Labels

Everyone’s first experience of a label is the one they are given at birth. The one about 99% of us carry with us for our entire lives: our sex and gender. Everything you do and anything you will ever be is determined by that label in a patriarchal society. Those of us who reject the label given to us at birth are shunned by society and subject to systemic discrimination, yet society at large doesn’t seem keen on labels as a whole.

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Fast forward to 1999. I’m 14 years old and I’ve just started a new school. (I had to leave/was expelled from my two previous schools due to being bullied.) I’m into heavy metal and punk, so obviously I gravitated towards that group of people. The other kids called them, “Greebos” or “Greebs” but the most popular of them decided that labels weren’t cool so we never used the term. It was the same with the widespread bisexuality. If we didn’t talk about it or label ourselves we weren’t really different. We were just the same as everyone else, but we wore black and slept with people of multiple genders. (Yes I was having sex at 14.)

This situation didn’t last long for me and I ended up hanging out with the kids in the year below. They embraced labels and were subsequently called losers by the people I used to hang out with in my year group. We were Greebos. We were lesbians, gays and bisexuals and we were proud, even if just within our friendship group. We went through the same struggles together and our bond and our labels kept us together and kept us strong. I fell in love for the first time in 2001 with one of these people. We called ourselves lesbians and that stuck with me for the next nine years, even if the Greebo label faded into metal-head as time went by.

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So what are my labels now at 32 and what do they mean to me?

Autistic

I’ve been using this label since Feb 2017, when I truly accepted that this was who I was. A year later I had an official diagnosis.

I don’t say I am someone with autism. Autism is me. I am autistic.

Realising I was autistic was super validating for me. It explained a lot of my past behaviour and allowed me to find friends who were similar to me.

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Transmasculine Nonbinary

I am transgender. I lean towards masculinity. My transition involves testosterone and masculinising surgeries.

I am however not a man. I’m also not a woman. My gender identity and subsequent presentation fluctuates and sits well out of the norms for binary genders.

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Metal-head

I love all music actually but my focus is definitely focused on metal, punk and hardcore. I often dress in what can be considered as metal-head attire.

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Queer

Truly I am pansexual, but I like queer as an identity.

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Why are labels important?

My labels have brought some of the best people into my life. We have bonded over similar struggles and we have stood strong in the face of transphobia, homophobia and ableism. They give me a blanket of safety I can run and hide under when the allistic, transphobic world gets too much and they understand exactly why I need to do that.

It means when I’m out at the pub with my friends I’m not gonna get misgendered or called aggressive because of my autistic style of communicating. It means I was encouraged to be my authentic self at Trans Pride by being topless . It was the safety of having these people around me which allowed me to work up the courage to medically transition.

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We can also help other marginalised groups. They define who they are and the systemic discrimination they face. We listen to them and lend our privilege to help where it is needed. Without labels, I don’t think we would be able to do this so effectively and this leads on to my next point;

Why doesn’t society like labels as a whole?

In my experience oppressors don’t like labels because for them it means they are not the norm and when we use them, we use them to empower ourselves against their oppression.

For example cis women who reject the use of cis, even though it is literally what they are. They don’t like it because they have always just seen themselves as normal women and that trans women and femme aligned people are deviant in some way. This is often combined with TERf rhetoric. (The F is small deliberately cuz ain’t nothing feminist about their tripe.)

Another example is allistic people. This just basically means you aren’t autistic. Allistic people hate it because they see autistic people as abnormal and they are just normal people. Wrong.

So let’s embrace our labels and the labels of others, banding together to empower one another and bring down systems of oppression.

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Too Much Information

Since February 22nd 2017 I have been acutely aware that I am autistic. It has opened up my world significantly and lifted the severe burden I’ve felt for my behaviour all my life.

I have a good friend of mine to thank for this awareness. Her name is Selena. She is also non-binary and autistic.

I struggle around people in general, but I don’t struggle around Selena so we tend to do social things together. Last night she invited me to a bit of a DIY, house party gig.

We got fairly wasted. Towards the end of the night, she got up and did this spoken word piece. The room was silent and enthralled by her every word, especially me because every word rang so true in my heart and in my head.

I’ve asked for her permission to share this here and she delightfully agreed.

Too Much Information

Aut…ism

Aut meaning self

An ism of oneself

A glass jar I live within

As I watch you all

Detached from your presence

I watch

I see you

I see your silver hooped earings

As you tick tock your head to the rhythm, they dance along

They snatch the light, bright

Like floodlights in my line of sight

 

I see you.

I see the gravelly knit of your sweater

Like volcanic pebbles

Tumbled and tossed for a million years

And for a moment I am there

Wading, my toes cold in the spring water

 

You, I see too

Your hands clasping the tight lens of your camera

Twisting your fingers around the dials

I see the grain of the wood

The dampness of the soil in the jars and the harp and the German stoneware

I dive into the pattern of the mandala-like tapestry behind me

I’m hypnotised and I count

Mandala, mandala

I like that word

I repeat

Mandala

Like a mantra

Mandala

Mandala

 

I obsess

In my head (mandala)

My head is tight

I’m taking in too much information (mandala)

The light from your earrings

They’re beautiful because

(Mandala), because

They match the solver of your hair

Is that ok to say?

I never really know you see

Do you like this pattern?

It reminds me of a mandala

Mandala

I love that word

She’s not answering me

Her earrings are so shiny

 

It’s loud in here

I can hear the people breathing

Their sleeves rustling as they lift their arms

Slurp of their lips on their cans of SA

My heart is racing

I look at the mandala

I want to be here in the room

But I’m not

I’m in a glass jar

I can see you

But I’m not really here

On my face is a smile and my tongue is rowdy

Yet inside I’m shrunken

Drunken with over stimulation

I’m curled up in a ball, small and tight as my fist

Shielding my brain from all the information

Cos it’s loud and inside I’m screaming

It hurts and it’s really, really uncomfortable

I may look like like I’m not paying attention

But I want to be here

It’s just too much information.

 

By Selena Caemawr

The Face of Trans*

In the media lately there has been plenty of coverage of the lives of Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. Even Aydian Dowling has been on the Ellen Show. The point is that these people are seriously privileged.

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What’s it like to be transgendered in everyday life without celebrity privilege? I asked some members of the trans* community to give an account of what life is like for them. I think it’s important that we educate the general public so we can end the travesty that is transphobia. I also want those who are trans* to know that they are not alone.

This is James. He has preferred to remain anonymous. I’ve known him for a few years now. We met as part of an online vegan community.

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“I don’t know when I realised I was trans. Or maybe I did and just didn’t have the words to convey a sense of unease; a disconnect between my mind and my body. I only noticed how alien my chest feels once I began binding. Since discovering my transness, the feelings of discomfort with my body have located to very specific areas and I’m trying my best to modify the physical map of my body to match my mental map, though last summer I decided that I feel the best route for me would to go through the NHS and see if I can get some treatment. To this day I’m still waiting for my first appointment.

I never really knew any (out) trans men. I began identifying as non-binary around the age of twenty seven, when for the first time in my life I became exposed to spaces where it was ok to be queer and where binary gender concepts were scrutinised. I moved to a new city around two years ago and I began masculinising my appearance, though I initially found the word “trans man” difficult because “man” to me had so many negative connotations which where embedded in my mind from encounters growing up.

I didn’t want to be associated with “that guy” and I associated masculinity with misogyny and entitlement at the time, though subsequent conversations with a variety of people have helped me make a distinction between the concepts which helped me a lot. It took me a few years of knowing, but not admitting to myself that I’d need to take this step, to really come to terms with who I am, despite the fact I still often get my brain in to knots dissecting the crossroads between gender and the body and probably always will. In short, I don’t know how to explain how I got here because it’s complex, but I’m here and I’m way happier.

Life and day to day stuff? I’m a support worker for disabled adults. My job is very gendered and I’m out to my employers and they’ve been great. I’m really lucky that I haven’t experienced a great deal of transphobia so far, though I admit I’m also protected by the fact that I have a sibling and mother who’re very supportive and other amazing people in my life. I’m not saying I don’t struggle because I do still have periods of not being able to get out in public and I do get in to very negative thought patterns. I’m also worried about the content of gender clinic appointments, about medical gatekeeping and about how I’ll deal with transition, not only in changes to my body, but changes socially.

I’m hoping that this time next year I’ll have a bit of stubble coming through and a deeper voice. The process feels slow and I imagine there will be more challenges ahead than what I’ve faced so far. I have a roof over my head, people who love me and a lot of security in my life that I know many trans people don’t have. It’s for these reasons that we need to be working together, whether we’re trans ourselves, friends or partners of trans people, or individuals who just give a damn. It’s society and the oppressive systems under which we live that are the problem and we need to keep working together to fight them.”

This is Syluss. We met about 4 years ago through a mutual friend. Syluss has done two of my tattoos with a third booked in soon.

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“I always knew that I didn’t feel the same as anyone else or how I was expected to be from a really early age. I remember when I was a child, probably around the age of 9 or 10, praying to whoever every night that I would wake up being a boy as I didn’t feel right in my body. Fast forward to the age of 21, it all surfaced again after years of just being a gay girl. I discussed it with a couple of people and a friends mum and she mentioned that I was too pretty to be a boy. During that time the internet wasn’t as readily available to get all the information you needed to discover what was out there and who can help. So time went by, I got involved in music and travel and after living in Australia and seeing a great Trans and Gay community in Melbourne and how it’s much more accepted there than in England, I finally made my mind up to go ahead with it when I came back. So at the age of 36 I started the process. That was March two years ago and on September the 9th will be my 2 years on hormones. I get asked a lot why I waited so long to do it. In a way I wish I had just gone for it sooner. But mentally, I don’t think I was ready for it. I had to go through the path in life that I did in order to gain the experience and back bone to face life’s challenges that would come with transitioning.

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I am a full time tattoo artist and completely out about my trans-ness and am blessed with a couple of thing’s really regarding that.
Number one is working with a group of people that don’t see me any other way than who I am and treat me as a regular cis guy. Also this makes for a great environment for other trans men and women to come and feel comfortable to get tattooed in a non judgmental space. Even though the studio is on the High Street in Exeter, we are on the first floor making the area private and relaxing and not your usual fishbowl parlor. So people are safe in the knowledge that they can just be who they are and not worry about anyone infiltrating their personal space. We have a few regular trans-guys that come and get work by us for this exact reason.

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I really am grateful for my job and I work really hard and am pretty booked up. Because of that, a lot of my time when not tattooing, is drawing up designs, painting and designing custom work for other people etc. Summer is my busiest period so I usually book off time throughout the Winter/Spring and Autumn to go for long weekends or epic road trips in other countries. I love to travel and its my biggest passion other than art. I’m in a fortunate position that I have no dependents so I make the most of my own time. So I save, travel, repeat.

I can honestly say that I have been very lucky with regards to my transition so far. In the beginning I lost a couple of people because I think they didn’t know how to handle it but I think it was more due to people worrying about what their own friends and family would think of them knowing a “trans” person. To be honest, there is no love lost as It weed’s out the weaker people who I wouldn’t be able to rely on as a supportive friend. And I have plenty of those that do care greatly about me. So what more can a guy need.
Devon is very conservative and a bit more insular than nearer to London for example, so I am a minority here. There is only one gay venue in the city. And the whole Trans thing is more taboo down here. Touch wood, I haven’t had any abuse from anyone and to be honest, if I did, I am not afraid to name and shame people on their ignorance, so maybe that’s why I haven’t had anything done to me personally.
People will always talk and criticise something they don’t understand. If customer’s want me to openly talk about it and they ask me questions, I am happy to answer because it’s important to educate people on the subject. A lot of ignorance come’s from a lack of understanding. But when people get to know me then they realise that I am just like every one else.. Maybe just a bit cooler hahaha.”

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This is Gracie. They identify as gender variant. (The * is used at the end of trans because it can be an umbrella term. People with variant genders or no gender at all, like myself, also come under that banner and I think are probably very unrepresented, even in trans media.) She has also decided to remain anonymous.

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“I first knew when I tried on women’s clothes and realised how comfortable I was in them and how they suited me. Then I realised I’ve always had feminine behaviours and I’ve liked girly stuff since I was young so it kinda all made sense.

 Work wise I continue to be a guy, but I much prefer to be a girl because I am able to express myself without being restricted by ‘expectations’ of a masculine man so I would say I’m female 75% of the time now
I love women’s fashion and adore being beautiful, getting my nails painted, trying on clothes and I’m a shopaholic who can’t stop buying! I’m still interested in railways though.
I’ll be honest, bigotry exists and it generally comes from ‘alpha males’ and proper narrow minded men who think that being a woman is somehow below being a man and so they find it funny. I just shake off these irrelevant comments because my friends have all been amazing.”
This Ben. We’ve known each other on Facebook for about a year. We met through an abolitionist vegan network.
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“My name is Ben, and I’m a 45 year old Australian male. I identify as transsexual, transman, male, man or bloke with a cunt, depending on who I’m with. I wrote a memoir of my life’s journey (so far), so in that way I’m fairly open and candid about being trans. But in everyday interactions, I don’t particularly share my gender story. I felt strongly like I was a boy, or meant to be a boy, when I was about eight years old, in the late 1970’s. But I didn’t really understand how that was, or what to do about it. Puberty when I was eleven really threw my life out of kilter, and my teenage years were hellish. There were other issues around family dysfunction, abuse, and my sexuality that meant I never revisited my gender issues until I was thirty-two. I identified as a lesbian from thirty, but was probably really bisexual, if I’m being honest. My transition to Ben was fairly easy – certainly in comparison to what I expected. I had much greater support from work-colleagues and friends than I imagined, but my already strained relationship with immediate family meant their acceptance of my true self was never going to happen.

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My sexual self awakened after two years of testosterone and a bilateral mastectomy, and I spent some time “catching up” on sewing my wild oats with male partners. Not long after this I met my cisgendered male partner, and we’ve been together for eight years. We describe ourselves as a gay couple with a twist.

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I’m very comfortable in my own skin – apart from the getting older bit – and despite some sacrifices from my old life, transitioning has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Being Ben has truly been lifesaving.”

Unfortunately none of my transwomen friends were able to write me anything in time because they were too busy. I hope this gives you an incite into what the trans* community is really like and that it has helped to educate you and dispel any myths. Please feel free to ask as many questions as you like.

Your gender queer vegan. X