AMAB Terminology

So as you may have noticed, I refer to myself frequently on this blog as AMAB which means Assigned Male At Birth. So I want to elaborate on what that means to me (aka, not an expert) and why it’s not a good idea to assume that someone else is OK with that descriptor.

The language to describe transgender and nonbinary experiences and identities has evolved A LOT recently. For example, unless someone self identifies as transsexual, it’s not social acceptable anymore to call someone that. There are definitely people who still use the term for a variety of personal and historical reasons such as Julia Serano. But similar to how many other marginalized communities have either rejected or reclaimed words, the trans community is currently in a linguistic revolution.

Which brings me to my point. For a while recently there seemed to be general consensus that the terms AMAB or DMAB (Designated Male At Birth) were the best terms to use to describe people born with a penis who no longer identify as cisgender men in relevant contexts. But part of why that term was used is because it refers to how society, medical staff, and often our families, chose to gender us against our will. Another term that was used similarly was CAMAB (Coercively Assigned Male At Birth) to indicate the non-consensual nature of it. The term MAAB (Male Assigned at Birth) was also used but mostly by TERFs (Trans Exclusionary “Radical Feminists”) in my experience.

But these days, many kids are lucky enough to not have to go through as much of the denial of their gender. Kids are smart and a lot of people know as early as 2-5 that they like thinks such as dresses and dolls or other rejections of masculinity. And more and more, progressive parents and communities are supporting that and either raising their kids as gender neutrally as possible or looking for the signs the kid is displaying and supporting their identity and social “transition” (if you can even call it such at that age). We also now have much better healthcare options such as gender clinics at Children’s Hospitals which allow kids to medically transition younger or use hormone blockers to prevent or delay puberty.

As a result, not all kids are assigned a gender in the same way that those of us who transitioned as adults were. They probably get assigned a letter on their birth certificate but they don’t always have to fight for their identity against constant coercion to be masculine. So I don’t think it is right anymore to simply call someone AMAB because of your assumption about the body parts or chromosomes they had at birth.

As some of my friends have pointed out, when cisgender people use AMAB terminology in conversation, it can often be a politically correct way of misgendering someone or even outing them non-consensually. Whether someone “passes” or not, it isn’t really a stranger’s business what they got assigned in the hospital and definitely not what body parts or assumed chromosomes they have. Don’t try to earn yourself ally cookies by using our identity to brag about your acceptance. For example, unless that person has said it is OK, don’t say things like “my AMAB daughter” or “my AMAB partner.” It often feels like we are being treated as less than real when those terms are used. Saying that a trans woman “was something else” by referring to her dead name or assigned gender is incredibly hurtful and offensive and is far too often used as a weapon against us by TERFs and other bigots.

The reason I use the term here in my blog is because I personally do claim the term AMAB as an important part of my identity. My path to discovering myself is long and complicated but I do think it is useful in understanding ME to know that I thought I was just a weird boy for a long time. I know that if my parents ever described me as their AMAB kid it would feel very affirming because it means that they understand me and have adopted my chosen language as well as my current frame of reference. I very much was assigned male in every sense of the word and it shaped me (though not always in the ways you think), especially in a very unique part of my gender presentation – my beard.

I know I have probably used the term AMAB too broadly when referring to my slice of community here. But I’m not going to go back and edit those right now because the reason for me starting this blog still stands. I want to create online representation for people like me who have beards and who were assigned masculinity and have adopted femininity instead.

So please, keep referring to me as AMAB. But practice removing it from your assumptions about other people.


Gender euphoria

The flipside to the gender dysphoria I often talk about is that sometimes when I’m feeling really good about my body and identity I experience the glow of gender euphoria.  Today is one of those days I feel sexy AF! I’m loving the outfit I’m wearing and how it emphasizes my gorgeous legs. My shirt makes it look like I have great breasts and it shows just enough chest to make me feel good. And I’m wearing the shoes that never fail to get compliments. Some days it feels great to be me.

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Dysphoria again

Fucking dysphoria! Just when I think my day is going to be great, I glance in the mirror and see this ugly fat guy wearing unflattering clothes with huge shoulders. If I wasn’t already at work I would rip my clothes off and start over but it’s too late for that now.

Range of emotions

It’s amazing the range of emotions about gender that I can have just in the space of 90 minutes. I was almost late for work this morning because the first outfit I tried on was pinging my gender dysphoria and after hemming and hawing for far too long I finally decided to switch outfits. Something about the loose fitting slacks and the way my shoulders seemed to stand out just wasn’t working for me. I felt bad about not being able to wear an outfit that was probably really cute, at least according to my partner.

But I ended up switching to some tight fitting jeans, a floral top, and my black heel boots and now I feel sexy as fuck. On a whim I grabbed my new subtle lipstick as I walked out the door and I was feeling so confident by the time I got to work that I applied it in the men’s room. It felt so wonderfully subversive which for me is what being genderqueer is all about. Now I feel powerful and confident in my gender and appearance. I’m glad I listened to my feelings and took the time to change this morning.


Response to The Stranger’s “Detransition” article

I am furious at the local alternative newspaper The Stranger for their recent article on “Detransition” which I refuse to link to here. If you want to read it, you can find it linked in this excellent response from trans author Julia Serano – Stop pitting detransitioners against happily transitioned people. But venting about it on Facebook alone isn’t helpful so I wrote the editors this letter:

Hello editors,

I am a loyal fan of The Stranger and it has been my go-to local news source for almost a decade now. I’m writing to you because I genuinely want to see you continue to grow in your understanding and treatment of transgender issues. You’ve written a lot of great content during Pride but I was extremely disappointed to see the “Detransition” article you published, particularly this month. I want to be able to continue sharing and recommending your articles and resources but I can’t in good conscience do that until you publish a follow up to that article apologizing for the impact it had on my trans community.
I recognize that these are important stories that need to be told. I am not trying to invalidate the experiences of these anonymous sources. But the timing, tone, and lack of nuance in Katie Herzog’s article is highly problematic and hurtful. It shows a lack of compassion for the issues we are facing in this state right now and the complexity of the diversity of trans experience. Not to mention the poor journalistic choice of citing the widely discredited Dutch “research.”
My biggest beef is with the timing. Washington is on the tipping point of taking away many of the rights that trans activists have worked hard to put in place. As you acknowledge in your article, I-1552 is threatening our safety and is actively looking for fuel to gain the last signatures they need. If you had waited just 10 more days to see if their initiative failed, it would be slightly less of an issue. Our healthcare under Apple Health is also on the table and we are fighting hard to prove why it is necessary. To undermine our fights, particularly during Pride month, is not only insensitive but downright harmful.
You acknowledge that the right wing and TERFs are looking for these stories but then you hand them to them on a silver platter right at the moment they need them. It is like you are trying to play Devil’s Advocate at a time when the devil doesn’t need any help.
I know Dan Savage would never let you publish a story on “ex gay convert success” stories if there was legislation on the table to legalize conversion therapy again. Not because those people don’t have valid experiences but because the timing is harmful. I know there are people who thought they were gay and later realized that they were bi (even if they won’t admit such) or choose to live as a straight person again because of social pressure or changing attractions. Those are very real stories that deserve to be told in the right time and place with the appropriate level of nuance.
But that is not how you approached this story. You erased the nuance of the various levels of social and medical transition and largely treated it as a binary problem. You cite concerns about trans youth but don’t mention hormone blockers until almost the end or really discuss why having the option to postpone that decision is so helpful. You also don’t treat gender as a journey but rather a yes or no decision. As a genderqueer blogger who writes on the topic ( I know that that kind of nuance is possible and if you had a trans person authentically consulting on this article, or better yet, as the writer, you would know that.
Your treatment of the “other side” of transition as this huge problem is on the same level of tone-deafness as treating anti-vaxxers or climate change deniers like they are on equal footing as science in the name of “neutral journalism.” Just because there are dissenters doesn’t mean they hold the same footing as widely proven facts. And you gloss over the fact that it is the discrimination that we face that prompts most of this reversion.

For you to publish this article during Pride Month is also particularly hurtful. These are objectively people who are not proud of their identity, or if they are it is essentially a “cisgender pride” story which I hope you know is unacceptable during June. You are amplifying the concerns of cis people who want more gatekeeping over the voices of trans people during our own month. Plus your ending makes it sound like everyone could solve dysphoria by being more connected to their body.

I know that you know better than to do this. Katie and others on your team spoke with Danni Askini at Gender Justice League [local trans leader and professional activist] before you published the article and she expressed concern about the tone and timing but yet you still chose to publish it this month and it sounds like you lied to her about it as well. Your lack of journalistic ethics this month is appalling.

I want to quote Julia Serano who you used in your own article in response:

Trans people are a marginalized group. People who detransition are also a marginalized group. Here is my advice to all journalists who may want to write about this subject in the future: STOP PITTING MARGINALIZED GROUPS AGAINST ONE ANOTHER!

I could say more but I will stop now and leave you with this. I expect you to follow up as soon as possible with an apology to the trans community and to the readers you mislead through your poor reporting and lack of nuance and authentic trans voices. If you want to keep this loyal reader, that is what is required.

Thank you for taking the time to read this,
[Name redacted]
Nonbinary King County native
I will follow up here if they respond.
ETA 7/3/17: Katie Herzog’s response just solidifies for me that she is a heartless and careless human being who has no regard for the impact of her work. Instead of listening to any of the multitude of critiques from advocates, colleagues, and the trans community she just wasted an entire long post on “defending” herself by flinging accusations at the people telling the background of her poor research. Definitely not interested in reading anything else she has her hands in.
What you should read instead are these responses:

On Male Privilege

Hopefully we all know by now that male privilege is a very real and dangerous thing that happens and has a lot of real world consequences. And I’m not arguing that I haven’t been granted many of the benefits of that privilege by presenting and identifying as cisgender for the first 25ish years of my life (partly for lack of knowledge and terminology), especially because of my beard and size. Take for example the time I was able to help a friend move out of her abusive and armed ex-boyfriend’s house by simply standing there looking intimidating. But the idea that male privilege is something that every person assigned male at birth is granted in its entirety is pervasive within feminism, especially the trans exclusionary kind, and something that I want to address.

Based on my experience and the discussions I have had within more nuanced feminist circles and with men looking to change toxic masculinity, I would posit that male privilege is granted on a sliding scale based on how well you conform to American, white, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, masculinity standards. The more you fit the molds, the more authority, power, and respect you are granted. There are a few molds of course – the athlete, the businessman, the lumberjack/blue collar worker, etc – but for the most part the boundaries of masculinity are so narrow that they are unachievable for anyone on the margins due to race, body type, ability level, sexuality (perceived or real), parenting style, or even religion. Feminism has made amazing progress in the last century+ in broadening the acceptable boundaries of femininity for the most part but the same work hasn’t been done in masculinity.

As a result, a gender non-conforming kid like I was never really has a change to gain all those privileges. As I’ve written about before, the idea of being socialized male as a uniform experience is incredibly flawed because it is based on what you get out of it, not what is put in. And many of us never got the full benefits of male privilege. Take Asian men for example; a lot has been written about how some of them feel excluded from American masculinity and discriminated against in dating because of flawed stereotypes and tropes.

So next time your instinct is to say “but you have/had male privilege” to a trans person (or a person of color or different ability or…), think more carefully about the intersectionality of gender and all those other identities. It’s not that they don’t necessarily have it, but that privilege is more complex than a yes or no checkbox. This quote from Julia Serano’s excellent article this week, Debunking “Trans Women are not Women” Arguments, sums it up well:

Male privilege is a very real thing. In my booking Whipping Girl, I talk at length about my own personal experiences of having it, and subsequently losing it post-transition. However, not every trans woman experiences male privilege (e.g., younger transitioners). Furthermore, the whole purpose of talking about privilege (whether it be male, white, middle/upper-class, able-bodied, or straight privilege, to name a few) is to raise awareness about the advantages that members of the dominant/majority group experience due to the fact that they do not face a particular type of sexism or marginalization. And the fact that the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd constantly harp about trans women’s real or imagined male privilege, yet refuse to acknowledge or examine their own cisgender privilege, demonstrates that their concerns about privilege are disingenuous, and that they are merely using the concept in order to delegitimize trans women’s identities and lived experiences as women.

On drag culture

Here’s an excellent tumblr post on the difference between drag as important form of gender exploration, particularly historically, compared to the highly problematic modern drag culture as popularized by Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It definitely reflects my discomfort with that culture and the nuance that is required in discussing it especially when there are some amazing drag activists like Mama Tits.

This is particularly important:

“For drag queens, womanhood is an exploitable, caricaturized performance. For trans women, womanhood is an identity. Drag culture is essentially gender appropriation.”