Please Don’t Call Me Girlfriend: Treat Your GNC Pals With Care

Please Don’t Call Me Girlfriend: Treat Your GNC Pals With Care

photo of a person's calves down to their feet; they're wearing jeans, white socks, and red converse sneakers while standing in the grass with blue sky behind them; a white overlay with black text: "Please Don't Call Me Girlfriend_ Treat Your GNC Pals With Care" and "Chronic Sex"

Whenever someone calls me a ‘sister’ or ‘girlfriend,’ I die a little more inside.

In late 2016, I came out as genderfluid. Since then, I’ve struggled a lot with my identity. One of the most difficult things is dealing with how others see and address me.

Most people I knew before coming out still see me as a woman, regardless of coming out to them. People who say they support my decision to come out or praise me for being ‘brave’ still use gendered terms towards me. I don’t correct people because I know that it’s an adjustment. It hurts, though.

It’s even a part of why I haven’t switched to pronouns other than she/her. I know too many people won’t get it – even other sex educators – and I’ll have to deal with stroking people’s egos while ignoring my own open wounds.

The oddest experiences are the ones where people will address me and a group of cisgender gals. The person might backtrack but, when they do, it’s always with a humorous tone like: “Oh wait, does that not apply to you now?” This hurts even worse.

If you’re serious about asking those questions, you don’t do it with humor in your voice. You apologize once, ask seriously, and keep it in mind for the future. You don’t give ten minute long explanations that require the misgendered person to soothe your feelings, centering yourself instead of them.

There are people that can use gendered terms towards me without it being as uncomfortable. Generally, though, that’s my family – T, my sister, my niblings, my closest friends, etc. It’s funny, though, because my closest friends are mostly gender-nonconforming, too. My sister and I have always used male and female terms towards each other. Since we were little, we called each other dude, bitch, and more. Plus, she’s asked if those things bother me. She cares if they do.

It doesn’t seem like many others do. And that’s why this hurts so much.

This article from The Body Is Not An Apology says it best:

“When you misgender me, you tell me many things. You tell me that you know who I am better than I know myself. You tell me you are not safe or trustworthy. You tell me you have scrutinized my physical appearance, made invasive extrapolations, and sorted me without my consent into a category based on your conclusions.”

(I highly suggest reading that full article. It talks about the fear about correcting misgendering comments and more.)

Please don’t call me sister or girlfriend or whatnot. If you’re not sure about using a phrase towards me, ask me. If you mess up, apologize and make a note of it for the future.

Further reading on misgendering

Trans Wellness Study

Caitlin Merrill from the University of California-Santa Barbara is conducting a study around an internet-based intervention to improve the psychological well-being of trans peeps.

You will be asked to complete a series of online activities, answer questions about wellbeing, including questions about distress and drug and alcohol use, and provide demographic information. Activities may include reading text, reflecting on your previous experiences, responding to open-ended questions, listening to audio recordings, and watching videos. Because some of the activities may require the use of audio and video capabilities, and the personal nature of the questions you will be asked, we recommend completing this study in a private location.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this study, please contact Caitlin Merrill by email (caitlinmerrill@ucsb.edu) or Tania Israel by e-mail (tisrael@ucsb.edu) or by phone at (805) 893-5008. If you have any questions regarding the rights of research participants, the UCSB Human Subjects Committee can be contacted at 805-893-3807.

This text was pulled from the study description. If you’re interested in participating, please click here. I will say that the videos used do use text without speaking audio. However, because of that, these videos are not accessible for those with visual difficulties. Other videos with speaking audio rely on the YouTube captioning system, that isn’t exact. If you’d like to participate still, though, please reach out to Caitlin or Tania using the contact information above to inquire about accessible options.

Am I *really* trans instead of cis?

TW: sexual assault/abuse, gender dysphoria. This originally appeared on our Medium page.

I have struggled with my gender for all of my life.

[1998–2000ish: Kirsten on a Ferris Wheel during a sunny day, holding the pole in the middle; she has long hair blowing in her face, round John Lennon-eque glasses, a striped white/blue/green shirt, and she is smiling]

As a pre-teen, I was very much a tomboy and began to wonder what I would look like as a male. I would dress up in my uncle’s clothing to see how I would look.

TBH, I was really fucking cute.

In high school, I learned to use my body for sexual attention. I got into clothing that showed off a lot of my body. Still, during any given school week, I would wear more tomboy-esque clothing two days and very feminine clothing two days. The remaining day was probably spent wearing my PJs to school if it wasn’t one of those two options.

[2005, high school senior picture: Kirsten sits on a stone bench with white pants and a teal/dark blue striped collared shirt; she is looking up towards the camera while smiling; she has long hair that goes from dark brown to blondeish at the ends]

When I was in college, I finally told my mother about some sexual abuse I had gone through years earlier. During that conversation, I brought up that I felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body often.

“Don’t you ever say that to me, ever again.”

Just in case you needed more proof of my family’s conservativeness, Ted Cruz and my mother follow each other on Twitter.

[2006/2007, Freshman in college: Kirsten is taking a selfie; she is wearing a white button up dress shirt with a grey waistcoat and white lacy bra; she has short dark hair and is standing in front of a dark blue wall with an abstract art poster]

It was really hard to share both of those things with my mother. When I came out as bi/pan on social media, she assumed it was because of my abuse and literally never talked to me about it. I never officially ‘came out’ to her about anything.

I never felt like I fully wanted to be a man, so I really didn’t bring it up to anyone again.

As I started learning more about gender identities and was exposed to them — thanks, Queer Ghost Hunters! — I realized I was genderqueer or genderfluid. I had fellow sex educators recognize this without it being verbally communicated and have had others pick up on this as well. When I began explaining my gender identity with these terms, people were fairly accepting. Overall, it was handled pretty well.

[2016: a photo of Kirsten holding her right arm up in front of her mouth with her hand in a fist, back of the hand facing out with the words “Weird Queer Fat” written on it in black sharpie; a rainbow bracelet is on her wrist; she is making a neutral, though kind of sad, face with her blue eyes staring out piercingly; she has on a grey tee and has dark brownish purpleish hair spiked into a faux hawk]

Like many people who are not cisgender, I face gender dysphoria. One of the biggest things that has helped me are videos from Chase. This one, on gender dysphoria, is one I especially like:

Chase documents criteria for a dysphoria diagnosis in adults (need 2/6):

  • Difference between assigned and expressed gender
  • Want to get rid of primary/secondary sex characteristics
  • Want primary/secondary sex characteristics of other gender
  • Want to be other gender
  • Want to be treated as other gender
  • Feel as though you have the typical feels/reactions of other gender

What’s interesting to me about this is I often wonder if I’m really and truly non-cis or if I’m somehow making things up. This is, no doubt, a result of being raised in a household full of abuse and gaslighting. I try to gaslight myself about what my experiences are, who I’m attracted to, and what I want to do with my life. Why would my gender identity be any different, right?

Do I really want to be male? Do I want to be treated as male? Do I act male? I don’t know.

After all, there are plenty of times when I can embrace my femme side.

[2017: color pic of Kirsten laying down tangled in sheets (which cover the good bits) on a white bed with short red hair; pic is taken from end of the bed so K is upside down, legs crossed and bent at the knees, right hand on sheet on chest, and left hand up beside her head; she’s smiling/laughing]

Being genderfluid doesn’t necessarily mean that I would do away with femme features for more non-binary ones. Sure, that’s part of why my hair is short. How I express my gender changes daily — and can change from moment to moment. In those respects, not much has changed since high school or college. The biggest thing is that I am finally embracing being a member of the LGBTQQIA+ community — and that winds up making me unapologetically queer.

You know, in addition to being unapologetically disabled and super justice/rights oriented… which then makes me concerned for my safety in this time of Cheeto-encrusted fascism.

I am certainly not cisgender and that’s permanent. With things changing for me all the time — especially how I feel about my body from an illness/disability perspective — I don’t feel like transitioning is something I can safely do or that I need to do at this point.

Some people don’t feel like that’s a valid trans identity, but it is.

[2017: pic of Kirsten from above, sitting on a dark wooden floor with white moulding and a blueish background; she has her legs bent criss-cross style, though not completely, and is looking down at/playing with her hands; she has on black jeans, a gray tee shirt with white text “Let’s talk about sex — Vibrant” and her white Converse are visible; her hair is reddish-purpleish]

I don’t know what the answer is to my struggles with my gender identity. Some days, I want shaved legs. Other days, having smooth legs just contributes to the dysphoria and anxiety I feel about not feel like I own my body (more than when my body causes itself pain and harm).

For right now, trans and genderfluid both fit me well. And that’s enough.

Are You Tired of Cishet Studies on Relationships and Pain, Too?

I was really excited to see a new study come out saying that a touch from our partners can help relieve pain. It’s one of those obvious things, especially to anyone who knows about how our brains release oxytocin. The hormone has long been known to relieve pain as well as being the ‘love’ hormone.

It increases bonding between people, especially when they’re physically close to each other. For example, it’s released during sexual activity!

I wanted to know more about the study, so I turned to their free journal article on NCBI.

Write-ups don’t tell the whole story

One thing I found interesting was that the study is also heavily focused on empathy. Sure, a loved one hugging you while you’re in pain may help – but it helps more if they care you’re in pain, too.

Additionally, they studied both respiratory and cardiac response in both partners as well. Heart and breathing rates in the non-pain partners tended to try to match those of the pain partners when touch was involved. When pain happened without touch, this didn’t happen.

Anyway, I was excited to see that someone verified something a lot of patients and providers have known for a long time…

Until, you know, I realized this study was only done on cishet couples.

Why are studies always on cishet couples?

From the study write-up:

Dr. Goldstein and colleagues gathered 22 heterosexual couples for their study, who were all aged between 23 and 32.

The researchers asked the couples to participate in a range of tests that replicated the experience of being in a delivery room.

The female participants were assigned the role of “pain receiver,” while the men were “pain observers.”

There’s some good ol’ fashioned sexism in here, too, right?

Barf.

In their limitations section in the journal article, researchers discuss how only females underwent pain and males were the outside partner. They do suggest that there need to be similar studies on same-sex couples, but neither address any other LGBTQIA+ community nor why they chose only cishet couples to begin with.

It’s 2017. Why is it that LGBTQIA+ people still aren’t being involved in research? How meaningful is research when it leaves out an increasingly sizeable chunk of the population?

We need inclusive research

KLB Research logo with tagline: valuing diversity in academic research

I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Karen Blair of KLB Research speak at the Guelph Sexuality Conference.

Karen was in college when she discovered she was a lesbian. As a result of taking sexuality courses, she began wondering why cishet couples were always the ones in research and books. So, like all great innovators, she started doing the research that needed to happen.

Dr. Blair even did a study right after the Pulse massacre to understand how this was affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. Listening to her speak about the Pulse study was incredibly profound. There’s even a follow-up study accepting participants.

What can we do?

We need more people like Karen – and more awareness of the work she and others do on inclusive research.

Share studies looking for participants whenever you can. Support or participate in The Pride Study. Stay tuned for when ORCHIDS gets going.

Demand more representation. When studies come out and don’t include anyone other than white cishet abled middle-class Americans, we have to speak up and share that this is not reality. This is not inclusive research.

Edit: Our pals over at Clara Health just wrote about the lack of LGBTQQIA2+ representation in studies. Check it out.

What is the Pride Study?

The Pride Study is the first large-scale and long-term study of health in the LGBTQIA+ population.

In the end, doctors and scientists at the University of California-San Francisco are going to use the Pride Study to better understand – and then work to improve – the health of the LGBTQIA+ community at large.

One of the biggest problems in tracking health within our community is that gender identity and sexual orientation are often removed from our data – if they’re even collected. That means there’s just no way to find those in our community and track their health over time.

Eligibility

To be eligible, you have to live in the United States and identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. You can check your eligibility status here. If you know someone who would qualify but does not have internet access, they can call 855-421-9991 to sign up.

What do I have to do?

All you have to do is fill out a survey that takes about half an hour once a year. That’s it!

If you are not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and would like to support this study financially, please visit their donate page. If you live in the United States and want to volunteer for Pride Net – regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation – check out their volunteer page.

How easy is it?

I signed up since I’m genderqueer and pansexual. I found that it was really easy and very accessible. You can even connect a FitBit, Withings, or Jawbone Up to provide even more data.

Your dashboard also gives you statistics on how the research participant pool looks right now in relation to your own identities. As of June 3rd, 16% of people in the study identified as genderqueer and 15% identified as pansexual.

I have to say, though, 77% of participants as of that date are white. Let’s get some diversity!

You can learn more about PRIDENet, the team, and find answers to many questions at pridestudy.org. For more info on the study, check out this PDF.