I, Chanda, Agender
Thanks to a hateful Sunday New York Times piece, I found myself thinking repeatedly today about a question I was asked earlier this week by a genderfluid person who is junior to me in my field. “What was it like when you came out?”
The person had seen on my Twitter profile that I listed myself as agender and as a cissexed female and reached out to me because they had been thinking about coming out. Let me start by saying that I’m really glad that person reached out to me, and I hope they feel the same. I am grateful to the many people who have placed their confidence in my ability to provide support to them, to be an ally.
But I realized as a result of that conversation that I hadn’t really come out besides occasionally mentioning it in conversation and posting it to my Twitter profile. I didn’t think it was a big deal though. While I don’t identify with a gender — am agender — I am also cissexed: I do feel comfortable with the body I was born in and can live with a femme-leaning appearance.
This comes with a lot of ease in life that is not accessible to people who are not cissexed: people who are trans, non-binary sex conforming, and people who are more visibly genderqueer. It is easier for me to access my basic human rights on the basis of how people perceive my gender and sex and how they seem to align according to society’s standards than it is for others. I can access needed health care much more readily than a trans woman or a trans man. I can choose not to come out and most people will never know the difference, never ask me invasive questions about my gender identity.
Today the New York Times Op-Ed board did something grotesque: they published a deeply transmisogynistic piece that I won’t link to, “What Makes A Woman?” by Elinor Burkett. In it, Burkett argues that trans women don’t understand the struggle because they’ve had male privilege their entire lives. As a friend said, the op-ed is a “trans-hating shit storm of awful retrograde fuckery.”
With this, I realized I cannot stay silent. I am agender. I am gender binary non-conforming. While I have a cissex female body, in my head I don’t see myself as being more woman than man or anything in between. I just am. And for my entire life, I have hated feeling like I had to identify with one or the other. I am happy that my husband accepts and supports me as myself and his sense of manhood is not at all threatened by my sense of genderlessness. I want it to be this easy for everyone.
For trans people — and likely other agenders, genderfluid people, and genderqueer people — the consequences of feeling forced into the wrong part of a binary can be severe. A trans friend told me recently that all of the trans women they knew of who had died had died either through suicide or murder. The white trans women committed suicide and the trans women of color were murdered. No one died of natural causes.
So, tell me Elinor Burkett, about how trans women don’t understand suffering. Tell me that waking up every day wondering if you’ll die of unnatural causes is not suffering. Tell me that waking up every day wondering if you’ll be brutalized or murdered isn’t suffering. Tell me that being afraid to attend a professional conference because of potential misgendering, violence in the bathroom or invasive personal questions is so much easier than living your life as a person who is comfortably accepted from birth into the tent of womanhood.
Elinor Burkett, you are worse than a person who is on the wrong side of history. You are the kind of person who helps drive beautiful children to commit suicide, the kind of person that helps narrow-minded families crush the souls of people they supposedly love. You are the kind of person who doesn’t care that trans people face disproportionate rates of suicide, medical mistreatment, interpersonal violence and discrimination. You are a preacher of hate.
You are the kind of person that we will march past on the road to a more loving, more just world without borders.
As a member of the non-cisgender community, I stand in solidarity with my trans sisters and brothers and anyone else who doesn’t fit the cissex/cisgender binary. You deserve better. ❤
If you are not feeling OK today or are having thoughts about suicide, there is help for trans people in need and their allies:
Trans Lifeline: (877) 565–8860 in the US, (877) 330–6366 in Canada, http://translifeline.org Trevor LGBT Lifeline: (866) 488–7386 National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273–8255
Outside the US and Canada there are resources here: http://togetherweare-strong.tumblr.com/helpline
— — How to Help a Suicidal Person Who Needs Hospitalization — —
(I, Chanda, did not write this part. This is taken from http://www.suicide.org/how-to-help-a-suicidal-person.html )
* Always take suicidal comments very seriously. When a person says that he or she is thinking about suicide, you must always take the comments seriously. Assuming that the person is only seeking attention is a very serious, and potentially disastrous, error. Get help immediately.
* Follow the information that is on the home page of Suicide.org. Feel free to view the home page of this site and to use it to help you. Dealing with a person who is suicidal is not easy, so following what is on the home page of Suicide.org can help you. And always remember that you need to call 911 or your local emergency number immediately for anyone who is at a high risk for suicide. Do not hesitate.
* Try not to act shocked. The person is already highly distressed, and if you are shocked by what is said, the person will become more distressed.
* Stay calm, and talk with him or her in a matter-of-fact manner, but get help immediately. If the person is at a high risk for suicide, call 911 immediately.
* Get help immediately. Call 911, 1–800-SUICIDE, or 1–800–273-TALK. This point cannot be overemphasized; a person who is suicidal needs immediate professional help.
* Do not handle the situation by yourself. A suicidal person needs immediate assistance from qualified mental health professionals. Again, call 911, 1–800-SUICIDE, or 1–800–273-TALK. And do not allow untrained individuals to act as the only counselors to the individual.
— — While you are waiting for help to arrive (or if there is no emergency) — -
* Listen attentively to everything that the person has to say. Let the person talk as much as he or she wants to. Listen closely so that you can be as supportive as possible, and learn as much as possible about what is causing the suicidal feelings.
* Comfort the person with words of encouragement. Use common sense to offer words of support. Remember that intense emotional pain can be overwhelming, so be as gentle and caring as possible. There is no script to use in situations like these, because each person and each situation is different. Listen carefully, and offer encouraging words when appropriate.
* Let the person know that you are deeply concerned. Tell the person that you are concerned, and show them that you are concerned. A suicidal person is highly vulnerable and needs to feel that concern.
* If the person is at a high risk of suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Do not leave a critically suicidal person alone for even a second. Only after you get professional help for the person can you consider leaving him or her.
* Talk openly about suicide.
* Ask the person, “Are you feeling so bad that you are thinking about suicide?” * If the answer is yes, ask, “Have you thought about how you would do it?” * If the answer is yes, ask, “Do you have what you need to do it?” * If the answer is yes, ask, “Have you thought about when you would do it?”
Here are those four important questions in abbreviated form: * Suicidal? * Method? * Have what you need? * When?
* You need to know as much as possible about what is going on in the person’s mind. The more planning that someone has put into a suicide, the greater the risk. If the person has a method and a time in mind, the risk is extremely high and you cannot hesitate to call 911 and ensure that professional treatment is given.
* If the person talks about using a firearm that he or she owns for suicide, call the police so they may remove the firearm(s). Firearms are used in the majority of suicides, and those who use a firearm usually do not survive. It is thus an emergency that needs to be handled by the police immediately.
* Don’t be judgmental. Do not invalidate anything that the person says or feels. The person is probably suffering from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and thus could not possibly think clearly. Be supportive and caring, not judgmental, but get help immediately.
* Be careful of the statements that you make. You do not want to make the person feel any worse than he or she already does. Again, the person is probably suffering from a chemical imbalance in the brain and is thus extremely sensitive.
* Listen, listen, listen. Be gentle, kind, and understanding. Again, allow the person to talk as much as he or she wants. Always listen very attentively, and encourage him or her to talk more. Be as gentle, kind, and understanding as possible.
* Let the person express emotion in the way that he or she wants. Allow the person to cry, yell, swear and do what is necessary to release the emotion. However, do not allow the person to become violent or harm himself or herself.
* Again, use the home page of Suicide.org to help the person. Make a copy of it and give it to him or her. This will not only help the person now, but also in the future when he or she needs help. You can also make copies of any of the pages of the Suicide.org site that you think will help the person, and give them to him or her. (There is no charge for distributing copies of pages of this site in print media, not on the Internet, for noncommercial, nonprofit use.)
* After the person has received help and is no longer critically suicidal, help the person make an appointment with a medical doctor and a therapist. If the person has not yet seen a medical doctor or a therapist, help him or her make the appointments. Suicidal feelings need to be dealt with on a professional level. Only trained professions should assume the care for the person. This is very important. Do not try to help the person by yourself. Make sure that the person is seen by a medical doctor and a therapist.
* Before you leave the person, make sure that he or she has received professional help from qualified mental health professionals or that the risk of suicide has dissipated. You cannot leave the person until the risk of suicide is gone or he or she is in treatment. A person who is suicidal is at risk of suicide at any juncture. Ensure that all appropriate actions are taken to help the person before you leave.
* When in doubt about what to do, call 911 immediately. Be safe. A suicidal person needs professional help. Period. If you are not sure what to do, it is certainly better to err on the side of caution and get professional assistance immediately. Again, if you are not sure what to do, call 911.
* If someone tells you that you need to keep his or her suicidal intentions a secret, then you never can keep that “secret.” Under no circumstances can you keep a “secret” that could cause someone’s death. You are not violating a privileged communication; you are taking the steps necessary to prevent a suicide. That is an expression of love, caring, and deep concern, and is the only ethical choice in a situation as serious as this.
* Follow up with the person on a regular basis to make sure that he or she is doing okay. Suicidal feelings can come and go, so follow up to see how the person is. It is very important to show continued support. If the person becomes suicidal again, take immediate action to help him or her.