Monday, 23 May 2011

Being the Change (by Lotte/Cassian)

In light of recent discussions at Radical Routes, the definition itself of "Radical Social Change" has come into question. Since I feel like a bit of a freak, and not for want of trying to be otherwise, I thought I'd pop in and say a little bit about my radical social change at the moment. (To recap: as members of Radical Routes we're required to do 16 hours of radical social change per week.)

The thing is, I don't really feel like I have a choice. (Technically I do, in that I could just lie back and stop trying to have basic rights, but there we are.)

I'm genderqueer. I feel a bit weird saying it out loud even now! Everyone has a different definition of this word, but for me it means that I feel like I don't have a gender at all. My preferred pronoun for myself is singular "they/them" and I'm happy with anything that's not he, she or it. Don't get me started on a genderqueer wardrobe when you're committed to secondhand clothing, you're on benefits and you've got a chronic illness that prevents shopping.

I did a Google image search for "Queer bra" to break up
the enormous block of text that is this post.
This is my favourite of the results.
No, I don't understand either. Why are they lying on a car?

So, all that is fine. Having worked out yet another thing that is freaky about myself, I feel relieved for having worked it out. But when people say things like this are a choice, I want to stab them with forks (perhaps a Genderfork?). And when people imply that I would want to choose it in order to be difficult, I want to stab them with rusty forks. To do so may count as social change, and on their part it may count as suicide to disrespect me in this way, but despite these motivations I hold back. I think time spent not stabbing people with rusty forks maybe should count towards my social change.

People who're out and proud speak of coming out as being not one big event, but as infinite smaller ones. The same is true of being genderqueer, only more so, because I have to come out to many people more than once. I'm female assigned at birth (FAAB, dahling), and basically look (at the moment) like a tomboy. I'm really trying to look less like a woman, but most people don't realise that there's anything aside from man and woman. Upon meeting anyone I'll be seeing often, or who needs to know these things, I will explain that I'm not a woman but I'm not a man either. I will explain the pronouns, and about not using "she." My new acquaintance will appear to understand and be sympathetic. Some time later, unless the person is queer-savvy or particularly thoughtful and respectful, they will use "she" or refer to me by my feminine birth name.

My bank insists on me having a gendered title on record and on all correspondence. Don't you think it's strange that there's one title for men, three titles for women dependent on marital status, i.e.: relation to a man, but NONE at all for people whose gender is unclear? In written communication, that seems pretty lax to me. I have asked to change my name from GenderedName to Cassian Lotte, but they refuse because I want either the title Misc or no title at all. (Edited later to add: They've now changed my name, and this is some kind of awesome stuff they say about titles.)

When I go to a restaurant or cafe, chances are there won't be bathroom facilities I can use unless I want to wave the disabled card. Underwear for FAAB people assumes that I want breasts to be big and obvious, or at least supported, but I want mine to be not there at all. (I had to spend a lot of money on a chest-binder from overseas.)

For something like gender that's so basic to human life and yet irrationally has so much meaning, every moment of my life is radical. Every time someone makes an assumption about me I am committing an act of radical social change to speak up and be myself. Why yes, you're right, I do have a vagina. What does that have to do with what we're talking about? Oh, I see, it means that the clothing I buy, the TV shows I watch, the people I fall in love with and the food I eat is affected by my vagina. Thanks, I'm glad you let me know, because here was me ignoring my vagina in my day-to-day life. And now I can tell people about my genitals through the act of dressing, watching TV, falling in love and eating. How kind of you to tell me over and over again when we've only known each other for five minutes.

Fortunately, there is a bright side.

The phone rings. It seems to be a telemarketer.
Me: "Hello?"
Them: "Hello, is this the lady of the house?"
Me: "Not exactly. Who's speaking, please?"
Them: "Is your mother or father in?"
Me: "I'm 24, I live alone. Who is this, please?"
Them: "Could I speak to the lady or the man of the house please?"
Me: "There are no men or women living here. WHO IS THIS?"
*beeeeeeeep* as they hang up.

I'm accosted in the street by a Christian who wants to talk to me about God.
Them: "Come into this church and listen to my talk! You'd be very welcome."
Me: "Thanks for the offer, but I am Pagan and very happy in my faith! I hope the talk goes well, though."
Them: "Even more reason to come on in!"
Me: "Well, I'm not exactly resistant to hearing what other people have to say, but why not give me a bit of an overview before I head in, so I can decide if it's something I might like to hear?"
Them: "Okay! Well, finding a common ground might help. Do you feel that there are some things, some acts, that are fundamentally immoral?"
Me: "No, I think we as human beings ascribe morality to meaningless acts."
Them: "But there are things that everyone can agree are wrong. Take, for example, adultery."
Me: "I'm polyamorous."
Them: "But that's deceit!"
Me: "No, I'm very honest in my relationships. A basic part of polyamory is the idea that everyone understands what's going on and everyone is consenting. There's no deceit. You could argue that there's less cheating than in monogamy, though that's not always true."
Them: "But you must, in your lifestyle, feel that sleeping with two people is dishonest, and you can never truly love someone and be happy."
Me: "You can, but for the most part that doesn't apply to me. I'm asexual."
Them (with anger/disbelief): "So you're polyamorous and you don't have sex??"
Me: "My sex life is none of your business, but for asexuals in general, relationships are very much not at all about sex."
Them: "Hang on, talk to this man about religion."
They then refer me to someone who proceeds to tell me that I am doing everything wrong and I am wrong as a person, that I shouldn't want to be the way I am naturally, that I can change who I am, and that his entire way of life is correct and right and good because he believes it is and that makes it true.

It feels like a battle, but it's one I'm happy to fight, because it's harder and more painful to pretend to be a straight, sexual, monogamous woman.

Edited to add:
I was joking earlier at Golem HQ about how this post is a block of text that needs pictures, so I added the photo above that I found on Google Image Search for "queer bra" - it was my favourite result. :D However, I also found this excellent Autostraddle article on buying bras when you're a great big queer. I thought you should know.


  1. Thank you so much for such a great post. Keep being yourself -- lots of us love you for who you are and respect you for your fight!

  2. What a wonderful post, you moved me, interested me and made me laugh, (in fact it was one of those rare instances when the hideous 'lol' could be used in technical truthfulness). I sympathise with a lot of what you said, most specifically the frustrated claustrophobia of having so, so many assumptions made based on one small, mostly inconsequential and uncontrollable element of a person's overall humanity. The path you have chosen is one I have given serious thought to myself and whilst it hasn't yet been dismissed I either lack the impetus or the strength that you have to see it through at present. Even so, I find myself more and more frustrated by this constant need to be defined by gender, you have to be either definitely male/female and subject yourself to this binary or you have to make the brave decision to effectively make your life harder at every step - it irritates me greatly that there is no middle ground, no place or situation in larger society in which gender doesn't have some mis-placed importance, as you so rightly say, everything, the food we eat, tv watched, relationships, etc are all part of this binary. I think in terms of person friendships this is less of an issue, there is not so much of a need to define yourself amongst friends, but I ramble.
    Anyway, I just want to thank you for such a considered post and to ask you to keep us updated with success and obstacles, (as long as they're as entertaining as the above telephone conversation).

  3. Dear Veggie Dyke and Me, :)

    Thank you very much for your support. I read that sentence and it sounds hollow, but please understand that I mean it with all of my being! Gosh, I've come over all emotional. *cough*

    Seriously. Thank you.

    And Me, if you need someone to talk to about this stuff, leave a comment and we can email. (I warn you, I am BAD at email, but I get there in the end.) Life is getting easier for genderqueer folk, and there's strength in knowing each other and hearing stories.

    I often witter on about my journey through the strangeness that is my gender on my Tumblr blog, though sometimes it's also full of silly stuff:

    But I will pop back here at important milestones and tell you all about it.

    MASSES of love.

  4. Perhaps the best available gender neutral title likely to be accepted by database validators is Dr. If they ask which institution, say the University of Life. I'm sure many would be happy to print you an honorary Doctorate certificate from said institution. I know, it risks people thinking you're pretentious and it can get you into minor problems if people imagine you are a medical doctor, but that's one which those with Phd's from accredited Universities face.