quarridors: Not high on sugar (September 2010)
I just wrote a variation of the following for a closed Facebook group, then decided it's a shame it wasn't public...

I'm Nat and I live in Nottingham, UK. I run http://PracticalAndrogyny.com/ and http://Nonbinary.org/ - I've been openly nonbinary and genderqueer since 2001 and involved in online genderqueer communities for a year or two before that, but I've recently ramped up my visibility by putting my face and legal name against my nonbinary visibility and education activism.

As for my gender, "it's complicated", but if pushed I tell people I'm gender neutral, which is my pronoun preference too, and tell people that I'm a person, not a gender. I don't attempt to 'pass' as anything but in practice I seem to be either highly androgynous or assumed to be a teenage boy, despite being 32. I'm interested in creating resources about the practical side of being 'ambiguous' to the gender binary.

I have a transsexual medical history, passing through the private system in the late 1990s. Despite having legally detransitioned in 2004 in protest over the Gender Recognition Act not recognising my gender (and for other practical reasons), I've just had the experience of successfully getting a change of meds and a transgender surgery funded by the local NHS Gender Clinic (my surgery's actually coming up on Thursday) while being completely open about my nonbinary gender. I'm interested in advocating for others who're trying to access transgender healthcare (of any kind) and I have my hands on those 'incriminating' G3 Gender Clinic group minutes you may have read about.

I'm heavily involved in my local mixed trans* group here in Nottingham, one of three nonbinary people on the committee and several nonbinary, genderqueer and gender nonconforming members. We run weekly meetings in the city centre, we have a 'Trans Zone' at this year's Pride and we're currently trying to overturn the decision of Nottingham PCT to 'red list' all gender dysphoria medications.

I believe in keeping transgender spaces welcoming to ALL people who transgress or transcend society's concepts of gender. A lot of my activism is focused on making sure other trans activists remember nonbinary people exist and that we don't all follow the same neat narratives of 'passing', 'transition' or even gender dysphoria. I recently advised META Magazine on nonbinary and genderqueer inclusivity and I'm happy with the results.

And now I should go pack my bag ready for that surgery...
quarridors: Not high on sugar (September 2010)
I'm in the process of setting up an international nonbinary (and genderqueer/gender nonconforming) visibility, education and advocacy network, designed to highlight, signal boost, encourage and pool the resources and visibility efforts of activists across the web.

The website (with wiki, case studies, FAQ, forums etc) isn't ready yet, but the social media outlets are up and running on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. Would you all mind looking at them, liking/following them and giving them a signal boost if you like what you see?

http://nonbinary.tumblr.com/
http://www.facebook.com/nonbinaryorg
http://twitter.com/nonbinaryorg

This is going to be a long term project and the major focus of my activism work from now on. I've been talking with other activists and we're planning several resources, projects and campaigns. Including an initial focus on general visibility and a campaign about equal access to transgender medical care and services.

I want this to become a properly self sustaining community-based network, so it's going to launch with a wiki and forums and ask for case studies and contributions from the start. It's also not trying to re-invent the wheel at all, there's loads of writing and activism out there that can be highlighted. I was involved in setting up the modern positive asexuality movement (wrote the asexuality.org FAQ and ran the forums for a while back in 2002/03) and that gained momentum pretty quickly, ultimately having moderator elections and the like within a couple of years, so I'm hopeful that the success there is repeatable.

Right now I'm stressing about setting up the website and making sure the technology and structural decisions I make are right, so I'm wondering if you guys could give me some feedback on how to host the group blog. Should I set it up to use Wordpress (hosted on my own server, as with Practical Androgyny) or Tumblr?

Tumblr has a big nonbinary, trans* and genderqueer scene, lots of engagement but relatively poor accessibility. Of all outlets I use, I always seem to get the most responses and thought-provoking debate on Tumblr, but I find the reblogging model of commenting difficult to follow and end up clicking through 'Notes' to dozens of different pages, each with their own differently laid out theme/layout/colour scheme.

Wordpress has features like Most Read, Most Commented, tag clouds, searchable archives, threaded comments, better homepage integration for the planned 'community portal' feel, but it wouldn't come with an existing active nonbinary/genderqueer/trans* 'scene' like Tumblr has.

So what's your opinion? Whichever we opt for, the Nonbinary Tumblr will be active and highlighting non-blog content like wiki pages, case studies, resources and forum discussions.

Update: I wrote this explanation of how Tumblr works after I was asked for more information in one of the many places I posed this question:

Tumblr is kind of a 'miniblogging' service, designed to fit between 140 character microblogging like Twitter and full on blogging like on LJ or Wordpress. Every member has a personal blog on there, but the system is designed to make it very easy for people to share and add to other people's posts.

If you like (or dislike!) someone's post, you can click 'reblog' and then quote it on your own blog (with links/attributes back) and add your own thoughts.

This means that it has a lot of active members who quickly share and debate content, but the discussion tends to escape from your original post and into a long threaded discussion across dozens of different blog pages very quickly. Kind of like following a mailing list discussion but with the added complexity that the layout, text style and colours are different on every message...

Try following the full discussion across the 146 'notes' (likes and reblogs) on this, for example: http://nonbinary.tumblr.com/post/12457351441/the-nonbinary-vs-genderqueer-quandary

I also clarified how things would work if I opted to primarily use Wordpress:

The group blog wouldn't be 'on' Wordpress or require a Wordpress account, it'd be on hosted on Nonbinary.org and likely using Disqus for comment entry and management (which allows multiple types of login including Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, OpenID, anonymous etc).

Whatever happened, I was planning to post summaries of every post (along with notable forum discussions and wiki pages) over on http://nonbinary.tumblr.com/

This is all really a question of whether the group blog contributors will have to get logins for Nonbinary.org's Wordpress install or whether they can just use Tumblr to make their contributions (of course some may not be on Tumblr and would be forced to sign up there in order to take part).
quarridors: Not high on sugar (September 2010)
I've now seen several people I trust say positive things about 'My Transsexual Summer', a new series due to air on Channel 4 this evening and premiered in London yesterday.

I'm tentatively expecting it to be positive overall and a genuine change in the way trans* experiences are depicted on television, but the original press releases from Channel 4 had me feeling pretty nervous that it was going to conflate 'transsexual', 'transgender' and 'trans' as one thing and present that as the process of transitioning between binary genders.

Apparently it's an 'in their own words' part reality show format with group discussions, so whether nonbinary or genderqueer people get a look in may be down to what the people Channel 4 selected to represent the trans* community say.

I think I'd feel a little more confident about Channel 4's commitment to representation if their pre-publicity gave the impression that they included any minority trans* experiences.

Looking at the list of seven participants, only one of whom is over 30, all of whom appear to be white (although I'm told one has taken exception to that description) and able bodied, binary identified, transitioned or planning to transition, I can't say I'm seeing a full reflection of the trans* communities I'm a member of...

Maybe I'm expecting too much from a TV show, given that just having trans men and trans women featured together, on equal terms and in their own words is frankly a major breakthrough.

Maybe the producers decided that including all that 'complicated' stuff like intersectual experiences and nonbinary identities would just confuse the viewing public? (Seems to be the number one excuse for erasing me ...that and 'correct grammar').

And maybe I should watch the actual programme and view these people in their own words before I comment, it's not like I don't know enough people whose stories were 'simplified' by the press...

Update: I'm informed that one of the newspaper reviews says a participant on My Transsexual Summer is transitioning to 'a happy place inbetween'. If that's true then the pre-publicity really is guilty of conflating different trans* experiences into one! But I'll be watching with great interest to see!

Update 2: My reading comprehension skills clearly weren't up to much when I read all those profiles this morning: It says 'a happy place inbetween' at the bottom of Donna's profile. Remember, tune in to Channel 4 at 10pm to see how each of the participants self-describes!

Update 3: Judging from the first episode, Donna's 'inbetween' comment seems to be euphemistically talking about how firmly happy she is with her body with no wish for surgery (and how brilliant to see that view represented on TV!). It wasn't clear whether she also identifies outside of the binary in some way, and I consider it a failure of the programme makers for not making that clearer. Here's hoping there'll be more discussion of this in later episodes.

I've since spotted that one of the contestants describes himself on Twitter as 'two-spirited' and feels a lot of what he said about himself on film hasn't been shown. If the programme makers really have simplified a participant's self-described gender identity to make it 'easier to understand', I'll be very disappointed, but I'll reserve judgement until we've seen more episodes.

I've also seen another participant blogging about people complaining about stereotypical depictions in the show and left a comment there saying that the critique is very much placed on the producers for not having more diversity represented in the people they selected for the show (and in their editing). The stories of the participants featured are all positive and valuable and should be celebrated by 'the community'.

I'm sure a blog post will be written for Nonbinary.org in time for the site's launch :)
quarridors: Not high on sugar (September 2010)
I wrote an article appraising and critiquing this year's IoS Pink List, suggesting constructive responses and looking at how some of the eleven (binary, transitioned) trans* people included for the first time this year have inspired and represented me as a nonbinary, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, queer-identified, atypically transitioning, andrognynously presenting trans* person. Here are some extracts:
This stuff is important. I had an ‘inspiration board’ on the wall of my teenage bedroom, full of printed out song lyrics, pictures and newspaper clippings that kept me going through my last couple of years as a closeted queer teenager at a rural comprehensive school (1996 to 98). My board included people like teenage Age Of Consent campaigners Chris Morris (who was the same age as me) and Euan Sutherland, and famous performers like Ellen Degeneres, Wilson Cruz, Brian Molko, David McAlmont, Ani DiFranco, Michael Stipe and Skin from Skunk Anansie. Being surrounded by images of successful queer and gender nonconforming people and listening to their music made me feel like less of a freak and gave me hope for the future.
As a community, we need visible inspirational ‘heroes’ to look up to. Some people survive, get through it and are inspired to succeed and perhaps become activists themselves due to newspaper articles just like this one. It is possible to critique the form of an award and the nature of the organisation that issued it while still seeing it as important and valuable. As little as I believe in the honours system and the monarchy, I still found it incredibly significant and inspiring when the establishment recognised the work of trans* activist Christine Burns by issuing her with an MBE in 2004 and Stephen Whittle by issuing him with an OBE in 2005.
I see these lists and the tendency to single out certain prominent famous and notable people for recognition and awards as only problematic in isolation. If we let this be the only way that trans*, queer and LGBT people are celebrated in our communities, then yes, it is problematic. If we let this start a conversation about who else should be recognised and celebrated, the hard work that so many others do in our communities and all the different ways people make a difference, then it becomes just one of many ways that the deserving, inspiring people in our communities receive thanks.
When Dan Savage started the It Gets Better campaign, I was among the critics who found it deeply problematic. But it started a conversation that prompted complementary and constructive campaigns that focused on helping young people to Make It Better, and inspired many other It Gets Better videos that weren’t problematic in the ways that Savage’s had been. There are now some amazing trans* and queer It Gets Better videos out there and no end of testimonials from people saying how seeing them has helped them in the way my inspiration board helped me.
...
And let’s not forget that we do have eleven openly trans* people and several more trans* allies recognised within the Pink List article. Forget the numbering and the different categories and focus on the recognition these people have been rightfully given. As I said above, I want to see more trans* people included, more trans men, more trans* people assigned female at birth, more nonbinary, openly genderqueer and solely gender nonconforming people, and I want us to work towards getting those people into next year’s list and given recognition through our own community efforts, independent of The Independent. But let’s not play down the hugely important work those who are listed have done to represent, inspire and improve the lives of all trans* people.
...
Travel writer Jan Morris whose groundbreaking 1974 memoir Conundrum and its journey through her transition (most notably chapter 12) was my first exposure to the reality that it was possible for me to become androgynous, it wasn’t just something that some people were naturally gifted with that I could never achieve. I cannot overstate how important this was to me and how much hope and inspiration it gave me as a dysphoric nonbinary person trying to find comfort with my body and social role.
...
Sarah Brown, Britain’s only openly transgender activist serving in an elected political position; a Liberal Democrat Cambridge City Councillor, and chair of the Lib Dem Transgender Working Group. Sarah was instrumental (along with Zoe O’Connell) in influencing Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert to raise the issue of gender neutral documentation such as passports in the House of Commons. Something that will be vitally important to many nonbinary, genderqueer, transgender and gender nonconforming people in this country (including myself).

Jay Stewart of Gendered Intelligence, an organisation that does hugely important creative work with young transgender and genderqueer people and is explicitly inclusive of the wider transgender spectrum. Jay organised the wonderfully positive and inclusive Trans Community Conference, that I was lucky enough to attend this year, and was previously the chair of FTM London, an AFAB (assigned female at birth) trans* support and social group known for being inclusive of all identities and expressions within the wider transgender spectrum. I have briefly spoken with Jay and seen him speak from stage and on video. He comes across as someone who comfortably challenges stereotypical assumptions that all trans men are hyper-masculine. Read him here encouraging readers of the Times Educational Supplement to celebrate transgender students and allow male assigned students to express femininity in their schools.

Journalist Juliet Jacques (in the ‘Nice to meet you’ section) whose blogging for The Guardian has talked frankly about the process of coming to terms with being a trans woman and undergoing transition in a very public and visible way that has exposed the human story behind trans* people’s lives to a whole new audience. In her earlier articles, Juliet talks about how she did not have the stereotypical transsexual childhood story (in a way I hugely identified with), and tried on and explored numerous transgender identities and communities before transitioning. She writes about having been drawn to male crossdressers, made to feel less alone by the comedy of ‘action transvestite’ Eddy Izzard and going through years of identifying as a gay male crossdresser and later ‘transgender’ as described by Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein. As such she is one of the few journalists to have written about transgender people who ‘live beyond the traditional gender binary’ in a mainstream outlet.

...

So while I am not aware of any nonbinary, genderqueer-identified or solely gender nonconforming trans* people recognised on the Pink List this year, every one of the trans* people listed above has either worked for their rights and/or recognition in some way, or challenged binary gender roles and the public’s stereotypical view of transgender people through their openness, their humour or their own gender nonconformity. I don’t know about you but, as a genderqueer and nonbinary person, I think that’s worth celebrating.

Read the entire article at PracticalAndrogyny.com
quarridors: Not high on sugar (September 2010)
Today is the last day for responses to the UK Government's 3rd survey of transgender people (which explicitly includes 'androgynous', 'non-gender' and 'genderqueer' options in the demographics section). This survey follows up on responses from the first two surveys by focusing on issues of employment, identity and privacy. If you're in the UK and identify as trans*, genderqueer, non-binary or gender variant please complete the survey (sorry for the late notice!).

Below is a sample of my responses to the survey as a non-binary trans person (some responses have been reworded to protect my privacy):

What barriers or challenges do you think exist in employment?

As a non-binary trans person (identifying and neither female nor male) my protection from discrimination under the Equality Act is ambiguous, I may not be protected at all due to the 'gender reassignment' wording. My neutral/androgynous gender identity is not recognised under the law so it is questionable whether I can be said to have undergone 'gender reassignment' even though I am treated by a gender clinic and have undergone medical treatments for my gender dysphoria.

It is difficult to educate employers on my legal protections when the wording of the act heavily implies that I may not be protected at all.

What do you think Government can do to help trans employees tackle workplace discrimination?

Clarify the ambiguous position of non-binary trans people.

Does expressing our gender identities constitute 'gender reassignment'? Can 'gender reassignment' protections apply when the law does not recognise our genders as existing or valid?

Are we protected should we ask for gender neutral language to be used in reference to us rather than gendered words such as 'man', 'woman', 'Mr', 'Ms', 'he' and 'she'?

If we undergo hormone treatments or have surgeries to treat the gender dysphoria arising from our non-binary genders, does this fall under the 'gender reassignment' protections even though we do not identify as an 'opposite sex' or gender?

Are we exempt from gender-specific dress code requirements such as short hair and ties for those with male 'legal genders' and makeup and skirts for those with female 'legal genders'?

What do you think employers can do to help tackle workplace discrimination?

Recognise all gender identities and expressions. Offer gender neutral facilities and language for those who require them. Offer a gender neutral dress code for those who are not comfortable with firmly female or male presentation

What can the following do in helping you to find employment?

Government: Recognise non-binary genders not just female and male, recognise the unique challenges faced by non-binary trans people.

Employers: Be aware of non-binary genders and those who live outside of the gender binary. Do not require a binary gender on job application forms/websites. Do not insist on using gendered titles such as Mr/Ms. Do not use gendered job titles such as 'Dinner Lady' or 'Postman'.

In response to the problem you identified, what do you think the following can do to address these challenges?

Government: Explicitly recognise and protect non-binary trans people, perhaps by wording the law as protecting 'gender identity and expression' rather than 'gender reassignment'

Employers: Provide gender neutral facilities wherever possible

Are there any other workplace issues you want to raise?

Use of gendered language such as 'man', 'woman', 'Mr', 'Ms', 'he' and 'she'. Gendered dress code etc. Employers should allow gender neutral options wherever feasible.

What do you think Government can do better to protect your privacy?

Explicitly class gender as private information that it is not reasonable to ask for when providing goods and services (Data Protection Act should apply).

Do you consider your current identity secure from disclosure?

No. Numerous services require a binary gender (female/male) or a gendered title/honorific (Mr/Ms etc) to be specified as required fields. As such I am misgendered or outed as transgender when ordering shopping, using my bank, registering for a library card etc. This is a particular problem where others complete my form for me or where computer form validation enforces entry of binary gender identifiers.

What can be done by Government to help you successfully live in your current identity?

Explicitly class gender as private information that it is not reasonable to ask for when providing goods and services (Data Protection Act should apply). Explicitly recognise and protect non-binary trans people, perhaps by wording the law as protecting 'gender identity and expression' rather than 'gender reassignment'.

Are there any other issues concerning your privacy and/or identity you want to raise?

The government does not recognise my non-binary gender identity. Only binary (female/male) options are provided on birth certificates and passports. As such I am discriminated against by the government and denied Gender Recognition afforded to other trans people.

I consider the sex I was assigned at birth to be deeply personal information that is only relevant to a handful of medical professionals and my partner. However the law and common practice currently force me to disclose this in a wide variety of situations. Doing so causes me gender dysphoria, misgenders me and outs me as transgender in a way that binary trans people are able to avoid due to the Gender Recognition Act.

Please extend gender recognition protections to all trans people, not just those with binary identities. Please also help to establish that gender (even 'legal gender') is deeply personal information for many people and it should not be reasonable under the Data Protection Act to require its disclosure when ordering groceries online or signing up for local services.
quarridors: Not high on sugar (September 2010)
Activism and being an activist are important to me but I have a long, mixed and largely ineffective relationship with activism.

When I first became chronically ill in my early 20s, was running both my university's LGBT society and the 'Gayline' once weekly overnight helpline (where I was re-working all the training materials and aiming to get the name changed to something more inclusive). Some part of me still now associates doing too much and taking on too much responsibility with 'making myself ill'.

My energy levels are now so unreliable that I will have weeks (especially in the darker winter months) where I struggle to work my full time job and keep on top of my self care, let alone do anything else. I have other weeks where I'm brimming with energy, enthusiasm and motivation, but I've come to see this as a cycle. I try not to volunteer for things during those periods any more. I especially should not volunteer to run regular in person meetings because in person meetings are the first thing to go when I'm fatigued.

I've come to see my activist energy as something finite, I've come to see activist causes and activities as something I have to choose very carefully.

Then there's the 'bad poster child' factor. I didn't become an asexual visibility poster child back when I was 'a founder the asexual movement' (according to a paper I read recently!) because I was also androgynous non-gender and felt that associating asexuality with genderlessness would damage both movements (as both were only just recovering from being linked to a 1980s American chat show guest). Similarly I was asked to consider being the first (if I recall correctly) NUS LGB Trans Officer but (partly) turned that down because I felt a genderqueer person would not be the most appropriate choice to represent all trans people (I don't exactly follow the typical transsexual or even transgender narrative).

And finally there's finding the right type of activism, doing what I feel to be the most important work with my limited and valuable time. I tell people the bi community is my home community where I feel most accepted. I always run workshops at BiCon, I sit on the bi stall at Prides, I'll recommend or defend the bi community to anyone who'll listen, but I have never identified directly as bi. Every time I attend bi activism workshops, or it's suggested that I run a bi group, I can't help but feel that it's not the activism I should be doing. Similarly whenever I've looked into trans activism in the past, it's been focused on binary trans identities, on a type of trans that I'm not. I'm not trans through transition (although I did transition over a decade ago, twice in fact), I'm trans because of my 'end point', because my identity and my appearance are transgressive.

So I've recently been focusing on finding the right type of activism. I'm back on focusing on visibility. I might have been a poor poster child for asexuality but for non-binary gender, a visibly androgynous person who refuses to make concessions to the binary, while getting on with their life without apology, that's a pretty good example. That's a case study for the people who refuse to accomodate non-binary people because "everyone sees them as men or women anyway". That's an example of what's possible for questioning non-binary people who can't feel any hope that what they know they have to be is even possible.

I'm also focusing on practicalities, on presentation, expression and behaviour. Historically the non-binary gender community has tended to focus on identity, on carving out ever more specific identity divisions and celebrating the diversity of our differences. But in our day to day lives, those of us who present ambiguity have more in common than we do different. If we're presenting ourselves to the world as something other than female and male, women and men, it doesn't make much of a difference if that's because we see ourselves in terms of a gender continuum, as non-gender or as something else entirely. We deal with the same reactions from others, we have the same difficulties with gendered spaces, with forms and language, with mandatory gendering.

That's why I started Practical Androgyny, and that's why I'm excited to see other people taking the same focus on practical day to day living for those of us who present our non-binary genders to the world. This is the right path for me, this is activism I can believe in. And I hope it's one that will become a movement, that has its own visibility campaigns and activist weekends. If you want to get involved, please get in touch!

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