of this is a concern. Please let me know about any other safety/privacy concerns that I can address!**