Sign #14: You sit as the moderator on a “What is Genderqueer?” panel… in a QUILTBAG convention you yourself organize.
(AKA Signs You’re Not Cis-Gender: The RainbowCon 2015 Edition)
So, this edition of Signs comes after a few weeks of silence because my life was utterly consumed by RainbowCon. For those not in the know, RainbowCon (aka the Rainbow Conference) is a convention that I organize with my partner and her husband. It’s a QUILTBAG (look up the acronym if you don’t know it ^_-) multimedia convention, so it’s all about celebrating artistic diversity in fiction, television, movies, theatre, comics (web and print), embracing fandom throughout all kinds of media. We held our second RainbowCon July 16th through 19th this last month. The 2014 con was all about fiction, but we expanded the content to embrace all media for 2015, and it was a great con!
It’s also a labor of love. It takes more time, effort, and money than anyone realizes to run a convention, especially one where we lowered the price of admission expecting three times the attendees we actually got. >.> Just saying. Regardless of attendance, though, I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week. And we had some fantastic authors and great readers/reviewers and guests at RainbowCon this year. I was incredibly excited about the event, even if it pushed my to the breaking point. Worth it? Oh, definitely!
But, to the point, nothing says non-cis-gender like being a panelist on an educational panel dedicated to the topic of genderqueer, genderfluid, and transgender individuals. I was in great company, too, with authors Tempeste O’Riley, Rory Ni Coileain, and Lloyd A. Meeker. Tempeste identifies genderfluid, Rory has been on a journey through examining her gender and sexuality this last year, and Lloyd, while not genderqueer himself, is a gay man who has been in a position to read and grade high school essays on gender. As such, Lloyd’s seen a distinct change in the youth of today in that their views of gender and sexuality are expanding and far more accepting than he’s ever seen in the past. He brought such a hopeful tilt to the panel as we all shared our experiences and looked to the future for individuals who identify as we do. The younger generations are carving the way for a much brighter future, I think, and it was great to have him share some of the things he’s read from students these days. That’s definitely a populace that I’m disconnected from now that I’m out of college. *laughs*
But the panel itself was wonderful, as were several of the other panels that I spoke on at RainbowCon between “running” around as an organizer to put out fires, help people find their way around the con space, and ensure the hotel staff was on their jobs throughout the four-day event. The fires were few, people were awesome (we had fantastic volunteers helping me out ^_^), and the hotel staff needed very little help due to the preparation I had done with the staff before the conference itself. It was… awesome. A huge improvement from last year, even if we didn’t boast the attendee numbers we were hoping for.
Here are the panels I sat on and a bit about each one:
- Queering Middle-Earth — Because I’m an ardent Tolkien fan. To the point that I wrote the Tolkien Trivia for the con… though no one showed up to that activity (which made me sad, though it had plenty of awesome competition panel-wise for that hour, so I don’t blame anyone). My fannish focus in Tolkien’s world is on the Elves, especially the Elves of the First Age. My co-author S.L. Armstrong and I occasionally run the podcast Crystal Clear Tolkien, where we look into all the Tolkien canon available to answer people’s questions about the world and languages. Yep. Super-fan here. Unashamed.
- Anthro Sex — You heard that right. An entire panel about anthropomorphic characters in sexual situations. Much fun was had by me and my fellow panelists, Lexi Ander and Sui Lynn. We discussed the differences between shifter, anthro, and furry in fiction and other media (paranormal characters definitely make an appearance in their fair share of television and movies, after all), and it was decided that I should do voice-over work, since we went on a tangent into the anime/hentai background for some anthro characters more in the tentacle/monster sub-sect. We may have frightened a few audience members. Again, unashamed.
- Shifter Sex — Much like the previous panel, we discussed the definitions and details that separate shifters from furries, but this panel went into the questions “How far shifted is too far shifted during sex?” (it’s very individualistic) and “How come shifters get away with rape all the time and why do we excuse the behavior?” (the Alpha-male, life-bonded mates, and “feral instincts” tropes are alive and still well-used, and they lull a lot of readers into suspending disbelief). It was a great panel that covered the bases, and while it had a fiction tilt, much of the content could cross over into other media depictions of shifters.
- What is Genderqueer? — As I mentioned, this panel was fantastic in that it covered a few different perspectives on the genderqueer and genderfluid labels. Tempeste O’Riley had a lot of experience both from her own life and seeing her child grow up with an amazing perspective on gender and spreading it in his own circle of influence. Rory Ni Coileain has confronted a lot of inner demons and past traumas to look critically at her own gender identity and sexuality, and has currently come to identify as a flavor of asexual, which was incredible to hear about. And Lloyd A. Meeker had that awesome perspective as an educator/writer and reading all those high school essays. This panel was FULL of information!
- When Poly Would Have Solved Everything — Panelists Gryvon/Jenna Hale, Princess S.O., and Sloan Johnson made this panel a barrel of laughs. I was “moderating”, but really, it became a panel full of us naming instances in pop culture where we were sorely disappointed that polyamory wasn’t an option to solve the silly love triangle tropes dropped EVERYWHERE nowadays. It was also our opportunity to shamelessly pimp our fiction in which polyamory is employed, both to solve problems and introduce new dynamics in the relationships that can add exciting drama. I’ll admit, I used it to shamelessly plug Immortal Symphony: Overture, because really, how could Dorian Gray be anything but polyamorous as the immortal hedonist he is? ^_^
I also ran the Cookie Decorating activity (with iced cookies shaped like hearts, rainbows, and puzzle pieces), the Rainbow Pendant Making activity (glass pieces + nail polish + metal bezels = endless possibilities), and the Masquerade Mask Making activity (feathers, plastic jewels, pearls, butterflies, and puff paints for pre-cut masks!). I did manage to set up a table for KS Charms and Storm Moon Press, so there was a little bit of selling of my personal wares… but I have to say, the best part of the event for me was the “It’s a Drag” Dinner & Drag Show, which featured performances by Mr. & Ms. St. Pete Pride, Aaron Phoenix and Stephanie Stuart. The two of them were AMAZING trans* drag performers, but I’ll save more about them for another blog post. If you missed RainbowCon this year, don’t worry! We’ll be back having our third con in 2017!
Needless to say, if you find yourself being a panelist on a genderqueer panel at a convention? Yup. You’re probably not cis-gender… or you’re at least a very open-minded individual. Go you!
Sign #822: You use gender neutral names online or assume a persona more aligned with your identity online, regardless of expression or presentation in “real life”.
This one might seem pretty basic, but I’ve found it to be really true. The anonymity of the Internet has provided plenty of people a platform to explore themselves. In the old days, when chat rooms were the new, big thing, you could easily sign into a chat room and be whomever you wanted to be. In my case, this meant two things. One: I would sign into gay chat rooms and pretend to be Batman. Come on! How could I resist?! The responses were delightfully funny, from “Hey, Batman. I’m Robin. *winks*” to people trying to crack the façade with questions like “Where are you from?” only to be shut down by me with the simple and obvious answer of “Gotham City”.
All joking aside, though, the second and more important thing was that I would often make sure I appeared more in line with my identity on the Internet. In chat rooms, I was almost exclusively presented male. I’d usually not disclose my sex when people would ask “A/S/L?” (age, sex, location). I’d “impersonate” a male, from conversations where I would role-play Lord of the Rings-like Elves under the name Menelorn to chatting with people during an online game. If the illusion was ever broken, people would express their shock over me being female. It kind of made me feel good to know I came across as male until I would TELL them otherwise. On the flipside, if I ever exposed myself as “female”, I was instantly treated differently. That part I absolutely hated.
In real life, I might have been tied to my physical form, stuck in a body that presented so very female that there was no way I could ever pass as male. (That’s still very true. I’m short, have a large bust, and a very feminine facial structure.) But online, I could explore myself, be me in the truest sense, no attention given to my body at all, just how I acted and what I would say. It was liberating and addictive. I’m surprised I didn’t lose myself more in online gaming or chat rooms during my time questioning my identity. In the end, I found a lot of pleasure in role-playing with the woman who has ended up being my actual co-author. We were both in the Tolkien fandom, so we connected and bonded over putting Elves in gay relationships. I played men in those situations, and when I would introduce myself online, I would use a gender neutral version of my name. I’ve always been Kris online, not Kristina or Kristi. If people didn’t know me already, I always called myself by the neutral name. When I moved to the San Francisco area to go to massage therapy school mid-college, the people who met me there and got to know me all called me Kris. Being away from my hometown allowed me the freedom to go by the neutral name. It was one little step that made me indescribably happy. I was a step closer to being me, not the person I’d been presenting to everyone in my everyday life.
The Internet can be a really powerful thing, and it certainly played a role in my journey of self-discovery and gender identity. I’m glad it gave me the opportunity to express myself as neutral and/or male. It has made me more confident presenting myself as a genderqueer boi over time. So, just another sign that happened rather early on, though it was dependent on my access to the Internet growing up, which was limited in ways kids nowadays definitely don’t have to worry about.
Have any of you readers taken on different personalities online? Have they impacted your own identity? I’d love to hear if anyone else experimented with their identity and/or presentation by taking advantage of the anonymity of the Internet. 🙂 Comment below!
Welcome to this week’s edition of “Signs You’re Not Cis-Gender”, where I casually bring up elements of or instances in my life that crop up to let me know I’m not cis-gender. Just my experiences, so some other non-cis people might relate while others don’t at all. Take it with a grain of salt! This week’s sign is… *drumroll*…
Sign #89: You find out that your oldest male friend joins the long list of closest friends who turned out to be gay men… just like you would have been if you were born with the anatomy that best matches your identity.
Okay, so this is a little bit awkward, and I’m going to post about what happened just last night (thus this being so late in the evening on Tuesday). I’ll change the names, just because I haven’t asked permission yet to share from the people involved in my past. I’m not here to out anyone, even if they’re already out to their family and friends. My blog isn’t about that. So… names have been changed, but this is seriously what happened.
To put things concisely, most of my close male friends throughout my life have turned out to be gay. I noticed this theme a while back and sort of chuckled to myself, but there were a couple exceptions to the rule that kept me from thinking too hard about it. And then… last night… I discovered that my close guy friend from all the way back in 2nd grade ALSO is gay. I didn’t know it, but he actually came out right after high school, around the time I was starting to learn about and explore the possibility that I wasn’t cis-gender.
We’d been running in different crowds for quite a while, having parted from being close friends in late elementary and barely knowing one another throughout high school. Sure, we’d smile or nod to one another in the hallways, but we never really spoke. Different worlds. He was involved in a more popular circle while I was with the “stair-dwelling” crowd of outcasts that included goths, band geeks, gaming nerds, and the very small percentage of us who identified LGBTQ. Didn’t mean there weren’t others who identified that way, of course, but those who openly did? Yeah, they were in our little loosely tied group.
I’ll call this old friend of mine Jake here. 🙂 Quick history lesson: Jake and I were best friends in 2nd grade along with a girl I’ll call Annie. The three of us did a LOT of playing on the play ground during recess. We’d run and jump and do gymnastics-like stuff on the field behind Knoles Elementary School in Flagstaff. We were all kind of artistically minded, but very active as well, so the three of us made a good group of friends. Jake was actually my very first crush as well, before I really even understood what a crush was. I liked him. A lot. And those first little stirrings of “He doesn’t like me as much as he likes _____” were probably the first time I’d been jealous of anyone in a memorable way. We grew up and grew apart, the three of us, though Jake and Annie were closer in school cliques and both tended toward student government and the like. I was academic, but definitely more of an outcast, bullied a lot throughout junior high and high school, often by other people who were in their groups of friends.
This realization… this discovery that Jake is gay… it’s hard to put into words for me what it means. As I mentioned in a past Signs You’re Not Cis-Gender, I was the kid stuffing their pants to imagine being male. And during all my struggles and all the bullying, Jake was on his own journey of self-discovery. And neither of us even really realized it about one another, I think. I was always close to the boys who ended up identifying gay. All but two of my crushes over the years have been on gay boys. The exceptions are a best female friend who was going through a very masculine/butch phase a la Haruka Tenou (Sailor Moon reference!) and a boy in junior high who is now married to one of the most kick-ass, independently-minded women I was acquainted with in high school. Nevertheless, Jake was probably going through a lot of the same things I was, and being able to add his name to the list of guys in my life who are gay? It’s like I’ve grown up constantly finding and reaching out to people who emulated the things I so desperately wanted to be. Inside, I most closely identify as a gay male (oversimplification, yes, but still closest using limited boxes on the proverbial form). And there I was, finding boys who were just like me… with the little problem of me not having the same stuff between my legs.
In a weird way, learning Jake is gay completely validates my own identity. It makes me feel like I really was this genderqueer trans boi all along. I just didn’t have the tools or knowledge to know it, and because I didn’t, no one around me did either.
And when this dawned on me last night as I looked over Jake’s Facebook page and saw that he was active in the Pride community in my hometown, I just sat there and cried like I haven’t in a long time. The last time I saw Jake, he was bagging groceries and we’d hugged and said how cool it would be to hang out after so long. We never did, and I moved to Florida, and I still have his phone number (probably outdated) on my cell phone. Never had the guts to call him, because it’s always so hard to basically come out all over again to people who knew me when I was younger.
But even when we hugged over groceries, he’d been out for years at that point. If I’d known then… Hell, if I’d known during high school, I feel like we could have been there for one another. I could have been that person who pulled him aside and told him, “It’s all right. You’re not alone. I’m going through this, too, and it really sucks, but it’ll suck less now that we can be here for each other.” Instead, we were in the different crowds, and when his group of friends would taunt me or bully me because they perceived me as a lesbian, he would never say anything against me. He didn’t stop them, but knowing he was going through his own self-discovery, I totally understand that. I wouldn’t want that kind of attention turned on me, either, had I been in his position. But he never once took part in the bullying, and I remember specifically thinking to myself one day, “Well, Jake must remember what good friends we were way back when, because at least he’s not mean to me.” Now I know why. And it makes me tear up all over again out of happiness that we’re both celebrating the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of Marriage Equality… and out of joy that my identity feels more consistent and real even way back to that young age, and maybe a little out of regret that we didn’t reconnect, that we missed the opportunity to support one another when I’m sure we both could have used it.
So, all this went through my mind, and I’m sitting here astonished that I have such a pattern of seeking people like myself throughout my development… and I actually work up the guts to direct message him on Facebook. And I told him everything. My identity, my story, his involvement in it, and what his being out means to me. I rarely get so personal in general with people from my hometown, and certainly not over Facebook… but it seemed like the perfect thing to do.
And his response was a short “This is amazing” sort of message with the promise for something more thoughtfully typed out once he wasn’t busy at work. It is amazing. And he’s an amazing guy. And I just feel like I’ve been who I am my whole life, even if it took me years to figure it out. And that person is not cis-gender. That person doesn’t fit in a lot of boxes… and never has. It’s an incredible feeling of self-validation. And I definitely don’t think my reaction to his being gay would have been the same were it not for my own identity and journey as a genderqueer trans boi who likes guys.
When you’re biologically female and have this reaction to an old friend coming out as gay? Yeah… probably not cis-gender. And that’s just fine. In fact, it’s kind of awesome.
Sign #3: You squee with joy whenever you find a character in a movie or television show that genderbends. Even a little. Even if they don’t identify trans*.
This is one of those things that is so very true for me. It’s like when someone points out the subtext of a character arc in a popular television show and you suddenly can’t see the character any other way but the way they described. (This is how a lot of slash fandom sparks into being, actually. And I love it!) But, at least with me, once my mind has been opened to seeing variants of gender, I tend to see it more, or at least recognize it where I didn’t before.
My first exposure to genderbending characters was two-fold. My friends and I were into anime, which is chalk full of bending characters. Look at Nuriko in Fushigi Yuugi, who goes from presenting male as a child to assuming a feminine appearance (granted, for a lot of the wrong reasons), and then to a more slightly more masculine than neutral when he develops feelings for a female rather than his usual attraction to males. There’s also Mille Feuille in Sorcerer Hunters, who’s a delightful crossdresser who is sweet and feminine one moment before kicking ass as a Haz Knight. The other aspect of my exposure to genderbending came from movies my first couple years in college. We watched Normal in my Sociology of Sexuality class my sophomore year of college. It was the first of many films I sampled during college that expanded my mind. Others included Bent (there’s some genderbending in the opening scenes in Berlin), Cabaret (loved Alan Cumming), and Boys Don’t Cry (which was actually traumatizing, since I had NO idea that it was about a hate crime when I picked it up from Blockbuster years ago).
I squee when I watch television and see people in reality shows that are trans* or androgynous as well. AzMarie and Isis on America’s Next Top Model, for example, were a joy to watch, as was Cory in the more recent seasons with his androgynous look and ability to rock heels and drag. Other TV shows seem to give nods to the trans* community more in recent years, too, which is delightfully encouraging. Some depictions are better than others, but it’s great seeing them. The gender neutral Dr. Haru Tanaka on Bones makes most of the squints on the show take bets and try to respectfully determine what sex the doctor is. Of course, their attempts fail, so they rely on violating Tanaka’s personal space in order to literally get a rise out of their anatomy (something I really hated about the episode, that it was more important to the minor characters to find out which box to put the character in than just respect the person’s individuality and non-conformity *huffs*).
But, the message here is that I LOVE seeing more examples of trans* or queer or genderbending entering our pop culture. Unique and Beiste in Glee sometimes made me wibble with pride and joy just by existing and being eloquent in their roles on the show-choir dramafest. I also had a tearful moment the other day while binge-watching Season 1 of Sense8, a Netflix original series about eight individuals psychically linked (one of them is a lesbian transwoman). While the writing does tend to beat you over the head with info-dumps, there are a few monologues from Nomi (the trans woman) that were truly poignant. They might be too much for some viewers, but they were really empowering and tugged at my heartstrings. No small feat, even with out trans director Lana Wachowski at the helm. It gave me an exquisite moment, one in which I whispered to myself, “Finally. Finally, there’s a character like me whose voice isn’t silenced by the writers or producers!”
And that’s a really powerful thing… and it’s why this sign makes my list worth sharing on the blog. When you struggle to identify with characters in pop culture until you find genderbending, androgynous, or trans* characters… it can be a sign you’re not cis-gender yourself. 😉 I live for the moments I find hints of myself in characters, whether they’re real people or fictional creations in TV or movies.
But seriously, I can’t get enough of Sense8. While it’s far from perfect, it has these bright, shining moments of sheer brilliance, and I’m eagerly awaiting Season 2!
Sign #247: When faced with the prospect of buying swimwear as a “woman”, you have the intense desire to buy swim trunks instead of a one-piece womens swimsuit.
Seriously. This was my hell last week. I’ve become increasingly more body-conscious as I explore my gender identity and examine my gender expression and how the two do and don’t align. It took me a couple weeks to even convince myself the need for a swimsuit was prominent enough to actually go and do it. And the whole time, I waffled because I wished I had a masculine chest and could just go topless without there being consequences. I also dislike the way womens suits put an emphasis on the groin because it shows off the fact I don’t have masculine equipment. There’s also the stigma of having body hair. Most swimsuits for women put it out there in a way that makes it really easy for others to ridicule. I’m not saying the suits are to blame for that, of course — that’s the double standard gender bias of society at work, and there <em>are</em> mens bottoms that are equally as revealing — but it’s one of those things I’d rather avoid if possible, so it did have to do with my angst.
Looking online, I found that for trans individuals, specifically FTM, there are options that are chest-flattening and basically amount to binding (see image below). Pretty awesome. At the same time, though, I’m a rather large-breasted individual, so even binders like those would only go so far and would definitely not be comfortable for me. I just yearn to have a masculine chest so I can have the freedom to display it like men do. While running. While swimming. Practically anywhere, really. It’s one of those men-only activities in our society, which is just a terrible double standard (we sexualize women’s bodies like crazy, and it drives me batty, but that’s a separate blog post)… This boi can only wish, for the time being.
Ultimately, I found a colorful one-piece that I’ll only use when I absolutely have to (which probably won’t be often), but I’m still horribly depressed by the idea of wearing a suit instead of having a body that matches my self-image on the inside. Identifying more male than female when your sex is contrary makes little things like this really unpleasant. It seemed like something to share. Totally mundane act that most cis-gender individuals would take for granted. Perhaps I’ll write it into one of my trans* characters in the future. Art imitating life.