Why You’re Hearing About This Pregnancy so “Early”

Why You’re Hearing About This Pregnancy So “Early.”
Sep 28, 2014 23:20

Last week, I “came out as pregnant” on Facebook (when you’re queer, every big tell feels like “coming out” after awhile). Since then, the most common question I’ve received is “how far along are you?” It’s a question that makes sense! Some people have seemed surprised at how early I’m sharing information abou my pregnancy, and a few even seem concerned. I can only assume that those who are concerned are assuming I hadn’t thought through my decision to share at this time, and are wondering if I’ll regret it.

In case you aren’t aware, there is a bit of a tradition of waiting until around the end of the first trimester to “go public” with a pregnancy. The main reason cited for this is miscarriage – the odds of miscarriage are higher in the first trimester than they are later on, and many people feel that they wouldn’t want to announce a pregnancy to later have to “unannounce” it, or else they think if they do miscarry, they’d rather greive privately with only their partner(/s) or immediate family for support.

While I definitely support other parents’ decisions, my wife and I found that we felt differently. One of the best things about planned pregnancies (and the majority of queer pregnancies are planned) is that you have ample time to talk about, read about, and think about, various issues BEFORE you need to make a decision. My wife and I started talking about the “when do we tell” issue long before we were even trying to get pregnant, so our decision to share early definitely was not a spontaneous one. Here are a few of the reasons you are learning about this now, rather than later.

1. I can’t keep a secret, and I don’t want to.

I’m a sharer, sometimes even an over-sharer. For some people, keeping certain matters private makes them feel more secure. For me, I feel safest when I am being open and honest about as much as possible. It’s just the way I’m wired. I want to talk about my experiences, feelings, thoughts, etcetera, in order to fully process what is happening in my life. Pregnancy is a huge thing to happen to me, keepin it under wraps for THREE MONTHS felt contrary to my nature in basically every way.

2. Avoiding the guessing game.

Because my wife and I lead fairly open lives, a larger than average (I think, I don’t actually know what average is) number of people knew we were trying to get pregnant. That number was probably even higher because being a couple comprised of two women meant there was literally more to talk about – and more opportunities to divulge.

Because no one in our relationship has sperm, we had to decide how to get it, and what we wanted our of a sperm donor, and how and where we wanted to inseminate. For a long time, these conversations and decisions WERE the big thing going on in our lives, and it was helpful to talk to friends, family, and community members about it.

Because so many folks I. Our immediate community knew about our plans, hiding the pregnancy felt sort of silly. I knew that at least some people would be watching me for signs of early pregnancy and asking questions like “how are you doing?” with a little more earnestness than usual… So rather than be the object of speculation, we just decided to be open.

3. The very reason so many families decide to wait to share.

A shocking amount of pregnancies (one in three or one in four, depending on whose numbers you go with) end in miscarriage. It’s even more if you consider all of the women who miscarry before they miss their period and confirm that they are pregnant. The vast majority of women with children have had at least one miscarriage in their life. Most miscarriages are unavoidable and unpreventable.

And yet, many people report feeling isolated, ashamed, and even guilty, after a miscarriage. Why? I think a least part of the reason is that we are suffering in silence when we could be sharing the load, and receiving information and reassurance from others.

For myself, I knew that I would want community support if that happened to me. And it would be harder to reach out and get the support I needed if nobody knew I was pregnant.

4. Actually, I already had one miscarriage, and I don’t want to go through that without community support AGAIN.

After our first insemination, I experienced many early pregnancy symptoms, and after awhile I knew that I was certainly pregnant. That pregnancy ended before it was able to be confirmed by a test.

I’m still processing how to talk about what happened to me… I’ve written about it but I’m not sure how to share, because it was so early, and since the pregnancy had not been confirmed, even when I chose to talk with friends about it, it was difficult to know quite what to tell them.

It was lonesome. The experience just confirmed what I already felt: that when I did have a confirmed pregnancy, I wanted to share – and therefore reach out for support – immediately.

5. This is about my comfort level, not yours.

Many people worry that talking about a miscarriage will make others uncomfortable or be difficult for them to handle. Some people feel that it is more respectful of their friends/family to not “get their hopes up before the pregnancy looks like a sure thing.

I don’t agree. I think people can handle it. And if they do have trouble handling it, I don’t think it is my responsibility, as a pregnant woman, to protect them from their own feelings on the issue. We don’t ask people going through cancer, or grief due to the loss of a loved one, OR SO MANY OTHER THINGS, to keep quiet about it, even though those those things may sometimes be difficult to hear about. Ultimately, my family had to make the decision that made the most sense for US.

6. Early pregnancy is HARD.

I’m less that five weeks pregnant. Already I am exhausted, I’m nauseous a lot of the time, and I’m having frequent/constant heartburn. I literally do not understand how I could expect myself to pretend that everything is normal while my body is going through the largest upheaval I have ever experienced. Plus, I may sometimes need help doing things that I previously took pride in doing myself. It is so much easier to navigate all of that while being honest.

7. We’re excited. We’re so excited. We’re not going to try or pretend to be less excited. Why should we?

Follow Up on Fat

Last week, I got over a blogging fear that had been holding me back for some time, and finally wrote about my experiences with fat – specifically my experience of changing body size, and with it, changing privileges. Writing it helped me a lot to sort out some of my feelings about the change, and I received some positive feedback, and you know, if reading my story helped just one person out a little, it’s worth it. I know that, for awhile, I was putting off blogging at all, because the thing I most urgently needed to talk about was FAT, and yet I didn’t feel ready to go there. So my hope is that with that out of the way, I can establish some kind of regular schedule, rather than letting months roll by where I am silent. There are a lot of other (complicated!) things that I’m anxious to talk about, and I’m excited about the idea of sharing more regularly.

But first! We really need to do a follow up. Just a couple of points I want to drive home:

1. Fat bodies are not worthwhile only if they are healthy. Thin bodies are not worthwhile only if they are healthy. My body is not worthwhile only if it is healthy.

In the original post, I touched briefly on my experiences with health, and how that relates (or seems to relate) to my experience with fat. As a thin person I was extremely unhealthy (for reasons I do not believe were at all related to my thinness) and as a fat person I am much more healthy (for reasons I do not believe are at all related to my fatness) although I still probably wouldn’t be considered “healthy” by many peoples’ standards. And that’s ok with me. I’ve had a lot of time in my life to get used to the idea of being sick. For one thing, I have a series of environmental and seasonal allergies that often bar me from certain spaces, and/or make me extremely ill when I cannot effectively avoid them.
Because of my experience with health, I found it exasperating that so many people assumed that I would try to lose weight “for my health.” When we assume that fat bodies are unhealthy bodies, we are playing into cultural prejudices that have been ingrained in us, and when we assume that we know what is best for the health of another person we’re just plain being jerks. When we decide to look down upon people because we perceive them as unhealthy, we’re being the biggest jerks.
But there is also this idea in our messed up world, that fat people are only acceptable/worthy/worthwhile if they are exceptional. It plays out something like this:
“I don’t like fat people! Let’s mock them!”
“Hey now, that isn’t nice, let’s not mock people for their bodies.”
“But fat people are unhealthy! They deserve it!”
“That’s not true, you can’t know someone’s health status based on size alone!”
“Ok, well, show me a healthy fatty and I will be nice to THEM, but all the unhealthy fatties are getting mocked!”I’ve seen this go down (ok, not this exact conversation). So I want to be super crystal clear. When I talk about my experiences with fat and health, and my exasperation that folks assume I’m suddenly unhealthy and that losing weight will improve my health, I am not condoning this kind of thinking. Everyone is worthwhile, whether or not their body is currently “healthy” (by whatever definition you are using of that word) and whether or not they are striving to make it “healthier.”

2. Fat bodies are not worthwhile only if they are capable. Thin bodies are not worthwhile only if they are capable. My body is not worthwhile only if it is capable.

“Earlier this summer my wife and I went on a belated honeymoon, and we spent most of it in the wilderness, away from the lights and the traffic and the sounds and smells of the city. One day we went on a hike that ended up being over twenty four miles long. Readers, it was hard. But I did it. That is what this fat body can do, and I am so proud of it I cannot even put it into words.”

So, the thing is, for me, that experience was huge, and it was a big part of coming to terms with my body and learning to love it again. But just like the point above, it worries me, because it plays into ideas that there are “good fatties” and “bad fatties” out there, and the good fatties can hike long distances and eat organic kale and the bad fatties get out of breath easily and eat icecream.
I have friends – of all different sizes – who probably couldn’t handle a 24 mile hike, for a wide variety of reasons. Our ability levels vary, and that is ok. That has to be ok! When we make being worthy contingent upon ability, we do a huge disservice to everyone.
I’m happy that that hike happened because I’m proud of what I accomplished. And I had been struggling so much with trying to love myself and failing, that that felt huge. I needed something to help me see that my body was, and is, still good. But I’m also troubled that that is what it took for me to get there. It makes me wonder how much harder it would be to love my body – to love myself – if I developed a disability tomorrow. And it makes me wonder what I am communicating to my friends who are disabled when I announce that my body is good because it can do X.
So no, successfully hiking 24 miles through the forest is NOT what makes my body worthy. It may be what helped me to realize its worth, in part due to the weight of cultural expectations, but my body is ok because it is mine, period. And your body is ok because it is yours.

3. If it happens that I lose weight, that doesn’t mean that loving my fat body was wrong.

I deal with things best by being open about them. So when I started gaining weight, one of the first things I thought was “I need to share this, maybe I should write about it.” But I stayed quiet for close to a year after having that impulse, why?
Part of the reason was me wondering if the weight gain was temporary or long-term. I felt like, if I announced myself as a fat woman, and then I lost the weight, I would somehow look silly. I felt like, if I didn’t write about it, if the weight happened to be temporary, I could slip back into my thin privilege and old clothes and not have to deal with it. I felt like, other people might assume that if I lost the weight that proved that fat was somehow bad afterall, and I would no longer be a fat activist. I don’t know if anyone would have actually assumed such a thing, but it was a fear I carried around, regardless.
But no. No no no. My body is good now and my body will be good in the future. Even if it changes again. Even if it gets smaller. Even if it gets bigger. Even if a thousand different things happen. Just like loving my fat body now doesn’t mean that loving my thin body in the past was somehow wrong, loving a hypothetical-future-body-that-is-different-than-now wouldn’t negate my love of this body, here, today.

Well, that’s really all I’ve got for the day. That and this: I’m thinking about adding some links somewhere in here, of introductory-level blog posts on fat activism and health at every size. I sometimes run into people (both on the internet and out in the REAL WORLD) who have never heard of these concepts, and it’d be great to be able to point them in the direction of some good reading on the subject. Do you have favorites? Stuff that helped you? Send em to me or leave em in the comments!

Coming Out As Fat

I’m fat.

I haven’t always been fat. As a child, the word most commonly used to describe my size/shape was “skinny,” and as a pre-teen apparently my size caused at least one family member to worry that I might have an eating disorder. As a teenager I was somewhere in the “average” camp and in my early twenties I certainly gained a little weight (very few people stay the size they were at seventeen, and for good reason) but I certainly wasn’t FAT.

(Here is where I have to interrupt myself with a disclaimer. DISCLAIMER: I am not interested in debating or proving whether or not fat people can be healthy. Fat people can be healthy. Plenty of other people have articulated all the reasons that’s true way better than I can today, and there’s a whole wide internet of things you can read if you need info about that. Likewise, there is a whole wide internet of places where you can say horrible things about fat people if you are so inclined. This is not the place. What this is, this is me talking about my very personal and individual experience with identity and body politics, fatphobia, fat activism, and health at every size. Comments off topic, including personal attacks and attempts to shame, and attempts to turn this into a discussion about whether or not fat is healthy or ok or gross or whatever, will be deleted. I also reserve the right to delete any comment that makes me uncomfortable in any way, because that’s how having a blog works. Ok, onward.)

But I always had fat people in my life, fat friends and relatives, fat acquaintances and coworkers. Probably everyone does. And our society teaches us to look for differences in behavior, especially eating behavior, between fat people and non-fat people. As a non-fat person, I did that. I watched my fat friends to see what they did, how they ate, how they lived.  And as I searched for evidence of binge eating or junk food obsessions or anything else that might JUSTIFY why my fat friends were fat, there was only one difference to be found. My fat friends really did seem to be eating less. And when I saw them eat, they seemed to be terrible uncomfortable.

Years later, one of my very close friends would become involved in fat activism, and this kind soul somehow dredged up the patience to talk with me about it and answer my endless, sometimes not very kind, questions. As Lauren Zuniga says in what is probably my favorite poem about queer issues ever, oppression is a loud room. Even as I looked around me and supposed that some people were just fat and some people were just thin and different bodies had different natural states (and what does “natural” even mean anyways?) I still held fast to certain societal prejudices against fat people. That is one of the ways that privilege can work. My friend exhibited what was not an endless, but certainly an extraordinary, amount of patience with me. I tried to listen more than I talked (hard!) and I learned a lot.

One of the stranger affects of our culture’s excitement over the policing of female bodies is, as women are encouraged to conceal their weight, we stop knowing what the numbers actually look like (though of course, there’s a wide variance of what any given weight looks like on various bodies). When I weighed 130 lbs, and I was honest about it, people were constantly shocked. “Wow, you don’t look it!” Or “You carry it so well!” were common things for me to hear, as if this somehow meant I was doing a good job, I was winning.

And I was winning at body acceptance too! Still somewhat oblivious to my own Privilege, I walked around smug because unlike so many women I knew, I didn’t struggle with hating my body! How could I hate my body? My body was me, we were one, it was fine. Everything was fine.

Until one day, it wasn’t. Maybe, if you were also a thin teenager, you can remember eating an entire pizza by yourself on the living room floor and having someone, an older person, look at you sadly and say “you won’t always be able to eat like that!” And maybe, if you were anything like me, you thought “I’ll always BE ABLE to eat whatever the fuck I want, just because you choose not to because your afraid of getting fat, that doesn’t mean I have to be like you!”

It happened at maybe the least convenient time. It happened right after I got engaged. Nothing in my diet or lifestyle had changed much, as far as I could tell (adult me eats much better than teenage me, FYI) but suddenly my clothes weren’t fitting right. It was so unexpected and strange that at first I thought I had literally shrunk EVERYTHING I owned in the wash. Finally, I had to concede that my body was changing.

While intellectually I was fine with it, I was also raised in this messed up culture and stuff. seeps. in. I was also an engaged woman making her own wedding dress and dealing with the constant reminders that SOME women diet for their weddings. I looked hard at my life to discover what I was doing “wrong.” I took up jogging, and tried to hide it, and told those who I DID talk to about it that I was just “interested in trying new things.” It was a lie. I loathed jogging. I was punishing my body for getting fat. And then, because I knew what my fat activist friends would say, I also punished my mind for punishing my body. If I had just loved myself enough, this wouldn’t be a problem!

I kept gaining weight. At a certain point, the vast majority of my thin Privilege melted away. Suddenly I was a fat girl. People made rude comments when I ate donuts at work. Glares. Eyebrows raised. People who I had previous asked to stop telling fat jokes in my presence (“those are my friends you’re talking about!”) but hadn’t bothered to comply suddenly just stopped talking to me altogether.

When I was thin, I got to decide every day whether or not to be a fat activist that day. I got to let things slide. Sometimes I felt tortured about letting things slide, but I still did it. As a fat woman, that was no longer an option. I could no longer take a break from it.

I officially became “obese” according to the BMI the same week that the FDA officially declared “obesity” a disease. I tried to joke about it, saying “I’m so fat I’m fat-sick!” but then I went home and cried and cried and cried.

Throughout all of it, I was keenly aware of two facts.

1. All I had to do was announce “I am worried about my health!” And the majority of people would watch me starve myself (which is what I most wanted to do) no questions asked.
2. I was/am the healthiest I have ever been in my life.

I was a sickly kid. I was a sickly teenager. Also, I have never enjoyed the vast majority of the food my parents eat, so as a teenager, I subsisted mainly on junk food (sometimes in excessive quantities). As an adult, I may not be as healthy as all of my peers, but I don’t get at least two terrible sinus infections a year anymore, I eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and while I love icecream, I don’t eat it every day.

And yet, once I was visibly fat, people suddenly started doing something they had never done for me when I was sick all the time. They started asking about my health. It was maddening.

Well readers, the wedding came and went, and the dress fit (just barely, I don’t mind telling you). I continued to gain weight steadily for a few more months, and I continued to vacillate between being pretty ok with that and being sad and angry and just wanting my thin-Privilege back. Then, one day, as suddenly as it started, the weight gain stopped. After about a year and about fifty pounds, I weigh in at about 200 lbs. my body is shaped differently than I used to be, but it is still my body.

I read a lot of fat acceptance literature in the last few months, and while it helped in lots of ways (there’s lots of great stuff out there) there weren’t really any stories like mine. Almost every personal essay begins with the author announcing “I have always been fat” or “I was a fat kid.” And that’s ok, that’s even great, because those are their stories and they should be told. But I worry that, much like with queer identities, we might be legitimizing those with a static identity at the cost of delegitimizing those with change and flux in their stories. There’s an idea that if a fat person had always been fat, that’s just the way they are “built,” but if a thin person becomes a fat person, they somehow failed. I don’t think this is an idea anyone is trying to promote, exactly, but it is there, and it does affect us.

That’s why I wrote this. Bodies change, and with them identities can shift. It took me a long time to get comfortable identifying as a fat woman, to be ready to claim this body, the body I currently have, as completely my own.

Earlier this summer my wife and I went on a belated honeymoon, and we spent most of it in the wilderness, away from the lights and the traffic and the sounds and smells of the city. One day we went on a hike that ended up being over twenty four miles long. Readers, it was hard. But I did it. That is what this fat body can do, and I am so proud of it I cannot even put it into words.

 

On Waking Up, To Suddenly Find I am a “Millenial”

When I was growing up, and into my early teen years, everyone seemed to be talking about “Generation X.” Were those cool, edgy, gen-X-ers ruining the moral fabric of America, or were they smart and savvy young people who would surpass their parents with their accomplishments? People didn’t agree, but they DID want to talk about it, and I was captivated, and wished that I could be part of this bold and interesting new generation.
But I wasn’t, I never would be. My parents were too young to be baby-boomers, and I was too young to be a gen-X-er. My older sister, might sometimes be considered among the very youngest of gen-x, but not me. By the time I was of the age people like to complain about (roughly 15-20 years old) I thought for sure there’s be a quirkly and slightly obnoxious name for MY generation, but there wasn’t yet. People didn’t know what to call us.

I didn’t hear the terms “generation Y” or “millenial” until I was in my twenties, and they seemed to be used mostly to describe people who were five to ten years younger than me. When I started seeing articles popping up about the myriad of things that were supposedly wrong with millennials (which were suspiciously similar to the myriad of things older people have always felt were wrong with the next generation forever and ever) all I thought was “huh, can these kids really be as bad as all that?” But I didn’t know any teenagers personally, so I shrugged it off. It seemed like a somewhat comical complaint of “kids these days!” to me, but I wasn’t personally offended and it wasn’t worth fighting over.

Then, about two years ago, I woke up and found that I was a millenial afterall, and not only me, but my older sister as well!

These days the generally accepted definition of “millenial” is someone between the ages of 18 and 34. Apparently, people born during those particular sixteen years have generational things in common that people born before or after simply do not share. I’ll be twenty nine in August.

So just a couple short years before my thirtieth birthday, I suddenly found myself considered a snot-nosed-brat by the media. I am what is wrong with America. I don’t understand or value honest work. I expect everything to be handed to me. I’m emotionally stunted. And, this article I saw yesterday which claims that I am a poor tipper because I “lack dining experience.”

I know human beings love to make generalizations and put things into categories, but really? Myself and people up to five years older than me seem to have been hastily added onto “millennials” in order to do something about that weird gap between generations, and the majority of the descriptions of what millennials are supposed to be like sound completely unfamiliar to me. Furthermore, haven’t we learned anything at all from previous “kids these days!” discussions? Can’t we admit that age cohorts do indeed grow up with similar cultural influences (though I would argue that those cultural influences are largely created by the generations prior to them, so anything we DO have in common with our age cohort almost certainly isn’t something we chose to seek out, and is instead based on choices made by our elders) and that does indeed affect them later in life without being jerks about it? I kind of find it the most exasperating when it’s the gen-x-ers gleefully talking shit, as if it’s the first day of high school and they’re finally seniors and ready to dish out some of the bullying the endured for the previous three years.

I am a Millenial. I loved My Little Ponies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a small child, and again as a teenager when Hot Topic decided to cash in on nostalgia in a big way. I have watched the word “hipster” mean at least three different things. I’ve been working since I was eighteen years old. The Great Recession aligned with the age at which I was expected to get a respectable, dependable job and settle down, and consequently I didn’t do that. I watched my friends and peers take out massive loans to pay for college only to end up taking low-paying service jobs due to the lack of opportunities. I was part of the “self esteem movement” and consequently I have low self esteem about having sub-optimal self esteem. I tip generously in part because almost everyone I know has had to work in food service at one point or another. I pay my own bills. I have been on food stamps. I eat mostly vegetarian. I have strongly held beliefs and opinions, but I’m willing to hear you out provided you aren’t racist, sexist, homophobic, fatphobic, or transphobic. I have online dated. I spend too long on my phone. I eat tofu.. I take care of my friends and family when I can and when they need it. I’m married. I want kids. I’m trying to find a second part-time job to make ends meet.

And if that is ruining America, you know what? So be it.

Straight People, Don’t Do Me No Favors!

It’s happened again.

Every so often it happens. A straight friend, or acquaintance, or just human who I’ve met, makes an announcement “I’m not getting married until everyone can get married!”

Sometimes they make the announcement in a general sort of way, and sometimes it is aimed directly at me (“it’s just not fair to you!”) Sometimes these people are engaged, sometimes they are single, though typically they are at least partnered. Sometimes I get the impression that they are using this political stance to avoid a commitment they probably don’t really want in the first time, and sometimes I get the impression that they desperately want to be married and are so appalled that some people can’t have the thing they want so they are denying themselves. What all these people have in common is that they care, they deeply care, about what they perceive as a great injustice. So before I go on, before I say what I have to say, I want to stop and thank every single one of them. If you are a human being who can legally marry the person of your choosing, and you are so upset that some people (like me) can’t legally marry the person of their choosing that you are considering forgoing the whole thing: THANK YOU SO MUCH. Thank you for caring, thank you for thinking of us, thank you for your empathy and your compassion and your frustration.

But just get married if you want to. Seriously. I understand that your compulsion to bypass on marriage comes from a good place, but please, don’t make me part of your decision to marry or not to marry. Here are just a few reasons you should just get hitched already:

1. Despite what they want you to think, the government is actually not a business, nor does it work like one.
It makes sense to boycott businesses that have practices or support policies that you find abominable. It’s that whole vote-with-your-dollar thing. It’s the reason you don’t eat at chick-fil-a (unless you are vegetarian or vegan, in which case that is probably the reason you don’t eat at chick-fil-a). Businesses are driven by profits, so if you give your money to businesses that do more good than harm, and enough other people do that as well, then arguably those “better businesses” will be stronger, and the ones you don’t like with struggle. It makes a ton of sense when you are talking about a business.
Except the government, it’s not a business. Many politicians would like to treat it more like one, but the fact remains that it still isn’t one. The government is not driven by profits the same way a business is (no, I’m not saying the government is better or is driven by anything inherently better than profits, just making a point about how it actually works) and so it isn’t vulnerable to a boycott in the same way. If a bunch of liberal progressive and radical straight people choose not to get married, it does not punish the government, the government does not loose enough money from the marriage license you didn’t get to make it think twice about its position on gay marriage. There are a lot of ways to pressure a government into offering more equal marriage laws, but this way just doesn’t work.

2. Your conservative relatives don’t get it.
You are in your twenties, you are liberal, you have a live-in-partner, and you choose to put off marriage. Unless you are walking around wearing a T-shirt that says “I would be married by now if you weren’t so homophobic” your conservative relatives assume that you are not married for all the other reasons twenty something liberals aren’t married. They might think you don’t value marriage, they might think you’re lazy, they might think you are afraid of commitment. I’ll tell you what they almost definitely do not think: “Gee, I bet Martha and Johny would be married by now if only I hadn’t voted for that anti-gay-marriage amendment back in 2004! Boy was that ever a mistake!”
There’s a better way to send this message. Go ahead and get married. Make sure you get married in a church or institution that isn’t bigoted (cause you should do that anyways) and then have your officiant make an announcement during the ceremony. Bam. All of your relatives just heard that. Now you made a statement. Good work.

Here’s a cute post about ways you can show your support for gay marriage during your straight wedding.

3. You are going to be waiting an incredibly long time.
As I’ve discussed before, so-called marriage equality isn’t actually about making marriage equal, it’s about slightly widening the exclusive group with access to marriage rights and protections. So if you aren’t getting married because you want EVERYONE to be able to get married… you know what? You probably aren’t ever going to get married. And if you don’t want to ever get married, that’s fine, but please be honest about your reasons.

4. Marriage benefits are not a finite resource.
It isn’t as though if you forgo all the good stuff that goes along with a legally recognized marriage, there’ll be more of it to pass around to us gays… If I had access to the kind of legal benefits that a state recognized marriage confers, I would take them because they are extremely helpful, and because my refusing to take them wouldn’t make life any easier for say, poly families.

5. Marriage rights are NOT the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today, nor are they the most important civil rights issue of our time.
I’m really just repeating myself here. But yeah, you know where this is going.

6. I’m getting married, and you can too!
It’s not just me. More and more gays are choosing to get married, to have weddings and celebrate with their families and live as married people, regardless of their state’s position on it. I am getting married in September. I am excited. As of this writing, my state will not recognize my marriage, so we will have no legal benefits whatsoever. But that’s not the point. Very few people get married just for the legal benefits, and if you are a straight person who wants to get married, odds are you aren’t doing it just for the legal benefits either. I’m having a ceremony and a party and a cake and a crazy dress, and there is no reason you can’t have those things too.

8. I love weddings.
Have you ever been to a wedding? Weddings are so much fun! I even like the ceremony part (though I know plenty of people who find them boring, but hey, I’ve always enjoyed that sort of thing) and then after the ceremony there’s a big party! People get emotional together, which is always sort of nice, and then there’s dancing, and food, and booze, and dessert! I’ve recently learned that planning one of these big to-dos can be a bit stressful, so I’m probably only going to do the one. But if you are thinking of getting married, and you want to do something nice for gays, you should have a wedding and then invite me. Please have a vegetarian option at dinner. Thanks!

There. I’m happy to reassure you that you can, in fact, get married, and that you’re refusing to marry does nothing whatsoever for me. You’re welcome, and congratulations!

rainbow-wedding

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But What About The Children?

Plenty of other people have written responses to, and rebuttals of, the “how will I explain your homosexual relationship to my child?” argument. I think it has been gone over pretty thoroughly, and the answer is pretty obvious to most people (who actually want to find the answer, and aren’t using the question as a stand-in for what they really want to say, which is “but I think gays are icky and I want my kid to think so too!”) but I wanted to share a personal experience that I had recently.

***

Recently, I was babysitting a four year old, the child of some friends, who I kind of adore. I should say that I know his parents pretty well, and I’m familiar with their politics, and actually knew that they had tried to broach the subject of less “traditional” families with him in the past – so you can’t accuse me of being the evil babysitter exposing the kid to the evil homosexual agenda! But even if I hadn’t known that about his parents, maybe if you don’t want your kids to know about gay people, you shouldn’t let one babysit your kid?

He’s really into dinosaurs right now, which is pretty great because so am I! I brought over some of my stash of plastic dinosaurs (yes, I am an adult, thank you) as well as some dinosaur info cards that I once got for a dinosaur themed birthday party I threw myself (when I turned 23, yup, still an adult).

His primary interest was in making the dinosaurs into little family units, and particularly little family units that look like his family. That’s not really surprising, and after some reflection, I remember that when my sister and I were kids, all of the imaginary families that we created had daddies who worked and mommies who stayed home with the children, children who were almost always pairs of sisters. So he had three dinosaurs (all different models of dinosaurs in the ___ family) which were, in his words, “a mama ‘ceratops, a papa ‘ceratops, and a little baby ‘ceratops!” and I created a little family of ___. Then all the dinosaurs had a dance party, because you know, what else would you do next?

And then, this exchange:

“That one is the papa!”

I took a deep breath, and said, “Actually, in this family there isn’t a papa, there are two mamas.”

“But why?”

“Well, some families have a mama and a papa, like the ‘ceratops family, but some families have two mamas, or two papas, or just a mama, or just a papa. And some families have one baby, and some families have two babies, and some families have lots of babies. In this family, they have two mamas, and one baby.”

He was quiet for a minute, like he was processing all of this information. Suddenly, he stopped making his “dinosaur voice”, paused the game, and looked right into my eyes.

“But I have just one mama,” he held up one finger to represent one mama, “and just one papa,” and another finger to represent his papa. He was all seriousness.

“Yes,” I said, “and that is the perfect number of mamas and papas for you! That is exactly what you are supposed to have! But it might not be right for everybody else.”

 

He is four years old. He’s still wrapping his head around the idea that other people might have different feelings or needs from his at all. He just started going to preschool, and he’s learning things about the crazy interesting world of other people. For example, even though he does not like spicy food (he only likes “little tiny pieces of spicy”) sometimes other people do like spicy food. I don’t know all the stages of childhood development off the top of my head, but this strikes me as totally and completely normal. First you have to realize that other people have feelings the same way that you have feelings, and then the next step is learning that sometimes they feel differently than you do. The conversation about families seemed like just another extension of that.

“Oh.” he said, after pondering this for a minute, “ok!” and we went back to our game.

***

Later, we abandoned the toy dinosaurs, and we pretended that we were the dinosaurs. Thankfully, I had him there to instruct me on the rules and particulars of such a game.

 

“You are the mama ‘ceratops and I am the little bitty baby ‘ceratops and you have to take care of me, ok?” and then we hid under some blankets, and then I protected him from a monster, and then he said “I love you mama ‘ceratops.” and my heart melted into a puddle of mush.

We were on the couch playing that game when his real, human, mama got home. I told her a little bit about what we had done during the day (including the chat about how families come in all different shapes and sizes and they’re all good) and then she sat down on the couch with us. He was in the middle. A light went off in his head.

He reached out and grabbed both of our hands and squealed with excitement “AND YOU CAN BOTH BE MY MAMAS!!!!”

***

In the moment, that exchange was a little clunky, the way that exchanges with four year olds can be. But it was fine. And it got me thinking.

Kids, at least kids that age, do not think about marriage in terms of sex or even romance. Maybe they think about it in terms of liking each other, maybe hugging or even kissing, but mostly they think about it in terms of what grown-ups can offer children. This child has met my girlfriend/partner/fiancee, and he knows that we love each other and are getting married. I don’t think he sees that as fundamentally different from his parents relationship, but I don’t think he sees it as fundamentally different from two friends, either. If he does see these relationships differently, it’s based on whether or not they have children, because that is what he can relate to, not the genders of the adults involved.

 

Explaining gay marriage, or families with gay parents, to kids, it’s only hard (or any harder than explaining anything else to kids, which can sometimes be quite challenging) if you first explain to them that marriage is a boy-girl thing. So, let’s just not do that first one, ok?

 

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Poly Marriage: Narrow Views

Are you all sick of talking about marriage yet? Yes? Well, too bad. The fact is that we have a lot more to talk about, and it’s gonna keep getting complicated. Also, between all the gay marriage hoopla and my own impending nuptials, it’s of particular interest right now.

 

If you remember, when I wrote my piece on gay marriage, I talked a bit about how poly marriage is still illegal and we can’t call it “marriage equality” since we aren’t really talking about equality. Here, I’ll quote myself.

One thing that the gang on Sister Wives do though, that most folks pushing for gay marriage try their best not to do, is compare their situation to the gay marriage struggle. The comparison is easy to make. Gay people do not have the right to marry legally in most of this country. Polygamists also do not have the right to marry legally, however they have the added bonus of being able to be prosecuted for living as if they were married! Wowza! If three adult people decide to enter into a marriage-like agreement, even if they do not seek any legal spousal benefits for the third spouse, they can be prosecuted for that. Think about that for a second, when I did, it was probably the first time that I felt privileged as a queer person. I mean, my fiancee and I may never be able to share insurance, but no one is going to take me to jail for calling her my wife.

(It bares mentioning that that was not always the case, and historically many gay people were in fact locked up for the crime of having “indecent” relationships.)

And yet, when conservatives bring up polygamy in that “if we allow gays to get married, what’s next?” sort of way, the vocal majority of those pushing for gay marriage have one clearly resounding answer: We are nothing like them. They are icky. We absolutely oppose polygamy. We promise if you just let us nice, clean, polite, monogamous, gays get married, you’ll never have to worry about polygamy being legalized.

And this is what we call marriage equality? Does that sound anything like equality?

This week, I saw two different pieces talking about this very issue.

First up is Slate, which published a piece simply called Legalize Polygamy! Here’s a quote:

As a feminist, it’s easy and intuitive to support women who choose education, independence, and careers. It’s not as intuitive to support women who choose values and lifestyles that seem outdated or even sexist, but those women deserve our respect just as much as any others. It’s condescending, not supportive, to minimize them as mere “victims” without considering the possibility that some of them have simply made a different choice.

Jillian Keenan does not discuss polyamory at all (it’s worth mentioning that I didn’t really either) she is exclusively talking about polygamy. More than that, she’s talking about a specific kind of polygamy, polygyny, marriages where one man is married to multiple women simultaneously. She doesn’t touch on polyandry (one woman married to multiple men simultaneously), the possibility of queer polygamist unions, or the idea that 3 or more people might want to all be married to each other. Put simply, the issue is complicated, and she is looking at only one facet of it. I know some polyamorous people were quite upset by this – they felt like they’d been passed over, and in a way they have been. Keenan talks primarily about Mormon polygamy, and mentions Islamic polygamy briefly.

What Keenan does well in her piece is to respond to some of the prejudices against this kind of marriage. She makes arguments that I have made myself (legalizing polygamy would make it easier to find the child abusers) and responds to some of the arguments that I have found myself responding to. Because if you think that polygamist marriage should be illegal because it is a sexist institution, then, well, you have to make the majority of traditional marriage illegal. You have to make the Duggars’ marriage illegal. It’s definitely worth a quick read.

Of course, I’ve also heard the claim that polygyny is the “ultimate feminist institution” because you know, sister wives means lots of ladies helping each other out. That kind of logic only works if you assume that women need to have children and that only women can do things like homekeeping and childcare. Which, do we even need to talk about how that is a sexist stance?

***

And then, coming in on the other end of the spectrum, is this piece on The Stranger, with the delightful title “You May Now Kiss the Bride and the Other Bride and the Other Bride and the Other Groom; Why Poly Marriage Is Never Going to Happen

Mistress Matisse takes the exact opposite stance, she’s a polyamorous person, and she completely ignores the reality of polygamous marriage. Doesn’t even mention it, just like Keenan didn’t even mention polyamory. Mistress Matisse’s basic stance is this: poly relationships are far too complicated, and poly people far too unorganized, for a push for poly(amorous) marriage to ever happen. No worries! Gay marriage is as bad as it will get.

What I like about the piece is that she talks about many of the complexities that Keenan washed over. Ok, so you have three partners. Is that three separate marriages (all parties being married to each other individually)? or is it just one big marriage? Or what if one person wants to be married to two people but they don’t necessarily want to be married to each other? How would that work? And who gets to decide? And how will that decision bring more equality anyways? And then there’s this:

But being in love doesn’t have to include a ring or a big white cake. To be polyamorous is to let your heart grow to hold many loving relationships that come in different shapes and sizes. Once you’ve learned to do that, why would you try to squeeze it back down into a pattern built for two?

 

After reading both of these articles, I keep going back to how similar they are. Actually, they are completely different, they ignore opposite things, and they take very different positions. But they both start with a similar assumption: the institution of marriage is basically fine, and basically works well as what it is.

And I disagree. When conservative politicians cry “what’s next? poly marriage?” when we talk about gay marriage what they are really upset about is the idea that marriage, as an ideal, and as a civil institution, will be rethought. They are scared by the idea of people questioning what marriage means, what it’s role should be in society, and whether or not it should be elevated to the super-status it currently holds. They are afraid that we will look at “traditional” American marriage and say “hey wait a minute, this doesn’t make any sense! let’s take it apart and make something better!”

 

And that, in my opinion, is exactly what should be happening. Complete with complicated poly marriages, if people want them.

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A Cozy Catch-Up: What’s Complicated?

I’ve been quiet on here for awhile, for a whole myriad of reasons, ranging from my real life getting “in the way” to reevaluating what I actually what to do with this platform, and why I want to do it. I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the blogs that I enjoy reading, and why I enjoy them so much, and the blogs that I read the most often (not necessarily the same as the ones I enjoy!) and why I keep going back to them, and what all of that means for me. I’ve had drafts saved on here of partial blog mission statements, and I’ve found myself disagreeing with my own words more often than I’d really care to admit.

 

Oh, and I lost my at-home internet access. I’m sure that has something to do with the slow-down in posts as well.

 

I’m sitting in a coffee shop today, just finished up doing some stuff for my pretty-damn-decent day job, giving myself some space to think and to write. The music playing on the (I think pandora?) radio station reminds me of being 19 years old. So let’s talk. Let’s catch up and let’s clarify some points and let’s try to understand each other, even though we will ultimately fail.

I started this blog because of two feelings. One feeling was an old one, the desire to write. I identify as a visual artist first, but I’ve always liked and loved writing, and sometimes people tell me I am good at it and that feels good. In the world that I occupy now, blogging is a fairly obvious and easy and comfortable format for me to satisfy that urge. I read a lot of blogs and it was starting to feel ridiculous that I didn’t have a public blog of my own yet (or at least, one that I really used, I’ve dabbled before). The second feeling was one that I’ve been having a whole lot in the last year. I have this feeling after conversations at work and over dinner. I have it after reading news articles and blog posts. I have it when I get off the phone with my mother. I have it when I’m trying to make time to paint. I have it when I’m trying to find a way to buy art supplies that doesn’t involve a corporation (and it is basically physically impossible). I have it when I visit other places and people ask about the city that I live in. It’s the same feeling all the time. It’s a feeling of being slightly overwhelmed and never having time to really explain the nuance of any situation. It’s a feeling of resisting the urge to simplify the world to buzzwords and memes. It’s a feeling of really having to take some time to chew on an idea before I open my big fat mouth.

“I have complicated feelings about that…”

And I kept finding myself saying that to people. To my partner, to my coworkers, to my friends, to fellow artists, to everyone. And I was saying it about all sorts of things. About cats, about feminism, about lgbtq politics, about race relations, about art, about religion. And I barely ever had time to follow up on any of those complicated feelings. And I really really wanted to.

So I started a blog. And I started writing. And then I started to notice things about my own writing that made me uncomfortable. While the issues I tend to gravitate towards, things that feel complicated, are ones that I often have both positive and negative feelings about, that rarely shows. I’m a pessimist, and so I find myself taking it for granted that, for example, y’all will understand that I really did love that genderbread thing quite a bit, and not feeling the need to talk about any of my positive feelings about it. The result is that I talk mostly about my more negative feelings. It looks a little like I am complaining. And that isn’t really my purpose. So that’s confusing, and I’m working on it. This feels almost ridiculous to say, but really, you guys, I like lots of things.
Also, I found myself shying away from writing about certain issues. And maybe some of that made sense, but I still felt weird about being able to talk until I was blue in the face about the importance of feminism, but only making what felt like small nods towards the importance of being anti-racist. Now I am a white lady, so maybe I have more personal experience needing feminism than I do needing anti-racism, so maybe that makes it easier for me to talk about one than the other. At the same time though, I think it is important for allies (of all sorts) to speak out. I’m still human. I’m still learning. I’m still trying to find the best and most respectful ways to do that.

So, rather than a mission statement, I’ve decided to share with you a list of goals for this blog space. Here we go!

1. Demonstrate a more accurate and healthy range of opinions/reactions. That means talking about stuff that I like as well as stuff that I don’t like. That means taking the time to articulate the full range of my opinions on a matter.

2. Tell stories. I love stories and story-telling, but sometimes I hide behind a wall of intellectualism and Discussing Important Issues, because it somehow feels safer.

3. Be open to feedback and input while maintaining my individual voice.

4. Be aware of, and own up to, my own position of privilage.

If you have any thoughts on any of these goals, you know what to do.

 

In the meantime, those of you who have an interest in my wedding plans might be interested to know that I am (along with some other folks) doing a little guest-blogging over at the wedding blog LoveintheD.

 

Thanks for this chat. I feel better now. Stay tuned.

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Let’s Keep Talking About Gender: Updates and Additional Thoughts regarding Genderbread, among other things

I’ve been talking a whole lot about my post about the Genderbread system for talking about gender. The conversations have been really great and have really helped me to think about how I tackled that subject, my own views on gender, how to be empathetic, and really how I approach writing altogether. I have a few things to add and to clarify, and I do not want to just keep editing and adding to the same post, so here we are!

The most important thing that I want to make sure is ultra ultra clear to everyone is that I really really like Genderbread! In fact, this entire conversation was sparked by me leaving a comment that started with “I love EVERYTHING about this except…” I don’t think that the “except” part means that I don’t love it. I don’t think that criticizing something means that I don’t think a thing is great. Now, I framed my post in terms of criticisms, that’s true, and looking back on it, I’m not sure that was the best format to choose. I was trying to get my thoughts out, and that was the most obvious way for me. I was hearing a lot of criticism, and I wanted to engage with it and respond to it. Some of the criticisms I agreed with, true, but many of them I actually argued against. I brought them up because I thought they were important to respond to, but my response was actually in defense of Genderbread. Here, I’ll show you by going ahead and quoting myself like some self obsessed jerk:

I disagree with this more than any other point I’m going to bring up here. I do not think that it is condescending to try to offer an explanation in an accessible way, particularly when so much of the conversation around gender is SO VERY ACADEMIC that people who haven’t (and in some cases haven’t had the opportunity to) take a gender studies class are a) afraid to talk about gender or b) think it’s all elitist bullshit. But you don’t have to take a gender studies class to understand gender, and you shouldn’t have to!

and, also:

And lastly, I just want to say that when I hear this argument, I kind of feel like it’s akin to saying that we shouldn’t speak English because it is a very gendered language (or French, or Spanish, or, you get the idea!) and maybe there’s a point to that, but when you are trying to explain something to someone who SPEAKS English, if you expect them to learn German before they talk to you, you aren’t going to get anywhere. You have to start with what you have.

 

But the fact that this was not obvious to several different people means something to me. I’m still learning, and I’m going to just assume that people found it to be unclear because it was unclear. I’ll try to do better in the future! In the meantime, let me be extremely clear: I really like Genderbread. I am going to print out a bunch of them to keep around my house.

What I don’t think though, is that liking it somehow makes it infallible. I don’t think that the fact that it does a good job of helping to start the conversation about gender makes it above criticism. On the contrary, I think that the conversation that it does a good job of starting, that’s the conversation that I’m having. I want to keep having that conversation. That will continue to mean being critical sometimes.

I also want to make a note about the difference between sex and gender, and the difference between transsexual people and transgender people. Let’s start with the second one. I made a huge oversight in my first post, I failed to realize that MANY MANY TRANS* PEOPLE ARE BOTH TRANSGENDER AND TRANSSEXUAL. This should have been so obvious to me, and it wasn’t. I treated the two as two distinct categories, and they’re not, and it’s not about that, and I shouldn’t have done that and I’m sorry. And this leads into the thing about sex and gender, because it is all well and good, for me, a cis gender woman, to sit here and say that sex and gender are totally separate and we should view them and treat them as such, but the reality is that we live in the world, and the world doesn’t always do that. And human experiences matter. The fact is that I have never looked at a form that said “gender: check one, male, female” and wondered if my choice would be respected, or wondered at which one I should choose at all. That is not my reality. I can say all day long that “male” and “female” are biological categories and nothing more, but the fact is that they are loaded words for many people. It is not my job to police anyone’s experience or try to force anyone into a category. Emotional reality MATTERS, and I think sometimes it matters a great deal more than the reality of where one fits on paper, whether it’s your driver’s license or a Genderbread worksheet.

I’m not asking Genderbread, or myself, to be perfect. But I do think that we need to talk about the ways that we can make things better.

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When We Talk About Gender…

Genderbread-2.0

Pictured above, you will see the Genderbread Person, and its corresponding system for thinking about and discussing gender, posted a few days ago on Everyday Feminism. It was originally posted on it’s pronounced metrosexual and was created by Sam Killermann.

I want to start out by saying, a couple of things. The first thing is that Everyday Feminism is not my favorite website, and my general complaint about many/most of the things I see on their site is that they over-simplify issues, sometimes to the point of getting them wrong all together. I love that they are trying to explain these issues in a way that is accessible to everyone, but sometimes if you go too far in the direction of trying to make it “easy to understand” you lose sight of the actual thing you trying to explain. So maybe the person can understand it easily enough, but the understanding they come to is not actually accurate, because surprise, the truth is not simple. That’s why my blog is called “I have complicated feelings about that…” because the truth is complicated, and feelings are complicated, and humanity is complicated, and compassion even, is complicated.

The second thing is that the first time I saw the Genderbread Person, I was really, really, incredibly, excited about it. I really liked it, and it was probably the first thing on Everyday Feminism that I got really stoked about. Why did I get so excited? Well, it has to do with those double line graphs. See, in the earlier version of the Genderbread Person, everything was explained on a spectrum much like the kinsey scale (as an aside, I was completely obsessed with the kinsey scale when I was 15). The two parallel graphs reminds me of something a vet I hired to perform acupuncture on (one of) my cat(s) said to me (aaaand this is the part where half of you decide I’m nuts and close the window, that’s cool. Her regular vet thought she had asthma, and it was the treatment that a) had proven results and b) didn’t involve forcing steroids into her lungs with an incredibly expensive inhaler. If you still feel all judgey, go ahead and leave). She looked at the symptoms that Blanche was having, and said that, from a Chinese medicine perspective, Blanche either had “too much hot or not enough cold”. And when I cocked my head and said “aren’t those the same thing?” she said very definitively that no, they are not.

The two parallel graph lines for each category allow me to describe, for example, how much I am feminine and how much I am masculine, as two separate things that are not necessarily dependent on each other. And I feel like that’s a really big step in the ways that we talk about gender. Because on the old model, if we see gender presentation as one straight line, to say that I am masculine at all takes me further away from being feminine and closer to being genderless. And that simply isn’t true (for me). My presentation is generally pretty feminine, I read as a girl. But there are also things about me that are masculine. I have a hyper-masculine walk that comes out as soon as I feel threatened, even if I’m wearing a dress. But on the old model, you don’t see that. All you see is a girl that isn’t as girly as some girls, I’m not allowed to be on the masculine side of the graph at all. So I saw this, and I was totally stoked. Here is a visualization that allows me to discuss my gender in a way that is slightly more representative of me! Maybe it’s also more representative for lots of other people! How very very exciting!

Ok, now that all of that’s out of the way.

A conversation in the comments section led me to think about a lot of the limitations of this kind of tool/infographic (both in specific and in general) so get yourself a cup of coffee because we are going to talk about some of that now. I’m going to talk about the criticisms that I heard both on that comment thread and other places, the ones I think are totally legit and the ones I kind of disagree with.

1. Genderbread Person was made by a cisgender person.
That’s totally true! And it is also totally true that trans* and genderqueer people can probably do a much better job of explaining their particular interaction with gender than cis allies can. However, I don’t think that, in itself, makes it irrelevant. You see, one of the biggest pieces of privilege is often not having to talk about a given issue. I’m a cisgender lady, so I can choose not to speak up for trans* people whenever I like. If I hear a horrible joke about “trannies” that joke isn’t about me, and if I want to, I can lower my head and shuffle on.
But being an ally means recognizing that and choosing to do something else. One thing that all of my trans* and genderqueer friends have complained about is the fact that cis people feel that they have the right to just ask trans* and genderqueer people all kinds of questions about their bodies, their sexuality, and their identity, often in wholly inappropriate situations. I see part of my responsibility as any ally as to educate other cis people whenever possible, that way it DOESN’T have to be solely the job of trans* and genderqueer folk to talk about these things. So when I see another cis person talking about how varied gender can be, I don’t think “oh whatever they’re cis it doesn’t count” I think “YES THIS IS WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING LETS GET TO WORK.”

2. Genderbread Person actually glosses over trans* people.
I think this one is both true and not true. I think it’s complicated because when we say trans* it actually means more than one thing. Like many other words it actually encompasses a variety of identities that can be related and are bound together by some common experiences and struggles, but still maintain their distinct differences.
I feel like (from my cis perspective) TRANSGENDER people are represented fairly well using this system. There’s ample opportunity to use these charts to say “even though I am biologically male I am a woman” and I think that is awesome.
What it doesn’t do very well is represent TRANSSEXUAL people (people who have or currently are changing their SEX to better line up with how they feel about themselves). I just spent some time looking for a good explanation of the differences between these two things, and I haven’t found one yet. Feel free to share if you have a good one, and I’ll be sure to post it when I come across one. For now, I think if you have a basic understanding of the difference between sex and gender it should be pretty clear. And the genderbread person simply does not address the reality that people can and do change their sex. Not at all. And that’s a huge oversight and a huge problem. And it’s one I don’t know how to fix.

*EDIT: After discussing this issue (and the others) with Sam over email, I have the following to share: “the GP certainly does accomodate transsexualism, incredibly well, in fact. Taking sex off of a continuum where male and female pull from one another was crucial to this. For example, a person can denote an increase in their male-ness as a result of their transition, which, in some cases, may not decrease their female-ness. I spoke with a lot of transsexual folks in creating this new schema to make sure we could make something that would make sense for them as they consider their gender.
What the graphic does not accomodate, and what you (or whomever brought up this criticism) might be misattributing to an issue with transsexualism, is gender fluidity. And that’s just the nature of a static image. Some genderfluid folks have sent me examples of how they use the graphic, though (basically just marking the range they experience in each area), and it seems they’ve made it work for themselves.”
I personally think this makes a lot of sense, and I’m wondering if it is just something I missed looking at Genderbread before, or if it’s something that ought to be more obvious (perhaps highlighted with an example, something that says “this is how transition can affect this”) in the graphic.

3. Genderbread Person attempts to illustrate that sex and gender are not linear by showing them in a linear way.
It sure does! Jeepers, why are people always trying to show us that things are non-linear using linear models?
Maybe it’s because we are all taught and conditioned to think and view the world in a very linear way? Maybe it’s because even though many of us feel deeply that linear thought is NOT the best way we still have a hard time breaking out of the habit? Think about it for a minute. What would be the alternative way of trying to explain gender? A 3-D model? That sounds totally awesome to me, but that is partly because I’ve already spent a ton of time thinking about gender and trying to see the world in less linear ways (even though it’s crazy hard for me). I think that for cis people who have never had to examine gender (and never had the tools to do so) a 3-D model would just be overwhelming. And then they would look away. And then they wouldn’t learn anything at all. Besides, I think the plotting of  information on multiple linear variables very clearly gives the impression that it is not a linear issue. That’s actually how most 3-D models are made in the first place.
And lastly, I just want to say that when I hear this argument, I kind of feel like it’s akin to saying that we shouldn’t speak English because it is a very gendered language (or French, or Spanish, or, you get the idea!) and maybe there’s a point to that, but when you are trying to explain something to someone who SPEAKS English, if you expect them to learn German before they talk to you, you aren’t going to get anywhere. You have to start with what you have.

4. By using small words, Genderbread Person is talking down to people.
I disagree with this more than any other point I’m going to bring up here. I do not think that it is condescending to try to offer an explanation in an accessible way, particularly when so much of the conversation around gender is SO VERY ACADEMIC that people who haven’t (and in some cases haven’t had the opportunity to) take a gender studies class are a) afraid to talk about gender or b) think it’s all elitist bullshit. But you don’t have to take a gender studies class to understand gender, and you shouldn’t have to! Explaining things in colloquial language is one way that we make them more accessible and the conversation about gender needs to be accessible. On the contrary, I think that when we hide our explanations behind a wall of academics, and act like it’s somehow beneath us to break it down in simpler language, then we are being condescending. I know I have a tendency to do that, and I am trying to learn how not to.

5. Ok, but that thing about oversimplifying sometimes missing the point entirely…
Yep. Sometimes when we try to explain something in a simpler way, we succeed in being simple but not in explaining what we meant to. Exhibit A, straight from the text that Everyday Feminism posted with the GenderBread Person, regarding biological sex:

Being female means having a vagina, ovaries, two X chromosomes, predominant estrogen, and you can grow a baby in your stomach area.

Being male means having testicles, a penis, an XY chromosome configuration, predominant testosterone, and you can put a baby in a female’s stomach area. Being intersex can be any combination of what I just described.

Oh jeez. So incredibly problematic! Where to even begin?
*Referring to zygotes and embryos as “babies” is misleading. They are not babies. It matters.
*Male people have no ability to put a baby in any part of anyone else’s body.
*Male people (generally) have the ability to perform the male part of sexual reproduction. That involves putting sperm (not a baby) into a female person, which, if a mature egg is present, can join with an egg to form a zygote. The zygote then MAY grow into an embryo if conditions are optimal with the nourishment, protection, and support, of the female person’s body. The embryo is literally MADE OUT OF the female person’s body. Only with the support of the female body can it ever become a baby.
*The idea that men PUT BABIES in women and women are merely vessels has been around a long time. It’s been very detrimental to women, is capital S Sexist, and do I need to even say this? IT’S PART OF THE PATRIARCHY PEOPLE.
*Furthermore, plenty of people who are 100% “male” or “female” (aka not intersex people) are infertile and unable to participate in this process for a wide effing variety of reasons.
*This made me really mad. Can you tell? You guys! It’s on a FEMINIST website! Argh!

6. Genderbread Person doesn’t talk about cisgender privilege.
Correct. I don’t think it intends to talk about cisgender privilege, and I think it has a very good reason for not talking about cisgender privilege. As we discussed before, I think it’s primary function is to explain gender to those that aren’t familiar with this discussion (which is lots of people!) and I believe that those people need to have a firmer handle on what gender is (and what it isn’t!) before they can talk about the privilege that their gender gives them. Otherwise, the conversation makes no sense.

7. Genderbread Person oversimplifies sexual orientation.
It totally does. The graphs for self identity allow that maleness, masculinity, and being a man, are all different. But in the sexual orientation section, it acts is if those three things are suddenly the same. So you can use this system to say “I’m a biologically male woman who happens to be incredibly butch/masculine!” but you can’t use it to say “I’m attracted to feminine men who are male!” Plenty of people are attracted to masculinity in women or femininity in men, and I really wonder how they managed to erase those people so completely? Bottom line, if we’re using this system to talk about sexual orientation, we need more graphs for it.

8. Why is Genderbread Person talking about sexual orientation at all?
Probably just to illustrate that it is not dependent on your gender? Like there are plenty of people who think that if you are a trans* lady, your need to be a lady must be because you want to sleep with dudes? So I guess it shows that that’s not the case, but in my mind, I see sexual orientation as so separate (and equally intricate) that it almost needs it’s own page.

***

In conclusion, I’m still kind of excited about the Genderbread Person, but it has a lot of issues and probably isn’t the BEST POSSIBLE WAY to talk about gender. However, if we are waiting for the BEST POSSIBLE WAY to talk about anything then we are never going to have a conversation at all, and then where would we be? I think it is a good way to talk about gender, and it is getting better, and that is important. It might not be particularly useful for trans* people, or people who have already spent a lot of time picking ideas about gender apart, but it might be useful to people who are new to the discussion, and could serve as a kind of introduction. I like that it creates a conversation about gender, and causes us to think about it more.
So how should we talk about gender? How do we create a conversation that is open and allows space for all people of all genders without simply throwing up our hands and saying “GENDER IS COMPLICATED, EVERYONE SHOULD JUST BE WHO THEY ARE!” (which often erases people’s personal and individual experiences)? How do cis allies talk about these issues without co-opting the conversation and selling our trans* friends short? How do we talk to cis people who are well meaning and compassionate, but haven’t had the opportunity to understand something as basic as the difference between sex and gender and therefore view trans* people as crazy or damaged? How do we call out our own privilege, and the privilege of those all around us, without minimizing the conversation?

I don’t have concrete answers for these questions, but I’m happy and excited to have the questions. I also want to share this TED talk, as a final thought, called Fifty Shades of Gay. I think it relates somehow and it’s worth thinking about.

In the meantime, I still really like the Genderbread Person, and I’m still probably going to print a bunch of them off and have fun with my friends filling them out to describe ourselves.

***

It takes forever for me to get my thoughts out. It’s 2pm and I am extremely late for brunch.

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