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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My Autism Journey

October 2016

I met my best friend, who also happens to be autistic. She observed autistic traits in me that no one else had in the 31 years previously.

I was sceptical. I was almost 32 and no one had ever even considered I was anything other than neurotypical (outside of depression and anxiety) but what she was saying made sense.

She pointed me in the direction of online Autism Quotient tests. I scored between 39-42 on pretty much every test I took. She scored 39 and had an official diagnosis.

February 2017

On the 22nd February 2017, I accepted that I was autistic. I sat crying into my phone messaging my best friend saying that nothing had ever made so much sense to me in my life.

With research I’d been doing over the last few months I came across some great trans and autistic communities and realised that some 35% of autistic people are also trans or gender nonconforming. (I wish someone would study that link.)

March 2017

I went to my GP and told them that I think I’m autistic and gave them a list of reasons why. They asked me all sorts of intrusive questions that I didn’t like. I left that appointment crying and proceeded to have a meltdown in my car. (I’d also spoken to them about trans issues in this appointment and the questions about that were so uneducated and misinformed. This was also to be my downfall going forward for both issues.)

May 2017

I attend my first appointment at Trealaw Mental Health Unit in South Wales.

Expectations: GIC referral and referral to a consultant psychologist to be assessed for ASD. (Autism Spectrum Disorder.)

Reality: Nonbinary erasure, intrusive questions, disbelief that at 32 I was only just realising I was both trans and autistic.

I went over again all the things I had told my GP using my list I created, breaking down different behaviours in blocks of 5 years up until the present day. The nurse I saw took a photocopy of the list and said that they were unable to refer me me further because they were not a consultant and they didn’t know when a consultant would be available to see me.

June-October 2017

The above situation happened a total of 7 times, including an appointment which had a blood test in it to see if I was able to go on testosterone. (Talk about getting my hopes up!)

It was so draining, intrusive and destroyed my mental health. My drinking increased ten fold in this time. It was the only way I could cope with the constant invalidation and disappointment. I had a meltdown in my car after every appointment.

I also had an autism advocate write two letters of complaint. Each time I got a call from the head of mental health in my county apologising. I kept telling him that I thought someone along the line was gate keeping the pathways and that I wasn’t going to give up. I made it very clear that we could continue wasting NHS time and resources for as long as he wanted.

November 2017

I get two letters in the post.

The first one comes with clear instructions as to what the appointment is for. I’m going to see a consultant to be assessed for ASD. The appointment is in January and they need me to fill out a written autism quotient test and bring it with me.

The second letter has no details on it, just an appointment at the standard mental health place in February. (It was cancelled due to snow so I still don’t know what this was for, but as of Feb 2018 I still don’t have an NHS GIC referral.)

January 2018

The day of my appointment with the consultant is here. I’ve deliberately got myself in a bit of a state by messing with my routine and having lots of appointments on the same day to emphasise my autistic traits. I mask quite well sometimes and that was definitely not needed here.

I rock up at Trealaw Mental Health Unit only to find that my appointment was at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital and not the place I had been attending for the past few months. They took my AQ test and rescheduled the appointment. I went and had a meltdown in my car, which seems pretty standard practise for all my visits there now.

February 2018

The day itself  before my appointment was incredibly stressful for reasons I’m not going to disclose. My best friend met me in Pontypridd and I was in full shut down mode. They had never seen me like this before. They dropped me at the Royal Glam and wished me luck.

The consultant was late. I’m not sure if this was deliberate, but I was basically twitching and trying not to have a meltdown by the time he eventually showed up.

We sat and chatted for about 2 hours. He changed his fountain pen twice with the amount he was writing. He liked my now rather scruffy piece of paper with the age categories and developmental milestones. (He took that otherwise I’d show you a copy now. ) He asked about relationships, social difficulties and all sorts of stuff about my childhood. I told him I live in the world below eye contact and I miss a lot of social cues because of this. I looked at his face twice but not his eyes. I wouldn’t know him in the street.

I’m going to attach an edited version of his report so that you can see the criteria he was looking for. However please be aware that he misgenders me throughout and I have asked him to edit this in the copy he sends to my GP. (It was difficult for me to read because of this.)

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I’ve shared this process with you in the hope that it will help you if you are an adult seeking diagnosis in the NHS or elsewhere. Please feel free to ask any questions.

The search for the illusive GIC referral continues……….

 

 

My Emerging Male Privilege

I finally admitted to myself around a year ago that I needed to medically transition. What this means for me is that I’ll be masculinising myself with the addition of testosterone and eventually having top surgery.

I’m doing this because the dysphoria of being called she/her/woman/girl everyday is destroying me. I’m not a man either and I never will be. I’m non-binary and I’m transmasculine. However in the masculinising process I expect that I’ll get misgendered from the other side with he/him/boy/man. That doesn’t hurt me nearly as much and it comes with it’s own set of privileges that people who are seen as women do not get.

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So what is male privilege?

I took this straight from Wikipedia:

Special privileges and status are granted to men in patriarchal societies. These are societies defined by male supremacy, in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. With systemic subordination of other genders, men gain economic, political, social, educational, and practical advantages that are more or less unavailable to other genders. The long-standing and unquestioned nature of such patriarchal systems, reinforced over generations, tends to make privilege invisible to holders; it can lead men who benefit from such privilege to ascribe their special status to their owned individual merits and achievements, rather than to unearned advantages.”

(Obviously I edited it slightly to erase their binary nonsense, but you get the standard textbook definition.)

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What this means is that anyone who “passes” as a man in our society gets certain privileges. This includes cis men, trans men and transmasculine nonbinary folks. This manifests in the way people treat you at work, how people value your opinions, opportunities open to you, how people greet you etc etc.

(Please note that passing is cis normative term that many trans people reject and that trans folks have their own set of challenges regardless of any male privilege bestowed on them by society.)

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At this present moment before I start testosterone, I have what I call “fleeting male privilege.” It’s given to me and taken away at a rate of knots when people realise I have boobs or that my voice is too high to be considered masculine.

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Until recently I’ve never had a sustained period of male privilege bestowed on me. My best friend is a nonbinary trans man and happens to do that weird thing the cis defined as “passing.” We were walking with another friend (who’s also trans) through Cardiff city centre and I guess all three of us looked like young white cis men because people got out of our way. People avoided eye contact. No one bothered us at all. This struck me because neither of them noticed and I noticed with every inch of my being. It made me really uncomfortable.

I think everyone deserves a high level of respect, dignity and opportunity but I guess that’s why I’m a feminist. I’ll be documenting my emerging male privilege as I transition.

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A Letter To My Friends & Family

In June 2012, I came out to my friends and family as genderqueer. I asked everyone to use gender neutral pronouns and never refer to me as female/she/her again. I explained that this means I am not male or female and never have been.

In October 2012 I dressed up as a zombie police officer for Halloween. I gave the character a beard. In fact the beard was so affirming that I wore it the whole of the next day and really didn’t want to wash it off. I remember telling my best friend at the time that I thought I might need to transition. She was supportive, but I was too scared and buried it deep inside me like I had done my whole life.

Over time I watched my trans friends transition and I was secretly jealous of their ability to be who they were. I kept telling myself that I didn’t need to transition. That who I was, was perfectly valid. The dysphoria was eating me alive nonetheless.

Around 2014 I redefined my gender identity as nonbinary. It means basically the same thing as genderqueer and sits as an umbrella term for people for don’t conform to binary gender norms. I liked it better. Enby is also an epic colloquial term. I also decided that this identity was a transgender identity. I now told people I was trans as part of my nonbinary identity.

Frankie came to be in April 2016. I needed to move away from my overly feminine name given to me when I was born. This was tough at work and initially with my friends. My family, never really having got the hang of my gender neutral pronouns, have still not got the hang of my new name as of November 2017.

From April 2016 to April 2017 I was happy just to be Frankie. My gender identity was still nonbinary, but instead of presenting in a fluid way where I would drift between feminine and masculine, I presented as entirely masculine.

At the end of April 2017 I was drunk in Cardiff. I was sat on my own outside of Brewdog enjoying the spring sunshine and everything I had been suppressing about my gender identity came to the surface. I needed to transition. I needed to masculinise physically. I text my mum and then told Facebook.

How I identify now is Transmasculine Nonbinary and I will be beginning my physical transition in April/May 2018. Here are some things you need to know:

  1. The NHS has made this process very difficult. They have been messing around sending me to mental health units and demeaning my experience for the past seven months, when I should have been referred to the gender clinic and been on their two year waiting list by now. I am still pursuing this route because there is no way I can afford my whole transition privately. However, I was able to afford two private consultations which will allow me to begin transitioning in Spring next year.
  2. My transition will start with regular injections of testosterone. This will push my body into what is essentially “male” puberty. My shoulders will broaden. My muscle and fat distribution will change. My voice will deepen and hopefully I’ll get a decent amount of body hair, especially on my face. (There are other changes too but you don’t really need to know about them. :P) I will appear to society as a “man”, but I will still have boobs. They will be flattened by a binder, when I find one that doesn’t cause me sensory issues.
  3. Somewhere down the line I will have what is know as top surgery. I will have my boobs surgically removed and replaced with pecs.  My boobs are a massive source of dysphoria. If I could have them taken off first, I would. People use my boobs to gender me and I hate it.
  4. I will not be having bottom surgery. My cunt does not cause me any dysphoria at all.
  5. This does not mean I am a man. I will never be a man. I am nonbinary. I do not fit in any binary boxes of gender nonsense. I will continue to use gender neutral pronouns.

 

I need you all to know that I have gone through a lot of emotional pain to get to this point. I NEED you to respect my pronouns and my name. Making mistakes was fine to start with, but it’s been a year and a half and mistakes are starting to look more and more like they are deliberate. If you continue to dead name and misgender me, I will have to remove you from my life.

This has been your final warning.

Frankie

 

 

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

A Gender Revolution?

When National Geographic magazine announced they were going to do a whole issue on gender, I was understandably excited but sceptical. Here I examine the good and bad parts of The Gender Issue.

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They start out pretty badly to be honest. They have interviews with Gloria Steinem and Sheryl Sandberg. Gloria goes on to state that, “the idea of race and gender are divisive.” That’s a really privileged comment to make in my opinion and has no place in modern feminism.

The magazine goes on to ask questions of them both about binary gender:

What advice would you give girls and boys today?

Nice one NG! Erased in the first interviews. At this point I want to throw the fucking thing out the window and hope it hits a TERF in the face. ARGH!

Page five comes with a diverse image of people of different genders and races from across the world and a list of terms relating to them. For example it gives definitions of gender expression and gender fluidity. There could have been more of this. It’s 4 pages long and probably the best thing in the entire magazine. It was nice to see my identity covered too. That’s not something I’ve seen in a mainstream magazine before.

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So now I’m hopeful. They get that gender isn’t binary, right? Nope. The next few pages are filled with binary gender statistics. I could have been erased entirely by science anywhere, but in the pages of a magazine claiming to be exploring gender, it hurts a tad bit more. I dunno if I’m just over reacting now. What did I expect? A magazine about gender to actually explore other genders than cis male and cis female properly?

A few pages later and I come across an article about intersex butterflies. Interesting. They explained what intersex was earlier and that the term, “hermaphrodite” is considered offensive. So what do they go on to do? Describe the butterflies as hermaphrodites. Are you fucking serious? What actually is life?

More binary gender stats about cis men and cis women. *yawn*

I’m actually bored shitless now and angry. Why am I even reading this tripe? The next set asks kids from around the world about gender. They include one transgirl for a bit of variety, but even she sees gender as male and female only. (She’s only 9 so we’ll let her off.)

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Rethinking Gender is a gripping few pages. It examines the science behind our gender identities, different cultures with accepted third genders and the legality of officially changing your gender from the one you were assigned at birth. I actually thoroughly enjoyed this section.

The whole rest of the magazine is dedicated to:

  •  How different cultures celebrate children becoming adults i.e men and women. That would have been fine if they had included other genders too. Obviously not though.
  • Paternal leave in Sweden. Um what?
  • Gender roles…..binary gender roles. Not the cool ones.;)

It was hard to read this issue and it was hard to write this blog because it brought out some very angry thoughts. Buy it if you fancy fucking screaming at it and smacking your head against the wall repeatedly. Also and just for clarity, fuck the cistem and fuck the binary.

Night all.

 

 

My Gender Queer Life

I grew up in a house with two opposite sex parents. I like to state this because it is not by any means a given in life. My mother was and still is obsessed with femininity and my father has always been traditionally masculine. A pretty traditional upbringing in all senses of the word.

I was closer to my dad as a child. I don’t really know why. By the time I was 3 I could name every car on the road because he loved cars. He often took me to work with him at a car showroom and to various motor sport events which I loved.

My mum put me in dresses for a long time, but as soon as I could choose, I was in trousers and a t-shirt. They made me feel more comfortable. Not to say I didn’t enjoy spending time with my mum, because I did.

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The first memory I have of knowing I was different was when I was 6 years old. My mum and my sister had taken me and my niece and nephew to an outdoor public paddling pool. It was a hot day and all the kids were running in and out of the water. My nephew threw his shirt off and ran into the pool with just shorts on. I took my shirt off and ran in after him. I was shouted at and told that girls must wear tops at all times. I protested, but I was really embarrassed. I had broken a social norm and all I ever wanted to do was please my family. It effected me so profoundly that I didn’t even consider what I felt like inside for almost 20 years.

Around the age of 14 I came out to my family as a lesbian. I had a girlfriend and it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide it. It was a relief but I suffered for it at school and in my personal life. To be honest this is quite irrelevant to my GQ story, other than a particular point I want to make:

Sexuality and gender and two different things.

  • Sexuality is who you are attracted to.
  • Gender is how you identify.

Like with the binary gender norms (male and female), sexuality is also enforced in a trinary (probably not a word.) Straight, gay or bisexual with the assumption you are straight unless you say otherwise.

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As an adult I have come to realise both are on a spectrum, identifying as pansexual and GQ. (Being pansexual means you are attracted to the whole spectrum and reject the gender binary.)

Around about the age of 27 my partner of 3 years left me. We had a mortgage together, 3 cats and we had built a stable life. She left without warning and little explanation. My boss at the time was an unsympathetic homophobe who basically told me to get over it. I sat and cried at my desk everyday until HR eventually signed me off sick for a week. I drank a lot and had time to think about what she had potentially been suppressing in me. I started to explore my feelings about gender on Tumblr and Reddit. I started to connect with people who felt the same way about themselves as me. We didn’t fit in the gender binary. We didn’t identify as male or female. We were gender queer.

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Now here is where it gets complicated so pay attention. There is a trans* umbrella. It encompasses lots of different identities such as gender fluid, bigender and agender as well as gender queer. I personally am fluid in my gender. Sometimes I feel more masculine or more feminine. However most of the time I’m entirely androgynous. I identify as gender queer because I don’t fit. I’m queer of the norm. If I want to actually pass as a cis male, then I will dress as one and do exactly that. I find it harder to pass as cis female for fucks sake and I have a damn vagina!

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A lot of my gender queer friends have gone on to transition to become who they really are. For example having a female body and transitioning to that of a male. They are now transgendered people. Me on the other hand, I am already who I am and that is queer as bloody folk. 😉

 

So what is my life like on a daily basis? I get up and I think about how I’m feeling. Shall I wear tight jeans or shall I wear a baggy hoodie? Shall I leave the hairs on my lip or shall I pluck them? Suitably dressed for how I’m feeling I’ll go to the gym. Unfortunately at my local gym they do not have gender neutral changing rooms so I have to make a decision based on how I am presenting to the world. Sometimes this is made for me and I am ushered into the male changing rooms because even being androgynous means you are definitely male in the binary world. After the gym I’ll go to the supermarket to grab some shopping. I’ll need a wee because I’ll have drunk a lot post workout. Again there are no gender neutral facilities. I look at the door and the symbols don’t match who I am or how I feel. I have to yet again make a decision I’m not comfortable with. If I go into the female toilets I am often whispered about and sometimes even blatantly shouted out. If I go in the male toilets I could get beaten up. Ah I’m at home now. I’ll check Facebook and see what’s going on in the world. I’ll get misgendered as ‘she’ by strangers and even people I know when my profile clearly states my preferred pronouns are they and them. You know I’m really tired already and I haven’t even been to work yet. She this and she that all fucking night long. ARGH!!!!!!!

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As you can see it’s difficult being a non-binary person in a binary world. Every action can be a stressful situation just waiting to open up and swallow you. Only around people who truly accept me can I be comfortable and sometimes even they make mistakes. It’s so hard to be unconditioned when your whole life you are told that the binary is the only thing there is.

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Being gender queer certainly isn’t any form of attention seeking as I have been accused of in the past. It’s just me trying to express how I really feel inside on the outside.

I hope this little ramble has made things clearer for you. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below.