Practical AndrogynyDevoted to the practicalities of ambiguous gender presentation within a binary gendered society

The binary gender system classifies all people into either female or male, man or woman. However not everyone fits neatly into these categories. Some people do not feel comfortable when assigned a traditional gender. Whether owing to choice or chance, many of these people are not readily gendered by others.

This state of perceived gender ambiguity can be described as androgyny.

Practical Androgyny is a resource for both those who are comfortably androgynous but struggle with the pressures of the binary gender system, and for those who wish to explore the possibilities of gender ambiguity. This site does not focus on the details of identity but on the practical aspects of living with, or obtaining, an appearance that defies gender classification.

Not This Nor That: DIVA Magazine, The Equality Act 2010 and Misrepresentation

Posted by – March 23, 2015

DIVA Magazine April 2015Hello to new readers who have found this site through the article ‘Not This Nor That’ on page 43 of this month’s DIVA magazine (April 2015). This was an important article drawing attention to the lack of legal recognition and protection for nonbinary people in the United Kingdom, and highlighting the important work of activists working to correct this. I thank Nayla Ziadeh for writing it and DIVA for its publication.

Unfortunately I feel that I have been misrepresented in that article, and I also believe that it gives an incomplete and misleading impression of the current legal position of nonbinary people in the United Kingdom.

Please read the corrections below. While you’re here, I hope you find this site interesting and useful. If you’re after facts then I recommend the articles about the number of people who are nonbinary in the UK or the history of the gender-inclusive title Mx. If you’re looking for information about androgyny you may enjoy my video and article about speech and singing. But first…

Not This – The personal

Please disregard the paragraph in DIVA’s article that gives details of my first social and medical transition in 1999. Not only would I have preferred that these details were not stated, but the paragraph also contains a number of factual inaccuracies about me. I also worry that it implies that I fall into the problematic tropes of ‘trans regret’.

I do not regret any medical treatments that I have undergone to treat my gender dysphoria and I believe that I would have made the same medical choices at the beginning of my transition even if there had been full acceptance of nonbinary gender from gender specialists in the late 1990s. I had very real dysphoria from my body and the treatment I have received has been effective in resolving it.

What I do regret is that at that time, everywhere I looked, the presence of dysphoria and the need for medical treatment was presented as a solely binary experience. As such, I took my need for this treatment as evidence that my strong feeling that I was meant to be androgynous wasn’t correct and wasn’t possible, and instead tried to fit myself into a binary identity and social transition. If my transition had happened today, I believe that I would have transitioned directly to the androgynous presentation and nonbinary identity I have lived in since 2001, and not spent 2 and a half years trying to work out my gender and social role in a situation where some of my dysphoria was improved but much was worsened. I regret the delay in resolving my social dysphoria, I do not regret transitioning.

That historical lack of information about other transition paths was the reason I began anonymous, private or in person genderqueer / nonbinary activism in 2001 and why I ultimately launched this site under my full name in 2011, when there was almost as little information available as there had been a decade before. I quickly realised that I didn’t have the time or energy to create resources myself, and that there were issues of under-representation for more than just those seeking androgyny. So instead I focused on helping other organisations to become inclusive. I also created a wiki to help anyone in the nonbinary community contribute to resources. Thankfully the situation has moved on immeasurably in the last 4 years with many mainstream transgender organisations being inclusive of nonbinary experiences and less likely to assume the genders of the people who may be using their resources.

I re-entered the gender clinic system in 2010, that time confidently nonbinary and overtly androgynous, and had my diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria reaffirmed (this was a welcome improvement from the previous label of ‘Gender Identity Disorder’). The current WPATH Standards Of Care should allow for nonbinary individuals to be treated by gender clinics without presenting a binary or normative gender role, although there is a great deal of inconsistency in how much UK clinics are adjusting to (or resisting) this change.

Nor That – The political

Please note: I am not a lawyer, please do not take this as legal advice, this is simply my best understanding as an interested citizen in need of protection from discrimination. If you need to make use of this legislation please contact a qualified legal advisor.

I believe that the information presented in the DIVA article misrepresents the situation created by the Equality Act 2010 by stating that it is simply ambiguous whether nonbinary people are protected from discrimination, and that it’s ambiguous whether it refers to social, hormonal or surgical transition.

This legislation is explicit that no medical treatment or involvement of doctors is required in order to be covered by the “gender reassignment” protected characteristic. One only has to be “proposing” to undergo “part of” a process of reassignment to be protected. Partial gender reassignment and social gender reassignment are protected. This is elaborated on by the Government Equalities Office’s “quick start guide” to the Equality Act 2010 which says that compared to the previous legislation:

The range of transsexual people who are protected has been extended slightly. To qualify for protection, a transsexual person will no longer have to show that they are under medical supervision. This means that a person who has changed their gender without seeing a doctor will now be protected, though under previous discrimination law they were not.

What is unclear is whether it’s even possible within the terms of the Act for a nonbinary person to be considered to be “undergoing part of gender reassignment”. The legislation defines reassignment as relating to “a person’s sex” and also defines this as interchangeable with “a transsexual person”. Elsewhere, the Sex protected characteristic is specifically defined as “a man or a woman”. This results in a restrictive definition that leaves little space for the existence of nonbinary people.

It is perfectly possible for a nonbinary person in this country to undergo medical gender reassignment, including hormonal and surgical treatments, and to gain a medical diagnosis of Gender Reassignment from a gender specialist. I am a clear example of this and I know of many others. If one is discriminated against for having undergone any of these aspects of gender reassignment (or being perceived to have done any of these) then one should be protected by the Equality Act 2010 as it was intended to protect gender reassignment and these should clearly be examples of gender reassignment.

However, only a minority of nonbinary people will meet those criteria, especially as many gender specialists are still excluding people who are unable to represent themselves as having a binary gender or presenting a binary gender role. In effect, nonbinary people are still required to pass medical gatekeeping in order to be clearly protected as undergoing reassignment, when binary trans people have been freed of this restriction.

The Act’s restriction on the definition of gender reassignment to terms of “men and women” also undermines the protection of even those nonbinary people who have undergone medical transition. If a case were taken to a court or employment tribunal, evidence that the person could be excluded from the Act’s definition of gender reassignment could potentially be used to dismiss the claim. One would effectively have to argue that one had been ‘perceived to be’ a member of the protected class, rather than actually being protected directly. (And the same applies to sex discrimination.)

Worse still, if the discrimination was due to social transition rather than medical, or if the nonbinary person affected was one of the many who don’t relate to the concept of transition or reassignment, there would be little to no claim of protection under the Act as it currently stands. This is compounded by the Government Equalities Office’s “quick start guide” to the Equality Act 2010 saying:

“A wide range of people are included in the terms ‘trans’ or ‘transgender’, such as people who crossdress only on an occasional basis and other people who may identify as neither men nor women but somewhere in between. Only transsexual people are explicitly protected under the Act. However, if a person who cross-dresses, for example, is discriminated against because they are wrongly thought to be transsexual, they will be protected under the Act.”

I stress that the wording about ‘neither men nor women’ is nowhere to be found in the Act itself, and that I believe that this document was written on the erroneous assumption that “transsexual people” cannot also be “neither men nor women”. But this is an extremely problematic piece of official guidance for any nonbinary person who is experiencing discrimination due to gender reassignment, or due to being nonbinary.

As far as I’m aware, the degree to which the Equality Act 2010 protects nonbinary people who have demonstrably undergone a great part of the process of “gender reassignment” remains untested in a court or tribunal. I believe that some of us would have strong cases (those who changed legal sex before or along with a nonbinary social transition, for example), but cases will vary depending on the context and the specific type of discrimination. Others would have no case at all. Either way, the wording of the Act should be extremely worrying for anyone who does not feel themself to be (entirely or solely) “a man or a woman” and has stated this publicly.

There is a clear need for the Equality Act to be reformed to make it explicitly inclusive of all nonbinary people. I would argue for such reforms to protect both gender identity and expression and the remove the requirement for “reassignment”, as this is not a concept that represents all nonbinary people, or all transgender people.

(There are other serious problems with the Equality Act 2010 that were raised during my interview but not touched on at all in the article, presumably due to lack of space or direct relevance to nonbinary people.)

Misrepresentation

If you’re a nonbinary person, or any trans person, and you’re considering a request to be featured in the media, please see Trans Media Watch’s help and advice before you make your decision.

To journalists – A request

Please continue to cover nonbinary gender and other marginalised groups and experiences within the wider transgender community. Please also continue to highlight the lack of legal recognition and protection we face. This is an important issue and I thank Nayla and DIVA for bringing this to a wider audience.

When I am able, I will do my best to help you with your articles and put you in contact with people better suited than I am. I also fully understand the practicalities of journalism and the reality that sometimes information has to be heavily edited for length, clarity or relevance.

But please note that I will no longer accept requests to interview for or contribute to articles unless, in advance of publication, I am able to read, correct and/or veto the parts relating to my personal history or purporting to reflect my opinions. I think that this is a reasonable compromise given the potential distress caused by this sensitive topic.

To everyone – An apology

This site is overdue a redesign to reflect that it never became the planned resource site about androgyny for anyone who experienced or wished to experience this state, for any reason. It instead very quickly became a site about nonbinary gender, and as such its name became unintentionally problematic. This is especially clear when the name of the site is presented, without further elaboration, in a magazine article about nonbinary gender.

To be absolutely clear: androgyny and nonbinary gender should not be conflated. Many people who are not nonbinary seek to achieve an ambiguous gender appearance or are living with such an appearance, for a number of different reasons. Presentation is not necessarily identity. And, most importantly, nonbinary people can present in any way that is authentic to them. There should be no expectation of androgyny from nonbinary people or privileging of those who do present this way. I regret having implied this by association. Androgyny was something that I personally needed to resolve my dysphoria, but there are as many ways to be nonbinary as there are nonbinary people, none more valid than any other. Nonbinary people need not experience dysphoria and need not transition. For those of us who relate to the concept of transition, it can mean myriad different things, each just as valid. There is no one way to transition.

I apologise for passively allowing this site to become part of the problem, and for not fixing it sooner. I’m currently in the middle of a stressful period in my life, but I hope to have this site redesigned by the end of next month. Thank you for your patience, I will try to do better.

Please seek out other nonbinary voices, I alone cannot represent such a diverse set of communities, despite my best efforts.

PinkNews UK General Election Political Debate – X Passports Question

Posted by – March 20, 2015


Direct link to the question at 1 hour, 14 minutes, 37 seconds

Earlier today the UK LGBT news site, PinkNews, ran a political debate in the run up to the 2015 UK general election. Representatives from 5 political parties were present and were posed questions from both the audience and a Google Hangout. Late in the debate, the focus shifted to the question of recognising the genders of people who are not female or male.

As this was such an important discussion, there are no subtitles on the video and the audio quality is very poor in places, I thought that I would transcribe the video to make it more accessible. The transcript follows below. Please feel free to reproduce this transcript (and to correct any transcription errors) anywhere else. There is no need to seek additional permission or give credit, this is freely provided to aid accessibility.

Speaking were:

  1. Evan Davis – PinkNews Debate Chair
  2. Christie Elan-Cane – Campaigner, Non-gendered Fighting For Legal Recognition
  3. Natalie Bennett – Green Party Leader
  4. Peter Whittle – UKIP candidate for Eltham, in charge of UKIP cultural policy
  5. Don Foster – Liberal Democrat Chief Whip
  6. Yvette Cooper – Labour Shadow Home Secretary
  7. Baroness Tina Stowell – Conservative Peer

Transcription of the YouTube video from 1:14:37 to 1:22:16

ED: I want us to spend a little time on gender issues now. So I’m going to jump a few questions and move to Christie Elan-Cane for the next question. Christie, hello.

CE: I run a campaign called Non-gendered Fighting For Legal Recognition and my question to the panel is would your party commit to immediately introducing non-gender-specific X passports and what would you do to address the wider issues facing lack of legal recognition for non-gendered people in the UK?

ED: So the proposal would be you could have a male, female or ungendered passport. Would that be it? Would–

CE: X is permitted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation which is the UN agency that, ah, that sets the international standards for passports. And they can be X which is, uh, non-gender– an unspecified alternative to M or F.

ED: Anybody doing it at the moment? Anyone in the world? Any countries doing it?

CE: Australia, New Zealand have been doing it for several years. India, Nepal. Um, Germany and Denmark but their systems are not to be emulated. But New Zealand have the best policy.

ED: So if we did what the Aussies and New Zealanders are doing, that that would be the kind of answer –what you’re looking for?

CE: [Inaudible] New Zealand have the best policy for passports.

ED: New Zealand. OK, well I think we can be fairly quick on this. Because [gestures to panelists] you can tell us whether you support that or don’t support it. Do you understand the question, basically?

[Panelists indicated understanding]

ED: Yep, good

[Natalie Bennet raises a hand]

ED: Natalie?

NB: Ah, yep, I’ve been well informed on these issues because the Green Party conference, the spring conference, passed a motion supporting this. Ah, and that’s seen as something that was a very important issue at the Green Party conference.

ED: Peter?

PW: [Turns to Evan] Um. I have to say I’m non-committal on this(!)

[Evan laughs]

PW: I really have to say I don’t know much about it. [Shakes head]. Um, um, and so I [gestures to Christie] I couldn’t be honest and give you, uh, uh, an honest answer.

CE: [Difficult to hear off mic] Wouldn’t you say that [inaudible] identity is a fundamental right?

PW: Yes but, ah, in terms of your technical question about passports, um, I really don’t have an answer for you, I’m just being honest.

ED: OK let me put it in a slightly different way. What do you think when you see Facebook, as they do in the United States, offer the gender category and give you a range of choices, that are beyond male and female? Do you think that’s silly–?

PW: [Speaking over] Gender is slightly different–

ED: –that’s PC gone mad, or–?

PW: No, no, no, no. Gender is slightly different to sex, isn’t it? Gender is a sort of [gestures juggling-like motions] whole number of different things. So far as I see. It’s different sort of set of criteria to the [inaudible as talked over]

ED: But what do you think when you see that? Do you think that’s PC gone mad or do you [inaudible as talked over]?

PW: No I don’t. It doesn’t have any affect on me at all. It doesn’t worry me at all. [Shakes head] But I mean that [gestures to Christie], I’m sorry to not be able to answer your question.

ED: OK, no, You know, it’s perfectly reasonable to say look I haven’t got an opinion. Uh, [gestures to Don Foster] Don?

DF: The answer’s yes. There’s already in parliament a Liberal Democrat, what’s called an Early Day Motion, uh, advocating this and Simon Hughes, one of our government ministers, is currently, within the department, working to try and achieve it. [Gestures hands upwards in a lifting motion]

ED: OK. That’s–

DF: A straight yes.

ED: That’s 16 to um–

[Christie says something inaudible off mic]

[Natalie Bennett nods]

DF: Yes.

ED: OK, so we’re left with the 2 big parties. Now, Yvette, you’re Shadow Home Secretary. [Grins] I think passports come under your–

[The audience laughs]

ED: [Pauses for laugh] Your watch(!)

YC: Well I think we should look at this as part of, of the transgender review — ah, the trans review to look at — because there’s the Gender Recognition Act — there’s a whole series of other legal issues that we think should all be looked at, ah, as well as par — as part of this.

ED: [Hesitates] Sometimes this ‘we should look at that’ is a kind of [inaudible as spoken over]

YC: [Gestures to Evan] It’s a review

ED: It’s a kind of a cop out — because we don’t want to offend someone — people who you [gestures sweeping motion]

YC: No this, I think, uh, partly because there’s a whole series of issues around — the way the law currently affects, ah the issues around intersex — or gender variance, and ah, trans people as well. Which includes the gender recognition act, which is now about 10 years old and in an area where things have moved on a lot. So, Sharon Hodgson has announced that this would be part of — would be one of the issues we would specifically look at as part of the trans review that we would intro– introduce. So it’s not just, I’m not saying ‘oh well these are things to just review it’, no no no. This would be a specific review that we would do in government.

ED: [Points to Christie] Ah, Christie. Christie, just take the microphone if you would, just so people can hear, thanks.

CE: So – so there would be some sort of commitment from the Labour Party to make provision for X passports and, and exploring the wider issues of, ah, economic and social exclusion that non-gendered and people who don’t identify as male or female actually face? Because we’ve not benefited at all from any legislation from this government or, or the last one. We’ve been excluded from everything and this issue is only just starting to get above the radar.

YC: We have– and this is an important campaign. That’s — it’s a, a relatively recent campaign. I think it’s a really important one–

CE: I’ve been going for 20 years.

YC: Yeah– [Gestures] — And you’ve — you know — you’ve built up a lot of support recently. You know — huge tribute to you for doing so. But — I won’t — I’m not going to pre-empt the conclusions of the review, but just to say that this is a specific issue that would be looked at — alongside a whole series of other things because I think that there are wider legal issues that we would like to look at as part of that review.

CE: Right.

ED: Tina?

TS: Well I think that I, I, I too — I mean — Well clearly this is a very important, ah, topic. But it’s not one that I could give you, ah, the kind of, uh, clear commitment that you’re looking for, beyond saying that it’s certainly something that, um, I personally would want to ah, explore. And, uh, and find out, a bit more as to what the issues are that ah, may be preventing, uh, us from making a decision on, on something like this. And I’m aware that there are, for example, some, ah, risks involved in terms of if — you know — some, some countries not recognising, ah, intersex, ah, as a, as a general — or requiring passports that are specific in their genders, and uh, and so I wouldn’t want to, uh, wouldn’t want us to do anything where we created a new problem or a new risk for people whilst we were actually trying to address their fundamental concern.

CE: I– I just wanted to clarify that non-gendered and intersex are not exactly the same thing, although some people might identify as both, but they are different, it, they, they share many of the same issues but they are not in themselves the same, the same issues. So for non-gendered — people that don’t identify as male or female, it’s fundamental that we get the correct documentation, so that we’re not forced to accept inappropriate gender cat– categorisation and we’re not excluded from society. There– there should be no compulsion on anyone to have an X passport, and that’s what many of the intersex groups fear, that there should be a compulsion, because many intersex people are actually gendered and identify as male or female. So they are, they are separate issues.

ED: OK.

CE: But, it is absolutely imperative that this issue is not left behind, that this group of people — we are socially invisible — I’ve been in– socially invisible for most of the time that I’ve been campaigning to raise awareness of this issue, and it’s not acceptable to me to have — I’m sick to death of hearing why things can’t be done. We need to adopt a can do attitude because no one should be left behind, and–

[Audience applause]

ED: That’s — That’s one of those ones where perhaps the question was more — [gestures] — you know, more useful than the, the answers. [Gestures to panel] And I don’t mean that in a negative way about the panel — I mean — It raised the point in — very effectively.

 

Related

Christie Elan-Cane has summarised this debate question and elaborates on what was said off mic after Don Foster spoke.

The Nonbinary Inclusion Project have raised similar questions in writing, read responses by the UK political parties here.

How many people in the United Kingdom are nonbinary?

Posted by – December 16, 2014

This report attempts to assemble and analyse useful sources to determine how many people identify outside of the gender binary in the United Kingdom. This was in part motivated by my previous post reporting on the number of people who left the ‘sex’ question on the 2001 UK Census blank, having been cited as a figure representing how many people are not female or male in this country. I’ve chosen to focus on the UK in this follow-up post as I’m most familiar with organisations and activists based in this country, but if anyone has similar figures relating to other countries or which are more general, such as covering entire continents, then please do share them, and any corrections, in the comments.

For the purposes of this report, I am defining ‘nonbinary’ as an umbrella term for any gender (or lack of gender) that would not be adequately represented by an either/or choice between ‘man’ or ‘woman’. There is a large diversity of different experiences and identity labels that meet this definition. It is intended that all are included.

As is often the case with surveys and censuses, the presentation and wording of a question is extremely important factor in how people answer it (see for example, the controversy over how the question of religion was presented in the UK Census). If you wish to measure the numbers of people who don’t fit within binary classifications of female/male or man/woman then your choice of question will have a huge effect on the results. As such, this post will attempt where possible to report on how the gender questions were asked rather than just how they were answered.

Please note that I am not a statistician, but wherever possible the figures are sourced directly from research papers, within which full methodologies and statistical analyses are available. It is recognised that some of the surveys presented have limited value due to poor methodology or due to applying to different populations. Flaws and limitations have been described when identified. Some surveys are included to present missed opportunities, provide constructive criticism or to demonstrate wider community trends that may relate to the UK population.

Abstract

Reliable figures show that at least 0.4% of the UK population defines as nonbinary when given a 3-way choice in terms of female, male or another description. That’s about 1 in every 250 people. The proportion will likely be higher when the question is phrased in terms of man/woman or when multiple choices are allowed, as is shown in studies of trans and asexual populations.

Identities and experiences under the nonbinary umbrella are extremely diverse with many identifying with multiple labels. Only around 31% of nonbinary people confidently identify as trans and more than 65% are not protected by the Equality Act 2010 gender identity provisions. Surveys of trans communities found around 25 to 28% identify in some way outside of the binary.

It’s important to present your gender question in an inclusive way to help nonbinary people feel welcome to describe themselves as something other than men and women. Consultation with nonbinary, genderqueer and trans etc communities is recommended when designing surveys.

If gender is asked in terms of frequency of feeling like a man, a women, both or neither then there is evidence that more than a third of everyone may experience gender in a way that defies binary categories.

More research on nonbinary people is needed.

Contents

Surveys of the UK general population

Ideally our survey sample should be as large as possible, or should at least be designed in such a way as to produce a result that is a valid representation of the UK’s population, with a significant randomised sampling.

The United Kingdom Census 2011

Tumblr user cassolotl shares a photograph of the 2011 'What is your sex?' question, the answers are stuck out and instead the following is written 'Sex is not binary. Gender is important. What about trans people?'Although the census has, by its nature, the largest possible sample, it asks the question of gender (or in this case ‘sex’) in the worst possible way if the aim is to record whether people aren’t described well by categories like ‘female’ or ‘male’, or ‘man’ or ‘woman':

[2]   What is your sex?
□ Male       □ Female

This appeared within a demographics section between name and birth date, which both leads the reader to believe that they’re being asked for their ‘legal sex’ or the gender they were assigned at birth and offers no recognition that there can be any other options than the binary choice presented, nor space to write in a different option.

Despite this, some people did tick both boxes provided, leave both boxes empty or write something over the question on the form. The Office for National Statistics doesn’t publish counts of how many people explicitly indicated a nonbinary gender when ‘spoiling’ the question in this way (and won’t release scans of the forms for 100 years); however, there are figures for ‘non-responses’ covering all three of these possibilities and a figure for ‘multi-ticks’ indicating how many people ticked both options.

The same ‘Response and imputation rates’ report that showed a 0.4% non-response rate for ‘Sex’ in the 2001 UK Census has been released for the 2011 Census. This again found that 0.4% of Census respondents failed to give a binary response to ‘Sex’ in some way, which now accounts for 224,632 people.

It is interesting that this figure hasn’t reduced given that the 2011 UK Census heavily encouraged users to complete the census form using the Internet, with this web-based system refusing to allow entry of the census questions to continue until a single binary answer was given. It was reasonable to expect a noticeable drop in the rate, which hasn’t occurred. However, a non-response rate of 0.4% is still the lowest of all census questions with Age receiving 0.6% non-response and Marital / Civil Partnership status 3.8% non-response. Most questions range from 2 to 5% non-response with the highest being over 18%.

What has reduced is the proportion of multi-ticks recorded for ‘Sex’. In 2001 multi-ticks accounted for ~14,000 people compared to ~185,000 who answered neither (or wrote over the question). In 2011 only 4,689 people multi-ticked compared to 224,632 recorded as ‘non-response’ (this figure apparently includes multi-ticks). That’s now 2.1% of all ‘sex’ non-responses being due to both options being ticked compared to 7.0% of them in 2001. Does this mean more people wrote in responses instead or that fewer people identify as both female and male? We have no way to tell.

While it’s interesting to compare these figures and speculate about their meaning, we shouldn’t attempt to put too much significance in the UK Census Sex ‘non-response’ and multi-tick rates. We have no way to tell what non-responses were meant to indicate and, while multi-ticks seem a clear indicator of a gender that doesn’t fit the binary options presented, we have no way of knowing what proportion of people who felt erased by the question opted to make an explicit protest or correction (especially when write ins are not recorded in any way).

On top of all this, it was impossible to answer anything but a single binary option on the online version of the form and the wording of the question and its position in the form means that the fact that some people leave the ‘sex’ question blank or ‘spoil’ the question by writing over this space on the paper form cannot be in any way taken as an indicator of the numbers of people who would’ve answered outside of the binary if given more encouragement to do so.

Equality and Human Rights Commission: Measuring Gender Identity 2011/12

ehrc-logoThe Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was formed to challenge discrimination and promote human rights in the UK. Part of its role is to monitor and advocate for the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010. One of which is ‘Gender Reassignment’, with the Act protecting anyone who intends to undergo, has undergone or is undergoing any part of this process (with no requirement for a medical diagnosis).

In 2010, the EHRC found that the Office for National Statistics’ figures were inadequate for reporting on the numbers of people in the UK who qualified for this protection. The Commission also considered that there was no adequate equalities monitoring question for transgender and gender identity, when this would now be a requirement under the new public authorities Equality Duty. It was important to have a standardised question or set of questions that had been used in major national surveys, in order to provide an existing baseline for future Equality Duty monitoring questions to be analysed against.

They set about designing questions to be inclusive of all types of trans people, and not exclude any by using questions such as ‘Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were assigned at birth?’ or ‘Do you live and work full-time in the gender role opposite to that assigned at birth?’. They reviewed, trialled and sought feedback on questions in order to ensure this.

The set of questions that were ultimately selected are as follows:

Q1 At birth, were you described as….
Please tick one option
Male □
Female □
Intersex □
I prefer not to say □

Q2 Which of the following describes how you think of yourself?
Please tick one option
Male □
Female □
In another way: □________________________

Q3 Have you gone through any part of a process (including thoughts or actions) to change from the sex you were described as at birth to the gender you identify with, or do you intend to?
(This could include changing your name, wearing different clothes, taking hormones or having gender reassignment surgery).
Yes □ -> Please go to Q4
No □ -> END

Q4 Continuing to think about these examples, which of the following options best applies to you?
Please tick one option
I am thinking about going through this process □
I am currently going through this process □
I have already been through this process □
I have been through this process, then changed back □
None of the above □_______________
I prefer not to say □

Q5 Which of the following describes how you think of yourself?
Tick all that apply
Trans man □
Trans woman □
Transsexual person □
Gender variant person □
Cross dressing/ transvestite person □
Intersex person □
In another way □_______________________
I prefer not to say □

[Note, I do not support asking for gender assigned at birth on Equality Duty monitoring questions, but am glad that ‘I prefer not to say’ has at least been included in the recommended questions. I would instead recommend making it clear that questions are asking for identity and not for body configuration or legal status.]

In 2011, these questions were used in a major national self-completion survey, performed online. In total 10,039 responses were recorded for this research, after a drop-out rate of only 0.2%. Respondents were sampled so as to be representative of the UK population. The results, released as a ‘Technical Note’ in Spring 2012, found that 38 of these respondents answered question 2 such that they “think of themselves in another way than ‘Male’ or ‘Female'”. This accounts for 0.4% of the respondents (it’s probably a coincidence that this matches the figures for ‘sex’ non-response from the last two censuses.)

The report indicates the following:

Further information about those answering ‘in another way’ at question 2 is available through the write-in answers that some respondents provided. These are varied and include: transgender, genderqueer, gender-fluid, some combination of male and female, gender neutral, genderless, a person, human, normal, androgyne and neither/none.

Barring the ‘normal’ response, which is somewhat ambiguous, this seems to indicate that it’s reasonable to take the ‘in another way’ answers as indicating a nonbinary experience of gender.

This research was designed to be statistically significant and to be used as the baseline for analysis of Equality Duty monitoring questions, so it’s therefore reasonable to use the results as indicative that approximately 0.4% of the UK population identifies themselves in another way than the gender binary options of female and male.

A breakdown of the other questions was provided allowing question 2 to be compared to questions 1 and 3 (extracted from the full Annex B breakdown, with added totals):

Think of yourself as (Q2) Described at birth as (Q1) Number of responses Percent of total Gender reassignment protected characteristic (Q3) Percent ‘yes’ to Q3
Yes No Missing
In another way Male 18 0.2% 8 10 0 44.4%
Female 17 0.2% 4 13 0 23.5%
Prefer not to specify 3 0.0% 0 2 1 0.0%
Total 38 0.4% 12 25 1 31.6%

31.6% of those who gave the ‘think of yourself in another way’ answer indicated that they were considering, were undergoing or had undergone some part of gender reassignment (answered ‘Yes’ to question 3). There was an almost equal split in the ‘birth sex’ question for the ‘another way’ group with 17 indicating female at birth, 18 indicating male at birth and 3 preferring not to say (respondents had also previously been categorised with a binary gender question, this split the ‘another way’ responses into equal sized groups). Within the question 1 assignment at birth split, twice as many who indicated that they had been assigned male at birth answered ‘Yes’ to question 3 (gender reassignment) than those who indicated that they had been assigned female at birth. Of the ‘Prefer not to say’ group, 2 answered ‘No’ to question 3 and 1 skipped the question.

For comparison, 1% of the research population (100 respondents) answered ‘Yes’ to question 3 (relating to an Equality Act 2010 definition of the ‘Gender Reassignment’ protected characteristic), and 0.03% (4 people) indicated they were intersex (none of whom gave a nonbinary answer to question 2.) The population of intersex people responding to the survey is too low to be able to extrapolate proportions of intersex people who also identify their gender ‘in another way’, but we are able to say that 12% of people who qualify for Equality Act 2010 ‘Gender Reassignment’ protected characteristic identify outside of the binary and that more than 65% of nonbinary people do not fall under the Equality Act’s protections for gender minorities.

There are a number of reasons why some nonbinary people might not be able to identify with the ‘gender reassignment’ protected characteristic description as presented. They may be alienated by the wording including ‘change’ ‘sex’ and assume this cannot apply to them, especially if they are comfortable with their body but not the gender they have been assigned. They may feel that there is no ‘process’ required to express their gender, it may be something they feel is done simply by being themself. They may feel that there is no societal role for their gender, and so no way to express this that would be recognised by others. They may have a fluid experience of gender and feel that a ‘process’ implies a permanent or long-term change which would be limiting and inappropriate. They may have a strong experience of having no gender or having a nonbinary gender, but no strong discomfort that would require this to be affirmed through transition. They may feel that their gender nonconformity is an expression of personality, sexuality or something other than gender identity and so may identify with the sex they were assigned at birth (this describes some people who would have nonetheless written ‘genderqueer’ or similar in for question 2). They may also feel that their experience of gender outside the binary is something personal to them and not to be shared with others. (And of course there are a number of equally diverse ways why some nonbinary people do strongly relate to the ‘gender reassignment’ description, up to and including having undergone some form of formal transition and/or transgender medical treatments.)

It should be noted that this report has been cited in various places as demonstrating that 1% of the UK population is transgender or gender variant. However, this 1% figure erases the 26 individuals who indicated that they identify themselves in a way other than female or male but did not relate to the description of ‘gender reassignment’. As such, the EHRC research indicates that 1.3% of the UK population is in some way transgender or gender variant. However, the figure should likely be larger as many of the objections in the previous paragraph could also apply to some binary identified individuals. Within this 1.3% of the population, 30.2% are nonbinary.

These are now the EHRC recommended monitoring questions for public authorities, so it is likely that they will continue to be used in major national surveys and applied to many smaller populations.

YouGov Daily, October 2014

YouGov DailyYouGov is a large polling site offering the promise of a £50 reward to members who answer enough weekly surveys. YouGov polls are often reported as notable in the news and are used to predict the results of upcoming elections or influence public policy. For example, a YouGov poll before the recent Scottish Independence Referendum has been credited for changing the course of the Better Together ‘No’ campaign, resulting in ‘The Vow’ promising more devolved powers to Scotland within the Union.

YouGov has a large membership and selects smaller samples from that membership to pose questions to. Based on YouGov’s published results for website polls (for example, this 2014 poll on attitudes to nudity), samples for individual polls of the UK populations appear to range from 1000 to 2000 respondents. YouGov only appears to ask panel members for a binary gender and does not report on numbers of respondents who are neither men nor women.

YouGov also provides a free polling smartphone app called ‘YouGov Daily’. This asks users 3 questions per day and reports on the results. YouGov describes this app as:

YouGov Daily is a smartphone app for a daily polling experiment. YouGov will use this panel to test ideas and get immediate feedback on polling and the YouGov experience.

Samples for this app’s questions appear to be self-selected, completed by those who choose to install the app (available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play) and answer the questions each day. It’s possible to use this app to answer polls without giving any demographic information, although there is the option to give your ‘Zip/Postcode’ and the details of your YouGov website account.

The web-based YouGov Daily results fail to report sample size or any demographics, such as whether it’s limited to the UK; however, most of the questions are clearly UK-specific. Once the user has answered, total sample size for the current question is given through the app. At the time of writing, Saturday the 6th of December 2014, the YouGov Daily app is asking about BBC political bias, if the BBC should continue to be funded by the licence fee and whether the Elgin Marbles held at the British Museum should be loaned to other countries and/or returned to Greece, all relevant to current UK news stories. As of 16:45, the current total number of respondents was 3,037. On checking again at midnight the total had reached 3,942 and the question continued to be open to responses. Results for the previous day’s questions seem to have been posted a little after 10:15 each morning, so it’s reasonable to assume that sample sizes for YouGov Daily questions are well over 3,000 and are at least in majority British.

On the morning of 22nd of October 2014, YouGov’s UK website posted the results of a 3 question YouGov Daily poll in which respondents had been asked the opening question:

You are either a man or a woman. Agree? Or disagree?
□ Agree
□ Disagree
□ Not sure

It’s likely that this question related to the news stories that week reporting that OKCupid had begun allowing (some) users to indicate additional options for gender and sexuality.

The results of this poll were 74% ‘Agree’ with ‘You are either a man or a woman’, 19% ‘Disagree’ and 7% were ‘Not sure’.

YouGov Daily poll results graph

Unfortunately, this was an ambiguously worded question. It could be taken to ask the individual ‘you’ if they are ‘a man or a woman’ or if they are something else, or it could be taken to ask the individual if they believe that it’s possible for any person to be something other than a man or a woman. (Consider, for example, how one might read a question using a similar binary statement ‘You are either gay or straight’ or ‘You are either introvert or extravert’.)

My feeling is that the full stop makes the first part into a statement, not a question, while ‘Agree? Or disagree?’ invites the reader to consider the validity of it as a general statement. The following questions were in fact clearly asking about the individual’s identity, but were not visible until the first question had been answered. Given the much higher figure than the EHRC found, it’s reasonable to assume that most respondents had a similar understanding of the question to mine, although this cannot be said for sure. However, it’s open to enough interpretation that some men or women may have answered ‘disagree’ despite believing in the existence of nonbinary people.

Due to the ambiguous wording, the only reliable conclusion that can be taken from this poll is that at least 19% of active YouGov Daily users believe that it is possible to have an existence outside of the binary categories of man or woman. The real number may in fact be higher.

Based on the YouGov description of the app as a polling experiment that allows them to test ideas, there is a chance that YouGov are considering allowing for the panelists of their main website polls to indicate genders other than Man or Woman in the future.

Surveys of the UK Trans Population

As one might expect, the population that tends to be most often asked about gender in more nuanced ways is the trans community. However, it’s important to remember that more than 65% of the people that the EHRC research above identified as identifying outside of the binary did not identify with even the most general and inclusive wording describing ‘gender reassignment’ and so may be unlikely to be found in trans groups and online communities with a heavy focus on transition.

Although official figures are limited, some trans organisations have performed research on the trans population in order to determine our needs and demographics, and have done so in a way that is inclusive of those within the trans community who do not fit within a binary model of gender.

UK Trans Info: Gender Clinic Figures 2014

UK Trans InfoAlthough UK Trans Info have asked, UK gender clinics are failing to record or report on the number of their service users who hold nonbinary genders (see page 5 – content warning on that report for misgendering by gender clinics) despite acknowledgement in a 2013 DIVA magazine article that they ‘see people from a whole spectrum of gender backgrounds with a wide variety of needs and wishes’. (It should also be noted that many gender clinic service users opt not to reveal their nonbinary identity in fear of being denied treatment).

As such, there are no official figures of the numbers of nonbinary individuals known to trans gender healthcare professionals. The ERHC figures above are the most official source of statistical information relating to nonbinary prevalence.

UK Trans Info have now stopped asking about the genders of gender clinic service users as it is clear that clinics are not recording this information in a meaningful way.

GIRES: Gender Variance In the UK: Prevalence, Incidence, Growth and Geographic Distribution 2009/11

GIRES Prevalence and Incidence reportingIn 2009 the Home Office funded the UK’s most prominent gender identity research charity, GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society), to produce the Gender Variance In the UK: Prevalence, Incidence, Growth and Geographic Distribution report. This was a groundbreaking report at the time and produced valuable evidence for policymakers and service providers.

Despite the inclusive sounding ‘gender variance’ title, the 2009 GIRES report only mentions ‘genderqueer’ once when introducing ‘the broader transgender group’ in the main report and limits other mentions of gender outside the binary to the glossary section. The majority of the GIRES report talks in terms of trans men, trans women and crossdressers. Estimates of numbers are only supplied for these three groups, with ‘transgender people’ later defined as ‘those who crossdress’. This was sadly typical of the historical state of nonbinary inclusion in UK research where, even 5 years ago, a mention in a footnote or glossary was the best one might hope for. We have come a long way in a short time. However, the 2011 update to this report still states that all those who have undergone medical transition are now either trans women or trans men (I, and others, have been treated by gender clinics while openly nonbinary in this time).

GIRES have greatly improved their nonbinary inclusion in recent years. Their 2011 Trans Community Statement of Need acknowledged and included ‘non or bi-gendered folk’ and their TranzWiki categorises all support groups in terms of whether they provide support for nonbinary people. They currently describe their aims with:

GIRES’ overall aim is to improve substantially the circumstances in which gender nonconforming people live. GIRES upholds the right of all those who do not fit the typical boy/girl, man/woman tick boxes, including people who intend to change gender role completely and others whose gender identity is non-binary, to live proudly in a society that celebrates diversity.

However, their 2012 ‘Monitoring Gender Nonconformity‘ quick guide still fails to acknowledge nonbinary people in the text description, despite citing the EHRC report described above and including a version of their monitoring question. This document defines gender nonconformity with the suggested monitoring question ‘Gender Nonconformity: Does your gender identity match completely the sex you were registered at birth?’ – it nonetheless cites the EHRC ‘gender reassignment’ figure of 1% rather than the correct nonbinary-inclusive figure of 1.3%.

Hopefully, GIRES’ commitment to inclusion and celebration of nonbinary people will lead to our full inclusion in future prevalence and incidence studies and recognition that nonbinary individuals can also be and often are treated for gender dysphoria and/or ‘change their gender role completely’.

Scottish Trans Alliance: Trans Mental Health Study 2012

Trans Mental Health Study 2012The largest nonbinary inclusive survey of UK trans people that I’m aware of was performed by The Scottish Trans Alliance in partnership with TransBareAll, the Trans Resource and Empowerment Centre, Traverse Research and Sheffield Hallam University. For approximately 3 months in mid-2012, they carried out an online survey on mental health aimed at trans people in the UK and Ireland. This was announced in trans support groups, online forums and mailing lists and was also publicised using LGBT networks and professionals whose work might bring them in contact with trans people.

Ultimately, 1045 people responded to the survey; after excluding those who lived outside the UK or Ireland, were under 18 or had not given consent to take part in research, 889 people remained as the sample used for reporting.

This was an extremely important and study resulting in a valuable and often sobering report that contains far more than just the basic demographic information explored here.

Gender was asked for with the following questions:

Which of the following best describes you?
□ I have a constant and clear gender identity as a woman
□ I have a constant and clear gender identity as a man
□ I have a constant and clear non-binary gender identity
□ I have a variable or fluid non-binary gender identity
□ I have no gender identity
□ I am unsure of my gender identity
□ Other (open text field)

Do you consider yourself to be within any of the following categories?
[List of tick boxes including:
Transgender Person
Woman
Trans person
Trans woman
Man
Trans man
Female-to-Male (MtF) spectrum person
Woman with a transsexual history
Male-to-female (FtM) spectrum person
Genderqueer person
NB: only items chosen by 20% or more of respondents were included in the survey results; this list is therefore incomplete]

The results of the gender identity question (page 13), which was answered by 794 qualifying respondents, found that 65% held a ‘Constant and clear gender identity’ as a woman or a man (40% woman, 25% man), 6% answered ‘Unsure’, 3% answered ‘Other’ and 26% answered one of the options relating to a constant or variable nonbinary gender or a lack of gender identity (which could be labelled as agender or nongendered, falling under the nonbinary umbrella). The full breakdown is as follows:

Gender Identity Number Percent
Constant and clear gender identity as a woman 317 40%
Constant and clear gender identity as a man 197 25%
Variable or fluid non-binary 122 15%
Constant and clear non-binary 63 8%
Unsure 49 6%
Other 25 3%
No gender identity 21 3%
Total 794 100%

The respondents who entered ‘Other’ gave a variety of somewhat personal explanations for why they didn’t feel the other options described them. Some indicate a binary identity that’s currently personal and that they fear expressing. Others are skeptical of the concept of gender or unsure of which they qualify for. Some indicate that they’re technically genderqueer or nonbinary but use a binary gender for simplicity or for political reasons. I encourage you to read the full set of 9 examples on pages 13 and 14 of the report.

Given this breakdown, many of those who indicated ‘Other’ should be considered as identifying outside of the binary to some significant degree; however, it is clear that at least a third should in fact be considered as clearly not identifying this way. (Of course ‘Binary’ vs ‘Nonbinary’ is in itself not a binary question, categories are always more complicated than that.) This is a clear example of why a simple ‘gender ternary’ of questions such as ‘Female / Male / Other’ is of limited usefulness compared to a more inclusive set of questions.

One may conclude from these results that around 26% to 29% of trans people in the UK and Ireland identify somewhere outside the binary of man and woman. Given the example ‘Other’ responses, a conservative estimate would be to split the 3% ‘Other’ results in half and say that roughly 27.5% are nonbinary in some way.

Additionally, 21% of respondents indicated that ‘Genderqueer person’ was one of the multiple specific categories that they consider themselves to be within (no breakdown was provided to indicate how this overlapped with the answers to the gender identity question). Note, while genderqueer is sometimes used as a synonym for nonbinary or as an umbrella term for any gender outside of the binary and there is a great deal of overlap, these terms do not map perfectly onto each other with some nonbinary people not considering themselves to be genderqueer and vice versa.

Trans Media Watch: How Transgender People Experience the Media survey 2009/10

Trans Media WatchBetween 1st November 2009 and 28th of February 2010, Trans Media Watch asked self-identified transgender people based in the UK to complete an online survey on how they felt about representations of trans people in the media. 256 people completed the survey, 6 of whom were not themselves transgender but were a partner, significant other etc of a trans person.

Survey respondents were asked a demographic question about their ‘gender identity’ with the following options:

□ Man with a trans background
□ Woman with a trans background
□ FTM / trans man
□ MTF / trans woman
□ Cross-dressing / transvestite person
□ Androgyne / genderqueer / polygender person
□ Other type of gender variant person
□ Intersex person
□ Other (open text field)

(This question is quite poorly worded as it specifies an oddly limited set of specific identity labels. Given my experience of the community, I believe that a significant number of nonbinary people, including many agender people, would not consider that any of ‘androgyne’, ‘genderqueer’ or ‘polygender’ describe them well.)

Out of the total sample, 215 respondents answered the gender identity question. The report summarises this as:

59.5% (128) identified as female, 25.6% (55) as male, and 14.9% (32) as other (e.g. androgyne people).

The question allowed for multiple responses: 13 people answered that they were only ‘Androgyne / genderqueer / polygender person’, 13 more answered that they were only ‘Other type of gender variant person’. In total 38 people indicated they were ‘Androgyne / genderqueer / polygender person’ and 18 indicated they were ‘Other type of gender variant person’ (including 4 who dislike labels altogether). 3 people indicated they were both ‘Androgyne / genderqueer / polygender person’ and ‘Other type of gender variant person’. As such 53 out of the 211 transgender respondents held a gender identity that was in some way outside of or more complex than the binary options alone. This corresponds to 25.1% of the transgender sample.

As such, the demographics of this survey of UK transgender people found that 14.9% primarily identify as something other than female or male, and 25.1% have some form of nonbinary identity more complex than female or male alone. Although it should be noted that the question was poorly worded and was greatly improved on by the later and larger Scottish Trans Alliance survey above.

Surveys of other populations

The following surveys do not represent the UK population, or even subgroups within that population. I’ve included them in this article because they either go into greater demographic detail than UK research has yet done, pose extremely interesting research questions that have yet to be asked in the UK, or illustrate relevant points that are important to consider either when designing surveys or when talking about nonbinary gender in general.

United States National Transgender Discrimination Survey 2008

Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination SurveyIn 2008 the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National LGBTQ Task Force (the Task Force) launched the National Transgender Discrimination Survey studying anti-transgender discrimination in the United States. 6,450 transgender and gender nonconforming people responded to the survey over 6 months.

Gender was asked in the following way:

Q3. What is your primary gender identity today?

(A) Male/man
(B) Female/woman
(C) Part time as one gender, part time as another
(D) A gender not listed here, please specify _______

The answers to this question split as follows: 26% Male/man, 41% Female/woman, 20% Part time as one gender, part time as another and 13% A gender not listed here. It should be noted that ‘part time as one gender, part time as another’ is a description that could cover many bigender and fluid gender people and others who would consider themselves to be nonbinary or genderqueer. It could also describe binary gendered trans people who are in the process of transition or not able to present full time due to workplace discrimination or other such factors. As such it’s not possible to give a full total of people whose gender identities fall outside of binary categories based on this question.

It is unclear how surveys of United States trans populations will compare to similar surveys held in the United Kingdom, but I included this survey as an extremely valuable analysis of the ‘A gender not listed here’ respondents and the responses that were written in for option D have been published in volume 2 of the LGBTQ Policy Journal at the Harvard Kennedy School – A Gender Not Listed Here: Genderqueers, Gender Rebels, and OtherWise in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey by Jack Harrison, Jaime Grant, and Jody L. Herman.

Not only does this analysis include details of the breakdown of these write in answers, such as:

Q3 garnered 860 written responses to GNL, many of them creative and unique, such as twidget, birl, OtherWise, and transgenderist. The majority of these respondents wrote in genderqueer, or some variation thereof, such as pangender, third gender, or hybrid. Still others chose terms that refer to third gender or genderqueers within specific cultural traditions, such as Two-Spirit (FirstNations), Mahuwahine (Hawaiian), and Aggressive (Black or African American).

It also provides detailed analysis of the demographics of the ‘A gender not listed here’ respondents, their experiences of discrimination and how these compared to the rest of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey respondents. They were found overall to be younger, less likely to be white and more likely to have experienced violence and harassment. I encourage you to read the article in full and hope for similar research to be carried out in the UK in future.

European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights: EU LGBT survey 2012

FRA: Helping to make fundamental rights a reality for everyone in the EUI would have dearly liked to have provided accurate Europe-wide figures for nonbinary people in this section, since there was a major European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights (FRA) survey of 93,079 LGBT people across the EU and Croatia in 2012 aimed at recording the everyday experiences of LGBT people in respect of discrimination.

However, while this research aimed to be inclusive of transgender people, it asked questions of gender and trans identity so poorly that there’s no way to determine for certain which of the transgender respondents even identify as men or women, let alone in other ways.

The questions asked were:

Question A2. What sex were you assigned at birth?
□ Female
□ Male

Question A3. Are / were you a transgender person?
□ Yes
□ No

Only shown if ‘Yes’ was answered for Question A3:
PLEASE SELECT ONE ANSWER THAT FITS YOU BEST –
□ Transgender
□ Transsexual
□ Woman with a transsexual past
□ Man with a transsexual past
□ Gender variant
□ Cross dresser
□ Queer
□ Other

This set-up assumed that people with transsexual pasts, genderqueer, gender variant and nonbinary people will recognise that they are intended to be included under ‘Transgender’, which is not a reasonable assumption. This set-up also erroneously assumed that anyone who did not indicate that they were transgender was represented perfectly by the sex that they were assigned at birth. Worst of all, it apparently decided that everyone who is transgender or transsexual can have their gender determined from their assigned sex alone, as this question is never otherwise asked (alternatively, the survey designers just didn’t care – transgender people were excluded from all other categories, apparently disqualified from LGB sexualities and treated only as trans).  Those who did not indicate that they were transgender were only asked their gender as assigned at birth.

The results of these deeply flawed questions do not even allow us to determine how many people who answered yes to question A3 were men or women! I, an individual nonbinary person, would not have any idea how to categorise myself given those options. I am transgender, I have a transsexual medical history, I have been categorised as ‘gender variant’ although I dislike this term, I’m queer and I’m a variety of other things such as gender neutral in identity and androgynous in presentation. I find it hard to imagine that much or any time was taken to consult with trans people about how best to represent us.

Headline results are as follows (derived from the weighted counts on pages 33 and 34 of the report):

Answered ‘Yes’ to A3 Count Percent
7,576 100%
Transgender 1,140 15.0%
Transsexual 1,347 17.8%
Woman with a transsexual past 409 5.4%
Man with a transsexual past 188 2.5%
Gender variant 575 7.6%
Cross dresser 698 9.2%
Queer 1,095 14.5%
Other 2,124 28.0%

It’s a clear sign that your question design is flawed when ‘Other’ is significantly higher than any other category. There was no facility offered to allow users to write in what they meant by ‘Other’. ‘Gender Variant’ and ‘Queer’ combined made up 22.0% of respondents who answered ‘yes’ to question A3. Based on the Scottish Trans Alliance survey responses for ‘Other’, we can conservatively assume that around half of the ‘Other’ responses are in some way outside of the gender binary categories, resulting in as much as 36.1% being in some way nonbinary. This is higher than other surveys of trans populations, but may reflect that a European or LGBT-focused survey will have different results. Alternatively, it may simply be because this survey was extremely flawed when handling gender.

Later in the survey, everyone was asked if they feel either masculine or feminine (as another binary-only option) and if they look either masculine or feminine, and then this was compared to assignment at birth to decide if they had a ‘matching gender expression’ or not (this is equally flawed, one can be extremely gender nonconforming in expression while still being ‘matching’ by this definition, and one can be androgynous, epicene or neuter, or simply not relate to the binary of ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’). Those who answered that they were transgender in question A3 were found to be almost equally ‘matching’ and ‘non-matching’ by these questions.

To conclude, this FRA research was deeply flawed and represents an extremely disappointing failure to design what could have been a groundbreaking survey in a way that was inclusive of gender minorities. This highlights the importance of taking care to be inclusive of trans people and those who don’t fit within the gender binary. It is recommended that an inclusive consultation process, such as that carried out by the EHRC, be completed before designing a survey such as this.

[Note, other EU publications, such as the European Commission Trans and intersex people: Discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender identity and gender expression report, are more inclusive of nonbinary experiences and identities but don’t provide figures relevant to this report.]

The AVEN Community Census 2014

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network, AVEN, hosts one of the largest forum communities for asexual people (those who do not experience sexual attraction) and their supporters. Earlier this year the AVEN membership were surveyed in a Community Census; the survey was also promoted on social media outlets such as Tumblr, Facebook, Reddit and Twitter as well as on other online asexual community groups. The survey was online and self-selected and received a total of 14,210 responses, 10,880 of which were from respondents who were asexual, demisexual or grey-asexual.

AVEN’s membership is in no way a reflection of the United Kingdom’s population, in fact only 9% of respondents identified themselves as coming from the UK. Its membership is also very skewed towards younger people, in part due to being primarily used by people who are newly exploring their asexual spectrum identity. However, the results of this survey are notable as the AVEN membership contains an unusually high proportion of nonbinary members. As in previous surveys of membership, nonbinary individuals outnumber men in the 2014 AVEN Community Census – 62.1% were women, 24.6% were nonbinary and 13.3% were men.

Based on previous findings, it has been assumed that there was a strong overlap between nonbinary gender and asexual orientations; however, this survey found there were almost as many nonbinary individuals among the allosexual (non-asexual) respondents – 26.1% of asexual spectrum respondents vs 20.9% of allosexuals. This may imply that the large proportions of nonbinary people may be in some part due to the inclusive and safer space AVEN offers to those who experience gender outside of the binary. (As the original author of the AVEN asexuality FAQ in 2002, I can report that the forums were extremely nonbinary-friendly and open to and supportive of questioning of gender from the beginning.)

The gender questions were posed in the following way:

20. What sex were you assigned at birth?
i.e. What was written on your birth certificate
Mark only one oval.
⬭ Male
⬭ Female
⬭ Other: ______________

21. Have you ever been officially diagnosed with an intersex condition?
Mark only one oval.
⬭ No
⬭ Yes
⬭ Other: ______________

22. Which of the following best describes your current gender identity?
Mark only one oval.
⬭ Man/male
⬭ Woman/female
⬭ Other (see below)

23. If you chose “other” on the previous question, which of the following best describes
you?
Mark only one oval.
⬭ I did not choose “other”
⬭ Genderqueer
⬭ Neutrois
⬭ Agender
⬭ Bigender
⬭ Other: ______________

24. Do you consider your gender identity fluid?
Mark only one oval.
⬭ Yes
⬭ No
⬭ Unsure

25. Do you consider yourself trans?
Mark only one oval.
⬭ Yes
⬭ No
⬭ Unsure

Results for question 23AVEN Census gender identity chart were:

Gender Identity Percent
Woman/female 62.1%
Man/male 13.3%
Agender 8.5%
Genderqueer 7.3%
Neutrois 1.6%
Bigender 1.2%
Other 6.0%

It’s likely that agender people are overrepresented within the asexual community compared to other populations, as this is a high figure compared to the Trans Mental Health survey results for ‘No gender identity’. However, it’s also likely that agender individuals are also to some degree underrepresented within trans communities.

The primary reason for including the AVEN Census in this article was their inclusion of the question ‘Do you consider yourself trans?’. There is often controversy within trans and nonbinary communities over who qualifies as trans and whether it’s necessary to clarify the word with an asterisk (trans*) in order to denote inclusion of all gender variance. Of the individuals who identified as a gender other than man or woman, 31.4% considered themselves trans, 41.0% did not consider themselves trans and 27.6% were unsure. The 2014 AVEN Community Censis: Preliminary Findings report correctly highlights that:

This is an important cautionary finding for future research on asexual and nonbinary populations, as it makes it clear that asking about trans identity is not a equivalent to asking about both assigned sex at birth and current gender identity.

This finding should be taken into account when considering the surveys of trans populations above and is supported by the findings of the EHRC study, which found 31.6% of nonbinary individuals feeling they qualified for the ‘gender reassignment’ protected characteristic.

Results are not yet available on how many people have fluid gender identities, nor how the various nonbinary identities corresponds to other demographic questions.

Nonbinary Stats Survey 2013

In May 2013, nonbinary activist Cassian Lodge compiled an online self-selected survey aimed at nonbinary/genderqueer people asking statistic-gathering questions. This was promoted through Tumblr and other relevant social media outlets such as Twitter and Reddit, all of which have international reach. No supplementary demographic questions were asked. 2,061 people responded to the survey.

The gender question was asked as:

How do you describe your gender?
Tick all that apply
□ Agender
□ Androgyne
□ Bigender
□ Fluid gender
□ Genderqueer
□ Intergender
□ Neutral
□ Neutrois
□ Nonbinary
□ Third Gender
□ Trans*
□ Transgender
□ Unknown
□ Other: ______________

Nonbinary Stats Survey ChartThe results were as follows:

Gender Percent
Genderqueer 58%
Nonbinary 39%
Trans* 33%
Fluid gender 31%
Transgender 24%
Agender 22%
Neutral 17%
Androgyne 17%
Other 11%
Unknown 8%
Neutrois 7%
Bigender 7%
Third gender 4%
Intergender 2%

The 236 “other” options were either left blank or were words that only came up once or twice, such as “ambigender” and “femme” and “transmasculine”.

These results illustrate the diversity of identities among individuals active in online nonbinary and genderqueer communities. As in the Trans Media Watch survey, many respondents gave multiple descriptions of their gender when allowed to.

This also demonstrates that those who qualify for umbrella labels such as ‘nonbinary’, ‘trans*’ or ‘transgender’ may not describe themselves in that way, despite recognising that they are included within these categories.

I would welcome future surveys of online nonbinary communities with a similar range of demographic questions to those found in the AVEN Community Census and US National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

Tel-Aviv University: Queering gender: studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals 2013

Psychology & SexualityThis last research paper by Daphna Joel, Ricardo Tarrasch, Zohar Berman, Maya Mukamel and Effi Ziv doesn’t relate to the UK at all but was instead the result of research from Tel-Aviv University and the University of Haifa in Israel. I’ve included this study as a ‘wildcard’ because, rather than studying the general population or the trans population, it aimed to study gender identity in ‘normative’ or apparently cisgender individuals.

In the broadest terms, this study can be seen as a gender identity equivalent of the famous Kinsey Report on sexual orientation and may be the first to apply the types of gender identity research questions asked of gender dysphoric and gender nonconforming individuals to the wider population.

Participants were recruited through online invitations to various university departments, via the Israel National LGBT Task Force and other activists in the queer community, via professionals who worked with transgender individuals and via posts on the researchers’ Facebook pages. 2,225 people responded. The surveys took place online. The participants were initially asked for both ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ in terms of ‘Female’, ‘Male’, ‘Transgender’ and ‘Other’.

The study focused on the 570 ‘normative’ men and 1585 ‘normative’ women who answered indicating matching ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Those who answered as ‘Other’ for either sex or gender, those whose ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ did not match, and those who indicated that they were transgender were split out from the main study population and are referred to in the report as the ‘Queer’ group. In total 17 individuals answered that their ‘sex’ was other, 36 individuals that their ‘gender’ was other, 10 individuals had a different ‘gender’ to their ‘sex’ and 18 individuals indicated that they were transgender. There was some overlap in these categories. In total there were 70 individuals in the ‘Queer’ (non-normative / transgender) group, accounting for 3.1% of people in the study.

Queering Gender Gender Identity GraphTo assess gender identity, they were all asked to rate how frequently they felt like a man, how frequently they felt like a woman, how frequently they felt like both and how frequently they felt like neither. Over 35% of the ‘normative’ individuals studied responded that they felt to some extent as the other binary gender, as both men and women and/or as neither. It was found that these feelings were more prevalent and on average stronger among the ‘Queer’ (non-normative / transgender) participants but that:

the range of scores for all measures of gender identity was highly similar in Queers and non-Queers. A similar pattern was obtained for measures of gender dysphoria and gender performance.

Feels as neither gender, feel as both gender chartsThe study participants were also asked questions about perception of gender as performance (how frequently they felt that they have to work at being a man or a woman), gender performance/conformance (how frequently they wore clothing intended for the other binary gender and used gendered language for the other binary gender) and gender contentment (answering a version of a standardised test for measuring gender dysphoria in trans individuals, but with value judgements about answers removed from the questions). Women were slightly more likely to perceive gender as performance and significantly more likely to shop from the male side of the store. There were low but non-zero levels of gender dysphoria in the ‘normative’ participants and no relationship was found between sexual orientation and dysphoria.

As is usually the case for gendered traits, there was enough overlap between the gender identities of men and women that some ‘normative’ men felt like women more often than some ‘normative’ women and vice versa. It was found that non-heterosexual people were no less likely to feel like their affirmed gender but were more likely to also feel like the other binary gender, like neither binary gender or like both. Non-heterosexual participants were also a little more likely to perceive gender as performance and more likely to not conform to gendered clothing restrictions.

This is a far more nuanced model of gender than any of the other studies and polls above provide, asking for frequency of feelings across multiple axes. It would appear that the more nuanced and detailed the gender questions, the more likely it is that simplistic binary models of gender break down and a more complex view of the diversity of gender experiences is revealed for a larger number of people.

Despite this nuance and complexity, the study authors acknowledge that they have still limited and simplified gender by asking their questions solely in terms of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ (and combinations or lack thereof). Gender is more diverse than this and future studies could be designed to reflect this. The study authors also recognise that the participants were entirely Israeli and primarily Jewish. As such they are now running a similar survey aimed at a more ethnically and religiously diverse population to find if the same patterns still apply.

This is extremely detailed and interesting research and I encourage you to read the paper in full rather than relying on my summary.

It would be extremely interesting to see this or similar research performed in the UK. I would also welcome a repeat of this research with a large enough non-normative / transgender group that individual subgroups, such as those who indicated that they were nonbinary or binary trans in the basic ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ questions, could be studied and compared individually rather than grouped into a single ‘Queer’ group.

However, it should be noted that ‘feeling like’ a gender is not the same as considering oneself to be of that gender, or wishing to have that gender affirmed. The majority of the ‘normative’ participants in the study were mostly content with their affirmed genders as men and women, although a larger minority considered them to be to some degree performative. Within the 35% who experienced nonbinary feelings are a smaller group who would be likely to claim nonbinary identity were this more widely accepted and understood, but this is almost certainly a considerably lower proportion than 35%. Additionally, the surveys above that allowed multiple gender labels to be selected showed that greater proportions chose nonbinary identity labels when these could be selected in addition to man or woman. As such, some of the individuals labelled as ‘normative’ may have already identified as genderqueer, bigender, fluid-gender or some other label under the nonbinary umbrella.

Summary, analysis and recommendations

How the question of gender is asked affects how many people will respond in ways that fall outside of binary classification. Making it clear that you’re asking how the person describes or defines themself will give a more accurate answer than phrasing the question in a way that could be interpreted as asking for gender assigned at birth, legal status, body configuration or even just the ‘best fit’ binary option. I would recommend explicitly including the invitation to describe gender in another way to the binary options.

Even asking the question in terms of ‘Man’, ‘Woman’ or ‘Other’ is likely to produce a larger number of nonbinary responses than ‘Female’, ‘Male’ or ‘Other’. It is not uncommon for people to identify with the ‘sex’ assigned to the body and/or the role placed upon them in society, but to consider their gender to be something more complex. Asking for ‘Other’ in the context of ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ is likely to reduce the number of people identifying outside of the binary to the lowest possible figure, those who feel strongly enough to reject classification with binary ‘sex’ as well as the man/woman binary (this will be even more so if distinction from gender assigned at birth isn’t established first). As such, I would recommend amending the the EHRC’s monitoring question to ‘Which of the following describes how you think of yourself? Man, Woman or In another way (please specify)’.

Based on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s large scale survey, 0.4% of the UK population feel strongly enough about not being female or male to describe their gender in another way, that’s about 1 in every 250 people. The gender self-descriptions that these people wrote in indicate that they mostly hold specific nonbinary identities such as genderqueer, genderless, gender-fluid etc. 0.4% is likely the most conservative estimate for the number of nonbinary people in the UK, but may reflect the numbers who would pursue some form of nonbinary legal status. This figure is consistent with the number of people who skipped, multi-ticked or spoiled the ‘sex’ question in the last 2 UK Censuses, although the census data should be considered highly unreliable for determining gender identity. When combined with the overlapping EHRC figure of 1% of the population qualifying for ‘gender reassignment’ protection, at least 1.3% of the UK population is in some way transgender or gender variant, of which 30.2% are nonbinary.

Surveys of the UK trans and gender variant population (those active in online communities or in contact with service providers) found that around 25 to 28% of trans people identify in ways that can’t be described by the binary options alone. Higher proportions will respond in these terms if there is the option to select multiple answers in describing a single person’s gender and/or there is acknowledgement of fluid-, bi- and polygender experience. The Trans Media Watch survey had a much lower proportion of those choosing a nonbinary classification once those who had also responded that they were a man or woman had been discounted (14% vs 25%). All surveys allowing multiple choices found a diversity of different overlapping identities. As such, it is recommended that gender questions should allow multiple answers from a list of common nonbinary identities, including genderqueer, genderfluid, agender etc, as well as the ability to write in additional self-descriptions. This should be a separate question to the choice of ‘Man, Woman or In another way’.

Where possible, avoid asking gender questions in terms of a limited set of specific nonbinary identities or in terms of a single umbrella term. Only a minority of people who describe themselves in another way to ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ would recognise that they are included in ‘Are you nonbinary?’ or even the longer established ‘Are you genderqueer?’, fewer still if the question phrased such as ‘Are you non- or bi-gendered?’ or ‘Are you an Androgyne / Genderqueer / Polygender person?’ etc, but the intention is to record all who identify as something other than (or more than) a man or a woman.

Some respondents to the Trans Mental Health survey indicated that they presented a more normative and binary view of their gender experience to gender professionals out of fear of being denied access to healthcare or services. This is a commonly expressed fear within nonbinary community forums and likely results in gender professionals having a much more conservative view of the number of nonbinary and genderqueer individuals they work with.

However, it is important to be aware that, in 3 different surveys, only around 31% of those identifying outside of the gender binary considered themselves to either definitely be ‘trans’ or to fit the description of the ‘gender reassignment’ protected characteristic. This shows that a majority of nonbinary people are not protected by the Equality Act 2010’s provisions for gender minorities and that, despite advocating strongly for ‘trans’ and ‘transgender’ to be inclusive of all gender minorities, it is necessary to explicitly and prominently include nonbinary people in order for all to feel welcome.

Do not assume that surveys of trans people will be fully representative of nonbinary populations, or that nonbinary people will (or won’t) consider themselves to be trans. It is likely that some nonbinary people will consider themselves to be both or neither of transgender and cisgender, or to be trans in some ways but not in others. Some may consider themselves to be trans* but not trans, or transgender but not trans (or vice versa). Others very strongly claim their transgender identity and defend their place in the trans community. Do not define trans or transgender in ways that exclude nonbinary people and do not assume that there isn’t overlap between those who experience dysphoria and transition and those who experience gender in ways that can’t be described by a gender binary.

If you are designing a survey or study and wish to be inclusive of nonbinary people, it is recommended that you consult with members of various nonbinary, genderqueer, trans and gender nonconforming communities in order to ensure that your questions do not inadvertently exclude, erase, make assumptions about or outright offend some members of those groups. The EHRC performed a consultation and workshopping process when designing their recommended gender monitoring questions that may be a useful guide to those conducting future research. Badly designed survey questions making poor assumptions can prevent many gender variant people from answering relevant questions, or even make it impossible to determine exactly how many people are men or women, let alone nonbinary, as the EU LGBT survey illustrated.

I would like to encourage future surveys and studies of the nonbinary population to ask and report on a range of other demographic questions similar to those asked in the United States National Transgender Discrimination Survey 2008. UK research covering nonbinary gender has yet to reveal the kinds of useful insights provided in the American study, although the Trans Mental Health study has made a start towards this.

The majority of the research presented above highlights people who actively identify outside of the gender binary. Figures highlighted show how many people think of themselves as something other than men or women, or as something in addition to being a man and/or woman. It is important to recognise that there is a wide diversity of different, varied and complex experiences under the umbrella term ‘nonbinary’. This should not be treated as a ‘ternary gender system’, simply adding one more ‘nonbinary’ option as an extension to the binary. Nonbinary people are not a homogenous group and knowing that someone is ‘nonbinary’ alone tells you very little about how that person experiences and expresses gender.

Currently there is limited public awareness of nonbinary gender, with around three quarters firmly believing in a binary system of only men and womenThe Israeli ‘Queering Gender’ study found that over a third of those who do not identify as trans or gender variant nonetheless have experiences and feelings of gender that defy classification within a rigid binary system, with those participants feeling like the other binary gender, both binary genders and/or neither binary gender to some significant degree. This may indicate that greater public understanding and acceptance of nonbinary gender would lead to more individuals recognising that they are not well described by ‘man’ or ‘woman’.

When was the Mx gender-inclusive title created?

Posted by – August 28, 2014

MxA new version of the excellent Mx Evidence document establishing usage and acceptance of the Mx gender-inclusive title (equivalent to Miss, Mr or Ms) in the United Kingdom has recently been released by the Genderqueer Activist site (run by activist Cassian Lodge). This records examples of acceptance by organisations such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA),  National Health Service (NHS), various banks and utilities, councils and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

The document starts with the summary that Mx was created around the turn of the century, resulting in other sites covering the document also making this claim. This description bothered me because I’ve been frequenting transgender and genderqueer online discussion spaces since 1999 and, while 2000 was around the time I first saw it described, Mx was always presented as an idea that had been around for a long time.

Unfortunately most of online safe community discussion spaces of the late 1990s are impossible to search today. They were in private mailing lists whose archives are now gone or are locked away with no moderator to approve new members. Most of the genderqueer websites of this era are long gone and no longer searchable. However the more public discussion spaces provided by Usenet newsgroups have been archived and can still be accessed and searched today using features of Google Groups (formerly Deja News).

It’s somewhat challenging to search for Mx as a title when the these two letters can also refer to, variously, Mexican domain names, email server settings, Emacs commands, camera models, motorbikes, nuclear missiles and graphing calculators, but I was able to come up with some examples.

The Google Groups Usenet archive extends back to 1981 and the earliest example I found of someone suggesting and using Mx (albeit as a one off) was in July 1982 on the newsgroup net.nlang during one of their frequent discussions of gender neutral pronouns (intended to be used to refer to anyone without giving their gender) and nonsexist gender neutral language (such as ‘chairperson’ and  ‘womyn’):

Subject: More words and sex
Newsgroups: net.nlang
Posted: Fri Jul 9 15:48:43 1982

while we’re at it, let’s get rid of all this Miss/Mrs/Mr/Ms crap.
It wasn’t much of a step to go from Miss/Mrs to Ms; after all,
the issue should be that gender is unimportant. How about one
generic title for everyone? For instance, M. Smith, M. Jones.
But that’s flawed, it might be confused with Monsieur, a blatantly
sexist word. From now on, we should all go by Mx, pronounced
“mix” or “mux.” This will make the world safe for democracy by
concealing our genders from the sexist element.

Mx. John Eldridge                harpo!floyd!jce

Within the context of the discussion this appears to have been a somewhat facetious suggestion (context is difficult to gauge as this was before the practice of quoting of the message you’re replying to), although there is a sincere mention of the gender neutral pronoun ’tis’ around the same time.

The Mx suggestion got a positive mention in a discussion on net.women in January 1985, initially crossposted to net.nlang:

Subject: Re: Gender-specific honorifics
Newsgroups: net.nlang,net.women
Posted: Wed Jan 30 22:45:12 1985

I got one netter’s intesting suggestin that the all purpose honorific should
be Mx. (I think it’s nice to use the algebraic “x” for unknown. Very
elegant.)

Then my husband Barry suggested it would be more in keeping with the spirit
of UNIX to write it as M*.

(And besides that way there’s less chance of fallout from missile makers.)

–Lee Gold

That post references how the x is intended to be a wildcard character. Posts responding to this message on net.women humorously riff on how this would be pronounced, suggest an alternative asterisk pronunciation and correct the UNIX wildcard character. This was within a wider discussion of gender neutral language.

The earliest reference I can find to the idea of Mx being a mixture of gender titles comes in December 1998 on the newsgroup alt.callahans:

Subject: Re: Minor rant: Names
Newsgroups: alt.callahans
Date: 1998/12/09

[…]
I, for one, would like to see something like Mx. Mister, Missus, Miss,
and Mizz all rolled into one M(i)x. Mx. Asteris, Mx. S. Robinson, Mx. J.
Marshall, etc. You get the idea.

Ravan

This was posted in response to someone complaining about the gendered nature of titles, specifically referencing how titles forced them to reveal whether they had ‘an innie or an outie’.

It’s difficult to find examples of people using Mx as their title on Usenet as there was no convention to include a title in ones author name or sign off and because additional search terms are needed to filter from the large number of irrelevant results. However the earliest reference I could find to someone talking about actively using Mx as their title was in October 1998 during a crossposted discussion nominally about vegetarianism and vitamin B12 but by this point about gender bias in language, posted on various UK newsgroups including uk.misc and uk.politics.animals:

Subject: Re: Vegetarianism and B12 deficiency (was Re: Organic GE)
Newsgroups: uk.misc,soc.culture.british,rec.food.veg,uk.politics.animals, uk.people.teens,soc.culture.scottish,uk.environment
Date: 1998/10/19

[…]
Occasionally I have used the title ‘Mx’ before my name, with the idea
that it leaves in question whether I a woman or a man or somethinng in
between and gives no idea of my maritial status.


Gnome 11

That example is also the first occurrence I found that made any reference to nonbinary people (‘or something in between’). It was posted in response to someone discussing the connotations that had arisen from using Ms rather than Miss or Mrs.

Hopefully this evidence has established that the idea of the Mx gender neutral title was suggested well before 2000 and that it was being used by some people during the 1990s. Of course much of its use was happening away from online discussions in day to day interactions and requests to organisations, but when it comes to establishing the validity of a word evidence of longterm written usage tends to hold more weight.

What is notable about what happened after 2000 though is that Mx begins to be talked about specifically in relation to transgender and androgynous people, rather than as a gender neutral title that could be used without any connotation of what the person’s gender was. For example, the earliest example I found of Mx being given as the title for an androgyne came in a February 2001 post to rec.arts.dr-who (coincidentally the same month as the earliest discussion in my email archives).

I’ve written before about later inventions added to Mx where expanded names and pronunciations were suggested with ‘Mixture’ first appearing in mailing list archives in 2002 and ‘Mixter’ years later still.

While everyone who uses the title has their own way of explaining it, my personal preference remains for the pronunciation of ‘mux’, one of the two originally suggested in 1982. I feel that this gives no connotation of ‘mixed genders’ and is the most distinctive sounding option, less likely to misheard as ‘miss’ (for ‘mix’) or ‘mister’ (for ‘mixture’ and ‘mixter’).

Perhaps a more accurate way of explaining the origins of the Mx title to others is to say that it was created in the early 1980s and gradually began to be used more widely from the late 90s into the turn of the century. Either way, it’s well overdue more widespread acceptance and recognition.

(Note: If you’re aware of any earlier verifiable examples than these, do please let me know).

Related: Cassian Lodge has published a survey of people who use Mx asking how they pronounce it.

About that often misunderstood asterisk

Posted by – October 31, 2013

Recently this post by Natalie Reed on the use of ‘trans*’ was proving controversial among many of the nonbinary and genderqueer people I follow on Twitter. I’ve talked about ‘trans*’ before, most recently when answering the Beyond The Binary panel, question 4.

I personally have mixed feelings about words involving punctuation marks, especially ones that confuse search functions and hashtags, look like footnotes and don’t sound any different when spoken (unless you say ‘trans star’). I also strongly feel that ‘trans’ should be able to include everyone who’s in any way gender variant, genderqueer or gender role nonconforming (I’m firmly in the Leslie Feinburg Trans Liberation camp on this one). I’ve tried in the past to write resources to help keep trans and transgender the inclusive umbrella terms I feel they were meant to be.

Why people felt the need to add the asterisk

‘Trans’ was originally intended to be an inclusive term, not just including people who could access medical labels like ‘transsexual’, but including everyone under the wider transgender umbrella. However in day to day usage, the concept tends to be conflated with transition from the gender one was assigned at birth to another.

I think that this is in no small part due to how the constructions ‘trans man’, ‘trans woman’ and by extension ‘trans person’ seem to make it clear what ‘trans’ is meant to denote. Because this prefix usage is so ubiquitous, it’s also common to see this prefix separated out, with ‘trans’ falling elsewhere in a sentence, or on its own entirely, but still having the same connotations.

Perhaps I can make the issue with this clearer with an example (chosen out of the myriad possible as quite a common situation that was originally one of the primary things ‘transgender’ was used to describe). Take someone who was assigned male at birth, sees himself as a man, but also identifies as transgender by way of gender expression, and presents in clothing, hair and makeup that society would see as crossdressing. That person is clearly trans* and I would hope that he would also be included fully in transgender (although I’ve seen plenty of trans and nonbinary people argue otherwise, and plenty of definitions of transgender that would exclude him), but if I were to describe him as a ‘trans man’ that would not be the ‘correct’ usage – resources, information and organisations restricted to trans men would not include him, because ‘trans’ means something specific in this context. If he concludes that he’s not ‘trans’ but is transgender, genderqueer, transvestite or any number of other labels because of this, and therefore ‘trans*’ but not ‘trans’, I don’t think that decision would be difficult to understand.

The fact is that most transgender organisations and people writing about trans stuff (including me most of the time, frankly) don’t spend equal time talking about people who don’t have dysphoria, or don’t have anything to ‘transition to’, or whose gender changes too often for any one transition to make practical sense, or who transitioned medically but later officially ‘detransitioned’, or who did what they consider to be transition for them but are still usually seen as the gender they were assigned at birth, even in some trans and nonbinary spaces.

People using ‘trans’ don’t often talk about people who are transgender by way of gender expression not identity, or who don’t have a gender identity, or whose gender identity changes at different times. They don’t tend to cover people who feel that they are both cisgender and transgender in different ways, or who feel uncomfortable with gender but can’t see their experience reflected in any of the narratives, or if they do they use words other than ‘trans’ to describe this.

I believe that all those people fit my ideal inclusive definition of ‘trans’ and ‘transgender’, and I think that they should be able to feel comfortable using ‘trans’ for themselves if they wish. But I also know that for many of them, being in trans spaces is to expect and experience casual erasure and microaggressions, or even outright policing and hostility. And that no one has the right to insist that someone must be comfortable with a term they find problematic and unwelcoming.

Because of all this, ‘trans*’ was suggested as a way to explicitly include the genderqueer, gender variant, gender role nonconforming, crossdressing, fluid gender, agender etc people who didn’t feel ‘trans enough’ to know if they would be included otherwise. To say, “we know you’re usually pushed out of or erased by these sorts of things, but we’re trying to do better”. It’s meant to be a shorthand when space is limited, and it’s meant be backed up by actual inclusion in both words, policies and actions. But it exists as a quick and easy way to show those people who are used to being pushed out of trans spaces that yes, this is for you too.

And because it is a more comfortable and less pressured term for some people, there are now good numbers of people who feel more comfortable with ‘trans*’ than ‘trans’, or who still don’t consider themselves ‘trans’ but will use ‘trans*’, or who aren’t fully comfortable with any form of ‘trans’ but understand that ‘trans*’ is more welcoming to them. There are now even those who identify with ‘trans*’ itself as their primary label of self description.

I don’t believe that ‘trans*’ has done more to push people out of ‘trans’ than make people feel included. I believe that they were already feeling pretty strongly pushed and excluded before this. From what I’ve seen, it’s pulled in more people who previously only felt comfortable with descriptions like ‘transgender’, ‘not cisgender’, ‘genderqueer’ etc and allowed them to also use ‘trans’ or ‘trans*’ for themselves.

Who owns, and gets to criticise ‘trans*’?

While I do have problems with the way ‘trans*’ is constructed, and do find it unwieldy and somewhat inconvenient to use, I’m also very cautious about criticising something that is another person’s identity, or the only gesture that keeps some marginalised transgender people from disengaging from trans communities entirely.

I know that I shouldn’t really be criticising it, because ‘trans*’ isn’t really FOR me. It’s for people who have to defend themselves and their right to use ‘trans’ because other trans people outright tell them that they’re not allowed to. It’s for people who almost never see ‘trans’ used in a way that doesn’t casually erase their experience. And it’s for the people who are questioning whether they really qualify. And also for those who are certain that ‘trans’ definitely doesn’t include them, because they looked and already decided that it was talking about something different to their transgender, gender variant or gender role nonconforming experience. It’s for people who already discounted that ‘trans’ could include them and chose different words for self description, who have only come back to trans spaces at all since the asterisk has included them.

I also know that, even if I wanted to, I don’t get to say whether we should only say ‘trans’ or that people who use ‘trans*’ for themselves should choose a different word. And that’s because it’s not my word to criticise. As someone who’s confident that ‘trans’ and ‘trans person’ DO include me, it’s not me who would lose out if ‘trans*’ was taken away. Yes, I’m nonbinary, genderqueer and mostly agender and these are reasons that people are excluded, and reasons why I remember how crappy it is to be unsure, starting out and not feel welcomed or even understood by any groups or resources. But I now speak from the position of having a gender dysphoria diagnosis, validation from gender specialists and a clear transsexual medical history (albeit a nonstandard one).

If someone were to erase, ignore or dismiss my right to define as a trans person now (and it does certainly happen), I can laugh them out of the room. I know that I fit almost every part of the transition narrative except the binary gender that some people expect, and even then I can point those people to the DSM-5 and version 7 of the Standards of Care to show that ‘an other gender’ is now officially legitimised (even if many gender clinics are trying to avoid following those guidelines).

Do I think that fitting the narratives or having medical validation should be in any way relevant to who gets to count as ‘trans’? No, absolutely not, I would strongly reject that assertion. But I also can’t ignore the fact that this does nonetheless grant me a type of privilege, security or confidence that other types of transgender, gender variant and gender role nonconforming people might not have in many trans spaces.

It isn’t necessarily whether your gender fits the binary options that defines whether you’re secure enough in these spaces to not need more than just ‘trans’ to welcome you in (and, of course, I don’t just mean words or a symbol as ‘more’ here, I mean some actual inclusivity work to back that up and make sure they actually mean anything real), it’s whether you fit enough of the dominant transgender narrative. If you’re not one of the people who is used to being erased in the vast majority of ‘Trans 101′ primers, even the ones that include nonbinary identities in some way, then the asterisk probably isn’t meant for you.

Reasons for respectful, constructive criticism

All this said though, there is legitimate criticism of the way ‘trans*’ is misused, usually by people who don’t need the asterisk themselves. This isn’t to criticise the identities and experiences of anyone who uses ‘trans*’ for themselves, but to look at certain problematic ways that it’s used by or about others.

Since this current wave of criticism and controversy started, I’ve seen plenty of people who have previously used ‘trans*’ to describe others, make it clear from their comments that they had very little idea what the connotations of ‘trans*’ were actually meant to be. Most of them seem to have just assumed that it meant ‘transsexual and transgender’ (but not the all inclusive umbrella term form of transgender), some others thought it meant ‘binary and nonbinary’. This is worrying, but explains a lot of confusing misuse I’ve observed.

Since ‘trans*’ has spread and been adopted outside of the groups who coined and popularised it, I’ve seen way too many posts and discussions using ‘trans*’ in a way that excludes the people it was meant to be including (like the people who actually use the label) by, for example, talking in terms of transition or in terms of dysphoria or in terms of gender identity, using words that imply that these are universal experiences for all ‘trans* people’.

If we put an asterisk on the end of ‘trans’ and don’t change anything else, this could genuinely be worse than nothing. It really is ‘inclusion theatre’ as Reed suggests, no better than people who use ‘LGBT’ interchangeably with ‘gay’.

That trend honestly makes me wonder if we do need another word that makes the intentions of wide inclusion and not needing to fit the narratives as clear as possible, one that people can’t misconstrue. But then it also makes me wonder if there’s a general trend by which any word or umbrella term coined by marginalised people to include a wide disparate group who don’t fit the dominant narrative (e.g. ‘transgender’, ‘genderqueer’, ‘trans*’ etc) will ultimately end up being associated with the most visible group of people within that umbrella. Either way, we definitely do need more primers, resources and articles like this one that make it harder to misunderstand the intentions and connotations of the asterisk.

It’s also important to consider the types of exclusion that ‘trans*’ doesn’t address. There is no shortage of examples of events that advertised trans* inclusivity but in practice excluded some segment of the trans* umbrella. Intersectional oppressions are often at work here, be it the privileging of masculinity or androgyny, transmisogynistic exclusion of trans women or of people based on the gender they were assigned at birth. There’s also the intersectional oppressions that can affect people regardless of how they are trans*, be it the privileging of certain ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds, or the lack of effort taken to accommodate the access needs of all abilities and disabilities.

So what now?

The situation with ‘trans*’ isn’t perfect, and I’ve seen a lot of criticism from people on all sides of this discussion, including some marginalised people who don’t use ‘trans*’ and do feel that they have to resist the pressure caused by the existence, and potential policing, of there being two variations on ‘trans’.

And yes, maybe I’d prefer a better word, but it isn’t really my word to critique, it’s not me who needs it. ‘Trans*’ isn’t there for people who fit the narratives and feel comfortable owning ‘trans person’, it’s for all those whose experience of gender differs not just from societal norms but also from perceived trans community norms, who wouldn’t have shown up at an event or used a service otherwise, unless there was something to say that yes, this really is for you too.

Wherever you fall in this debate, whether you want to use ‘trans*’ or not, I’d suggest that the way to make a real difference is to actually demonstrate inclusivity, in your words, in your descriptions and in your actions. Don’t just use ‘trans’ or ‘trans*’ thoughtlessly, but actually consider who it is that needs transgender resources, events and services but doesn’t feel ‘trans enough’ to use them, or who experiences discomfort, erasure, policing or even outright hostility when they try to get involved. Think about what you can do to actually include everyone under the wider transgender, gender variant and gender role nonconforming umbrellas, and how to demonstrate this clearly to make them all feel welcome and included.

Lesbilicious writer asks how ‘helpful’ nonbinary gender is

Posted by – September 21, 2013

Lesbilicious logoIn the September issue of DIVA, the “lifestyle magazine for lesbian and bi women in the UK”, Meg Barker wrote a feature article ‘Gender beyond the binary’ (featured on the cover as ‘Queering Gender’) exploring nonbinary gender identities.

In response to this article, Hattie Lucas wrote an article for Lesbilicious “the web’s tastiest lesbian magazine” asking ‘Non-binary gender identities: how helpful are they for challenging gender rules?’

The Lesbilicious article discusses how nonbinary identities “have become ridiculous and provide fruit ripe for satire”, goes on to ridicule the “laughable” idea of asking for preferred pronouns and to generally conclude that having a nonbinary gender is impractical. Ultimately it focuses on how helpful adopting nonbinary identities can be for challenging the rules and roles around gender, and concludes that we’re as unlikely to cause a shift in public conscious as the Monster raving loony party.

Having been unable to access more than the first few paragraphs of the original DIVA article, I felt sure that it must have somehow misrepresented all nonbinary people as personal-as-political protestors choosing to adopt our identities as a challenge to society’s rigid gender roles. So I paid for and downloaded the September issue and read it for myself.

It turns out that Meg Barker’s article quite clearly and sensitively explains that those of us with nonbinary identities are people who don’t fit into the gender binary, a small but significant minority of trans* and/or intersex people who are unable to feel comfortable with living as either their assigned gender or the other binary alternative. The article discusses several ways that we, as a diverse group, have found language that authentically expresses our genders (or lack of gender) and pronouns that respect them. Talks about the difficulties of doing this and how gender clinics are gradually recognising the validity of our experiences and helping those of us who need it to access treatment for our gender dysphoria.

It does early on, while listing the meanings of various labels say that “Some […] explicitly want to challenge the binary (genderqueer or genderfuck)”, which I think is unfortunately ambiguous wording that should have made it clearer that it’s only some of the people using those labels who might want to do that, and that both are usually also from a position of self-expression. It might also have explained that someone engaging in genderfuck is usually presenting an intentionally challenging mixture of different gender cues that attempts to break the gender perceptions of others, not actually (usually) an identity in itself. But this was a detailed article limited to two pages of the magazine and so had to edit out at least some of the specifics.

It also concludes by mentioning that our existence can teach everyone that “gender is more complex than box M or box F” and that “humans are more creative than the boxes we’d like to give ourselves”, which may be some of the source of confusion due to its general message. But to take these two lines within an article that repeatedly talks about things like “being true to your experience” and “an authentic sense of self outside of the gender binary”, and then assume that all nonbinary gender is some kind of practical strategy for “challenging gender rules”, seems like an impressive failure to empathise with the personal stories within.

As most of the commenters on that article have said, most nonbinary people disclose, ask for their preferred pronouns and/or transition in order to authentically express who we are, or in many cases to resolve gender dysphoria that can be as significant as any binary trans* person’s.

Yes, many people who disclose or present their nonbinary status do so in order to challenge gender rules and conceptions that don’t include them, but this isn’t usually the primary motivation.

I can speak from my personal experience as an androgynously presenting gender neutral person and say that I most definitely didn’t transition with hormone treatments and surgery, or disclose my identity and preferred pronouns in order to educate people or break rules. I did it to be able to be comfortable in my skin and not feel like a fraud around others. This is who I am, not some kind of intentionally political statement, even if being myself in the world does sometimes have this kind of effect.

Yes, I would like to expand society’s understanding of gender and tolerance of gender variance, in so far as I’d like to be able to go through life without being misgendered or assaulted, without ‘respectful’ language hurting me, and without irrelevant details of my birth assignment and genital configuration being exposed by documentation. I realise that in today’s society this is often impractical and open to ridicule, but it is the reality of my existence.

I didn’t get to choose whether or not to have gender dysphoria and what type of transition, gender expression and language resolved it. I was able to choose a label and a description that helped me find comfort, helped people to understand me, and helped me to find others who felt the same way. I think that’s the measure by which our labels, gender expressions and pronouns should be judged, as that is their actual purpose, even if they have the side effect of also expanding some people’s conceptions of gender.

I hope Hattie Lucas will think again about nonbinary gender, and re-read Meg Barker’s excellent DIVA article, this time without the apparent assumption that the people described experience gender in the same way that she does.

A call for questions about gender beyond the binary

Posted by – May 4, 2013

After a successful project where a panel of trans people answered 21 questions, CN Lester is again asking for questions about trans* issues, this time focusing on the experiences of people with genders beyond the binary.

A new panel has been formed, and I’m pleased to be among the people who’ll be answering your questions after the 8th of May.

Do you have questions about genderqueer, androgyny, nonbinary and gender variant etc issues you’ve been embarrassed to ask? It doesn’t matter whether you think they’re extremely basic questions that should be obvious or if you’re worried they’ll upset us, please ask. Think of this as like an amnesty for questions you haven’t been sure about asking but genuinely don’t understand.

Once we’ve answered the questions, this will form a 101 resource for helping people to understand genders that can’t be explained with just ‘man’ or ‘woman’, so the most questions we have, the better we’ll be able to help.

Please go here and add your questions by Wednesday the 8th of May

Update: The master post of all 24 Beyond The Binary panel questions is here. Thanks to everyone who posed us questions, and to CN for doing such a brilliant job bringing it all together!

Nonbinary gender information and practical resources wiki

Posted by – January 27, 2013

nonbinary.orgYou may have noticed that this site has been conspicuously low on updates in recent months, and for this I apologise. I’m hoping that this will change in the near future, but in the meantime I wanted to draw your attention to a related project that I sent up last year.

Nonbinary.org has aspirations to create a nonbinary gender visibility, education and advocacy network, arguing for equal access to employment, services and medical treatment for those who don’t fit the gender binary. In its current state it’s a wiki open for anyone to edit, collecting information about all types of nonbinary gender identity and expression, including the kinds of practical resources that Practical Androgyny aims to provide.

Rather than focusing on androgyny or any other single presentation or identity alone, Nonbinary.org hopes to unite all gender variant and nonconforming people whose experience falls outside the binary. Rather than relying on the health, energy, attention and ability of one person, the wiki structure allows anyone to edit or add to the information and resources collected on the site.

Several people have already got involved. As well as articles by myself covering concepts such as the history and usage of the term genderqueer and agender identity, numerous people have contributed to the section on the recognition of nonbinary identities in the UK started by Lottiotta and there are lengthy articles on subjects such as nonbinary transition and UK NHS healthcare by MxZirself.

There’s a lot more work to do and numerous gaps in our coverage, and so new users are welcome and encouraged. If you’re able to provide resources and information relevant to your gender identity or expression, or to your region or country, do please consider getting involved!

WAM!-It-Yourself: Improving Media Coverage Beyond The Binary

Posted by – April 3, 2012

WAM!-It-YourselfOn Sunday March the 25th I took part in a radio-style talk show looking at how the media covers nonbinary and nonconforming gender and what we can do to make that coverage better.

Hosted by Avory Faucette of QueerFeminism.com and Radically Queer as part of Women Action Media‘s WAM!-It-Yourself events, the show featured guests with expertise in gender-neutral parenting, nonbinary identities, and media coverage of transgender issues. The discussion looked closely at some misunderstandings the media makes and how we can take action to educate and improve coverage.

As well as myself, guest included Arwyn Daemyir, creator of Raising My Boychick; Gunner Scott, Director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and Marilyn Roxie, creator of Genderqueer Identities and intern at the Center for Sex & Culture.

During the discussion we considered topics including major media coverage of gender-neutral parenting and education in 2011, the media’s refusal to take supermodel Andrej Pejic’s stated identity seriously, and what articles on genderqueer and other identities get right and wrong. We also explored the best way to cover less familiar gender identities, how journalists can describe gender in a way that is less harmful to nonbinary or questioning individuals, and how blogs and social media are changing the conversation.

As well as speaking as an androgynously presenting nonbinary person, I also added a UK perspective and raised the differences between North American and British media coverage and activism.

Listen to the entire show as a streamed recording. My contribution begins at around 45 minutes but I’d recommend listening from the beginning. A transcript will be available within the next few weeks.

Resources mentioned

Trans Camp video responses

Posted by – January 12, 2012

The UK trans* activist organisation Trans Media Action is running Trans Camp on January 13th at the offices of Channel 4.

Trans Camp will bring together trans* people, developers, designers and innovators to come up with ideas to improve the lives of trans* people using web technologies and the media.

In order to make sure the widest range of experiences are covered, they asked for one minute video responses from trans* people around the UK explaining their experiences of childhood, media, comedy and family. (At the time of writing, you still have a day to upload videos of your own).

The following are my responses to the four questions Trans Media Action posed for Trans Camp:

CHILDHOOD: For those of you who knew, what was it like growing up as a trans child?

I didn’t know, but I chose to talk about how I was still a trans* child:


TransCamp. Childhood: Nat in Nottingham

Transcript

I didn’t know I was a trans* child but I was still trans*.

I was lucky enough to have a pretty gender neutral upbringing. No one in my family really cared about gender roles and there was very little gender segregation at my primary school, so I managed to just be myself, be friends with who I wanted and was happily oblivious to just how much of a problem gender was going to become for me.

I didn’t realise I was trans* until my late teens, but I knew I was different from about age 12.

Other kids at secondary school made a really big deal about gender and I was immediately singled out for being a bit weird and not performing my assigned gender in the way that peer pressure demanded.

This had a particularly negative effect on me because I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with my body as puberty began.

For most of my teens I was an unhappy kid who desperately wanted to fit in and be normal, but everything I did to try to conform just made me feel even worse about myself.

I desperately needed to be told what transgender was, how it could be a positive thing and how it could be me.

Notes

I often wonder if things would’ve gone differently had I realised that I could do something about it when I had the revelation aged 17 that I was supposed to be androgynous, and if I’d have had that revelation any earlier if this sort of thing were talked about as normal in schools or on TV.

As it was, it took until I was 19 to realise that I was so unhappy with my body that I ‘must be transsexual’ and another two years after transition to stop struggling to live with another gender role that made me just as uncomfortable as the first.

MEDIA: How does media coverage of trans people affect you?

I chose to talk about nonbinary erasure and misrepresentation:


TransCamp. Media: Nat in Nottingham

Transcript

I’m nonbinary, that means I live as something other than a woman or a man. It also means I have next to no representation in the media.

Even in documentaries featuring trans* people with genderqueer or gender binary challenging identities or histories, like some of the participants in My Transsexual Summer, these are simplified, glossed over or completely edited out in fear of ‘confusing’ the general public.

If my life experiences are ever touched upon, they’re simplified to the point of misrepresentation. If I’m to be hinted at, it’s in the suggestion that some people are ‘in between’.

My gender and my body are not ‘between’ anything. My gender is not a balancing act. I’m not in the middle ground, I haven’t gone halfway and stopped. I am not half a woman and half a man, I’m not following two sets of sexist stereotypes. I do not ‘pick and choose’ about gender. And I’m not ‘on the fence’. And I’ve definitely not ‘de-transitioned’.

I’m a trans* person, I’m doing what I need to do to be true to myself.

Notes

Of course not all nonbinary people object to being described as ‘in between'; that’s an accurate description of some people’s gender identities. But there are many more people besides me whose experiences of being agender, bigender, fluid gender, genderqueer etc are erased by that simplification.

In my case, I experienced gender dysphoria and I did what it was necessary to do to become comfortable with my body. Doing so didn’t fix my social dysphoria though. I tried to be a ‘classic transsexual’, I tried to pretend to be a gender I didn’t truly feel I was. But I found ‘passing’ made me just as socially dysphoric as my assigned gender role had done.

It turned out that transition just wasn’t the perfect ‘package deal’ I’d been sold in the brochure, I had to go off the beaten track to find my own way to authentically express myself to the world.

It would be nice to see this represented in the media at all, especially on TV shows where some of the participants have similar feelings.

(And no, ‘androgyny’ and ‘androgyne’ don’t have to mean ‘in between’; the dictionary definition boils down to ‘having both male and female traits’, and anyway that’s my appearance not my gender).

COMEDY: How do comedy portrayals of trans people affect you?

I talk about how comedy tends to only give problematic representations of a small subset of trans* experiences, and how it could be better:


TransCamp. Comedy: Nat in Nottingham

Transcript

When I tell people I’m trans*, comedy stereotypes often spring to their minds, but they almost always have the wrong idea. There aren’t many television comedy portrayals of androgynous or nonbinary people. Only the early 90s androgynous Saturday Night Live character ‘Pat’ springs to mind.

There are also almost no trans* men in TV comedy, and trans* women are either laughed at for not being able to ‘pass’ – like the deep voiced and hairy chested Barbara from League of Gentlemen – or shown as attractive, feminine and desirable, but with the punchline that they are ‘really a man’.

Comedy shouldn’t make fun of things people can’t help, but it could focus on the things they do. Trans* experiences are often funny. Barbara could’ve been brilliant satire if she was just a woman who over-shared about her transition.

Better still, comedy could focus on the often amusing ways that others react to trans* people – at their best the Pat skits drew their humour from the ridiculous lengths that polite people went to when unable to gender someone, of course, they never asked! – And this invited the audience to think twice about the nature of gender – something I’d like to see more!

Notes

I didn’t have time to mention the standup comedy of Andrew O’Neill whose material about being treated as androgynous while crossdressing has me grinning and nodding in recognition. But, as I hadn’t seen that in the media but in person, it didn’t make the cut down to one minute.

I don’t mean to imply that the SNL Pat sketches were perfect, only what they managed to do when they’re at their best. The Pat character is hardly a positive representation (although it’s nice to see the trope of androgynous people as highly sexual and desirable completely avoided!) and the movie spinoff It’s Pat is frankly terrible.

Is Pat really a trans* character? We’ve no way to know for sure as the character’s identity is ambiguous. In fact ambiguity is rather the point. However the character clearly transgress gender roles and transcends other people’s attempts to gender them, so that counts as trans* to me.

FAMILY: How have you experienced support, or lack of, from family and friends?

I talk about having a supportive family despite there being very few success stories to point to in the media when I first came out:


TransCamp. Family: Nat in Nottingham

Transcript

My family are accepting and supportive of me, they’ve never shown any disapproval of anything I’ve needed to do to be happy and true to myself. They’ve never had a problem with using my name and pronouns of preference. In fact my parents have become adept at gender neutral language, I often find myself being introduced to their friends with ‘this is my eldest, Nat’.

I know I’m very lucky in this respect, but I also know it’s clear to them and anyone else that my ‘transition’ was undoubtedly right for me, and I’m happier, confident and more successful having resolved my gender dysphoria.

That wasn’t always the case though. When I first came out as trans* in the late 90s, my parents had to make a ‘leap of faith’. All they ever wanted was for me to be happy and loved, but unlike if I’d come out as gay, there were no obvious ‘trans* success stories’ in the media, no trans* news readers or TV presenters, no trans* politicians. I couldn’t hand them a newspaper list of Influential Trans* People or pick up a trans*-focused magazine equivalent to Diva or Gay Times.

My parents were essentially ignorant to the trans* experience and so I had to become my own positive example.

Notes

I didn’t have time during the video to make it clear that I was coming out as a classic binary transsexual the first time around, when my family were most concerned and most in need of positive role models and representation to reassure them.

When I came out as being neither binary gender and living androgynously they’d had two years of seeing that I was clearly happier with myself and able to be loved and liked by others, so they were a lot less concerned and trusted me to know myself and what was right for me.

View all the Trans Camp video responses as a YouTube playlist


* The asterisk at the end of ‘trans*’ denotes that this is the wider inclusive form of trans that includes all transgender, transsexual, nonbinary, genderqueer, gender variant and gender nonconforming people regardless of gender identity or expression.