Annika and Sebastian Answer Your Trans* Questions (Part Three)

Q: I’ve been wondering about gender binaries – specifically, I understand that we all have bits of male and female in each of us. That said, I wonder why some people feel they need to transition from male to female or female to male. Isn’t that reinforcing this fake gender binary of only “male” and “female”?

SEBASTIAN:  Ah yes, this is a common question. And sometimes for people with less tact than you quite the accusation. I’ve had some friends and family, before I explained (which I will do in a second), very lovingly suggest that I didn’t need to transition because I could be a masculine female and some not so lovingly suggest that I was fucking everything up by saying I needed to be a man to be masculine.

First of all, I believe that masculinity and femininity have nothing to do with birth sex or even gender identity. I think butch women are just as much women as super feminine women, and I think there are women who are more masculine than most men. I think that what you mean when you say we all have bits of male and female in us, you mean that we all have traits that are traditionally associated with men and we all have traits that are traditionally associated with women and this is SO true.

People transition, however, not based on whether or not they are masculine or feminine, but based on whether or not they are male or female. My gender identity is as separate from my masculinity/femininity (which I’m going to refer to as gender expression) as it is from my assigned birth sex. Cisgender people whose gender identities do not differ from their assigned sex have likely not had to consider their gender identity and thus often are unaware of it / conflate it with gender expression.

For examples of how gender identity, assigned birth sex, and gender expression are very separate, just look to the femme trans men and the butch trans women. Femme trans men were assigned women and birth, are actually men, but are very feminine and present as such (I know some trans men that love doing drag – as in, drag queens). Butch trans women were assigned men at birth, are actually women, and are very masculine and present as such.

So me transitioning does not actually enforce the idea that only men can be masculine, because I didn’t transition because I was masculine (in fact, I was never butch).

ANNIKA: I’ve heard this argument before too. When I first came out, a boy I knew from high school asked me why I didn’t just be a “normal” gay man instead of transitioning. My response? Gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation are all different things. I am a girl, and my gender is at the core of how I see myself and my place in this world. The binary model is incredibly flawed and inaccurate, but gender is real. It’s innate and something that you just know you are (or aren’t), despite what society and others may tell you. And of course this means something different for each person. My presentation tends to be quite feminine (in that my mannerisms, speech, and the way I carry myself are behaviors typically associated with women) but there is still a fundamental difference between me and a feminine-presenting boy, for example. Growing up, this was all very confusing before I learned what the word “transgender” meant. Back then, my only exposure to feminine MAAB (male assigned at birth) people were gay men, so I often wondered if maybe I was one of them. But no matter how hard I thought about it, I never felt any connection to the gay men I read about or saw on TV. I wasn’t comfortable expressing my femininity while presenting as a boy. And the reason is simple: gender. I am not a man.

I also don’t think gender is a as simple as a linear “spectrum” with two discreet points of “masculine” or “feminine” on either end. It’s way more complicated than that. I prefer Dylan Vade’s (one of the founders of the Transgender Law Center) “gender galaxy” model, which allows for any number of identities and expressions- some overlapping and others completely separate. Additionally, I don’t view myself as having “transitioned from male to female.” Don’t let the “M” on my birth certificate fool you- I was never male. Since I am and have always been a girl, I view transition more as an alignment of my body, presentation, and social role in a way that affirms my true gender identity. This is a difficult concept for a cis person to understand at first, especially if they have never had to spend much time exploring or questioning what their own gender means to them.

 Q: What is your opinion on going “stealth”?

SEBASTIAN: I think it makes a lot sense for some people. For various reasons. Some people’s identities are so separate from their trans experience or history that it doesn’t make sense for that part of their past to be a part of their daily identity, so they live “stealth.” In a lot of places and situations, it is safer to be seen as cisgender, so people choose not to disclose.

Many of us live partially stealth anyway. I don’t introduce myself as trans and for the most part, my friends know that it is not their place to disclose my trans status. I have been in workplace situations outside of my community where no one knew I was trans and I made an effort to keep it that way. I’ve lied about what school I went to so that I could maintain a stealth workplace persona. Not because I didn’t feel safe, but because I didn’t want people to not see me as male when they found out I was transgender. I didn’t want them searching my body for indicators that I had been born “different.” I simply wanted them to see me in terms of who I am today not who I was “before.” And unfortunately, ignorance about trans issues (which also breeds insatiable curiosity) means that disclosing trans status can be a forfeiture of your ability to live in your true gender role. It’s not analogous to someone with a queer sexuality coming out (which is a liberation of sorts). There’s a great piece about this at the Bilerico project that I often direct people to [].

And the bottom line is that I support people with trans experiences and trans histories. I support their gender identities and how they live out those identities. Even if I didn’t understand living stealth (which I absolutely do), I’d support someone’s right to.

ANNIKA: I think it’s a personal choice (as well as a privilege that not everyone has). Some people view their trans* history as a strictly medical issue with no impact on their identities and how they view themselves. I certainly don’t have a problem with it- and there are cases when it is absolutely a safety issue. There’s no denying that there are times when it’s easier to be seen as cisgender- like at airports and when using public restrooms.

I’m in a similar situation to Sebastian when it comes to disclosing my trans* status. I’m obviously very open about my story online, and while most of my friends and coworkers know about my history, the majority of the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis have no idea. And to be honest, I like it that way. There’s so much more to who I am than the fact that I was assigned male at birth. It’s nice to not have new acquaintances immediately make assumptions about me (which they would do if I introduced myself as a trans person). Sometimes I want to just to enjoy being a 24 year old girl without having to give a Trans* 101 lecture on a daily basis. I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I definitely like having control over who I choose to come out to. So I can totally understand why someone would want to live “stealth” on a more permanent basis.

Having said that, there are incredible benefits to not being closeted. Our community is so small and so marginalized that every trans* who chooses to speak up becomes an activist for the cause of equality. There’s no way we’ll be able to effect real political change by remaining silent about who we are. Just look at how far trans* rights have come in the last decade alone- a lot of this is due to increased awareness of trans* issues, thanks in part by more trans* people making their voices heard. Lastly, there is no better feeling than learning that your decision to share your story has helped improve the lives of others. I’ve gotten so many messages from other trans girls thanking me for giving them motivation to be true to themselves. But perhaps the most touching response I’ve received was from girl I went to college with, who showed my blog to her mother, who, as it turns out, has a cousin who transitioned over 30 years ago. Reading the blog inspired her to reach out to her cousin, who has been disowned by everyone in her family. Stories like this remind me that I made the right decision not to live completely “stealth.”

Annika blogs at Transgender Express. Follow her on tumblr!

Read more Sebastian at xxboy

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I'm a 23 year old femme lesbian living in SF. Once upon a time, I was a USC frat boy ;) I ♥ music so please recommend your favorite artists to me!

annika has written 21 articles for us.


  1. I’ve always felt like the term “bisexual” better explains being caught between the gay and straight worlds (and the differences in how we are perceived when we’re read as one or the other) than something more open-ended like “pansexual” or “queer” does. That duality of being both “heterosexual” and “homosexual” is always what the “bi” in the term has been to me. That being said, I can understand why others prefer other terms, but I think “bisexual” is the one that will always fit me best.

    This article explains what I’m getting at a bit better (I don’t agree with everything this author says but I agree with the argument about “bisexual” not being binarist):

    • That’s an interesting point, Rose. I guess everyone is equal under the label of ‘queer’, which is one thing that is nice about it and why I choose to call myself that. But that implied equality really doesn’t reflect the dynamics of queer community, at least not in my experience.

      Personally I feel neither heterosexual nor homosexual, I feel like some weird new thing, which is sometimes wonderful and sometimes sad and lonely. But I really relate to that experience of being caught between gay and straight words, and as Serrano writes “to the fact that both the straight and queer worlds view me in two very different ways depending upon who I happen to be partnered with at any given moment.”

    • To me, bisexual just doesn’t feel authentic. (I remember the first time I heard the term “queer” in a LGBT studies class – I latched onto it immediately.) However, I do use that term amongst certain straight people – it’s less confronting than “queer” (especially amongst older people who grew up with that word used as a slur) and it’s also easier to understand.

      Then again, most people just assume I’m a lesbian no matter what I say, soooo…

      • Yeah, I think it really just boils down to what feels right for you. In addition to what I said before, “queer” doesn’t work because it’s too ambiguous – it could mean bi or it could mean gay, all it really means is “not straight.” (And even then, I’ve occasionally heard it applied to straight people who are asexual – but heteroromantic – or who are poly or kinky.) I think I prefer having a term that people recognize that I don’t have to explain. Even “pansexual” isn’t a very well-known term outside of the LGBTQIA world.

        • I really don’t think cis heteroromantic asexuals, cis aromantic asexuals, or cis straight kinky people should be calling themselves queer. I tried to include all my reasoning but it was turning into a small essay; if anyone really wants to know, email me or something. Not that they’re bad people or anything, but none of them are what the slur “queer” targets and they shouldn’t be reclaiming it.

          • I think if you’re aromantic, you’re definitely out of the sexual norm enough to be calling yourself “queer.” It hits up against a lot of the same norms that being queer does – for example, family fears that this means you’re not getting a storybook wedding (and while that may not be true with same-sex relationships these days, it definitely is true if you’re aromantic). I would agree with heteroromantic asexuals and straight kinky people, though.

          • Like, there have been a lot of debates on tumblr about the asexual notion of “sexual privilege” and whether it really holds any weight that all sexual people are privileged, because of slut-shaming toward women of all sexual orientations, and the discrimination against same-sex sexuality. However, I do think that romantic privilege exists, because falling in love is a norm that is entrenched for people of all genders and sexualities. As I said above, a lot of parents have trouble accepting their kids’ homosexuality because of it meaning they won’t get the storybook wedding and marriage they always wanted for them. And while that’s becoming less and less true for gay and bisexual people, that’s always going to be the case if you’re aromantic.

      • Bisexual used to not feel authentic for me, partly because I believed in crapload of stereotypes and false definitions without realising it. Once I realised that being monogamous, geeky, brown, a trans ally, etc didn’t prevent me being bi, it felt better.

        Queer (alone) doesn’t work for me because people assume it’s just a hip way of saying lesbian. Since people are going to assume that I’m lesbian even if I get my identity tattooed on my face, I really need a word that makes it as clear as possible that I’m not.

        Totally get all of the other advantages of it though, it is a super cool word. So I do ID as queer as well – it’s just not what I put on my calling card. Most of the time.

        • Yeah, same here. I identify as “queer” in terms of falling under the queer umbrella, but I feel like it’s too ambiguous to describe my individual sexual orientation. I’ve always seen it as kind of like the system for classifying living things. Genus: queer, species: bisexual. Or something. Queer just doesn’t tell people enough in my opinion. (And there are still enough older people who hear it as a slur to further complicate matters.)

        • See, for me, I ID’d as bisexual first because that’s the only word I knew for a person who was attracted to people regardless of gender. But it never quite sat right for me.

          To each their own! :)

      • Same here. Bisexual doesn’t feel accurate to me either. Not only the term is too clinical IMO, but to me, my orientation is beyond just physical and sexual attraction- it is also emotional and romantic.

        OTOH, I don’t like queer either. So I don’t use labels at all until I find something that fits….boo!

        • My favorite label, which some of my friends who might be called bi use, is “liberal.” Too me, it seems much more intuitive and less clinical, and I know some people who really identify with it. It’s also got a lot less baggage associated, which can be nice.

          Full disclosure, though, I personally ID as a lesbian.

    • Julia Serano’s argument would work better if she didn’t use an explicitly binarist definition of bisexual.

      My body is mine, and she does not get to dictate what it means based on how it makes her feel in the pants.

      • Yeah, that’s the problem I had with the article. I didn’t like that she used such binarist language in describing different sexes and genders.

        However, I identify with the idea that the “bi” is more about the duality of “gay” and “straight” and being caught in the middle of that, than the duality of “into men” and “into women.”

        I’ve always felt like it’s more accurate to say that bis are simultaneously gay and straight, rather than “inbetween” them, because I mean, I like women the same way lesbians do and men the same way straight girls do.

    • Rose said: That duality of being both “heterosexual” and “homosexual” is always what the “bi” in the term has been to me.
      That’s a fantastic explanation, thanks very much for providing it.

  2. I second everything Annika says so eloquently in her video. My part is mostly like “Hey I’m a guy but living as a girl was awesome too because of these reasons”. :P

    • on the plus side, at least you didn’t have to pause the camera like ten times! (sometimes i get shy…) (*^_^*)

    • I saw the video before on Annika’s tumblr and I loved both of your responses! Great job! The stuff about the slumber parties so funny but so true.

    • I think that so far, my favorite part of identifying as genderqueer is that no one I know can tell me if I’m doing it wrong/right; there aren’t enough perceived notions of how a gQ person should look/behave yet in my neck of the woods. It’s just so refreshing after witnessing so much judgement and exclusion in some of the lesbian communities that I’ve been around.

      This is actually also one of my favorite things about AS, now that I think of it.

    • Given that I’m in the early stages of my transition (I’ve been out in public presenting as female quite a few times, but I’ve yet to start HRT or electrolysis), I’ve spent a lot less time thinking about what I like about being trans than what I dislike about it. (I imagine that’s true for a lot of trans people in my position.) I guess one of the things I do appreciate is having been able to take part in various experiences that I wouldn’t have if I’d been born a cis woman. I probably have a much better idea of what sorts of things men talk about when they’re hanging out by themselves than most women do, for instance. But I imagine that I’ll have a better idea of what I actually like about it once I’ve made more progress in my transition. I hadn’t even considered that there would be a “douchebag purge”, for instance, but now it’s something I’m really looking forward to!

    • Oooh, I just thought of one more thing I like about being trans. After quite a lot of practice, I’ve managed to develop quite a good female speaking voice. I still get frustrated sometimes that it was impossible for me to have it naturally, but most of the time now I’m really happy that I’ve got a good-sounding female voice and, should I ever need it, a REALLY DEEP can-be-quite-scary-sounding-if-necessary male voice. At the very least it leaves more possibilities open during Halloween.

    • I like being genderqueer/gender undefined because it means that I can challenge people’s conception of gender. I also just like the added queerness of it all; I’ve always been uncomfortable “fitting in,” strangely. That said, there are a lot more uncomfortable things about being gq than benefits at the moment.

    • Honestly, my favourite thing so far has been when out as a girl (rare occurence atm as i have few clothes and no spare money for clothes) Has been confusing the hell out of people. Whether i knew them previously or not, i’m keeping a tally of my favourite reactions from people finding out (ranging from them not knowing what it means to me completely forgetting, then having someone walk in and repeat ‘what the sh*t’ which is a phrase i have never heard before.) Also when people who don’t know me hear me speak and have the revelation maybe i am not quite as i seemed. Or drunks being confused and repeatedly switching pronouns. I like trolling people far too much basically

    • It took me 35 years to get to a point where I accepted it and getting there happened only after I attempted suicide because I hated myself THAT much and felt like such a complete failure.

      So, here is what I like.

      I stopped hating myself. I’m done with that crap. Others can hate me all they want. It might make me sad….but thank GOD I don’t hate myself.

      Which gets me to WHY I don’t hate myself. Namely, I’m a better person.

      It’s called honesty and it contrasts with liar which I used to do all the time to cover the truth about me. To be accepted as a ‘man’. etc.

      SOOO much better. Such a relief. It’s like a huge burden just came off my shoulders.

      I’m still waiting for the insults to really flow in.

      I had one person tell my wife I was aggressive on facebook cause I regularly call out the BS that goes on. Like…sorry but it’s the TRUTH.

      Yep. I may not ever pass but thank GOD I’m done trying to live up to that UNBEARABLE burden I was carrying.

    • My favorite part about being trans is that I had this incredible journey of self reflection along the way to where I am. I don’t know who I would be if I was Cis.

      I think of my struggle and I identify with it. I’m gay too, so I guess I would have had a similar struggle with coming out as a dyke.

      I think the thing that I like most about having transitioned is that I’m really in touch with all of the things that I did before transition that I still identify with. Metal, climbing, everything. I don’t know if I would have launched myself so hard into those things had I not been searching desperately for something to fill the gaping black hole that existed in my throughout my life.

      Now I just love to do all of those things, and they’re no longer an escape from the pain of day to day life. They’re just an expression of joy for the woman that I am, and it kicks ass.

  3. this is so full of win. i just want to point out 1 thing

    “having the experience of living as a woman for 21 years has given me experiences, insight, and characteristics that I would not have had had I been born with a Y chromosome.”

    *there are actually some intersex conditions where someone has XY chromosomes (male from a chromosome point of view) but does not develop male gonads – develops female gonads. this person may not know they are XY until they try to reproduce. so technically one COULD have the experience of living as a woman for 21 years and ALSO have the Y fact i know someone who transitioned to male & found out during his hysterectomy that he had this intersex condition! so he was XY but socialized as female – intersex & trans!

    • Middlesex is a really great book about an intersexed person whose condition was similar to what you describe – he has an XY chronotype but ambiguous genitalia and he is assigned female at birth. (I use “he” here because he later finds out about his condition and changes how he identifies – trying not to give away too much about the book, it really is worth reading it yourself.)

      • Is that reaaaaaally worth reading? I meant to read it, but then Julia Serano brought it up in her book “Whipping Girl” and she was SCATHING*. And I agreed with absolutely everything she said in that book, so. I’m not sure.

        *slight exaggeration.

        • OT, but the conclusion I came to after reading that book was that the author’s writing is overrated by a mile.

          • I agree. Firstly I thought Eugenides’ really fetishised the protagonist’s intersex condition. Secondly I thought given how interesting the book could have been, his writing was really dull – Cal really needed more character development, for starters. I read ‘The Virgin Suicides’ by him as well and was thinking ‘oh really, is that all it is’ at the end so I think it’s my general reaction to him as an author and not my left-wing queer politics making the judgement ;)

          • Really? Maybe it’s worth a re-reading then. I was 16 at the same time and not as well-read on queer issues as I am now, and also just really impressed with his knowledge of the history of Detroit (where I am also from) and how well he interwove it with the story. I’m currently reading his new book The Marriage Plot and while I’m enjoying it for the most part, I don’t find his writing style quite as impressive as I did when I read Middlesex.

      • Has anyone read Annabel by Kathleen Winter? It deals with intersex issues in a very rural setting. I thought it was decent, but I’d love to hear an analysis from someone more knowledgeable on the topic.

        • I just read Annabel!
          I wouldn’t call myself knowledgable about intersex issues, but I enjoyed it (got through it pretty fast) for its writing style and loved the character Wally Michelin and that relationship. I think I was imagining Treadway as Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation the whole time.

          • I’m glad somebody else has read it! I liked the book (it’s her debut novel!), and I thought Wally was an interesting character.

            At the same time, I don’t feel qualified to analyze how she dealt with intersex issues.

            Still, good book, and I think I’ll check out her short story collection (boYs).

    • I don’t know of any Intersex condition where someone has a Y chromosome yet develops ovaries or a uterus. There is CAIS, where someone is XY, can’t process testosterone and ends up looking female, with a vagina but with male not female gonads. There is 5-alpha-reductase deficiency (which is what the character in “Middlesex” supposedly has) but even in that situation, you would have male not female gonads. There are people who look (traditionally) male yet have XX chromosomes (de la Chapelle syndrome). I’ve never heard what you’re describing, so if you have a specific name for it I’d appreciate it. I’m not Intersex, but I think it’s important for people to not spread misinformation about Intersex people and let them speak for their own bodies and identities.

      • Yeah, I believe the protagonist of Middlesex had a male gonads that were simply folded over in some way as to give the appearance of being a vagina to the doctor who was present at his birth (who was described as being elderly and with failing eyesight).

      • A mutation on the SRY gene would cause someone who is chromosomally XY to develop female gonads. I know someone who has this so yes it is possible. It’s just not one of the more common intersex conditions.

      • @Ginasf – There is Swyer syndrome, where an individual is XY, develops “female” genitals, a “normal” uterus and fallopian tubes, but non-functional ovaries – ovaries that are mainly composed of fibrous tissue. In the medical literature it says individuals with Swyer syndrome don’t go through “a normal female puberty” and have historically been “treated” with HRT for female hormones (estrogen and progesterone). However some people with Swyer syndrome don’t identify as female and transition to male. I met a guy at a conference who had Swyer’s and transitioned to male

        • As I understand Swyer Syndrome, people born with it don’t have either (traditional) male or female gonads. So yes, they have XY chromosomes but don’t produce estrogen or testosterone (except trace amounts produced by the adrenal glands). To go through “standard” puberty they have to take hormones. So, yes, most Swyer peeps are raised female, some of them have male identities, but they don’t have ovaries. Sorry for the derail but, again, I think people should be careful about not spreading misinformation about Intersex conditions or bodies.

          • I agree that people should be careful about not spreading misinformation about Intersex conditions or bodies. But just to clarify, you had said “I don’t know of any Intersex condition where someone has a Y chromosome yet develops ovaries or a uterus” and individuals with Swyer Syndrome, while they don’t have functional ovaries, they do often have fibrous tissue where the ovaries would have been and they often have a “normal” uterus and Fallopian tubes. The guy I met who had Swyer’s said he had to have an hysterectomy and removal of the non-functional ovarian tissue. So he had a Y chromosome but also a uterus and “female” genitals – which is an intersex condition that a lot of people are not aware of.

      • I’m glad you like it, but I honestly think calling the body of someone who’s Intersex ‘cool’ is objectifying them and not so cool.

  4. I just want to say that Sebastian’s comment that his favourite thing about being trans* was slumber parties made me go all melty. Awww.

    I never have anything intelligent to say in response to these articles, maybe because my own experience is so different I have nothing worthwhile to add, but I really love reading them and learn a lot from them. Thanks guys.

  5. i also forgot to say how much i love these quotes! so so important, things that people don’t say enough!!

    Annika: “Additionally, I don’t view myself as having “transitioned from male to female.” Don’t let the “M” on my birth certificate fool you- I was never male. Since I am and have always been a girl, I view transition more as an alignment of my body, presentation, and social role in a way that affirms my true gender identity. ”

    Sebastian: “I’m not offended by the term if people are truly only attracted to people who identify as men or women. I’m actually way more offended by the concept that people need to identify as pansexual to include transgender people. I’m a man so being attracted to me, I believe, is no different than being attracted to a cisgender man. I feel othered when people think that being attracted to me somehow makes their sexuality different. “

  6. “queer” is such an awesome word, seriously. it’s short, it rhymes with things, it’s simultaneously cheerful and welcoming and playful and subversive and defiant and it includes everyone outside of the hetero-normative mainstream like a big fuzzy rainbow blanket that all get to cuddle under.

    • I want to point out there are many trans people who don’t ID as queer. And, in fact, trans persons who consider being labeled queer as a disrespect of their genders. So, I think terms like queer are great to apply to oneself or an immediate group of like-minded friends but not so great to use in a global sense.

  7. I’m so bad at leaving intelligent comments on your articles. So I’m just going to say that A) I loved your article, I always do and I always learn something! and B) You are both seriously adorable on camera.

  8. As a mathematician, I have to modelize this as cartesian coordinates: x=gender identity, y=gender expression z=sexual orientation.

    where positive number is for female and negative for male. (the positive from the venus symbol, not just because girls are awesome) then, the lipstick lesbian can be modelized as 0>x>z>y, the butch as 0>/=y>x>z, etc.

    I’m starting to like this theory ^^

    • Or we could do it in barycentric coordinates based on the triangle XYZ (as defined above). Then the composition of your identity is your balancing point, and I kind of like that idea.

      Math is so great.

  9. “Now she’s there to shoot down any irrational thought or fear that I may have (“Shut the fuck up! You don’t look like a man today! You never look like a man.”)”

    My ex-girlfriend did that too haha! (Of course, in reverse – “you don’t look like a girl today!”)

  10. I always thought of the term bisexual as having more to do with attraction to two different sexes, rather than two different genders. Because that still means that a bisexual person can be attracted to anyone with any kind of gender expression. I think that the idea of binary gender is a social construct, but I see sex as binary. I don’t like the term pansexual for myself because I don’t think of there being more than two sexes. The problem here is I know there are intersex people/people born with mixed sex organs/etc. I feel very uneducated about the proper terminology and facts here so I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone. Please help enlighten me! :)

    Bisexual also applies well to me because my attraction to guys and my attraction to girls are different. I know bisexual people who say that they don’t see gender/sex really and they just care about the person on the inside. That is totally awesome, but not me. I think the “bi” represents how I am attracted to females in a different way to how I am attracted to males. I differentiate between them. It’s like I’m totally gay and totally straight at the same time, rather than just “into people” (like the fantastic Frankie from Skins!)
    I’ve met people with various gender expressions, but they all still identified as either male or female. I’ve never met a genderqueer person who doesn’t identify as one gender; I’m pretty sure I could still be attracted to them, but I don’t know …maybe I would need a new label then?

    ^Tl;Dr–a messy confusing rant about why I identify as bisexual, in which I think I contradict myself a lot. labels=complicated

    • Hi Lucinda! Here’s a good way of thinking about it: Sex is just birth-assigned gender. When you are born, a doctor or nurse looks at their genitals and says “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy” or “the baby is intersex, so we need to have surgery so that the baby can fall into one of those two boxes.” That’s all that sex is.

      There’s so much diversity in the kinds of chromosomes, genitals, internal reproductive organs, secondary characteristics (breasts, body hair, etc.), and other kinds of characteristics that people usually define “sex” that almost no one would fall 100% into one of those two boxes. Additionally, this idea that sex is anything other than birth-assigned or institution-assigned gender ends up being extremely harmful for trans* people.

      If you’re interested in reading more, Dylan Vade (founder of the Transgender Law Center) wrote a really excellent law review breaking down the sex-gender distinction that you can read here:

      • Thanks, this was really helpful! I must admit my head isn’t fully wrapped around it yet. I still feel like there is something inherently binary about it, but that there are also people (genderqueer) who don’t fit into the binary, and that’s okay. I think they are more of a mix of the two sexes or genders, rather than a third thing. So when I say I think there are two sexes, I’m not saying they can’t be mixed-intersex, or that two genders can’t be mixed-genderqueer.

        I’m a little confused about what you said about trans* people. A trans woman has always been a woman gender-wise, even if her sex was male at birth, right? I thought transgender was all about your gender not matching your sex, making sex and gender two different things. I don’t think sex is birth-assigned gender. I think it is birth-assigned sex. The problem is we use the same words (female, male) for both. Like, if you have a penis, that is male genitalia (sex), but you can have a penis and be a woman (gender). Then “male” can also be used to describe the gender of a male person, regardless of if their sex is male or female. I think that’s a big part of the problem–we shouldn’t use the same words for sex and gender when they are not the same thing.

        • That’s the thing, I’m saying (and some other radical activists are saying) that there is no such thing as sex. That it’s a social construct just as much as gender but a social construct that is applied to you at birth by a doctor based on genitals. A trans woman is female. All of a trans woman’s body parts are female genitals because SHE is female.

          Dysphoria that people experience is a different matter. If someone’s brain expects body parts to be different, then that’s a medical issue that must be fixed.

          Being trans* is not a conflict between your gender and sex. It’s a conflict between what society told you your gender should be and what your gender actually is. It can also be a conflict, though not necessarily, between what body parts or characteristics you have and which body parts and characteristics your brain feels you should have.

          I really recommend reading the Dylan Vade article I posted above for a breakdown of why there is no such thing as sex and how the distinction is used by the legal system to hurt trans* people

    • Just want to add, when I said various gender expressions, I meant to say various gender expressions and different gender identities, because those are two different things!

  11. I don’t have anything to add to the discussion, but I wanted to say a big thank-you to Annika and Sebastian for all the articles you wrote on Autostraddle. They made me more aware of trans* issues and a better ally, and made me think about gender more than I ever had.

    Actually reading your articles and thinking about it made me realize/remember that I may not totally fit within that traditional “female” box I have always been put in. It’s still very confusing for now – but whatever, I’m not here to talk about me. Thank you.

    I also liked the video a lot (though not being a native english speaker I didn’t understood everything), it’s nice to be able to link faces and words to a voice/way of talking! You not only write great articles but seem like people I’d love to hang out with. Also Sebastian seems like a funny guy (in a good way) and Annika has a killer fashion style.

    Anyway I’m rambling and it’s getting late so I’m just gonna post this before I delete everyting.

  12. Omigodddddd video!! WE GET TO SEE YOUR FACES AND HEAR YOUR LOVELY VOICES!!! I have to say – Annika, you have the most charming speech mannerisms. I feel like I should be having a tea party with you (and I mean that in the most endearing, best way possible).

      • Your voice was so sweet and charming, and then you said “fuck em” and I nearly had a heart attack! It was like hearing my gran swear. (Please don’t take that in a bad way, because my gran is awesome.)

  13. Hey, so talking about bisexuality. I enjoy doing it. First off, I totally agree with y’all that saying that only pansexuality includes trans* folks is…pretty problematic. I just wanted to add that for a lot of bi people, myself included, the “two” of “bi” refers to same+other (literally homo+hetero) genders, that is both people of the same gender and people of a different gender. It can be kind of frustrating seeing people, especially people who aren’t bi, saying that the bi identity is necessarily cissexist or binarist when that’s not necessarily how lots of bi folks think of it. That’s not to say that there aren’t bi people who wouldn’t define it as “attracted to men and women,” or that there aren’t plenty of cissexist or binarist bi folk out there, but just because someone identifies as bisexual doesn’t mean they have a problem with non-binary peeps. Obviously no one in this piece was saying anything like that, but I just wanted to add my two cents.

    Also, I know a lot of bi folk were well into adulthood before they ever heard the term “pansexual.” It’s a great term and really important for pan people, but having identified for a long time as bisexual, and come out to my parents as bisexual, and happily thought of myself as bisexual for many years, having people tell me, “Oh, well you’re REALLY pansexual actually” is…frustrating. Pansexuality is great! It’s a valid identity and it deserves respect! But it’s not my identity. I guess all I’m saying is, dear person who asked about bisexuality v pansexuality…just because you might not be down with the gender binary doesn’t mean you have to give up the bisexual identity. But if pansexuality seems more you, well, YOU DO YOU. And hey, “queer” always works.

    THIS TURNED INTO A MONOLOGUE. I apologize. Thanks for these pieces, Sebastian & Annika, they’re always super interesting.

  14. I love being trans! Most of the time it’s not a walk in the park, and it’s frustrating financially speaking, especially when you’re too broke to start physical transition, but I really do love it. Some reasons:

    1.) It gave me a reason to really dive into gender studies on my own and read and discuss some incredible (and not so incredible) texts and works on gender and identity.
    2.) It gave me the motivation to become an activist and an educator, which has really changed my perspective on not only my community, but my own life goals, and where I see myself personally and in terms of a career and my future.
    3.) The community. Yes, we infight and disagree on lots of things, but there is genuine trans community out there are well dedicated to trans rights and creating progressive, safer spaces for all identities.
    4.) This one may be TMI, but whatevs: I really like not having a dick. And I know you don’t have to be trans to be a man without a penis, but that happens to be the situation for me. I’d much rather be a trans man than a cis man most days. But that’s just me.

    There are, like, a billion more. But those are the top few.

    • Not that you are implying this but just wanted to add also, just because you are trans doesn’t mean you DON’T have a dick. To be more inclusive to those post-op guys out there

      • Oh, totally! Trans guys out there who are post-op, or want bottom surgery, that’s awesome too! I just personally don’t and am pretty happy with what I have now.

  15. Well, first of all, this whole series has completely opened my mind to trans issues and relationships. I’ve become a lot more sensitive and informed thanks to this feature. THANK YOU.

    I loved the part about slumber parties as well, and I’ve heard this “benefit” from my cisgender lesbian friends as well. It’s often hilarious what parents think they are “protecting” us from.

  16. I appreciated the panssexual discussion and wish I had a dollar for every hipster I’ve seen who ID’d themselves as panssexual but then specified something like “oh, but I don’t have sex with trans women.” Or maybe “I’m panssexual but I’ve never been intimate with a trans person.” Um… so what you’re saying is, you hope you’ll be into trans people, it would be nice if you were into trans people but, really, this is purely theoretical and you’re saying it because you’ll sound way more cool on OK Cupid than if you just ID yourself as plain old Bi. Got it. Personally, I would rather hear someone honestly say they’re uncomfortable/scared with the idea of intimacy with a trans person than pretend it’s great with them when it actually isn’t.

  17. I know a bisexual lady who will cut a bitch if you suggest that her identifying as bi enforces the gender binary or that preferring “bisexual” to “pansexual” means that she is either erasing or expressing disinterest in non-binary folks. (For her bi means people-of-her-gender and people-not-of-her-gender.)

    Just saying.

    • Thank you for articulating this so well. I feel troubled by the idea of choosing an ID that doesn’t suit me. So as I’m learning more and feeling things out, it’s great to read perspectives like this one!

  18. I think this is the most useful and interesting set of articles Autostraddle has ever “published”. I’m sympathetic of the issues of trans-identified people but I don’t know any of them (that I know of), so it really opens my world to be able to read this stuff.
    Thank you and….I will now proceed to the article :)

  19. Thanks for another informative article. Sebastian, where did you go to school? (it sounded like a women’s college, and as I go to Mount Holyoke, I’m curious.)

  20. I’m a 16 year old girl (okay, feminine-bodied androgyne, I think, but I’m not sure what my gender identity really is yet, so… yeah.) and I ID as queer because already I know that I’m attracted to people of all genders but that my preferences are ever-evolving and I love the inherently defiant sound of it. I like offending closed-minded people simply by existing (yeah, ideal world, there’d be no one to offend, but it is what it is). I ID as bisexual only when explaining myself to ill-informed straight friends. Pansexual would be technically correct, but I don’t like the sound of it or the feel of it.

    Anyway, trans issues are something I’m not very knowledgeable about (I’m trying to work on that as well as on my lack of knowledge about race) and I was wondering, why do people write trans* with an asterisk? I see it like that and I’ve never known why.

    • The asterisk is a stand in for all kinds of non-cisgendered identities – transgender, transsexual, genderqueer and intersex.

      • An addendum to that:

        Most people who are Intersex do NOT consider themselves any part of the trans community. There is some overlap between the two communities (some trans persons who are Intersex or consider being transsexual some form of Intersex, and some Intersex people who have a trans identity as well) but the two really shouldn’t be conflated.

        It also needs to be said that the overwhelming majority of the trans community does NOT use the asterisk after ‘trans’ and understands the term ‘trans’ to inherently mean an umbrella of identities. To any of those people out there (especially non-trans ones) please don’t police inclusion/exclusion of the asterisk after the word because… um, it might not be appreciated by many in the trans community. *addendum over*

  21. Gratz to you both on yet another interesting and thought-provoking installment. I really love the comments here, because they are almost always open-minded and balanced.

    I like the points made on transition. As someone once pointed out about Trans Women (which also would apply to Trans Men) is ALL *real* women”.

    I usually refer to myself as “Pansexual” because for me, sexual attraction is about a sexual *spark* between myself and another person and that has nothing to do with their anatomy or larger than life body parts. I am attracted to the person and whatever “plumbing” happens to be between us is just something we work with. I am particular though in that they see me as the woman I am and find themselves attracted to me because of the person I am and not because of my Trans status.

    Although I have always instinctively and intrinsically *known* I am female, I still see gender, gender expression, sex, and sexual orientation as existing along spectrums, where we may be at different points which may or may not align with one-another, or even be at multiple points or variable points.

    One thing that irks me to no end are those who say they would date a Cis person of one gender or another, but not a Trans person. I ask you, if you are not aware beforehand that they are Trans, how would you make that distinction? Saying (for instance) that all Trans Women are “too femme” or “too butch” is assigning a quality to all of them which is no more true than saying “all Cis Women/Men are too !”

    I have always wished (and many nights in my younger days, prayed) that I were born Cis, but I have had a unique and fascinating life as a direct result of being Trans. Many of the careers I worked at would not have been available to a Cis Woman at the time. I also have (as many Trans folks do) a unique ability to understand things most Cis folks do not. I had the opportunity to take in aspects of femaleness and maleness that are usually not available to Cis folks. I often traversed women’s spaces and men’s spaces and thus have (IMHO) a better overview than those who weren’t able to do that, because they aren’t Trans.

    One other “pet peeve” I have is when I hear people say “socialized as a man/woman”. None of us are whisked off to an island of women or men to be socialized, it does not happen in a vacuum. True, most Cis folks don’t really pay much attention to the socialization directed at those different from them, but being Trans has an (advantage/disadvantage) in that you resist the socialization that has been pushed on you, based on your genitalia. You tend to pay much more attention to the socialization directed at your gender identity, rather than your assigned sex. By this I mean that Trans Women and Trans Men get a better overall understanding of issues of each end of the spectrum than those who are comfortably in congruence with their gender and genitals.

    On stealth, that is an individual issue as was pointed out. I am out to family and friends as trans, I participate in some Trans events and participate in the Trans community at large. Most of my daily life however, is lived simply and quietly as “the girl next door”. I am privileged to be able to pass (after nearly two years on HRT, and living full-time, learning and “re-learning” skills)and have been building numerous strong friendships with other women, which were lost at that point prior to puberty when girls and boys are tending to grow apart and stay with their own groups. I’ve started dating again and that has been a lot of fun now that I truly can relax and be myself.

    On disclosure of one’s Trans status, I feel that is an individual decision and does not need to be an immediate, up-front thing when you first meet someone. When you get to a point where both parties are disclosing very private information that is relationship critical, then would be the appropriate time to let them know.

    I take every opportunity to educate people on Trans issues when I can and have been very successful in meeting new people and having them realize that I am not all that much different from anyone else they know. I also get a lot of my friends who are coupled, asking me to “Trans-late” for them… in the “He does this and it is so confusing!” or “Why does she do that?” sense.

    Anyway I have rambled on here far too long, so I’ll let someone else have the floor. Thank you for allowing me my $0.02, and remember that I can only speak for myself and my own personal experiences. :)

  22. annika i realllllllly like your outfit in the video! also the things you say, duh.

    thanks to both of you for giving such kind and thorough answers to all these questions!

  23. I love Sebastian’s answer about how pansexual is actually kind of offensive. I’ve thought the same thing before while reading trans memoirs or articles or books or whatever. Pansexual really makes trans an “other” sex. The term excludes rather than includes, which is pretty ironic if you ask me. I also love the term queer, and I use it to describe myself and other people more often than anything else.

    Also, as a side note, I love these trans questions articles. They’re really helpful, and I always look forward to them, so thank you.

    • I agree with your assessment. That has always been my main issue with pansexuality as well. It others trans people.

    • I’m not sure pansexual makes trans an “other” sex so much as it includes people who don’t directly subscribe to a gender identity? So basically our genderqueer friends. That’s how I have always thought of it…

      • I’ve heard people say that they ID as pansexual because the term bisexual is binarist and excludes their attraction to trans people. A statement like this implies that trans people are somewhat other than the gender that they identify as (which most likely falls in the male/female binary).

        • Okay, so you’ve heard some people say this, but do you think it makes the term pansexual inherently problematic if you’ve heard SOME people say this? Is it in the definition? Because I don’t think it is, inherently. I’m going to be a jerk and just post the wikipedia link because it looks pretty good…

          but basically that leaves room for attraction to people that don’t id strictly as male or female gendered, which, as Annika acknowledged, some people who fall under the trans* umbrella do not id with the gender binary.

          As per usual, I feel like this comes down to policing of identity…just because a few people who id as pansexual think it’s necessary to explain attraction to trans people does not mean that’s the situation for the majority. And I don’t think it invalidates an identity by any means or makes it a particularly problematic one.

          • Sorry to come back to you late (I don’t log on here that much these days).

            I am well aware of the definition of pansexuality. And I am not just referring to *some* people who share this belief btw, it’s actually a catalyst of a major rift between the bi and pan communities. Many in the pansexual activist circles put down bisexuals for being binarist and not open-minded enough to date trans* people, and in turn many in the bisexual activist circles accuse pansexuals of being bi people in denial.

    • Saying pansexual is inherently problematic is the same as saying bisexuality is inherently problematic.

      Both words are used by some people to erase the identities of others, but the definitions they use are not the only ones.

      The definition, and what is says about how the person views binary and non-binary trans people are what makes the word problematic or not, not the word itself.

      And when you say pansexual “others” trans people, you are really othering me, and any other person who is othered by binarist constructions of sexuality.

  24. First, thank yo for these articles.
    Particularly there are a couple questions in this installment that could have come out of my own brainspace. I have been bubmling around in my head trying to think coherently about masculinity, femininity, gender, sex, etc. and here you are and put things in terms I can use. Thank you so much.

  25. RE: Pan vs Bi…

    What the fuck!?!

    I consider myself monosexual, I like women trans, cis….women. Women are women are women are women if your primary gender/sex identification is a woman…if you are cute and smart I will be attracted to you, lol.

    But when did bisexual become something to mean binary othering everyone else? Seriously, I considered pansexuality to be a “PC” version of bisexuality. When someone said they are bi I took it as their sexuality is grey (within the homo and hetero spectrum) and the GENDER of people the people they are attracted is ALSO in the grey because the bi people I knew kept screaming “I don’t see gender, omfg I don’t see gender!!!!” Unless that was some hipster cisgender bullshit I was not aware of…my world is officially rocked and I am not sure it’s a good thing really, tbh..:/

    • long story short bisexuality= errrrybody(someone) I feel some magical zsa zsa zoom manifesting itself sexually, emotionally and romantically.

      • Well, in an article linked in the commentary, Julia Serano, a bisexual trans woman, defined bisexual in a way that is binary and others everyone else (at least, everyone else who does not want to be non-consensually defined by how others see their body), in an article where she is arguing that bisexual is not binarist.

  26. Annika and Sebastian, I’ve loved and benefited from all your articles so much, but this one was really amazing. You discussed so many topics that I’ve been thinking about in regards to my own genderqueer identity.

    I’m afraid I can’t be more specific right now because I’m crying a bit. But they’re healthy, happy tears.

    Thank you again for giving so much to all of us. Your intelligence, compassion and thoughtfulness are wonderful gifts to the world.

  27. I find pansexual offensive when someone uses it to say they’ll date transsexual people. I’m a woman and there’s no special name for someone who likes women and would date me.

    If it’s used to indicate that you’ll date genderqueer people and you want to go out of your way to mention them, it’s fine with me.

    But I don’t think anyone should be criticized for referring to themselves as bisexual rather than pansexual. Maybe “bisexual” isn’t a perfect word, but considering how hard bisexual people have fought to get people to admit that the concept exists, I think it’s kinda unrealistic to expect a name change right now.

  28. I need help with something. So, at school the other day, I met someone who I THOUGHT was a masculine-presenting girl, like myself. I was jazzed, since the only other butch girl at school is kind of a stud and won’t talk to my nerdy ass. When she introduced herself by a nickname, my instinctive curiosity took over, and I wheedled to learn what it was short for, thinking we could commiserate over stupid names.
    Maybe two hours later, I mentioned her to a friend from GSA, who replied that “yeah, he’s made some pretty cool youtube videos on his being trans.” Not a girl. Boy. transboy. I made him tell me the girls name they gave him. Basically, I trampled all over his gender identity, not ONLY by completely failing to read him right, but by shoving his assigned gender in his face. Fuck.
    How the hell do I apologize?

    • I’d recommend not flying in like “OMG I’M SOOOOO SORRY!” First, find out whether he actually didn’t want to tell you his given name. I don’t know how exactly you “wheedled” him into giving you what his name was short for, but that’s your thing and it might be good to look back on it and think if you might have said anything on the more…offensive end of things? Like if you’d gone right out and just told him that he’s a really cute butch girl. Or whatever. Just think over the situation and remember it as best as you can.

      And then just pop by and ask him “oh hey, remember me, sorry about (however you want to phrase it) was that not okay with you to ask that?” Or something. It’s not such a great idea to apologize for not “reading him right” in my opinion – we learn pretty early that being read wrong kind of comes with the territory, it’s just that when people refuse to correct themselves it gets annoying. And you seem willing to correct yourself and all, good for you!

      Also, he might’ve just been out only in the GSA, and wasn’t about to come out about being a guy to everybody yet. I mean, that happens. I did that all through last year while still being out on the internet. (I’m a high school junior.) I mean, that’s a thing too! Anyway I think that your recognizing your mistakes is good and being willing to apologize is awesome.

  29. Firstly, Sebastian, you are a fox and I’m way attracted to you.

    Secondly, I’m bisexual. It just works for me. I don’t call myself queer, because it doesn’t feel right, mostly because I feel like identifying as queer should come along with identifying with the queer community, and I feel less and less welcome in any community wherein members share queerness or lack thereof.

    [this is mostly just directed at everyone I’ve ever come in contact with who says this sort of thing, not specifically to one person in this thread.]

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to police the queer identity; I don’t care how queer you are or what your queer “credentials” are. You don’t know those people you’re claiming to not be what queer represents, so maybe you should back off.

    I feel like bisexual is kind of stuck in limbo, between heterosexual and homoesexual and queer and whatever else, so that’s where I’ll stay.

  30. Annika, you have raised a good question, and having been around so much of the negative statements of transfriends, not many even look clsely at the good side of being a transperson.

    Maybe the greatest benefit for me have been a greater overall empathy for marginalized people. Also,the education I have received first hand in exactly what assumptions males take for granted which has led me to reeducate myself in a woman’s social construct. What I have learned is many cisgender women despise most of all among transwomen, is not there lack of female body features, male sounding voice and certainly not wardrobe selection, but rather the inner male which comes out in conversation. We who are late transitioners usually had to fit into the male social norm and adapted, either willingly or reluctantly, male ways of social interaction. Now we unlearn.

  31. Thank you so much for writing this. You are both very patient and compassionate in your answers. I really appreciated your response to the person trying to support their trans partner. In fact, it really resonated with me quite a bit, as I’m currently in poly relationships with two trans girls at different stages of the transition process, and my best friend is a trans man.

    My primary partner has not started any physical transitions yet due to financial and personal reasons. I know that I can never understand what it’s like for her, and sometimes feel at a loss for what to say or do when she experiences dysphoria or prejudice. It felt good reading your response because it affirmed that, even though I’m not perfect,I know that I’m doing my best to support her emotionally and love her unconditioally while at the same recognizing and respecting that this is a very personal process for her.

    There are times I wish I could talk to/reach out to other cis people who are partnered to trans girls so we could talk about our experiences and how best to support our partners in different situations… One other thing I’ve learned along the way is to not give unwanted advice! This is a very personal journey for your partner. If they ask for help or advice in the transition process, give it, but don’t offer it unsolicited. You might mean well, but it’s patronizing and oversteps boundaries.

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