I haven’t said much that’s personal about my child, Link, since my last post in April. Last week we finally visited Link (age 20) in Toronto and I sussed out what’s happening on the Gender Identity Frontier 🙂
Link came out as genderqueer at age 16. This refers to someone who is not exclusively male or female, and embraces both genders. After moving to Toronto at 18, new friends were referring to Link as “he” and “him.” Link hadn’t told me about wanting to become a man, but I gradually got used to the idea. I had expressed some hesitation about it when we spoke about it a year earlier. I thought Link was trying to spare my feelings by not telling me. I thought that when I visited Toronto, or Link visited home, I would have the shock of seeing him with facial hair and muscles and a deeper voice!
As it turns out, I spoke too soon. After reading the blog post cited above, Link told me they were still genderqueer and not planning to become a man. However, they still planned to have top surgery (chest reconstruction) and possible take testosterone. Say what?
I think what it comes down to is that your body parts alone do not make you male or female – your mind does. Link does not want to be perceived as a woman at first glance and treated accordingly. Link wants to have a body that is more in tune with their self-image, and that does not involve being curvy or having breasts. On the other hand, Link doesn’t buy into macho culture or want to take a traditionally male role in society.
Hence, Link is genderqueer. Not female. Not male, but perhaps more so. Androgynous, yes. Neutral, no. I asked Link if they still felt they were “somewhere on the trans-masculine spectrum” and the answer was yes. Link would even say they are transgender. But the end result will not be “a man” but an individual who is comfortable with their body and how they look, even though some might say it’s “in between.”
Interestingly, among people who are born biologically female and later live as male, there are two main paths. (I am generalizing here). Some present themselves as male and live as male without any body changes. Others go the medical route and have top surgery and/or take testosterone. However, having “bottom surgery” (genital reconstruction) is much less common. Nevertheless, they all fully identify as male.
Link, on the other hand, will probably make permanent body changes, but not choose to publicly identify as a man. Link doesn’t mind being perceived as a man, but doesn’t work hard at the full effect. They are comfortable with some degree of male identification, but not the whole shebang.
Like all people, Link is a lot of things besides a gender, or a gender variant! Link’s career is in a traditionally female field (sewing) and they love crafting, cooking, baking and fashion. Link’s other interests are neutral – computers, art and design. Nothing about their interests is dramatically boyish. Going further, people aren’t just about their hobbies and interests, either. Gender is also expressed in how you see the world and how you present yourself and how you treat others. In those ways, Link is more masculine.
Link’s gender is defined not so much by what they are as by what they are not: not girly, not feminine, not nicey-nice, not demure, not a wife or mother, not a tomboy. On the other hand, Link is outgoing and friendly, flamboyant, attention-seeking, strong-willed, smart and loyal.
In some ways, it was easier for me to think of Link ending up as a man. It’s easier to explain when you start at Point A and end at Point B. There’s a well-known narrative: you were trapped in the wrong body, and now you’ve fixed it. Link’s story is not going to be that simple. It’s possible they’ll go through the rest of life with some people assuming they’re male, some assuming they’re female, and others confused or angry, saying, “What are you?” You know the answer, right?
A human being.
Now I see why folks like Link embrace the word queer and why it inspires such a strong and welcoming community. If you are queer, you embrace the whole human condition, all the variations of gender and sexuality, without assumptions. You are going to find variations you’ve never heard of. You won’t know what language to use or how to act. The only way around it is to ask and to listen.
I asked Link what they’d like my blog readers to know. They said:
- There are more than two genders.
- If you hesitate over someone’s gender, or really can’t tell, avoid using any gender words.
- If someone appears to be male or female and is doing nothing to obscure their gender, then it is most often safe to refer to them as he or she in the traditional way.
- If someone asks you to refer to them by certain gender pronouns, such as he, she, ze or they, honour their wishes and don’t try to talk them out of it.
- If someone asks you to call them a new name or nickname, again, honour their wishes and don’t use their birth name.
- Finally, says Link, it would be great if there were more public washrooms that were just one door/one room/one stall, that could be used by anyone and didn’t need Ladies and Gentlemen signs.
Not too difficult!
Do you know or have you met anyone who is genderqueer or gender variant? How have you responded? Did it work out OK?
Best of luck to Link on life’s journey! Thanks for sharing this and always being so supportive.
Thanks, TG, sometimes we feel a bit more “journeyed” than other people, but it’s all relative 🙂
Great explanation of something that is almost impossible to explain if you aren’t going through the experience yourself. Bottom line is that Link will always be family to us no matter what they choose to identify themselves as (although I find it awkward saying ‘they’ – invokes thoughts of ‘multiple personality disorder’).
The only thing I disagree with is the shared washroom idea. Those that stand to urinate are much more prone to making a mess (in my experience) and so I’d rather they use their own washroom!
Thanks, Mel! I know everyone feels that way about uisng “they,” but no one has come up with an alternative yet, as they did in Sweden!
The problem with male and female washrooms is: where do trans people go? People link Link don’t feel comfortable in a women’s washroom, and other women may think they’re a man barging in, but it can be completely unsafe to go into a men’s if you are gender-nonconforming. Small businesses may only have one washroom anyway, and huge ones may have a family/accessible one. So it’s all the in-between ones that are a problem!
Just finished reading everyone’s comments. Both G and I feel that using ‘they’ draws even more attention to the person and the fact they are ‘different’. I suspect Link identifies more with being male than female the majority of the time so, if you don’t mind, we will continue to refer to Link as he.
As for the Legend of Zelda reference, well, you know we figured that one out from the very first post. It’s the ‘ROM’ psyseudonum that threw me!
Link is fine with “he” but a lot of people in that group of friends use “they” so it’s a bit of an insider thing. In general if I met a new person and asked what they preferred, I would just go with what they said. “Rom” is a joke – it could be either “roman” (literary) or Romulan!
I don’t know anyone who is queer or gender variant, but on the washroom/toilet thing- where I used to work we changed the two identical loos from having ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’ signs on the door, and although most people didn’t mind, we did have some comments from visitors along the lines of “I don’t want to share with MEN!”, which we found sort of amusing, as we wondered if these visitors had seperate male/female loos at home 😀 . Perhaps the public outcry at having to share is why there are not that many ‘unisex’ toilets. In defence of the standing up urinaters, I didn’t noticed them becoming significantly more messy when men could use both- hordes of small children probably left the most mess 🙂
It is the same where I work. There are 3 separate rooms with doors and locks, with no gender labels. We rarely get any complaints because our custodian keeps them clean!
Thank you for introducing more about this to me – I haven’t known anyone (knowingly) who is gender queer. As a child, I remember a dog washer or similar service person at our house, and being unsure of their gender. In contexts like that, it seems strange to request who pronoun they prefer (in case they are just androgynous looking, without any active changes).
I agree that ‘they’ seems clunky only because it’s seems to imply plural, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t use it! I know I substitute ‘they’ in writing where the gender might be unknown, rather than the clunky ‘he/she’.
I agree with the washroom/bathrooms idea. I don’t get how when all us women sashay into stalls, that it matters the gender of the person in the adjoining stall! Men at home almost universally have the normal toliet, and they manage without urinals. So there you go – do away with urinals! I did see some toliets in France that were ‘unisex’ and it resulted in me seeing some bare bottoms at the urinals when I went in for a stall – a new experience, but not enough to stop me using the facilities when I needed them!
Maybe I said that wrong – if someone is androgynous-looking, it’s best to avoid any gender pronouns at all. If you get to know someone, they will tell you. I wish we did have a singular word better than “they,” but so far, no luck on that! I have not experienced a gender-neutral washroom with multiple stalls; I doubt there would be much support for that in North America, mainly because it can be scary for women (and trans people) to be semi-naked so near a male stranger in an enclosed place. Maybe someday male violence against women and trans people will end, but we are not there yet!
So informative.Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your personal story. You have given such a sensitive and thoughtful discussion.
I don’t knowingly know any gender queer or gender variant people. By that I mean I may know some but not e aware they are. Also, as I work in education, I have probably taught those who are but not ready or able or aware to be public.
I can understand the gender social construct and not identifying with any socially constructed view of gender. But I wince at the thought of cutting parts of my body because of a social construct. Could I be masculine with breasts? Or feminine without? (And I wince at surgery to enhance certain body parts to fill a social construct of beauty too – like breast enhancement.) You are a very loving mother. I don’t know how I would initially feel if my boys, my beautiful boys, wanted to change to be girls or not boys/not girls.
As to unisex toilets. I’d love to have male-female toilets at home. I do ban my sons from using my toilet. I find boys, and yes it may be just mine, less fastidious than girls in keeping the toilet clean. Male loos do smell more than female loos!
I have grappled with the surgery idea a lot. In an ideal world, people who appear female could be socially accepted as male and vice versa. Then gender variant people could go through life without surgery if they wished, without social judgment. As it is now, if a biological woman keeps a womanly body and acts male, they are labelled a tomboy, lesbian or butch. Link tried that route as a teenager and did not identify with the lesbian/butch culture. I know there are some strong people who go through life that way, and some who would rather have surgery and hormones but can’t afford it. Link says they would like their body to look like how they see themselves, which is more androgynous. I try not to think of it as cosmetic surgery because it is connected to such deep identity issues. It is easier for me because I know Link’s story and how painful it is for them to inhabit their existing body shape. I think most parents (these days, anyway) come around because they can see how unhappy their kids are.
Thank you so much for this post. I’ve found Link’s comments really helpful and I will share them with my colleagues . ( we’re Police Officers)
Thanks, Leigh-Anne. I find the police in our area are good when dealing with trans people. Maybe they’ve had sensitivity training.
Great post, really interesting to read and hear about different people’s lives. Sounds like you’re very supportive of Link.
Thanks, and yes! It has been a big learning curve for me, too.
An event unfolding out here on the Left Coast may be of nterest to readers of this blog post. I am attaching a reecap news story of what happened on a city bus in Oakland, and the responses to the event here http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_24477162/oakland-teen-charged-adult-hate-crime-attack-student followed by the remarkable letter written by Sasha’s father to the lower school community where he works as a kindergarten teacher here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karl-fleischman/a-letter-to-my-community-after-my-child-was-lit-on-fire_b_4269089.html
Thanks very much for linking to these. I wasn’t aware of that story. How sad that it takes a sensational crime to bring attention to gender variance! It makes me happy that there are people in the world like Sasha and their dad.
Thank you for sharing your story. It’s great that you’re so supportive of Link! (By any chance, does Link like the Legend of Zelda?) At least knowing my family has my back has been really comforting to me when I attempt something challenging. And it’s wonderful that Link found a community . . hopefully acceptance for all types of people will continue to improve!
Being transgender is something that is so hard for me to understand. I don’t know anyone who is transgender and the only book I’ve read that explores the concept is Middlesex so I think I just need more information and stories so I understand a little better. This post was definitely helpful 🙂
Ha, you are the first person to ask about Legend of Zelda! Link is a pseudonym that I chose because of those games 🙂
The transgender experience is something I will never understand from the inside because I won’t be going through it, but I have empathy with people who feel pain because of gender constructs. Life is easy for me because I am cisgender and straight and I’ve never had any turmoil about it. I am always shocked by the intolerance I see for differences, whether they are differences in race, colour, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. BTW, if you are up for it, I highly recommend the book Nina Here Nor There, by Nick Krieger.
Thank you for sharing so much here, Dar. I have no problems at all with using ‘they’ — not only is it sensitive, it is precise. I really appreciated how you explained gender is really not about the body, nor hobbies, but the mind, how it perceives the world, and treats the world. That refers as much to self-identity as it does to gender identity. At the end of the day, we are all so alike, yet so different, aren’t we?
Oh, you’ve got it exactly, it is all about how you see yourself and your interactions with the world. Similarities and differences are hard for people to deal with: “normal” people want to say,”I’m not like them,” but as you say, we are all far more alike than different!
Thanks for sharing – it is a shame that English doesn’t have a neutral pronoun like some other languages do, because “they” does sound a little clunky.
I agree; we seem to be stuck with “they” for now.
Thanks to Link for sharing their experiences. It’s really interesting to hear the variety of different experiences that may be represented within a term like ‘genderqueer’.
One question…I do find “they/their” a bit clunky. Is s/he a term that is ever used? I guess that still emphasizes the “she” part but it’s also inclusive while sounding smoother!
Hmm, I am imagining what Link would say about “s/he.” Probably that it currently means “he or she,” male or female, rather than both or neither. Also, it works in print but not in speech! There were made-up words in use: “ze” and “hir” instead of he/she or him/her, but they didn’t catch on. Using they and their is awkward for us grammar-conscious folks, but it’s getting more common now and seems to be preferred among gender variant folks that Link knows, maybe not universally. It’s not too often that someone would ask you to use it anyway, because most transgender people identify as either male or female and use the common pronouns. I don’t see it as too much of an issue because by the time you know someone well enough to have a conversation about pronoun choice, you probably want to please them by referring to them the way they like!
Ah yes – I didn’t think of that – it does only work in writing! It’s really good to know the options/alternatives. I worry a bit in the school I work in that there are some teens who I think I don’t address appropriately…there’s options here to cover a variety of circumstances 🙂
They would be pleased to see you trying to do the right thing, or asking their individual choices and remembering them.
Its beautifully written post, very heart touching. Growing up in India, we are used to people like this in our society. Our forefathers in the Hindu religion has made sure they are accepted in the society by creating a separate communal social class of their own. Also no new born child is brought in the house without giving them money, food and being blessed by the gender neutral people. Its considered that any big work you are going to do is a success if they bless you. So no one offends them or rejects them. They are part and parcel of us.
As for referring to the gender neutral people, there is a term which means third gender, neither man nor woman. Wish Link all the best in life. There is place for everyone in this world.
Ani, thank you so much for stopping by to read and comment. I have read about this and I was amazed there is a place where gender differences are not just tolerated, but valued. Incidentally, I have also read that some First Nations (Native American) cultures refer to gender variant people as “two spirited” and also value this trait.
First and foremost, thank you for sharing! And congratulations to both of you (Link and you) for being so brave! To my mind, having made up their choice in that young age -no matter the consequences – it is really praiseworthy and respectful. It indicates that it is a matter of nature and mature thinking.
I wholeheartedly wish all the best to Link and that there will be more and more parents like you! If only society was more acceptive, the world would be a better place.
Plus, I really like your non-self-centred blog! Greetings & sunshine from Greece
Alice, welcome! Link is a very determined young person and knows their own mind (and body) despite other people saying Link is confused or it’s just a phase. I do think it takes maturity to stand up to your peers and society at large and say,”I’m not what you think I am, and I can’t be.”
It’s funny, I think I am always blabbing on about myself, so thank you for your kind words!
(from cold and rainy east coast Canada)
Thank you! 🙂
My child identifies as gender queer and gender fluid, they are 16 and born female. I am fully supportive of their choices, but I find the alternating pronouns hard work, as some days they identify as male and need male pronouns and other times female with female pronouns. There is also the added dimension that they are Aspergers so do not always see the subtly in language, confusion caused to other people, and can get very angry with accidental slip ups with pronouns. I do find the ‘they’ sounds so cold when talking about my child. My child needs a lot of support with day to day life, outside of gender issues, because of their autism. They also don’t always spot danger or situations that could be potentially dangerous or lead to danger. That is one of my greatest worries.
Welcome and thanks for commenting, OP. Link mostly feels comfortable with LGBTQ people, and had great social difficulties in school. Link is also passionate about educating people about gender issues, and is also easily offended – mostly by feeling invisible, or mis-identified. One thing I find awkward is always referring to Link as my child even though they are an adult, because I don’t want to say “son” or “daughter.” When we are together I jokingly call Link my offspring 🙂
Yes using the term ‘my child’ I find a little awkward. I thought about using ‘my young person’ but that does make them sound a bit like a pet. Although there is a family joke that my husband, who is my child’s stepdad’, is one of the family pets. 🙂
I say “my young person” sometimes too, which maybe will last through their 20s? 🙂
I put them as 16, when they’re 17! But it’s only been a month or so. I saw someone once use per in their writing instead of him or her, he she. His or hers was pers. I’ve never come across it since though. My young person has a referral to a gender clinic where they may help them gain a greater understanding of themselves.
Swedish has a word like that; I wish we did. Link has had various counselling and is thinking about medical decisions (hormones and surgery).
Thanks for sharing. When I read your recap of your trip to T.O. I was left wondering whether you had a son or a daughter and then well truth be told I kinda lost interest in figuring it out. After reading this and your part 1 post I realized the most important thing you have a beautiful kid that you love dearly and that is all that really matters.
So true and thank you. It used to bother me when I couldn’t read someone’s gender easily but I am over it. This whole experience has made me more appreciative of people’s individual qualities and less likely to generalize.
Your story was a nice reminder of that. Thanks.
I’ve known people who were heterosexual,bisexual, and homosexual, but to the extent of my knowledge I’ve never personally known anyone who identified themselves physically somewhere between the classic definitions of man and woman. Not that it would matter to me. As long as Link is happy and healthy at the end of the day, that’s all that matters 🙂
Hi Cassie, I am going to have to jump on my soapbox now! A person who is transgender can be heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual depending on how they identify. For example, someone born female and living as male, who dates women, would be considered straight, or who dates men, would be considered gay. I expect a lot of gender variant people don’t like to use labels for their sexual orientation. Link says they are queer which is a catch-all term for “outside the box.” I think it may be harder for genderqueer people to be happy and healthy, because of all the societal and medical issues and the difficulties in finding like-minded people. But that is certainly the goal! Sorry for the lecture 🙂
Thank you for sharing this Dar, it’s given me a greater understanding. Link is very brave and thankfully has a great Mum on their side.
Wow, thanks to you and Link for sharing! I have absolutely no experience of this nature, but I’d hope I’d follow your points.
The only thing I don’t like is the idea of shared public washrooms unless men learn to sit down! I’m sorry, but there is no sound reason, unless it is a urinal or tree, for them to stand up, especially little boys and older men whose aim tends to waver. I remember hearing results from a study done a long time ago where urine spray and fecal material were found in bathrooms where men were standing to pee and when the lid of toilets were not put done when flushed! Yuck!
I wonder if any studies have been done about how many men sit versus stand to pee these days. I think with so many single moms, they train their little boys to sit! I dread public washrooms, especially being forced to use dirty ones. Some people seem inclined to misbehaviour in washrooms, as in – not caring at all about the next person – and even being aggressively filthy! One thing I hate to see is improperly disposed-of sanitary products!
I’m so glad there are people out there like you to parent a child like Link. How fortunate they are! In my homebirthing circle, we had a very intriguing couple–two genderqueer (possibly trans, but they were still figuring that out) parents. One was anatomically male and the other anatomically female. They coparented the sweetest child, but I definitely saw how hard it was for them. I know the anatomically female had a hard time as she generally identified as male, yet chose to breastfeed…which brought up a lot of internal conflict for them. It’s all such a fascinating topic, and I’m glad there are accepting people such as you to expose the rest of the world to it in a kind, gentle, understanding way 🙂
I like your example! There really are a lot of “non gender-conforming” people out there and they face both inner conflict, and wariness (if not hostility) from others. On the one hand, it seems like a difficult life – on the other hand, it would be nice to be “non-binary” and realize you don’t have to be one thing or another – you can just “be”!
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