Parenting While Genderqueer

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purchase the entire extremely great issue here

This article first appeared in HOAX zine #7: Feminisms and Change.

Parenthood has fundamentally and radically changed the way I relate to my body and what my body means to me. The process of becoming a parent made me engage with my body on its terms for the first time in years. It made me think about what my body and what my biological sex means to me, and it led me to question my gender identity. I chose to get pregnant, I wanted to do it. I had a pregnancy free of medical issues and a birth that went well. My kid is awesome. I found pregnancy and I am finding parenthood to be a very affirming Now, at 271, I’ve finally reclaimed my body. It is more than mine again; it’s me. I’m it. We’re the same entity. It’s a respite now, and a comfort. It’s like it was in the good parts of my childhood. I’m glad for the reunion. I feel more whole now, and more connected to the world. The reunion was hard-earned, though, and came unexpected. I am more comfortable now in my body than I have been since the age of twelve because I got pregnant and had a kid.
When I was young, before I hit puberty, I ran wild. I climbed trees. I climbed onto the roofs of houses and jumped off, fearless. I wrestled with boys on my street and beat them because I was strong and wiry. My memory of my childhood is strange – mostly a handful of memories so vivid they feel like flashbacks, seemingly disconnected from each other. There is no clear narrative, but there is a physicality to them that still remains. I feel my childhood more than I remember it: sweat, strain, euphoric bursts of energy. The rush of wind squealing past my ears as I sprinted impossibly fast down the street. The harsh quiet sound of skin on asphalt when I fell off a bike. My childhood, both the best and the worst of it, was lived through my body. I was my body, then.
Puberty changed everything. Breasts and hips came. Suddenly I was chubby and round instead of whip-thin. I moved differently, couldn’t run the same way. And I was looked at. Wrestling with the boys on my street turned tentative and threatening in ways I didn’t fully understand. My parents started monitoring what I did, what I wore. I hadn’t realized until they started discouraging me from cutting my hair short and wearing boy’s clothes that my rowdy rugged tomboyishness from the year or two before had been merely tolerated. It was a profoundly confusing and troubling thing to me. My memories of adolescence are clearer than of childhood, but mostly because they are more cerebral, and they are more cerebral because puberty made my body a site of conflict, and confusion, and danger. There was a lot of not-so-great stuff going on at home, too. I didn’t have the resources or support to grapple with the newfound strangeness of my body, so I retreated from it. I pushed it aside. I made it not really me. I trained myself not to pay attention to what my body wanted. I stopped running wild and grew mouthy and sharp-tongued instead.
For years my body has been an inconvenience more than anything else. I kept thinking of it as this grossly inefficient mechanism. Like, really, I have to eat four times a day? It struck me as a design flaw. I avoided mirrors; all I saw when I looked in them were expectations I knew I wasn’t living up to. Sometimes when I saw a picture of myself I found the contours of my body and face surprising. In a very real sense I had forgotten what I looked like. I barely explored my sexuality. I kept everyone at arm’s length in high school out of fear of a life-derailing pregnancy (they were common where I grew up and I really, really, had to get out of there). But in college it wasn’t all that different. I had tried so hard not to pay attention to my physical wants and preferences that I have spent most of my adult life going through the motions in sex rather than actually enjoying it. I fell into sex and relationships without much thought about what I wanted from them. Mostly I just wanted to impress my partner by making them feel good.
Before I got pregnant, I’d never had much contact with pregnant people or babies. I had gotten to a place where I felt mentally and emotionally ready to be a parent, but I grossly underestimated the physical toll pregnancy takes on you. I spent my adult life working too hard, exhausting myself and depleting myself to the point where I would get one nasty cold after another. I sometimes went twelve hours working straight in grad school without even stopping to eat. I wasn’t denying myself, I was just so disconnected from my bodily needs that I didn’t actually realize I was hungry until I was done with just this one last set of analyses. Getting pregnant threw me for a loop because pregnancy has a physical urgency to it that demands that you listen to your body. The first trimester fatigue was brutal. I missed deadline after deadline. Somewhere around the third or fourth important deadline, the importance of the deadlines lost their sting. For the first time in my life, my body was in charge and I was along for the ride. Everything else had to wait. Pregnancy was absolutely fascinating to me. It was incredibly anxiety producing too, what with the specter of all the thing that could possibly go wrong, but mostly I sat on my couch just feeling it. Feeling tired for no reason, or hungry again, or having to pee but not wanting to haul myself upright. I would count the fetus kicking when they got big enough to feel.

Pregnancy was all-consuming, and it felt like a very private thing: not even my partner knew what it felt like because it wasn’t his body doing all this work. It was mine. It was me.
But the thing about female bodies is they’re never private. There were constant well-meaning but intrusive questions: morning sickness? Weight gain? Can I touch your belly? I hated that everyone loved that I was pregnant. I hated how visible it made me, and I hate the visibility because it was so gendered. The constant chatter of mommyhood viscerally rubbed me the wrong way, and it got worse when we found out I was carrying a female fetus. The moment someone referred to my unborn child as a princess I regretted having told anyone I was even pregnant. Like puberty, it was a moment in life where all I anyone saw of me was the changes my body went through, changes that signaled gendered expectations and roles. It was a strange time, because I was enthralled with myself and the pregnancy but at the same time I was deeply unsettled by how people reacted to my body. The thing is, my old strategy of just pretending my body didn’t exist wasn’t an option. Pregnancy is too demanding. It’s not the sort of thing you can ignore. And beyond that, this time around I really wanted to take of my body. I wanted to indulge it and revel in it and treat it well.
The link between the way my body was objectified and the way that objectification gendered it is incredibly obvious in hindsight, but when you’ve spent your entire adult life ignoring something it takes awhile to learn to pay attention to it. It is clear to me now that the reason it felt profoundly violating when people touched me and cooed and talked about mothers and daughters and the special connections they have was because society inevitably reads a pregnant body as a woman’s body. And the reason that is violating to me is because I am not a woman. When you are that viscerally uncomfortable with the assumptions society makes about you, you have two choices: find a way to convince yourself nothing is going on or tell society to go fuck itself. Being misgendered was ubiquitous. It was so entrenched and so unrelenting that I did not for years realize that it was even happening. In some dark little corner of my mind I convinced myself that if I didn’t have a notable body to gender that I wouldn’t be gendered as a person, so if I ignored my body maybe everyone else would too and I could just be me. But being pregnant made my body inherently important to me. My relationship to my body was no longer something I was willing to sacrifice.
The change wasn’t that I became genderqueer. The change was that the immediacy of my connection to my body made it possible for me to reconsider what gender meant to me. It was important for me to find a way to be visibly pregnant and feel masculine at the same time. These days, now that my kid is out and about in the world, it’s sometimes important for me to be visibly masculine and feel like a particularly tender and feminine parent at the same time. Realizing that my body doesn’t determine my gender has liberated me to like my body. Now that one doesn’t determine the other they’re no longer at war. I am just me.
What’s especially peculiar about all this is that pregnancy does indeed change your body. I have stretch marks now. I went up a whole cup size, and my hips broadened. My waist shrank. I am curvier, more conventionally womanly in appearance than I ever was before. But the comfort in my own skin is paradoxically unshakeable now.


1I’m turning 31 this week, FYI, but on re-reading this every word still rings true.

ARIAH Countdown: Building a Genderqueer Culture

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Being gay, lesbian or bisexual isn’t an issue. Homophobia is the issue. While it’s a significant problem in the real world, I think that leaving it behind in a fantasy world is a wonderful and empowering way to say that being gay really is OK.

The above quote was written by Malinda Lo in regard to her novels Ash and Huntress. She writes about how in creating the secondary fantasy worlds in which her queer characters live she as the writer was presented with a choice—are these worlds homophobic, or are they not? Will her characters experience stigma for their queerness, or will their queerness simply be another kind of love?

I read Lo’s article just this week, but it got me thinking about why and how I created one of the cultures within Ariah. Towards the end of the book, in desperate straits, Ariah is forced to wander the eastern grasslands where the nomadic Droma elves live. The Droma elves are a hunted people—taken as slaves by both the Qin Empire where Ariah himself hails from and by the pirate colonies to the south of the Empire. The fact that they are hunted makes them necessarily wary of outsiders. The fact that they trickle into the Empire as slaves means that Ariah, who has a great facility for languages, has already learned to speak Droma by listening to the slaves at market.

One thing about the Droma language that has fascinated Ariah long before he ever meets the Droma in the grasslands (he keeps his distance from the slaves) is that they do not define gender as he himself does (or as most people in the real western world do):

And there was the question of gender, too. At first, it seemed binaristic like most other languages, like Qin and Semadran. There were terms for male and female, differentiations I heard the slaves use for those not of their culture and for animals. But I never heard them use such distinctions towards themselves. It took me some time to parse it, but it became increasingly clear that the Droma did not understand themselves as men or women, but simply as people. The slaves in the city, likely as a means of survival, acknowledged that we divided ourselves as such, and they must have understood that we divided them that way, too, but in the conversations I overheard they only ever used variations on the word voe—the Droma word for “person”—to refer to other Droma and themselves. It fascinated me—how could something so fundamental and so obvious as gender go unseen among them? And what did it mean? How could I be myself without being a man? I wanted very much to understand it, but it was elusive and exotic and always just out of my reach. I couldn’t help but gender them while listening: that one is a male person who is speaking to a female person went my thoughts.

Once Ariah is out in the grasslands, his only hope of survival is to be adopted by a Droma clan. When, by a stroke of luck, he is adopted by a Droma clan, he is confronted with this question of gender (or, rather, the lack of it) again:

I remembered the strangeness of Droma gender. I tried very hard to ignore all the signs of biological sex, to see the child as a person, as voe. If I was to encroach on their lands and ask for their help in survival, I felt the least I could do was get this one basic thing right. But it was hard. It took a very long time before it was easy, or natural, and even then it was hard.

So, here’s the thing about the Droma: to many of you out there they may seem strange. To me, they don’t. I’m genderqueer. I would fit right in. I didn’t set out to build a culture around that, one where I would fit right in—and actually I probably would only fit in in terms of gender because I really hate moving and am otherwise unsuited to a nomadic lifestyle. But the Droma evolved into an agender/genderqueer culture in my worldbuilding quite naturally. When it came time to decide, explicitly, whether they had genders it was easy for me to decide that they didn’t, largely for the reasons that Lo cited above.

Being trans* and/or gender-variant isn’t an issue. Transphobia and unexamined binarism is the issue.

Now this is already a long post, I know, but if you want to know more about what I mean by that, feel free to keep reading. I take a very materialistic approach to worldbuilding, especially as it regards to gender roles within a given culture. And, historically, cultures marred by a lack of resources—cultures characterized by lack and want—develop into very rigid gendered structures. Protection of lineage, parentage, and all that.

But the opposite often proves true as well. If the population is small, and if resources are abundant, then there’s no pressing need to pay strict attention to gender—note that paying strict attention to gender is code for controlling women’s bodies. But it could also mean literally just noticing and codifying gender period.

So, for the Droma, for whom the grasslands provide plentiful resources, and for whom roles in the clan are divvied up based on age and skill, gender literally doesn’t come up. Food and other resources are shared. Childrearing is communal, so lineages are not tied to inheritance or wealth or even parentage the same way they are in, say, the Qin Empire. It is a culture in which gender does not make sense. Even though the Droma have the same biological plumbing as Ariah (as you and I do), it’s still a culture where gender as a social construct does not make sense.

One wonders what kind of culture shock this means for the Droma who get taken as slaves—this is not yet something I’ve explored in my writing. Something I do know is that it has created a kind of minor reverse culture shock in some of my beta readers. At least one of the quotes above was added in edits due to feedback received because a reader thought Ariah adjusted to the Droma’s concept of gender too quickly.

I’ve said before that I like speculative fiction’s ability to pose radical ‘what ifs’. I think this is one of those for me. What if such a culture existed? What would it be like? For me, those are powerful questions worth asking.

#transdayofvisibility

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this is me, being hella genderqueer because I know literally no other way to be

I identify as genderqueer. I identify as non-binary. My pronouns are they/them/their. I am transgender.

For me, being trans* means:

  • existing on a sliding scale of gender
  • having fought through years of social conditioning and outright oppression to figure out who I am
  • finally being comfortable in my own mind and body
  • being closeted at work for fear that I will be fired (there are no protections for trans* people where I am, and I am my family’s breadwinner)
  • speaking up about trans* issues at work anyway (it is a glass closet)
  • having my right to parent my child called into question
  • building a community of other trans* and gender-variant people who fucking get it
  • valuing the cisgender allies I have in my life who, by some miracle also fucking get it

Writers’ personal experience seeps into what they write, sometimes on purpose and sometimes inadvertently. I am a trans* writer–I am also a white writer, and a writer with a complicated class history and a queer writer and a writer who struggles with mental and physical disabilities. All of these things shape the form and the content of my writing. My interlinked identities inform the kinds of characters I create, the worlds they live in and the words they speak.

I am proud to be a trans* writer. I hope to breathe life into trans* characters who are real, who speak to other trans* people, who contribute to a body of literature that is growing and blossoming and making a whole community of people who have always been here, but who have always been pushed to the margins finally visible. We are here. We have always been here. We will always be here.

On Not “Leaning In”

leanin

I confess I did not come to Sheryl Sandberg’s LEAN IN with the best intentions. I did not come to it in good faith. I had, in fact, been actively avoiding it since it came out a little over a year ago. When my best friend invited me (remotely) to participate in her “lean in” group, I declined. Because of all this, I don’t think it’s really fair for me to review it per se. So, this isn’t really a book review. This is more a manifesto in response to Sandberg’s manifesto.

I read LEAN IN as part of my intentional efforts to live the anti-oppressive beliefs I espouse. I am white, and I try to name and own that privilege as part of making spaces safe and comfortable for the people of color I interact with. And so it happened that in a rare Denver tornado warning I found myself in the basement of my building with a friend and colleague. She is black, and we were meeting specifically about anti-racist work we were doing in-house when the sirens blared. In the basement, we found ourselves cornered by a pair of white women co-workers. Conversation turned to LEAN IN, which the three of them had agreed to read together. The other two women were farther along in the book than my friend. They started chattering about it—about “tiara syndrome” and about “how women really are holding themselves back”—and I watched my friend’s face become a carefully blank slate. I know her well enough to know what signs to watch for when the unbearable whiteness of our work environment begins to really eat at her.

“I’ll read the book,” I said. The words just slipped out of my mouth. My friend cut me a sly look and smirked at the other two.

“Oh, you will?” asked one of the other two.

“Sure. When are y’all trying to have it read by?”

“June 1st,” said the other.

“No problem.” And it wasn’t. As far as I know, I’m the only one of the four of us to have actually finished it.

The security personnel waved us back upstairs. My friend and I hung back and let the other two women disappear into the crowd. We mounted the nine flights of stairs together. “I don’t really want to read that book,” she said. “And I don’t want to read it with them.”

“Yeah, how’d that happen?”

“I just got roped into it. At least if you’re there I won’t be the only one calling bullshit on it.”

Which is why I read it: to call bullshit on it. And that’s what this not-review-sort-of-manifesto-thing is.

***
1. Nothing Ever Trickles Down
Taking career advice from Sheryl Sandberg is about as useful and relevant to me as taking lifestyle advice from Gwyneth Paltrow. LEAN IN is GOOP for career ladies. Throughout, Sandberg admits that her book really is targeted at a specific group of highly ambitious and well-positioned women. She takes a strange position that by helping them specifically—those women who are, quite frankly, the most privileged sector of women—she will somehow spur a movement that helps all of womankind.

This is the same type of trickle-down activism that turned me away from the Occupy movement and marriage equality campaigns. I am not interested in political activism that leaves behind the worst-off. Focusing on the privileged members of a marginalized class has been historically used to divide and conquer, to bait and switch, and to give marginalized people just enough that the most well-connected and wealthy of them stop complaining. The complaints of the most marginalized members of that group are then easily discounted.

The women Sheryl Sandberg is writing for are women like her: the kind that can mobilize a multitude of privileges to get their foot in the door, period. These are women who are probably white, since having a black-sounding name on your resume is likely to keep you from getting hired in the first place. These are women who likely have no physical or mental disabilities, since they’ve typically excelled in school. These are women who are probably straight and partnered, since Sandberg more than once talks about how important it is for her readers’ husbands to lean in to the home and hearth as they themselves lean in to their careers. And they are probably cisgender since not once in 288 pages does Sandberg even acknowledge that trans* folks exist. More on that later, though.

My point here is that I’ve come to see movements that focus on the better-off segments of a fucked group as a waste of time. And this has been, historically speaking, the great weakness of white feminist work—it is another way whiteness supercedes everything else. It is white women (and middle class women, and able-bodied women, and cisgender women) telling everyone else to be patient, that once they’re in power things will be better. And that has never worked. The homeless, the forgotten, the women trapped in spirals of violence and poverty cannot afford to be patient. In the words of the black poet, Pat Parker:

SISTER!, your foot’s smaller
but it’s still on my neck.

There is an ethical breach there. How can Sandberg not see that?

2. Copying the moves of those in power keeps them in power
Largely Sandberg’s tactics consist of telling women (white, able-bodied, wealthy, cis women) to behave more like their male colleagues. Take up more space. Be more confident. Assert yourself. Negotiate harder.

She discusses why this is difficult, drawing on social psychological literature about power and social penalties women face when they do these things.* Her arguments position other women as the key to change here: if women would stop buying into these biases, if women would band together and cut each other breaks, then real change could happen. And maybe she’s a little right, but I think she’s mostly wrong here, too.

True change is not a simple shift in composition. It’s not a matter of more women in power at any cost and executing that power in any way. True change is a matter of fundamentally altering what we socially construct as power, as valuable, as worthy. What she’s preaching here isn’t change. It’s assimilation.

3. Anti-oppression work is intersectional or it is bullshit
That’s the heart of my objection to LEAN IN. Undergirding both Sandberg’s trickle-down strategies and her emphasis on assimilationist tactics is the idea that there exists a universal experience of womanhood. But the universal experience of womanhood is a myth.

Sandberg is pushing women to assimilate to a white masculinity. Women, generally, face social penalties when co-opting hegemonic masculinity, but women of color especially are at a disadvantage here. The social penalties faced by women of color are, across the board, far steeper than those faced by white women. And these tactics are not accessible to all women—embodying traditional masculinity is an especially fraught idea for trans women.

Adding to that is the fact that the women Sandberg is leaving behind with her book are the very ones who, due to structural and systemic oppression, are less likely to be employed at all much less shooting for the C suite. There was no way to translate Sandberg’s “sort of feminist manifesto” to the lives of single mothers, struggling women of color, trans women facing down daily violence, etc.

4. I exist; I resist
I can’t lean in. Truly, I can’t. At work, I am partially out. Thanks to our intersectional existence, there are many different axis along which a person can be out. It took me two years at my place of employment to out myself as having grown up poor, and that was still a pretty safe self-outing. I’m white, and poor white people are seen differently than poor black people. I’m highly educated—a person with a doctorate who grew up poor has “made good.” I’m upward bound. My class background is now little more of a footnote to my coworkers. Flavor text.

To a few at work I’ve outed myself as someone with anxiety and depression. This has happened mostly in the context of work I’ve done supporting students with disabilities, so there were reasons to disclose this, but still there have been raised eyebrows.

But I’m not out as queer. Or poly. Or, most importantly and most well-guarded, as trans*. For my sexuality and family structure, I’m in the glassest of glass closets. I don’t name it, but I don’t hide it, either. A few people know—when asked directly I give a direct answer. But most people at work don’t know. Still, it’s risky: I live in one of the 29 states where you can be fired for being queer.

But my gender. Oh, my hard-won prickly gender. I know I read as butch. And, oddly, sometimes at work someone will refer to me as ‘he’ with a bewildered look on their face as they stand staring at me in a dress. There is, I think, some way I’m telegraphing my transness. But not on purpose. I’ve resigned myself to getting continually, habitually misgendered at work. There is work me—a woman—and there is real me. Comfortable non-binary me. Protections for trans* people are thin on the ground. I would say that my place of employment is fairly queer-friendly, but being LGB friendly in no way means that the T is acceptable. I work in education. I work in central office administration, not directly with children, but the stigma and fear surrounding transgender people is still strong.

I can’t lean in. I can’t risk hustling and making enemies and quitting if it looks like I’m going nowhere. I’m the breadwinner of my family. And I’m on thin ice—queer, trans*, crazy. I have strikes against me. I’m an upwardly mobile, highly educated, conventionally intelligent and successful white person. And Sandberg’s book is not relevant to me. I’m far more privileged than most people, and Sandberg’s book is not relevant to me. It begs the question who stands to gain from her book. How can she foment revolution when she’s only speaking to a handful of people?

*I am, actually, deeply familiar with this literature. I spent a good amount of my grad school career steeped in these theories and did some research on them myself. To her credit, she gets them mostly right, but the limitations of that work and those theories are ultimately what drove me personally from the academy.

Transistor Radio #2: The Myth of the “Correct Gender”

you don't need to know your gender to know you love cherry tomatoes

you don’t need to know your gender to know you love cherry tomatoes

Last month, my kid turned three years old. There was a cake, and a brand new pop up tent to play with, and a couple of weeks later there was an annual check up with the pediatrician. I didn’t go, but I got the full debrief from her mom and dad who took her. Zadie’s great! Healthy as a horse*! Hitting all those milestones! Well, except for this one thing.

“There was a question on the survey they give you,” said Jon. “It was something like ‘how often does your child correctly identify his/her gender?’ The options were ‘always’, ‘sometimes’ and ‘not yet.’ I put ‘not yet’ for Zadie.”

And I went on a tirade. Bless his heart, he listened. He always does.

As a trans person, this question ruffles the shit out of my feathers because it presumes that someone other than the child themself decides what is correct. When I was Zadie’s age I could correctly identify the gender that had been assigned to me, but to call that my correct gender would have been presumptuous at best (given how I turned out) and full-on erasing at worst. Some of us know what gender we are by the time we’re three. Sometimes that matches what everyone’s expecting of us (cisgender kid) and sometimes that doesn’t (transgender kid). For a lot of us, though, gender is a slippery thing. It took me over twenty years to correctly identify my gender—if by correctly we mean identify gender in a way that makes sense and is comfortable for me. To put it another way, it took me over twenty years to reject what I was told, over and over again, is my correct gender. The constant stream of “You’re a girl, you’re a girl, you’re a girl” the whole time I was growing up confused the shit out of me.

As a trans person, this question is bullshit because it conflates sex and gender, which are separate constructs for a reason. Sex describes biological aspects of a person**; gender is an identity that people express through presentation and enactment. Gender is as psychological and sociological as it is biological, and an important part of that means that it is learned, and a thing which is learned requires time to learn it. By the time kids are three certainly they have received a shocking amount of gender-based and gender-focused socialization. But they don’t yet have the cognitive development needed to interrogate and articulate all of this. Gender is brewing at age three, but it is not done yet. For most people, how a person identifies gender-wise at three is consistent at age thirty, but the whys and hows and meanings are different. And some of us change! Some of us are different at thirty than we were at three.

As a nonbinary genderqueer trans person, this question gets under my skin because it presents the gender binary as fixed, immutable and true. Can I correctly identify my gender? Maybe—it depends on if the person asking accepts the categories I put forth. Is there a write-in category? Why does my kid have to choose between girl and boy? What if she’s somewhere in the middle? The phrasing and intent of this question reifies the gender binary, and in the doing, treats me as something that cannot exist.

And as a parent, this question rankles me because it is insensitive. My kid has a trans parent, and (not so shocking) I have trans friends. My kid interacts with a wonderfully gender-diverse group of people. And she’s at the age where she is learning to read and name social categories. That’s really what this question is getting at—whether or not she understands and can place herself in relevant social categories. But she doesn’t have the same exposure or environment that other kids her age do. She sees a lot of femme women and butch women, big burly dudes and fey elfin men. She sees others, like me, who are in a third category. Watching her interact with the world, it’s become apparent that she maps other people onto her family, categorizing strangers as Daddy-like (typically cis men), Mama-like (high femme people of any gender) and Baba-like (usually short-ish glasses-wearing people who are not so easily gendered). I have heard her call people “girls”, “boys” and “babas”. So she knows. She gets gender. She just gets more of it than most people.

And she is exploring her own gender organically. Over the course of the same week, when I’ve asked her if she’s a girl or a boy in the name of SCIENCE, she’s given the following answers:

“I’m a boy!”

“I’m a boy. I’m a girl. Baba!”

“Girl.”

She’s all over the map, and that’s ok. We let her pick out her own clothes, and she tends to gravitate towards t shirts with dinosaurs and pants. She likes her hair kept short because it’s thick and hot and it tangles and gets in her eyes. She violently resists whenever we’ve tried to do anything at all with her hair except let it just lie there. She is almost always assumed to be a boy outside our house. AND she’s curious about her mama’s make up and will paint her cheeks purple with eye shadow. She loves to dance. She wants to cook and plays in her toy kitchen all the time. She loves trucks and baby dolls. She’s just who she is right now, and there’s no pressure on her to even be a ‘she’ for any longer than she wants to be. Honestly, she seems not to care much about gender. She loves Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and sometimes she tells us she’s Aang and sometimes she tells us she’s Korra.

The problem with this question is that there’s a chance that my kid, like me, is trans. Who knows? I certainly don’t, and she doesn’t either. And this question is telling me, a parent of a toddler, that it is a developmental milestone for her to have internalized the gender binary and the conflation of sex and gender so well (reinforced, of course, by my parenting choices) that she already knows how she’s supposed to identify and that ‘correct’=‘cisgender’.

How can it be a developmental milestone to rip that choice away from her, to silence her, before she even knows what she has to say about it?

*There was, apparently, talk of putting my three year old on a diet, but that’s getting its very own post, so stay tuned.

**Conversation for another day: I believe in a binary of biological sex as much as I believe in a binary of gender—that is, not in the least.

a spine as strong as spider’s silk

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aspineasstrongasspiderssilk

This is a poem about myself to myself. As a trans* person, a gender variant person, a genderqueer person, I experience varying degrees of body dysphoria on the regular. I do yoga virtually every night, alone and in the dark of my bedroom, which helps me reconnect with what my body is, the beauty of its limits and its realities. It’s a simple and purely physical experience, this ritual of coaxing my body into shapes. That experience is what I’ve tried to capture in this poem.

#ThankAWriter Project: China Mieville

go read this book right now

go read this book right now

I saw the #ThankAWriter project over on Nathan Bransford’s blog. Writing letters like this to my favorite authors has actually been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’ve jumped right on the bandwagon. I’ll be double-posting these thank you letters here and on my gomighty blog.

Thank you, China Mieville, for validating my existence.

You don’t know me, and we’ll probably never meet, and you likely won’t even read this, but thank you anyway. I have been a fan of your work for some time, and when I heard you were writing a book referencing Moby Dick I nearly shat myself with excitement. Mieville! Melville! One of my favorite authors riffing on one of my other favorite others!! So, I pre-ordered Railsea and inhaled it as soon as it arrived on my doorstep.

I was expecting to love Railsea, but I wasn’t expecting to connect with it so deeply. I didn’t think aspects of myself I have spent so long grappling with, coming to terms with, would be mirrored so beautifully in this book. I’m genderqueer. I am a parent in a triad. Doc Fremlo’s effortless, almost unremarkable gender variance was a revelation. Fremlo was what I am, but utterly at peace with it in a world where what they were was perfectly acceptable. I can count on one hand the number of genderqueer or agender characters I’ve seen portrayed in books, and none of them have been written with such ease or such simple comfort in their own skins. Fremlo was living the life I want to live. Femlo was deeply resonant and deeply inspiring to me. So, thank you for Doc Fremlo. Thank you a million times.

That would have been enough to shoot Railsea up to the top of my list of most favorite books ever, and then I met the Shroakes, and Caldera and Caldero told me about their family. I have a kid — a wonderful, lively kid that I love more than anything in the world — and my kid has me, and her mom, and her dad. Inside our little family unit everything makes perfect sense, but to the rest of the world we don’t. Which one of us is the nanny? Which of the three of us are her ‘real’ parents? These are the questions we navigate everyday. To read about the configuration of the Shroake family (even after it’s been so irreparably broken) was like meeting Doc Fremlo all over again: an overwhelming sense of validation, and of being understood. So, thank you for the Shroakes, as well.

Again, I know we’ve never met and probably never will. I know I don’t know you. But I am immensely grateful for having brushed against you ever so slightly via your writing. I am glad you exist, and that you took the time to write these characters into your book, and I am glad I stumbled on your book and read it and felt less alone and bizarre for who and what I am.

Thank you.

B Sanders

NEW SHORT STORY FOR BETA READERS!!: Blue Flowers

blueflowerswordleHey y’all! I just finished another short story. The description and info are below; I welcome any and everyone to read it!

Pahvo loved Anu before they ever met. Pahvo is a scryer; he sees the future, the past, lives both in a fractured present. When Pahvo first notices Anu across the street, he sees their entire lives together. Anu sees a stranger.

BLUE FLOWERS is a completed short story 4,950 words in length set in the world of Aerdh. BLUE FLOWERS explores the nature of irrevocable and inescapable love.

Interested? Let me know!

I am B, and I am a they (Not Melissa, and not a she)

Note: I don’t do these personal posts often as I try to keep this blog about my writing, but if you’re interested in my personal life/thoughts on things like gender check out my tumblr.

Some of you know this already, and some of you don’t, but just so we’re all on the same page, I am officially coming out as genderqueer. I am a trans* person. I’m also just plain queer (i.e. not straight) while I’m outing myself. If you end up bored and don’t read past this first paragraph what this means for you is that I prefer to be called B (not Melissa) and that I prefer singular ‘they’ pronouns to female pronouns (so don’t call me she). Also, please don’t call me a mother – Zadie calls me her baba.

For those of you remaining, know that I am about to vomit gender feelings all over the internet. First, I’m going to attempt to describe my current relationship to my body, how it’s gendered, how I experience gender, etc. And then, I’ll go into why I think of myself as a they and not a she.

Me, Myself & I: Gender Weirdness Extravaganza
Do you have any idea how often we are asked to disclose our gender? I have come to dread this. Buying plane tickets sucks. Signing up for websites sucks. Any form of intake sucks. They suck because I have to put down female, which is then taken to mean woman, which is increasingly uncomfortable to me.

Gender has always been complicated for me, but it’s grown much more so in the last few years. The other night while I was walking home from work I was struck by a realization that when I was kid, maybe like eleven or twelve, I used to think a lot about the directions my life could go. Maybe I’d be a courtoom lawyer (like Sam Waterston in Law & Order!!). Maybe I’d be a rabble-rousing politician. Or a scientist. Or a musician. And I remember imagining myself in these possible lives and invariably imagining myself as a man. A man, incidentally enough, who didn’t look all that different than I do these days. It was a simple thing, and it wasn’t the ache and yearning thing you see in a lot of culturally sanctioned trans* narratives. It was just…I knew I was going to grow up a woman, but I ended up with this vision of myself as a man anyway.

Note that I said in that first paragraph that I’m genderqueer, not a trans man. After years and years of grueling work coming to love my body, of living in it and being it, I am as much a woman as I am anything else. But that’s the kicker: womanhood is just part of it.

These days I have this instinct to get flippant when forms as my gender. Gender? Chimerical. In flux. Weird. Fuckery. Paradoxical. That’s what fits me.

The Reason For They
I know for a fact that some of the people who will read this are grammar nuts who are totally fine with gender variance, but not really that fine with the bastardly singular they. There are likely people reading this who could give a rat’s ass about pronouns because they will never respect the facts of my gender identity, but those people can go fuck themselves. This section is addressed to the grammar nuts (I love y’all!)

I like they. I am a they. I like the expansiveness of it; I like its encompassing nature. My gender contains fucking multitudes. It is an ensemble film. It is a moving target. ‘They’ captures that. ‘They’ articulates this dual and tripled and quadrupled sense of gender I have: that I am sometimes a woman and sometimes a man and always both and always neither.

‘They’ plays with and breaks the binary. A singular they, to me and in reference to me, is politicized: a rejection of the contraints of a language that has been influenced by binarism, coercive gender assignments, and cis privilege.

There is, to me, a sense of potential when one uses they to describe a person whose gender is not known. Could be either. Could be neither. I like this protean quality it has; in the morning when I wake I could be either, could be neither. They is an umbrella term for all the possibilities and iterations of me, grammar be damned.

So, call me B, and call me they. Call me Zadie’s Baba. I’m asking nicely once. I’m reminding you that it’s only decent to do this, and also stating for the record that I don’t much care how confusing this is for you or how hard it is for you. I am always willing to answer questions, but I reserve the right to ignore those questions if they bother me.

This is a huge scary thing for me, and I’m telling you all this because it’s important to me.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Pros and Cons of Their Use in Fantasy

I have a ethnic group in the Aerdhish universe that has little sense of gender. Certainly, they have an understanding of biological sex, but even that is substantially more murky that how we construe sex in modern Western society. Contact with heavily gendered societies has left them with an awareness of gender as a categorical identity, but it’s not something they understand particularly well. It makes sense, then, that their language (Droma) would lack gendered pronouns. Right? Right.

The last section of Ariah takes place in the Droma grasslands. Ariah is on their turf, lives with them at their mercy, and he understands them through their own eyes. It’s important, then, that the gender neutrality of their language (and culture) is made crystal clear in the text. But how, exactly, to do this is giving me pause. Given that this book is written in English, where gender-neutral pronouns are odd, to say the least, technical aspects of this are growing hard for me to navigate:

Pros:

  • Use of gender-neutral pronouns will make the meaninglessness of gender as a social category very clear to the reader.
  • This culture is a ethnic grouping of elves, who have social and biological differences from humans (both humans as represented in the writing and actual real-life humans like you and me). Use of gender-neutral pronouns can serve to highlight the otherness of elves.
  • I, personally, think gender-neutral pronouns are important to get out there.*

Cons:

  • Good writing, to some extent, is invisible. That is, the story should flow without the reader having to struggle to parse the way that story is written. To this point, the use of gender-neutral pronouns is awkward and stilted in English since we don’t use them. It will take the reader some getting used to for them to be able to easily and effortlessly parse the gender-neutral pronouns, which can turn readers off and break up the text.
  • Related to that, consistency is sometimes hard to keep straight with gender-neutral pronouns. I, as the writer, can’t always remember what one form vs. another is, so how can I expect the reader to remember?

For Ariah, I’m going to risk it. For this piece, for me where I am as a writer and worldbuilder, I think the pros outweigh the cons. I have to trust my readers to navigate the thorny issue of pronouns. Readers are smart people; they can handle it. But it is something I bear in mind while writing this section of the book. When I am reading through recent parts I’ve written, the gender-neutral pronouns are jarring. They stick out. Pronouns are a part of speech which are not supposed to stick out.

The hardest part, honestly, has been figuring out which set of gender-neutral pronouns to use. I’ve gone back and forth, adopting one, then abandoning it in favor of another. Right now, I’m using a set I invented. We’ll see how long that lasts.

As for the rest of you out there, I would LOVE LOVE to hear any thoughts you have on this!

*As I state in my bio, I’m genderqueer and prefer the use of singular they to refer to me, so this topic and all the knotty little intricacies of it is something I think a lot about on a day-to-day basis.