This might be my new tattoo. Not sure yet.
I would say it's because I'm transgender that this issue irks me, but I know cisgendered* people who feel similarly. And some people just want to know more about it. And so, I write. I write from my experience and the experiences of other people but, like anything in life, there are many people who have many opinions and experiences about gender identity and expression. I hope you keep reading and exploring this topic, especially with folks in your daily life.
I'm writing from my perspective as a health coach. As someone who is walking my talk in this capacity, seeking out new ways every day to be fearlessly healthy, I want other people to have this experience, too.
And from my experience, and from knowing other folks--being fearlessly healthy starts with being yourself and taking care of yourself. And telling other people what that means for you.
Thank you for not gendering people. Thank you for not needing people to fit into the blue box or the pink box. Thank you for hearing people speak up for themselves and identify themselves as transgender and cradling that confession with delicate hands. Thank you for not calling people "ma'am, girl, woman, lady" or some other gendered word because of the sex characteristics they possess. Like my boobs. It's a costume I can't return right now--I lost the receipt. Give me a break and check out the other gender markers I'm using---like my haircut and my clothing. Has anyone seen me wear makeup or a dress in the past 6 years?
Thanks for understanding when I don't answer questions that I'm not able to answer yet-like which pronouns I prefer. Maybe other people wait to be asked. I've never been that type. I understand you're trying to be nice but when I need you to be nice and in-the-know, I'll let ya' know. ;) In the meantime, you can go about your life and not feel worried that you're calling me the wrong thing in conversation.
And thank you for doing that with anyone walking around the street, at your place of employment, in your family home or at school because, while I take deep breaths and use my words for how I'd like to be identified, others may not. You may be creating an unsafe space without even knowing it. And if you're reading this blog, you probably want to know how to savor your existence and support others in doing that, too.
Diversity of gender expression and gender roles isn't something that only LGBTQ folks experience. It is in your life, too, and in the ways other people live. Maybe you want to be Mr. Mom (old 80s movie with Michael Keaton) and have your wife be the breadwinner. Maybe you're a female entrepreneur making significant dollars from your laptop while your baby crawls beneath your feet under the dining room table. Maybe you had a gestational surrogate to have a baby, and you're heterosexual--like the actress, Elizabeth Banks (and some of my friends). Maybe you're happily married, without kids. Maybe you're not married at all. The list goes on...
There is more than meets the eye in many homes in our country. It's not just happening "on the fringes" within marginalized communities like the LGBTQ population, but because there is so little visibility to these "unconventional ways of living" we assume it's not happening at all and/or we can't speak to it or advocate for it. Don't assume it's not happening in other peoples' homes. It is.
I recently realized how little most heterosexual people know about the realities of LGBTQ culture and issues outside of caricatures and stereotypes in mass media. And how painfully much I DO KNOW about heterosexuality---even though I'm not heterosexual and never have been. And I'm no spring chicken.
The secret to visibility is normative culture---staying within what is considered "normal".
So here's my solution to bring visibility and make this part of the normative culture:
stop gendering people. Practice using the words PERSON and PEOPLE on a daily basis.
It's 2012. Terms like ma'am, lady and sir are no longer needed for a population growing far beyond the gender binary (male and female).
MY SUGGESTIONS for NOT GENDERING PEOPLE:
1) If you're in customer service (or better yet, someone who is CHARGE of training folks in customer service) refer to people by their name. Or simply say, "please and thank you". No ma'am or sir needed at the end. If you're seating people at dinner, say, "right this way to your seat". Provide bathrooms with the word RESTROOM printed beside the door. No need for the out-dated chick in a skirt icon anymore.
Not all women wear skirts 24/7, am I right? Sheesh.
2) In your everyday life, at your work or walking down the street, make the assumption that the person you're about to address or refer to prefers no gender identity. Say, "can I help you with something?", "excuse me, you dropped this" or "that person over there needs help" or "what did that person say to you?"
3) Listen when people talk to you and ask them questions based on what they share---no more, no less. Exist to support, not to get dirt. I've known many transgender people who get asked some pretty off-the-wall personal questions. Consider if you'd ask your hetero friends the same questions about themselves or their husband's anatomy.
4) If someone comes out to you as transgender or queer, don't continuously call them whatever you think they are. Or what they look like. It can be very hurtful.
I get that this may be weird or hard or unfamiliar. I went through a phase in my life, as I struggled with my own internal transphobia (fear), when I did the very things I'm suggesting you don't do. Now I know how it feels on the other side, so I'm sharing that hindsight with you.
Practice not gendering people and consider that your positive impact may never be known to you, but may profoundly make someone's day a whole light better.
As always....do your best.