Can I use “guys” “dude” or “man” as gender neutral?

I would say this is the number one question I get in contexts where I am out as nonbinary. People will often say things like “you guys,” “dude, it would be…”, or “thanks man” around me out of habit, quickly realize their potential faux pas, and clarify that they meant it in a gender neutral way. This is also a conversation I see in trans spaces a lot. So here’s my take on it.

Personally, and I must emphasize here that I do not speak for all trans or even AMAB nonbinary people, I have chosen to accept gendered terms like that as gender neutral in a context where they clearly would have said the same thing to a cisgender woman. Context is key though because there are definitely ways of saying them as an intentional form of misgendering or because you don’t see someones gender. So I can’t really give you a clear hard-and-fast rule on whether you should use them around me.

In general, I highly recommend trying to move away from using those words. While you may mean them in a gender neutral way, we all hopefully know by now that intent is not the same as impact. If you use them around many transgender people, they may get angry or upset, even if they don’t tell you. And that is a completely legitimate reaction to have. They are not being “overly sensitive” or “looking to get angry;” using traditionally gendered language around trans people can be a form of microaggression.

Microaggressions are like mosquito bites – individually they aren’t that bad, merely annoying. But if you get a bunch of them, the effect adds up quickly and can make you irritable, mad, or even dangerously ill. The same is often true for trans people and gendered language. They may have what seems to you to be a disproportionate reaction to something you unintentionally said. But what they are probably reacting to is the cumulative effect of the constant misgendering they get on a daily, if not hourly, basis. So many of us have to fight so hard to be seen for who we are and when things happen to remind us that we still aren’t seen as fully a woman or legitimately not a man (or the reverse), it can be very triggering.

Maybe it’s because I’ve only been fighting for public recognition of my gender for a couple years or maybe it is because I am trying to ignore my hurt feelings. But just because one nonbinary person says it is ok, doesn’t mean that you should keep doing it. Correcting your language is very very hard; I know that just as well as anyone. I am making an effort right now to be more aware of the ableism in my turns of phrase, not using words like “crazy” and “stupid,” but I am making very slow progress. Most of the time I don’t catch it until I’ve said it, at which point I try to correct without making a big deal about it.

You can do the same thing with traditionally gendered terms. Rather than waste your energy on trying to emphasize the evolution of language to explain why it is now gender neutral, simply correct yourself with a different phrase and move on. “You guys want to play a game? …I mean ya’ll?” Same thing with pronouns. Don’t launch into a huge apology, just correct mid-sentence if possible and keep talking.

Hopefully this PSA has been helpful.

A transgender brain?

When I think back on my childhood now, I can see signs that I was trans starting from a very young age. A lot of my early pretend-play with my sister revolved around us both being runaway princesses or fairies or mermaids (my personal favorite). I didn’t really think that was odd when I was young enough to not have the full weight of masculinity weighing on me. And I had somewhat of an advantage in being outside of the typical school environment where a lot of gender is enforced. I was homeschooled and most of that play happened when my mom was distracted with my younger brother’s birth and early years.

All my life, my closest friends have been girls (or at least we all thought they were at the time but it turns out at least one was also nonbinary). And as I got older I started to realize the reason I sought out those relationships was because it was so much easier for me to communicate and relate to them. Around puberty I began internally bemoaning my “weird brain,” even then I knew there was more to it than me just being an odd kid. I remember feeling distinctly like my brain worked more like a girl’s than the stereotypes I heard about male brains or the ways I heard boys in my life talk about them.

Puberty was a very angsty time for me, as is often true of a trans narrative. But it revolved less around my anatomy and more around my brain and way of relating to people. It didn’t help that my parents started worrying about how much time I was spending alone with girls and trying to restrict our activity. They gently pushed me towards making more male friends and doing more typical boy activities. I was extremely emotional but as I became more steeped in masculinity that became less and less acceptable. So instead my emotions were pushed down and funneled into anger. I was a pretty unpleasant teen at times because of it.

Are those all signs that I was trans or just that I didn’t fully buy into masculinity? It is hard to say. Since I didn’t have access to information about the existence of trans people much less concepts of nonbinary gender, I never developed that framework for thinking about it. I do know that around 16 I started wishing quite often that I could snap my fingers and change myself into a girl but that was only partly about anatomy and just as much about escaping masculinity pressure. The idea of taking steps towards changing my gender with the body I had never crossed my mind, not that I knew it was possible. But my dreams often involved me having all the genitals in one body.

In regards to my sexuality it never even crossed my mind that I might be queer. The negative messaging around that was so strong that I avoided any train of thought even remotely leading in that direction. At one point that fear was so strong that I stopped watching any porn with penises because I worried that liking it might make me gay. Also because the masculinity most porn I could access showed felt repulsive to me in the same way that most of the boys I was around disgusted me. Even today, the aggressiveness that comes along with masculinity is a big turn off to me and a big reason I have a hard time approaching cis men who I find attractive.

The point of this story is that the stereotypical story of knowing your gender or sexuality at an early age isn’t true for everyone. And the reasons are complicated. I truly believe that not all people are “born that way” and sometimes gender and sexuality change over your lifetime. And even if I have always been nonbinary, which I think is likely, it is ok to discover that later in life. It doesn’t make you any less trans or queer. This is a good post on the topic for more reading.


I finally invested in a couple of really nice boots. So hard to find in my size but there was one pair at Nordstrom and an all gender one at Fluevog. 

Am I really Nonbinary?

gender-questioningIn between all the politics, I’ve been spending a lot of mental energy lately thinking about the most difficult question in my life so far. Am I nonbinary because that is who I truly feel like I am or is it a compromise because I don’t feel like I can access womanhood in the way I want?

At times I definitely feel a very strong sense of a gender that is clearly not masculine or feminine but exists as a tangible middle ground. Very genderfull instead of agender. And as I’ve said, there are things I like about being in the middle such as having a beard.

But there are definitely parts of me that at times can feel very strongly that all I want to be is a woman with everything that goes along with that. Since I was a teen I’ve consistently wished I could just snap my fingers and make that happen. But the reality is that I need to make a choice. Do I want that badly enough to accept all the costs, challenges, and risks of medical transition?

What I do know is that I have a lot of fear about the path towards that and still not feeling like it is enough once I’ve gone as far as money/science allows. What I want more than anything is the ability to bear a child. But even assuming they were willing to do uterine transplants on trans women, that still would require a C section and a whole lot of money. I want to have breasts and the kind of chest that I can be proud of in the mirror. And I want a vagina and a clit and the ability to have multiple orgasms. But every time I think about what it would take to get there, I question how badly I want those.

First of all there is the money part. How can I justify spending that much money on myself when there are so many urgent problems that need solving? But I know that is a double standard because when it comes to other people I’m all for helping them get that surgery. Secondly there is weathering the awkward part of transition where I haven’t gotten there yet but it’s too late to turn back. And then of course there is the social risk because I’m pretty sure I could never pass even if I wanted to. And now more than ever that is becoming a dangerous thing.

A few months ago my plan was to start a hormonal transition in the next couple years after having a baby with my anchor partner. That would permanently give me feminine breasts as well as at least temporarily allow me to see how I like my brain on estrogen along with the softer skin and more feminine distribution of body fat (less belly, more hips). But now I feel very unsure about doing that until a certain demigogue is out of office. I still have the ability to hide as pass as male if I need to which would be much harder once I start down that path.

Part of why this is weighing on my mind more is because of politics certainly. The world is a very unsafe place at the moment for a trans person and it feels like a lot of doors are starting to close making me feel more claustrophobic and without the options as accessible to my explorations. And part of that is probably my upcoming wedding. When I imagine myself in a wedding dress I have a hard time imagining that in my current body. That moment more than any is where I wish I was less hairy, had a smaller frame, had hips, and most of all, some cleavage to speak of.

This weekend I’m going with some trusted friends to try on some wedding dresses. I’m trying to brace myself for the dysphoria that is almost certain to arise. I’ll try to report back how it goes and maybe even share some photos.

For now I know I don’t need to have answers to these questions. But I sure am getting tired of shedding tears over them so often.

Genderless dreams

I don’t often remember my dreams but lately I’ve noticed a trend in the ones I do remember. I can’t recall any details about gender. As near as I can tell, I don’t have a gender in my dreams. I don’t think about what I’m wearing or who I am, I am just me interacting with the world in a relatively neutral way. Even if I’m dreaming about situations like conservative weddings that would normally be extremely stressful for me to determine a wardrobe, I don’t have that particular anxiety in my dream. Not sure what it means but I’m curious if other people have the same experience.

I never would have guessed you were homeschooled!

That’s a phrase I hear a lot. And part of why I don’t talk about that side of my history as much. But I was homeschooled; from age 4-18 I was primarily taught by my parents and self-taught from religious based textbooks and curriculum with some Evangelical Christian co-op education mixed in. I’m not trying to claim all homeschooling is unhealthy but it can easily be used to hide abuse, both physical and spiritual. I’ve spent many years trying to heal both the social awkwardness/anxiety that resulted as well as trying to purge and retrain my brain not to think in the patterns I was taught.

The reason I bring it up now is because my friends brought this article to my attention today:

I Was Trained for the Culture Wars in Home School, Awaiting Someone Like Mike Pence as a Messiah

It is bringing up a lot of feelings and reminding me of just how dangerous Christian Fundamentalist Homeschooling is. So here’s a bit of an insider perspective from my corner of the “Quiverfull” movement.

If you’re lucky, you’ve never heard of Bill Gothard, The Institute for Basic Life Principles, or their Advanced Training Institute homeschool program. If you have, it was hopefully because of the sexual abuse charges or from the multitude of us who have escaped the cult and are finally telling our stories. Back in the ’70s, Gothard went around the country as a motivational speaker type, filling spaces like Key Arena with hoards of young adults listening to his Basic Life Principles seminars on how to get out of debt and claim your power in the patriarchy. As he grew his base, he started creating multiple layers of insiders and using them to infiltrate major political and power structures. At the height of their power their Character First curriculum was used in the Oklahoma Public School System among others, they basically ran the orphanage system in Romania, and had prominent members throughout many governments and corporate leadership.

This wasn’t a denomination or a church, it was a network of people basically living underground (and sometimes off the grid) who infiltrated the more extreme evangelical churches and pulled them even further right. And lest you think it only happens in rural areas, I should tell you that I grew up in King County Washington, one of the most consistently liberal places in the country. But until I went to college, I rarely met an atheist or non-Evangelical person in my life.

As with any cult, Gothard was the sole figurehead and his word was law. All their materials had the primary goal of getting you to believe that his precise interpretation of the bible (and the Constitution) were the only way. Men were the sole heads and breadwinners of the house and should be the only ones with access to television and the internet. Your God-given duty was to have as many kids as possible and train them to reject all “dominant culture.” You should simultaneously attempt to convert as many people as possible by making them “your disciples” and yet reject anyone from your life who wasn’t Christian enough. Children couldn’t date but they had a complex courtship process setup where you spent time around their family with stated intentions and eventually married after never having even been alone together much less kissed. And there was some really far out stuff like how Cabbage Patch dolls were demon possessed and religious symbols from other cultures were idols that could corrupt your family.

But the parts that it shared with the larger Fundamentalist Homeschooling movement that boomed in the ’80s was extreme xenophobia leading to attempting to out-populate “heathens” and working towards a God-ordained theocracy (Christofacism as the article calls it) in America. The work of David Barton and other “historians” rewrote the past and present to fit their worldview. And children were trained in mental gymnastics and formal debate techniques to turn them into tiny “arrows” to shoot against your foes.

For three summers I went to a high school camp called Worldview Academy that ostensibly taught you to “not check your brains at the door” and think for yourself. Really, it was a brainwashing camp designed to make you invincible to any attempts by public/liberal colleges to sway you from your black and white thinking. Luckily for me, I went to a Christian college with moderate professors who gave me a safe place to ask questions that I had been burying for years and helped us form our own opinions. I nearly lost my family when I first said that I believed in egalitarian relationships but since then they have mellowed out quite a bit. Distance from the cult has definitely been a big factor.

I was lucky enough not to have become extremely politically involved during that period of my life. The first major election I voted in was for Obama and I have since lost touch with how that community thinks as I’ve worked hard to retrain my brain and systematically evaluate my beliefs and assumptions. But this article has reminded me of just how dangerous this movement is.

Like many of you, I had assumed that there would be a large portion of Evangelical America that would outright reject DT because his beliefs are largely antithetical to everything they preach. I know my parents voted third party for the first time in their adult lives because they actually have consistent, if flawed, morals. But what I forgot is that they have spent decades not only grooming their constituents but literally giving birth to an army of conformists. There are tens of thousands of adult children across America descended from those cult members and you’d better believe that every single one of them voted.

There is a lot of blame shifting going around about why we lost the election. We know for sure it wasn’t because of people of color and I don’t think blaming “white working class” Americans as a group is fair. But I do blame the hypocritical Evangelical Americans who turned out en-masse to vote for someone they would have vilified if they didn’t think that the end would justify the means. Now I’m waking up to the fact that between the kleptocrat egomaniac without a handle on his temper and a theocrat bigot poised in the wings, they are one giant leap closer to their goal.

I don’t know what the solution is. These people are largely immune to reason and empathy. They literally only listen to people who are like them and endorsed by the tiny men behind the curtain. But I do know that we need to be just as engaged and outraged as they have been taught to be. They pull the strings from underground but we can take to the streets in greater mass than they ever can. What we’ve learned is that you can’t underestimate your foe. They are cunning and dangerous and very well prepared. It’s easy not to take them seriously, but now that things are seriously wrong we are going to have to behave differently.


At what point do I decide that it’s safe enough to get rid of most of my men’s clothing? I still have half a closet that I rarely touch but I have a hard time thinking about getting rid of it because what if I end up in a job again where I can’t be myself? Or need to hide that side of me for an event or trip to be safe? Even today I find myself dressing about as masculine as I can tolerate (basically brightly colored slacks and a nice sweater that ends up coming across really gay) because I am escorting around faculty candidates.

I have so much impostor syndrome that gets muddled up in these choices. I wish I could be confident in saying this is who I am and will always be and naysayers be damned. But I know that gender is a journey and isn’t always linear. And burning that bridge to the past with its mixed blessing/curse of invisibility is scary.