Defending the use of labels (aka adjectives)

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nI really feel like I shouldn’t have to justify this, but since it’s such a common argument that we-who-choose-to-use-labels come across on the internet, I figured it deserved some actual attention. Quick note: the labels that usually come under fire are ones specifically geared to describe gender and/or orientation.

It goes like this: “I don’t get why people are so obsessed with using all these labels. Why can’t you just be, like, a human being? Aren’t you just creating more division by making up all these categories? Blah blah blah, special snowflake, blah.” (I was going to add more to that, but it kinda sounds like that to me after a while. You get the point.)

Well, to start, it shouldn’t matter to you what language people use to describe themselves. If someone asks you to use certain pronouns or something, respect that. Apart from that, your involvement is not needed.

Here’s the main thing. To quote Anita Sarkeesian: “I know it sounds super basic — Comm Studies 101 – but having the language to name things in the world is really powerful.” Sarkeesian is talking about naming certain tropes in media, but it seemed like a statement which perfectly matches this argument. [Read more...]

I hate the his/her side of the bed meme

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nYou heard me. It’s obnoxious. (Not just because of the inherent cissexism/heterosexism.)

If you’re not familiar with what I’m referring to, it’s a relatively common joke that (in a cishet relationship) women take up most of the bed while the dudes are relegated to a small sliver at the edge.

I couldn’t find exactly the one that ignited this train of thought for me, since it was someone else’s random Facebook post from months ago, but here are a couple examples of what I mean:

what [Read more...]

A New Way to Battle Depression

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nNormally, I’d reserve this type of post for my personal blog, but I figured if I’m feeling inclined to write, I might as well put it in a place where it might be useful to someone. My friend JT Eberhard convinced me that my way of thinking might help someone else put to words how they feel, and moreover this is actually an awesome idea for fighting mental illness and it might literally help someone with their brain weirdness. So, forgive the somewhat personal nature of the post.

Being depressed is about more than just emotions and moods. Yes, that’s a big part of depression: feeling bad all the time for no apparent reason, having disproportionate emotional responses, having a hard time enjoying things, etc. One of the most impactful struggles, however, is that your brain creates logical loopholes and selectively discards relevant information. It cripples your ability to think on a perfectly rational level.

Depression ebbs and flows for me, so some days I think more clearly than others. I take an ADD medication which helps immensely. I’ve also noticed that Ambien has an interesting effect on me. Ambien is a sleep medication that I take pretty regularly. If I don’t actually attempt to sleep within about a half hour of taking it, I find myself incredibly motivated to create things, organize my life, clean my apartment, and begin planning and working toward various goals. As you can imagine, this sometimes leads me to stay up even later, but I digress… [Read more...]

Low T: A Tale of Two Hormones (Gender Analysis 01)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. In recent years, prescription testosterone has become a booming industry around the world. From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of men over 40 in the US who were prescribed testosterone replacement grew from about 0.8% to 2.9% – more than a threefold increase. And data from 41 nations shows that yearly testosterone sales have increased from $150 million in 2000 to $1.8 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, chains of “low T clinics” focusing on testosterone therapy have opened dozens of locations across the country.

So what’s behind this growth? Let’s take a look at one commercial for prescription testosterone gel:

“I have low testosterone. There, I said it. See, I knew testosterone could affect sex drive, but not energy or even my mood. That’s when I talked with my doctor. He gave me some blood tests – showed it was low T. That’s it. It was a number.”

Companies selling these medications increased their spending on testosterone ads from $14 million in 2011 to $107 million in 2012, using a snappy new name like “low T” and the promise of a quick and easy pick-me-up for older men. If your T is low, you feel bad; if your T is higher, you feel good – right? This is the approach that’s fueled an explosion in testosterone usage. The problem is, it’s not just a number. In reality, “low T” levels are uncertain, the symptoms are vague, and the relationship between levels and symptoms really isn’t so direct. [Read more...]

How Depression Is Like Back Pain

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nAs a person with depression, I’m always thinking of new ways to describe it. Partially so that people who don’t experience it can understand what it’s like, and in the hope that these perspectives will help me treat it like a legitimate problem instead of beating myself up over feeling bad “for no reason.” It’s becoming common to relate it to physical illnesses like cancer and strep throat. Here’s a good one: chronic back pain.

(I don’t experience any severe chronic pain, so if I’m completely off the mark with any of this, feel free to correct me.)

Someone with intense back pain might have difficulty getting out of bed. They probably could get out of bed, even if in pain, but most people wouldn’t expect someone to push through that kind of agony unless there were pressing matters to attend to.

Some people with intense pain can’t even bring themselves to go to work every day (or at all, in some cases).

If they do go to work, they might be tired and/or sore enough to be unable to do dishes, laundry, or other house work when they get home.

Chronic pain comes and goes, and sometimes it’s more debilitating than others. One day might be bearable and the next day, even going to sit at the computer is a task of unimaginable difficulty.

It seems as though, by and large, these things are accepted and the person experiencing the pain is not shamed for not being up to the tasks before them. Unfortunately, some people do experience invalidation from others, especially if the pain is not the direct result of an injury. Then, it’s “just in their head.” Which is pretty much the attitude toward depression and other forms of mental illness.

The thing about depression is that it is painful at times. Emotional agony is just as real as physical pain. At the end of the day, it’s all just brain signals, and most people have a pretty firm knowledge of what feels good and what feels bad, whether skin sensations or states of mind.

Depression, like chronic pain, can go for periods of time in “remission,” can pop up for a couple days at a time or months on end, and can be triggered by other things. Someone with back pain might twinge something while lifting a heavy object and be stuck in bed for several days. Meanwhile, someone with depression might have a particularly stressful day at work or a heated argument with a friend or partner, thus cascading them toward depression even if they were feeling okay beforehand.

They’re both unpredictable. They’re both painful. And they’re both real. Invisible illnesses deserve as much respect as cancer or Ebola. (Though you can leave the panic at home.) Nobody should face stigma just because they’re sick.

White House Response to Non-Binary Gender Petition

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nDon’t get too excited, folks. The response was about as disappointing as you might expect.

Thank you for your petition requesting that the executive branch legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

We know how important this issue is, and we understand the profound impact, both symbolic and otherwise, of having official documents that accurately reflect an individual’s identity. These documents play an essential, functional role, but also demonstrate the measure of dignity and respect afforded to our nation’s citizens. We cannot overstate the care and seriousness that should be brought to bear on the issue.

We recognize the importance of gender identification in particular and the Obama Administration is working to modernize federal policies in this area. For example, in 2010, the U.S. Department of State made it easier for individuals to update the gender marker in their passports. And last year, the Social Security Administration followed suit by simplifying the process for individuals to change the gender marker on their social security cards to reflect their identity accurately.

As you can imagine, there is considerable variance across agencies and levels of government. And so while the Obama Administration wants to make sure that official documents reflect the identities of the Americans who hold them, we believe proposals to change when and how gender is listed on official documents should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the affected federal and state agencies. However, that consideration must be informed by best practices and a commitment to honoring individuality and ensuring fairness.

Thank you again for your petition. We appreciate your input and the opportunity to convey our shared commitment.

It really just strikes me that the person who wrote this response (Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity in the Domestic Policy Council) doesn’t have an understanding of non-binary sex, much less gender. Like how babies are born with “ambiguous” genitalia and there’s no legal option for designating their sex as something other than strictly male or female. (Not to mention the many inherent problems with designating sex at birth anyway.)

The original petition wasn’t worded super well anyway.

Legal documents in the United States only recognize “male” and “female” as genders, leaving anyone who does not identify as one of these two genders with no option. Australia and New Zealand both allow an X in place of an M or an F on passports for this purpose and the UK recognizes ‘Mx’ (pronounced as Mix or sometimes Mux) as a gender-neutral title.

This petition asks the Obama Administration to legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary (such as agender, pangender, genderfluid, and others) and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

So yeah, an expected disappointing response. I’m glad there’s a way for us to engage our government more directly and show our numbers, but I had hoped for more.

Seeking trans participants for a project with photographer Martin Schoeller

My good friend and colleague Kristin is working with photographer Martin Schoeller on an upcoming project featuring trans people during transition. Schoeller is well-known for his series of photographs of celebrities and other subjects in his signature close-up style. Kristin, herself a trans woman, has worked with Schoeller on earlier projects, and he is very LGBT-friendly.

We’re looking for people who are at the beginning of their transition and are willing to have face and full body photographs taken, followed by another series 12-18 months later. This project is likely to be featured in a number of high-profile publications, and could become a standalone book. These photographs will be taken in a tasteful and humanizing style.

Trans women, trans men, and nonbinary trans people are all welcome to participate. Currently, we’re looking for participants around New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. If you’re interested, or know anyone who might be, please contact Kristin at liveyourlove4@gmail.com.

Why I’m representing Chelsea Manning at SF Pride

lauren-userpicThis year, Private Chelsea Manning was selected as Honorary Grand Marshal of SF Pride. As she is unable to attend, she asked me to serve as her representative due to our personal history, and I agreed. I’ll be present for various events this coming weekend, including the parade on Sunday. If you happen to be in San Francisco this weekend, I hope that you’ll have the chance to stop by.

Throughout my involvement in this case, I’ve occasionally heard from trans people with some connection to the US military – defense contractors, veterans, or active duty. Some feel that Chelsea’s actions reflected poorly on trans servicemembers, and have set back the movement for trans acceptance and inclusion in the military.

Regardless of one’s opinion on Chelsea’s conduct, the fact remains that she is a trans servicemember who is currently incarcerated in a men’s prison and is still being denied access to any transition treatments. As such, her case involves key issues like integration of trans people into the armed forces, and the ability of trans people in prisons to receive appropriate transition-related care.

The Army has refused to provide Chelsea with treatment such as hormone therapy, on the basis that transgender people are ineligible to serve. However, the Army is also unable to discharge her because she’s currently appealing her sentence. Chelsea’s fight for access to treatment while incarcerated could potentially set a precedent, with implications for the military’s policy toward the eligibility of trans servicemembers and the availability of necessary care for them. The importance of changing this policy should be clear to everyone, no matter our personal opinions of Chelsea herself.

We must also recognize that transgender service in the military is not a hypothetical – it is a reality. As with gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, many trans people are currently enlisted and serving in silence. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that over 15,000 trans people are currently serving in the US military, and finds that trans people are actually twice as likely as the total adult population to have served. This is not a question of bringing trans people into the US military for the first time ever; it is a matter of accepting those who are already serving.

In light of this, citing Chelsea’s actions to justify suspicion of all trans servicemembers is plainly absurd. Thousands of trans people already serve in the US military, and many more are allowed to serve openly in the armed forces of allies such as Canada, Britain, and Israel. Using one person to make generalizations about a group of thousands is as invalid here as it would be anywhere. Such fears are not due to the actions of any particular trans person; they are due to the widespread prejudice of cis people. The enemy is not a trans woman incarcerated in a men’s prison without access to treatment. It is a culture of institutional intolerance toward trans people – an intolerance that is never justifiable.

These are my views, and my views alone. However, in my role as her representative, Chelsea has also asked that I emphasize certain key points to the queer and trans community: that we have the right to exist as our genuine selves, that we are the only ones who can define ourselves, and that we should stand and make ourselves visible. These values are not centered around her circumstances – this is a universal message of pride for all queer and trans people. I believe Chelsea Manning’s message deserves to be heard at SF Pride.

—Lauren McNamara
26 June 2014

I waxed my legs… [Pics]

Spoiler alert: It was a terrible idea.IMG_20140531_055252

I’ve been shaving my legs since I was about 14. There was a brief period where I let it grow out because of transness, but I’ve more or less decided that I don’t like having leg hair. It’s disconnected from gender for me; I just don’t like it very much. Smooth legs = one of the best feelings.

Waxing has seemed appealing on a few occasions because how awesome is it to not have to deal with leg hair for, like, two months?! After thinking about it for forever, I finally found a waxing kit at the local grocery store and decided I’d go ahead and try it. Documenting the experience just seemed like extra giggles.

The first thing about this–and the part I wasn’t aware of or prepared for–is that your hair has to be something like 1/4-1/2 of an inch long in order to wax it off. Which is annoying when the whole point is to get rid of the hair. Since my hair pokes through the skin at variable intervals, I had most of it at the appropriate length, but still had hairs which weren’t even popped up through the skin. Very inconvenient. As a result of this, I ended up doing the actual waxing before all the hair was at the appropriate length, but I just couldn’t handle it any more.

COMMENCE THE PROCESS.

Gags - 13

It’s very important to read all the directions if you’re planning on doing something like this. And to follow those directions. They directed me to put this *totally microwave safe* container in the microwave to heat up. [Read more...]