ON GENDER: An interview with a Trans person

Written on June 7th, 2021Pure Integrative Pharmacy interviewed Kade, our online store coordinator who is genderqueer and has openly identified as non-binary.

Kade kayaking

Our conversation below covers advocating for queer, trans, and nonbinary people, comparing gender and biology, supporting someone that is trying to come out as genderqueer and how to look after your queer acquaintances — here are the highlights.

Pure Pharmacy: In your opinion, what is gender and how it applies to you?

KY: Gender is a social concept. That doesn't mean it isn't important, far from it, and people don't have to change anything about themselves if they don't want to: it means simply that gender is based on things other than physical observable reality.

A question I like to pose is "name one characteristic that every single woman has, and another shared by every single man". People are complicated: literally every trait you can think of, there will be at least one person who doesn't have it, or someone from the other group who does, even before you take trans people into account. There are countless women who like sports, or cars, or bodybuilding, are violent and loud and tall; countless men that are short, gentle, like ballet and dolls and reading.

People will fall back onto biological traits, like "women have uteruses, men grow beards", etcetera. Well, if your coworker gets uterine cancer and undergoes a hysterectomy, do you start calling her a man? If your aunt was born without a uterus, but didn't find out until puberty because she "looked like a normal girl", is she still a woman? If your brother can't get more than two chin hairs despite his best efforts, is he a girl? The short person with long hair in the grocery store, if you say ma'am and he says "actually I'm a guy", do you apologize and move on? If he moves his shopping cart over so you can get by, does it matter what he has in his pants?

Gender and biology are different things. So, how do we define these categories? What do we do with the people who don't fit in?

Pure Pharmacy: Can you elaborate?

KY: Of course! Functionally, "gender" as we know it isn't two boxes labeled "male" and "female": gender is a collection of culturally-defined expected characteristics clumped into two loose piles. When people are born, they're assigned to one or the other pile of expectations. The majority of people grow up, look around, and go "sure, I can live here": they might wander a bit, pick up a characteristic or five from the other pile or from the scattered characteristics in the middle that don't really belong on either side, but they always have a home pile to go back to. We call those people cisgender, what's considered culturally "normal": people who are assigned "male" or "female" at birth, who grow up and agree that they're in the right place.

Transgender people end up in a pile that doesn't work for them. We'll look around as we get older and think "wait, this makes no sense. Why am I here? Why am I doing these things? I would be so much happier living somewhere else". Most trans people end up moving ("Transitioning") at some point, going to the other pile or making their own pile somewhere between or aside. Sometimes transition includes surgery or hormones, to help people bring the version of themselves in their head into reality; sometimes people don't need or want medical changes, and are happy transitioning with just changes to names, pronouns, clothing, etcetera.

Gender is complicated, but the way we treat people doesn't have to be. Put ten people in a room, any ten people, and they'll all have vastly different experiences with gender, sexuality, interests, and they'll all have ways that they don't fit in to how society says their gender should be. It just comes down to respecting people for who they are, and if they say they're different than you expected, adjust accordingly and move on.

Pure Pharmacy: What pronouns do you use?

KY: They/them, thanks for asking!

Pure Pharmacy: What is non-binary? Is non-binary the same as transgender?

KY: "Nonbinary" is exactly how it sounds: not following or belonging to a binary. If you look at "male" and "female" as a two-option binary, nonbinary is an umbrella term encompassing any gender that is not exclusively man or woman. Nonbinary people can identify as "somewhere inbetween man and woman", "somewhere far away from either", "mostly one but still a fair bit of the other", "yes to both and let's turn that up to eleven", "switching between man and woman", and many more besides.

Nonbinary and transgender are a venn diagram with a pretty big overlap between the two circles: there are nonbinary people who don't identify themselves as trans, and a fair number of trans people who are binary women or men, but there are also a lot of trans nonbinary people, myself included.

Pure Pharmacy: Have you always educated people around you about gender identity, or is it something you’ve had to work up to over time?

KY: Eh, I like talking. If someone asks a question, I like being able to answer it, and if I don't know the answer, I research the subject so I can answer it the next time it comes up.

Pure Pharmacy: What do you expect from people who are cisgender and what they should do to step up as an ally to non-binary people?

I hope you'll do about the same that you'd do for anyone else: respect us as individuals, not ask invasive personal questions, and use the names and pronouns that we give you, even if they're not what you expected from our appearances.

In addition, trans and nonbinary people have faced a lot of opposition by people wanting to maintain the status quo: I hope you'll understand and remember that we're just people, trying to live our lives like anyone else. Black and indigenous people in particular, trans, nonbinary, queer and otherwise, face a thousand times the opposition and prejudice that white people do, due to centuries of systemic and institutionalized racism: listen to people when they tell their stories, and respect that they know what works best for them.

Intersectionality is extremely important: people's lives are extremely interconnected, and each variable brushes up against everything else. Let us live our lives as ourselves, and stand up for us if people try to tell us who we're not allowed to be.

Pure Pharmacy: What do we do if someone who is queer wants to come out within the context of any other group we part of?

KY: It's going to depend a bit on your relationship with the person, but you can't really go wrong with "listen to what they say, believe that they know what they're talking about, react positively, and move on". If you don't know much about the person's identity, don't ask them to explain themselves, ask if they can recommend any resources for doing your own research: we get tired of explaining what our identities are to everyone, but are usually quite happy to have people show interest in understanding us.

Pure Pharmacy: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for someone that is trying to come out as trans or genderqueer?

KY: A couple things! The main thing is do what makes you happy: don't feel like you have to conform to what any gender is "supposed" to look like, binary or otherwise. Remember there are always more than two options for anything, and don't trust anyone who says they have The Answer to how the world works. That being said, the world is also a terrible place sometimes: when you're coming out to people close to you, that you rely on or live with, make sure you have a contingency plan, even though you hope you won't need it. Make sure you have a support group, make sure you have a safe place to sleep and a source of food if things go badly, and see if you can test the waters on how people feel about queer and trans issues before coming out.

That being said, the world is also wonderful! There are so many people and places who will accept you for who you really are, where no-one will batt an eye, where you can explore and discover and experiment with who you are and how you want the world to see you safely, and millions of people who are working to spread that safety everywhere. Even if you have to pretend to be someone you're not in your daily life, it's still worth it to come out to yourself, and anyone you can trust. It gets better, I promise.

Pure Pharmacy: Is there anything else you want to share with us?

KY: Wow, apparently I have a lot to say about this! Thanks for sticking with me. I guess I'll just say, remember what pride is about: it's not just love, it's acknowledging and celebrating people who are different, and fighting for those who have a hard time gaining acceptance in their everyday lives. Give people space to be themselves, even if you don't understand what that's like, and join us in celebrating the amazing breadth of human diversity.

Pure Pharmacy: Thank you Kade, we appreciate your time and consideration!