Nov 072010
 

I want to talk about this. Why? Because some people don’t know, and others who I assume would know either are unaware or have forgotten.

Sex and gender are NOT the same thing.

Sex is usually defined as female, male and occasionally intersex. It is assigned to you at birth by your doctor, usually based on your genitalia, sometimes chromosomes if testing has been done. It’s is often said that “sex is between your legs.”

Gender can often be defined as woman, man, transgender, genderqueer. However, the number of genders out there is unmeasurable. Femme is a gender. Butch is a gender. Femme queen. AG/Aggressive. Boi. Genderfucker. Andro. All of these are gender identities and/or gender presentations. Gender identity is how you identify to yourself (and sometimes others) and gender presentation is how you present said gender identity to the rest of the world. It is often said that “gender is what is between your ears” in that gender is not a physical identifier, but rather, your identity, feelings, presentation, etc.

Cisgender is someone whose assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity. A person assigned male who identifies as a man, a person assigned female who identifies as a woman.

Transgender, while a huge umbrella term for gender discussions and identities as a whole, can be said to be someone whose gender identity does NOT match their assigned sex; a person assigned male at birth who identifies as female, a person assigned female at birth who identifies as genderqueer, etc.

Recently, at a professional conference in the field of sexuality, I was saddened to see many sexual professionals talk about “the two genders” or do studies that said “Gender? Male or Female.” I think as we continue to grow this field and be more inclusive of all people, it is incredibly important to be aware of whether we’re talking about sex or gender, and do our research and presentations accordingly. I’m not even going to start with the way “homosexual” was used to identify people, or the fact that I (as a queer kinky disabled femme) was often offended at the use of language throughout the conference….but really, I’d liketo make sure EVERYONE, regardless of whether you’re a sex educator/therapist, a middle school teacher, a personal trainer or a homemaker, knows the basic difference between sex and gender, as it is SO incredibly important to being inclusive in our society.

Shanna

Oct 112010
 

I am one of the winners of the Phoenix Pride Coming Out Story Essay contest ( I even got to read mine out loud at the Zoo yesterday at the Coming Out celebration)…and as today is officially National Coming Out Day, I thought I’d share. Please feel free to share yours, or links to your own stories on your own sites, etc.

My coming out story isn’t just one day, or a week or even year. In fact, my coming out story isn’t finished. It is happening every day of every week of every year.

In college, I discovered the concept of orientation being fluid, and realized that I liked some of the women on campus. I joined QSA and EQUAL, and began to identify as bisexual. I told my mother and sister, and they reacted as expected; they didn’t really care.

Then in graduate school, I decided that I didn’t really like men anymore; I became a proud, flag-flying lesbian. I’m actually not kidding about the flag. I was a lesbian, and I liked women, and was attracted to women, and I came out to my friends and family and work and then…suddenly, I hit a speed bump.

Why? Well, I was suddenly dating someone that didn’t identify as a woman. I was dating a gender queer identified person. She didn’t care what pronouns people used to refer to him. When we were out and about, sometimes people saw us and identified us as a lesbian or dyke couple…other times, I could swear that people thought I was a twenty-something woman robbing the cradle with a 15-year old guy.

I loved this person. And this person didn’t identify as a woman. So I did what most young people in the middle of an identity crisis would do; I went online. And as I searched blogs and forums, I came across the term “Pansexual.” Ok, I thought. I can be pansexual, and be attracted to many people across the sexual spectrum. I was now a card carrying (I’m joking about the card) pansexual woman. Great. I started coming out to people as such on a regular basis.

In the midst of all this, I discovered something else about myself. Despite my angry feminist moments in college where I distained all things feminine as a creation of our misogynist culture and the patriarchy, I realized that while I didn’t embrace all or even most feminine things, my gender identity was developing, and it happened to have a Femme bent to it. One person I was seeing told me one day that I was “such a Femme.” I froze. I had always thought that being feminine or even a Femme was a bad thing, capitulating to social norms. But here I was, having spent almost an hour getting ready, getting a tingle in my stomach as my date opened the door for me, and a smile on my face as they brought me a drink. I had embraced the power of femininity, and I realized that even though I rarely wore heels and was allergic to pink, I am a Femme. Femme is my gender.

So here I was, a Pansexual Femme, and trying to come out to people. Trying to explain how Femme differed from female or woman was hard enough, but when I got into the term pansexual, people shut down. It was too academic, too different, too much. As I continued to prowl around online, I found that pansexual was a privileged term; it was mostly people in academia using it (and often just open minded bisexual people). I didn’t identify as bisexual, and I didn’t want a term that wasn’t accessible to everyone.

That is when I discovered the term QUEER. I was at a house party I’d been invited to by a fellow fierce Femme from roller derby, and I started talking to people about identity. At this party were people of all different gender presentations, from high femme to stud, gender queer and andro to trans folks of various presentations. And let me tell you, almost everyone at this party was smoking hot. I was trying to figure out how one would identify if you were a fierce Femme (IE, me) who was attracted to pretty much everyone in the room, and then, magically, I heard the term QUEER. It fit. It was perfect. It was me. It was an identity that fit me regardless of what I was wearing, who I was attracted to, what my own gender identity was, and everything else.

Now, as Queer Femme, I had to re-come out to everyone I’d already come out to. My family was open to it, but needed some education on the term queer. My co-workers were already reading Judith Butler and Kate Bornstein, so they got it. Some of my friends asked me what took me so long to figure that out, while others still thought of the term queer as a hateful term, and that involved much discussion.

When I moved to Arizona, the coming out process started all over again. Explaining my gender as Femme is always a hoot; people assume that unless you’re trans or gender queer, your gender is just a given. Mine is not. Femme is an attitude, a belief system, a presentation, and it is my deliberate gender. And here in Arizona, very few people understand my queer identity, and so it’s been an opportunity for education. My coming out story never ends, because I have to come out to everyone I meet, and everyone I’ve met, and because my identities are so fluid, sometimes I have to come out to myself.

The other day, my partner’s softball coach referred to me as her “roommate.” I was hurt and angry and frustrated. I’d come out to him already; as queer, as her partner, as her fiancé, and yet here he was, invalidating our relationship. So we both came out to him again. And will do so again if needed.

THIS is why coming out is so important. It creates visibility, and dialogue, and understanding, and these three things create change in our community. It is only with change that we can be seen as full members of our society, instead of second class citizens. So please, keep on coming out.

Happy Coming Out Day!

-Shanna