• To Dream of Magick
  • Dreamer, Shaper, Seeker, Maker

Beyond the Gender Binary

Posted on Wed Nov 19 19:00:00 CST 2014 by Savanni D'Gerinel

Reflection

Pause for a moment. Bring your mind to quiet, maybe close your eyes. Ask yourself one question.

Am I a man or a woman? Has there ever been a time when I doubted this?

For many of you, the answer came back quickly. So quickly, maybe, that you weren't aware of any delay between me asking the question and you knowing the answer. It is, after all, just obvious, right?

For many of you it is. For some of us, it's intensely confusing.

And, for better or for worse, it is important.

From Birth

“I suppose the most important thing, the heaviest single factor in one's life, is whether one's born male or female. In most societies it determines one's expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners—almost everything. Vocabulary. Semiotic usages. Clothing. Even food. Women... women tend to eat less... It's extremely hard to separate the innate differences from the learned ones. Even where women participate equally with men in the society, they still after all do all the childbearing, and so most of the child-rearing....” -- Ursula le Guin

  • aggressive
  • math + science
  • sports
  • doctors, engineers, judges, President
  • docile and emotional
  • housewives and stay-at-home moms
  • nurses, secretaries, schoolteachers, PTA
  • $$$

Domenstication as a "boy" or as a "girl", with the eventual goal of growing up into "men" and "women", begins at birth and it is based on one decision by a doctor. From that moment onwards, the training is pervasive and usually crushing. It creates stereotypes, and stereotypes become walls, segregating people, creating the "battle of the sexes", and giving women a generally poorer life than men, and transgendered people an even harder one.

I am a gender activist because this is NOT the world I want.

Savanni

  • Femme Androgyne
  • AMAB
  • Zie/Hir

So, Hi. I'm Savanni. I am an Androgyne with a feminine presentation, assigned male at birth. My preferred pronouns are zie/hir, but I really accept just about any pronouns.

  • Photographer
  • Programmer
  • Cyclist
  • Gamer
  • Alchemist
  • Geek
  • Polyamory Educator
  • Gender Identity Educator and Activist

More interestingly, I am also a photographer, programmer, cylist, gamer, alchemist, all-around geek, polyamory educator, and gender identity educator and activist.

  • Man
  • ... in women's clothing

What you saw when you first saw me was probably a "man" dressed as a woman. Or, if you were reading something about me that I did not write, you saw the word "he". Or perhaps somebody was talking about me: "He's a great guy", or "He's one of our better programmers", or "Let's see if he wants to join us for dinner". My birth sex assignment is forefront in every conversation you may have about me, in the first impression you have about me. Our language is rigged up that way. It shapes how you think of me constantly.

I should be fair, though, and mention that people who don't know me typically read me as a woman these days when they see me. I don't know whether they read me differently after hearing my voice.

But, while I think about and study gender identity quite a bit, and I prefer to surround myself with other nonbinary people, the interesting parts of me have nothing to do with my gender identity. An actual conversation with me is more likely about color theory, composing a photograph, the latest board game, emotional self-care, surviving in Austin on a bicycle, and the merits and flaws of various programming techniques.

Sex

You're born and the doctor marks "male" or "female" on your birth certificate. The doctor makes this choice by looking at your genitals. Perhaps some of you are already aware of intersex, but there is no space on a birth certificate or in legal records to be designated intersex.

If you're unlucky enough to have obviously non-conformant genitals, then the doctor makes a best guess and then starts recommending surgeries. Basically, the doctor and the parents are forcing sex reassignment surgery on a child so young that the child can't understand what is happening. Consent isn't even a consideration. It takes a long time to heal from sex reassignment, and such a surgery, especially conducted at a young life, holds risks of unnecessary sterility, loss of sexual sensation, and unnecessary deformity.

Additionally, though, many intersex conditions are simply undetected until later in life. Testicles where everyone expected ovaries. A uterus in somebody born only with a penis. Extremely low testosterone in a "boy", or extremely high testosterone in a "girl". Some of these conditions are rare, but they exist in non-trivial numbers.

In fact, estimates by the Intersex Society of North America put the rate of "bodies that differ from standard male or female" at one in 100.

We're treating sex like this.

Sex actually looks more like this.

Gender Identity

  • Cisgender
  • Transgender (also, Trans, Trans*)
    • Binary
      • Trans man, Trans woman
    • Nonbinary
      • Genderqueer
      • Androgyne
      • Agender
      • Bigender
      • Third gender
      • ...

Gender identity is related to your body, but it is not the same. It is, instead, one of the many lenses through which you experience the world. When I say that I am an Androgyne, I am referring to my gender identity and am saying that when I experience the world, I experience it through a lens that doesn't actually fit masculinity or femininity.

I like classification schemes, so I shall give you the current one.

  • Cisgender means that your physical sex and gender identity match up. A man who was assigned male at birth. A woman who was assigned female at birth.
  • Transgender refers to all people whose gender identity does not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Transgender people can be binary or nonbinary. Binary transgender people identify as men and women.
  • Nonbinary people identify between or even completely outside of the man/woman spectrum. Genderqueer is an umbrella term which can mean the same thing, but it usually carries a hint of performance and a hint of political opposition. To quote someone more witty than myself, "I'm not going into any of the boxes you've created, thank you, enjoy the spectacle."
  • Because I've mentioned it so much, I'll define Androgyne. I am someone who carries the energetics of both masculinity and femininity, in such a way as to live in a neutral space in between the two poles. You could say that I picked up some traits of masculinity, some of femininity, but set up camp with all those traits that are common to both.

There are a lot more terms that can be classified under the nonbinary category, and each one of them has a subtly different meaning with historical references and personality references. This is enough to get you started, but I will also point to some of the best resources I know on the web.

Gender Presentation

More than any of the others, this is a role and thus extremely flexible. We have defaults that we fall into, but society also heaps expectations about that on us about how we will present most of the time. Those expectations vary based on cultural norms that can vary by economic class, ethnicity, your location, and the current era.

Walk into a Renaissance Festival and the standards of dress change radically. Walk into a financial business and the standards change again. Go to Saudi Arabia, or to Japan. Each place has a wildly different set of standards for how men and women should express themselves. Each culture imposes a reward and penalty system form punishing transgressions and supporting conformity.

Presentation includes

  • mode of dress, makeup and hair style
  • gait and mannerisms
  • word choice, vocal pitch
  • career and hobbies

The Unicorn

Living like this

I am always hyper-sensitive to gender considerations. When I walk into an unknown room, such as this one, I always wonder how people are going to perceive me. My gender assignment at birth has straightjacketed me into a variety of roles. Some of them are very desireable, some are not, and I always wonder what punishment I will face for having discarded most of them.

Are you going to see me as a man or a woman? How do you expect me to dress? How do you expect me to act? Are you going to listen to anything I have to say? Am I here with a curious, sympathetic group, or am I standing in front of a group looking for a fight? Is it safe for me to be here if you suddenly "read" me? Will I be harassed in the bathroom?

What will happen when I walk into my next interview in slacks, a blouse, and makeup? Or a major family event? Will the TSA harass me when I fly? What about the police? In Wimberley? Or north Texas? Or Oklahoma? What countries can I safely tour?

Where can I live safely? Where will I find a community that gets me? Where will I find people that I'm attracted to? Where will I find people attracted to me?

Where will I find a good therapist? Will I be able to find a doctor who is willing to keep my meds going? Am I going to have even more trouble simply because I'm not actually going to become a woman? Is there a spiritual community that will welcome me?

Now, let's pause for a moment. I want you to think about which of these questions you have had to ask yourself.

While anyone on the Trans* spectrum may have more of those to think about than normal, most of us probably have thought about this before. Consider what that means about our commonalities. Even if you cannot relate in terms of actual gender identity, you can relate in terms of simple life concerns. We all have them, and they don't vary by all that much. When you understand that the person in front of you may fear the same things as you, that is the opening by which you may become more compassionate. I think compassion breaks down walls more effectively than any other human trait.

Respect

What does respect mean?

It means seeing us as people. Whole, sovereign, healthy. We are uncommon, but we are not strange. Some of us are going through a hard time, but we know what we want. And, we live in the same world as you, so we have a lot of the same concerns that you have. We have more in common with you than we have different.

Never ask about surgical status or what genitals someone has. You wouldn't ask that of someone you thought was cisgendered (or, at least I hope you wouldn't), so don't ask it of us. In general conversation, it is flatly insulting, and it is not your business.

Don't ask what their ID says, although, in some cases, people might volunteer that information because getting that gender marker changed is a big legal hurdle and crossing it can be more exciting than graduation or marriage. If that happens, celebrate with them, because that is one of just many big hurdles we face towards recognition.

The right to self-identify is sacrosanct. Never argue with anyone about hir gender, even though hir expression may not match what you expect. Yes, this can be confusing. But, generally, we are going to dress in a way to give you cues, and that speaks more than our natural appearence does.

Pronouns

He Him His
She Her Hers
They Them Theirs
Zie Hir Hirs

We have to deal with the Pronoun question. Pronouns are important unless you are explicitely told they are not. Once somebody tells you what pronouns you prefer, do everything you can to ensure you use them correctly. Pronouns have an undue influence on our self-esteem, and intentionally misgendering someone will almost always trigger hostility. It acts as a way of rejecting that person's identity and imposing your own dictates. Accidental misgendering is usually less harmful, but it frequently triggers gender disphoria and it will definitely become very annoying.

Advancing the use of a generic third person pronoun helps out with this. With such a pronoun, we can escape from calling somebody by the wrong gender. We can stop assuming the default male that "neutral he" implies. How about we use "they" for this function? Don't know what to use? Use "they". Most people already do even without knowing it.

"Zie/Hir/Hirs" can be used for people like me where you know my gender, and my gender is non-binary. This may sound awkward now, but how many skills have you acquired that felt easy and smooth in the beginning? Familiarity reduces awkwardness.

I believe that gendered pronouns enforce a gender split, dividing the world into two categories unnecessarily. Their use reminds us constantly to consider gender when considering any given person, making us think about hir gender more frequently than we think about any other aspect of who zie is. I have not yet taken the radical step of switching to a gender neutral pronoun for everyone, but I have considered it.

Making Safe Space

When you look around with the right eyes, you start seeing all of the discrimination that happens. There's "ladies night" where the bars are for women only. Kink events where men pay one price to get in and women pay a lower price different. Poly couples always searching for someone AFAB. "Enlightened" events where women are welcome, single men are forbidden, and no provision made for trans folks at all. Expectations for how you must dress for an interview. Prejudices about the reliability of information, or the skill of an employee based solely on their birth assignment.

  • Hire a diverse group of employees. Include people of various races, all genders. And value all of their opinions.
  • If you are a writer or storyteller, challenge your tropes about women, and include people of a variety of genders.
  • If you must put a gender segregation into your group, be really concious of
    • Why
    • Sex assignment or gender identity
    • Stance towards transgender individuals

Curiosity

Cultivate curiosity. The kind of playful curiosity that walks in without preconceptions and just marvels at how cool the world can be, how many shades of every color and every flag can be there.

Think about your prejudices and your assumptions. Muse on a world that doesn't have gender. Muse on a world that doesn't have distinct sexes. Read some of the science fiction out there that deals with this head-on.

Our debt to the past

A discussion of respect is incomplete without we nonbinary people paying our own respects to our forunners. First the women's rights movements throughtout history. Women's rights did not start with the 1920s, but have actually been a simmering issue through all of recorded history, and a lot of people died to get us to where we are today.

Then to the gay and lesbian rights movements. And then the transgender movement. Again, a lot of people have died to get us here.

Someone I met recently told me several times that we stand on the shoulders of giants. I disagree. We stand here on the support of many who have come before us, and I believe that the nonbinary movement would still be completely hidden if not for all these others.

“The Gethenians do not see one another as men or women. This is almost impossible for our imaginations to accept. After all, what is the first question we ask about a newborn baby? ....there is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protected/ protective. One is respected and judged only as a human being. You cannot cast a Gethnian in the role of Man or Woman, while adopting towards 'him' a corresponding role dependant on your expetations of the interactions between persons of the same or oppositve sex. It is an appalling experience for a Terran ” -- "Ursula le Guin"

Resources

Comments

More of my Eugene Photos

Posted on Sun Oct 19 08:00:00 CDT 2014

Eugene Court Plaza, Eugene, Oregon. 2014-02 Japanese Garden Sculpture, Eugene, Oregon. 2014-02 Shattered Fountain, Eugene, Oregon. 2014-02

Some of these photos have been seen before, and some are new to you. The plaza outside of the Eugene courthouse, sculptures in the memorial garden for the Japanese internment camps of World War 2, and a fountain made to look shattered on the University of Oregon campus.

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People Who Enrich My Life

Posted on Sat Oct 11 08:00:00 CDT 2014

A sampling of the people who enrich my life, some on a daily basis, some monthly, and some only once in my lifetime. And here are more such people. As time passes, there will be more such pictures as I get better at putting people in front of a camera.

My birthday is on the 13th of October, but I am celebrating today on the 11th. And so in this I express gratitude to all of the people who have, at one time or another, accompanied me through life.

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Bookpeople

Posted on Wed Oct 8 08:00:00 CDT 2014

Bookpeople, 2013-04

Bookpeople, Austin, Texas. 2013-04-20, f/4.5, ISO 800, HDR 1/30s:1/125s:1/8s, 27mm

Oh, the books. Oh, the playground! Oh, joy, that there are so many writers willing to slave their lives over paper, typewriters, and word processors!

Bookpeople is one of only a few independently owned bookstores in the Austin area. It also is a central hub for many book signings and similar events. Neil Stephenson is just one of the many authors who have spent time talking and signing books here.

Also, this is one of the first new HDR photographs that I have done this year. As I said, my toolchain is working again and I'm churning out new work of both the HDR and non-HDR varieties!

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Altars

Posted on Wed Oct 1 08:00:00 CDT 2014 by Savanni D'Gerinel

Window Altar, 2012 Window Altar, 2012
Summer Altar, 2013 Autumn Altar, 2013

Here are some pictures of altars from the Toltec Center from previous years. We have a wonderful woman in charge of making a new altar to honor the changing of the seasons. These come from Winter of 2012 and from Summer and Autumn of 2013.


In other news, I've managed to get my old HDR toolchain (using pfstools and whatnot) working again! I'll start generating images again and start posting new HDR shots next week, probably starting with Winter of 2013 and Spring, Summer, and Autumn of 2014. And I'll step up the process of reposting all of my old portfolio images.

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Equinox Selfie, 2014-09

Posted on Sun Sep 28 17:30:00 CDT 2014 by Savanni D'Gerinel

Justice, 2014-02

New selfie. 2014-09-27, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/320s, 50mm

Sure, Equinox was on the 22nd or 23rd this year, but we at the Toltec Center were busy with a retreat. So, we celebrated Equinox late. I got all dressed up, as is my custom, and since they have decent lighting and a full-length mirror there, it was time for a new selfie.

Disappointingly, I'm seeing some definite high-ISO noise in this shot.

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Hacker School, part 2

Posted on Mon Sep 8 20:45:00 CDT 2014

I just withdrew my application to the Hacker School.

I am going to drink some and watch a movie. Tomorrow I'm going to start searching for companies interesting enough to catch my attention, or interested in having me do Haskell work.

And that is pretty much all I'm going to say about it.

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Washburn

Posted on Tue Aug 26 12:30:00 CDT 2014 by Savanni D'Gerinel

In which Washburn attempts to defend me from the dangers of my mouse.

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Communication Fragmentation

Posted on Wed Aug 20 16:30:00 CDT 2014 by Savanni D'Gerinel

By "communication fragmentation", I refer to the massive overwhelming tidal waves of ways to communicate with people.

I hate it.

It's not that I dislike being able to communicate with a lot of people, it's that I have to check ten or more different locations! I've tried limiting down to just a few, tried teaching people who want to communicate with me to look at those few, but it doesn't really work. And the worst part is that I'm really an emailer. I don't much like the super-short-form communication, and broadcast-style communication, encouraged in Facebook, G+, and the other modern systems.

But, Google has decided I'm a spammer. I basically can't reliably email anyone I don't know. I can't even email the mailing lists at the Hacker School, which I'll be attending in just a month. My emails automatically go to Gmail spam or get rejected as a "bulk sender". Since Google has no "customer support", I don't know that I'll ever be able to resolve this, either. And so, when I send a thorough, thought-out email to someone, I don't know if the lack of reply is because it got spamboxed, they haven't checked their email in a week, or because they haven't been able to answer yet.

Obviously, as much as I love email, email is dead. At least, it is for me.

So, is anyone working on a reliable replacement? Preferably something more resistant to spam-bombing than email was, and with an easier time of verifying sender identities. I could come up with a scheme for such a system, but why bother when gaining adoption would be almost impossible?

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From a Garden Party

Posted on Wed Aug 20 08:00:00 CDT 2014

All four of these pictures are some old ones from my previous HDR work. The only thing they have in common is that they are all from a party that I went to some years ago. I wanted to get them back up, though, because I like all of them.

I really miss having a working HDR toolchain. I'm getting closer to having something working with Illuminance, but it's taking forever.

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