An Observation on Character Design

In the comic book universe I created in high school, all of the protagonists (except one enby guest character) are female. Even the male character explicitly added as an author avatar eventually became a female (and changed roles).

On the other tentacle, all the antagonists are male dominated organizations.

Words and Names

Of all the letters in the LGBT… acronym, of all the labels pushed together in our movement, I identify with queer the most. I like it because it’s so non-specific and flows better off the tounge than all the letters. It also has the advantage that it’s been taken back. Perhaps it is unfair that I use it when others might still be hurt by the term. In my circle, another word was and is the preferred slur, and so I’m not so personally stung by it. I haven’t the courage to attempt to redeem that one, and when I see others doing so it hurts somewhat, so perhaps it’s a bad choice.

But mostly I love the entymology. Literally, queer just means strange. I’m strange. I’ve known this for longer than I understood anything about gender or sexuality. I publicly identfied as weird for years, never, until recently, making the connection to queer. My social media bios describe me as atypical, which really just means strange and fond of big words. There’s a sign on my door that says Curiouser and Curiouser, as if it were a lawfirm or haberdashery or some such, but is really just an Alice reference that, once again, just means strange.

When I was born, I was given three names. All of which came, one way or another from my father. I never much had a problem with my name, rare enough to be interesting, not so weird as to cause me much trouble. But, as generally happens, I was given a few more: shortenings, elongations, pronunciations altered by another language and the facinating, haphazard, process that is childhood language aquisition. I added a few more of my own devising, finally settling on one that was globally unique (if a little lengthy) which can be a very handy thing in a digital age.

But then there are others. Ones I picked up here and there that I didn’t use. Couldn’t use. Girl names. The list is fairly long. By mixing and matching, the number of combination could be quite large, but most of them are already paired up in ways that I like. Eventually I settled on two. Which I got from my mother (and she from hers). She didn’t exactly give them to me, she was saving them for a girl. A girl that never was. My sister is quite glad she didn’t get them, and none of my other siblings have any fondness for them either. But I loved them and so I held onto them.

And so, when I finally came out, as I sifted through the names I’d aquired over the years, looking for something that fit better: two names rose to the top. Names that had never been selected for this use. But I loved them more, they sounded better, they had history, they were selected by the previous generation, they had connections.

But perhaps I’ve chosen wrong. Since then, those connections have, on more than one occasion, been weaponized against me. These names have been used to attempt to shame me for standing up. For being out. For being proud. So perhaps I’ve chosen wrong … the rest of the list is still there … if I need it …

But the children…

Since I’ve come out, a couple of people I once considered good freinds have expressed concerns about the effect my transition will have on thier children. Well, I’m hoping it does have an effect.

I’m hoping that with effort, outreach, representation, and compassion, the next generation will treat trans and other marginalized groups better than my and previous generations have done so. And if you intend to actively work against that, that’s indefensible.

Trans 101: Biology and Assumptions

Biology

Let’s start with  biology. In the sexual system of reproduction utilized by Humans (and many other species), there are basically two sexual traits: the ability to get pregnant, and the ability to impregnate. However, unlike conventional wisdom, this leads to four sexes, not two. The simple binary combinations are:

  • female: those that can get pregnant.
  • male: those that can impregnate.
  • hermaphrodite: those that can both get pregnant and impregnate.
  • neuter: those that can do neither.

To the best of my knowledge (please correct me if I’m mistaken), hermaphrodites are impossible in humans. This still leaves three “biological sexes,” one of which is consistently ignored (neuter) in western cultures. This selection of only two types is the binary.

Assumption: Genitalia = Sex

However, unless one has born children or had their reproductive system medically examined, it is unknown what one’s sex is. Therefore, an assumption in made based on the appearance of one’s external genitalia. Assigned to one of two types (vulva and penis) and ignoring inconvenient middle cases (ambiguous external genitalia), an assumption is made regarding reproductive abilities.

Or rather, potential reproductive abilities; this assignment is made at birth, and humans are not generally fertile at birth.

Assumption: Gender = Genitalia

In western society (due to nudity taboos), most people’s genitalia are not publicly visible. One has no concrete evidence as to what sort of “parts” most other people have. Furthermore, even if one has seen (or otherwise perceived) them, one only knows how they were at that time, not how they are now, or were previously.

So, in general, one makes an assumption about other’s genitalia based on social cues and sensory perceptions of what is readily observable. This is gender. Based on a host of factors, some with a biological basis, but most without, one is conditioned to to place nearly every aspect of human life into one of two categories: female or male. While these are the same terms as those used for sex, unless all assumptions hold, they’re not the same groupings.

Based on these cues, one makes an assumption regarding genitalia, which is then used to make an assumption regarding reproductive capacity.

Assumption: Expression = Identity

One is condition to think of oneself in the same categorical terms that one is conditioned to think of others in. Therefore, when one thinks of oneself as a gender archetype, that is one’s gender identity. One’s appearance and mannerisms may or may not reflect that identity. These are one’s gender expression.

The only way to know a person’s gender identity is to be told by them. One may be told by others, but that is hearsay. Even when explicitly told, one may be lied to for any number of reasons (often to do with safety); however, the only prudent course is to take the individual’s word at face value.

When a person’s gender identity doesn’t match that which it was assumed they’d have based on the appearance of their genitalia at birth (assigned gender), that person is transgender. If it does match, that person is cisgender.

An Ass of You and Me

In society’s defense, often these assumptions bear out. However, they also sometimes do not. When they do not, the reductionist approach is to ignore the evidence to the contrary; to insist that these aren’t assumptions at all; to double down on the flawed premise of binary categorization.

The simple, progressive, and humane approach is to acknowledge that each of these assumptions is flawed: a heuristic that only sometimes works. Realizing that the assumed categories are not absolutes, that there are more than two possibilities at each level, and that the correlations between each level are less than unity, one exercises caution and respect.

In this instance, the choice really is binary.

Appendix: Assumption: Gender = Sexuality

To be continued.

Appendix: Assumption: Phenotype = Genotype

To be continued.

Handwriting

If I was asked to pinpoint the moment my transition began, it was actually years before I even understood I was trans. I couldn’t tell you the time or place, but I remember the act.

I noticed that when I wrote things at a larger size (like my name on in Sharpie on a Solo cup), I’d do my tiddles (little dots like on lowercase I or J) as little circles. Some people do this at normal handwriting size, but I usually don’t. I thought to myself “That’s kinda girly.” (It’s actually amazing how thoroughly the binary influences our society: Even handwriting is gendered.) I kinda liked that and thought to myself, “You know what’s even more girly? When they’re little hearts.”

And so ever since, I’ve tended to make my tiddles little hearts when writing at larger letter heights. It was the first time I deliberately did something in an effeminate way specifically because it was effeminate. (Other things, like my hair styling and nail length were driven by æsthetic preference. Ultimately, the æsthetic I liked was femme, but I hadn’t quite figured that out yet.)

Visibility

Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the trans community and the continuing marginalization we face. It’s unfortunate, but true, that people are more likely to support oppressed groups if they personally know members of said group.

Sadly, today is for the lucky ones; November 20th is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. On that day, we honor our dead, murdered for daring to be themselves.

For a while now, I’ve been sorta out, but lately being closeted has bothered me more and more, so here we go: My name is Leola and I use she/her pronouns. I’m a homoflexible trans female. I’m early in my transition and still present as male at work and family functions.

I haven’t legally changed my name yet; because I haven’t decided on exactly what I want to change it too. I’m definitely set on “Leola Jane.” The question is whether to keep my birth surname or to drop it and add “Temperance” as a middle name.

The first option has the advantage of keeping my initials (which I rather like) the same. The second add my favorite virtue name and drops the name of someone who’ll probably never accept me.

  • Leola Jane Aho
  •  Leola Temperance Jane

Let me know which one you prefer.

Vox Dysphoria

In middle school, when my voice started changing, one of my classmates gave me a hard time about it. He told me, “Don’t use that voice, use the other voice.”

This upset me. Firstly because I had no effective control over which voice I used. But secondly, and more deeply, because the voice he prefered, the deeper “masculine” one, wasn’t the one I wanted.

This is one of my earliest dysphoric memories and I’d nearly forgotten about it until it all came flooding back the other day. I still don’t like my voice and am finding voice training to be one of the most difficult aspects of my transition. Nevertheless, I’ve made some progress and at this point (if I focus on it, which is hard in real social interactions) I now do have control over which voice I employ.

Assigned Male

When I came out, my mother said “Nobody assigned you male DNA, you where born with it.” Leaving aside genetics for now, I want to address this:

No, what I was born with was a penis.

As such, society pushed me into a box labled “male.” They tell you how to act; how to feel (or, more often, not); how to dress; how to talk; how to walk; what to wear; how to cut your hair; how to groom yourself; what to do for work; what to do for fun; what to watch; what to buy; who should be your friends; who should be your lovers; and myriad other things.

If you don’t comply, you will be ostracized. You will be mocked. You might even be subject to violence.

Nevertheless, I’m not staying in that box. You can have it back.

Trans Thoughts

It’s been over a year since my “coming out” post and I’ve been giving the issues it discusses a lot of thought lately. At the time I said I didn’t have any gender dysphoria and wasn’t trans. It didn’t explicitly state that the second statement was a conclusion based on the first, but it’s pretty strongly implied.

That is not a cooincidence. At the time, I thought dysphoria was part and parcel of being trans, and that all trans people had it. At the time, I also had a very limited understanding of what gender dysphoria is.

On deeper reflection, I do experience some degree of gender dysphoria. Towards the end of my post, I get all angsty about not being able to be myself, to wear the clothes I want to, to style my hair the way I want, to (openly) do some of the stuff I enjoy. That’s an example of the dysphoria I do experience.

It’s not crippling. It’s not so bad that I have difficulty functioning, and, mostly I can just ignore it. (Which I am thankful for, many people have a much more difficult time with these things than me, and I feel for them.) But ignoring things doesn’t make them go away.

Over the years, there have been subtle signs. (Including a lot of the stuff mentioned  towards the end of my previous post.) When I started playing tabletop roleplaying games, the first character I created was female. A significant portion of subsequent characters have been female as well. Nearly all of my video game avatars (when given a choice) are female.

I recently started a game, was initially going to make a female character, had a weird feeling that I shouldn’t, and made a male character instead. Literally the first time I used the in-game character customization feature, I changed my character’s features to be more feminine.

On the other tentacle, in the Super Mario franchise, I prefer to play as Toad, the most ambiguous character in a cast of fairly strongly gendered protagonists. I’m also not saying that all people who cross-gender roleplay are trans; I’m sure most of them aren’t, this is just something I noticed in my own behavior as I dug deeper into my feelings.

Over the years, I’ve told myself that it’s so much easier (and safer) to be a hetero cis male than a lesbian trans female. The fact that I even have to occasionlly remind myself of this is telling.

That said, I wouldn’t describe myself as trans-female, or a trans-woman. Trans-feminine (which is a term I only recently came across) seems more accurate. Deep down, I am more effeminate than is considered socially acceptable for my assigned gender. I generally hide it, but feeling forced to do so does cause me some degree of distress.

I have pretty severe social anxiety, and while I’ve embraced the fact that I’m weird and a geek, I still feel the omipresent pressure to fit in. As the song says, “I wish that I could be like the cool kids.” The views of my friends and family make this even worse.

I don’t think there’s a single person I’m really close to that is actually accepting of trans people. Even of those that aren’t outright anti-LGBTQ bigots, there are none I’m sure of. If I were to transition (whatever that might mean for me), there’s a real possibility I might loose everyone. There a few friends I don’t see very often and some acquaintances that I pretty sure of, but that’s it.

And that scares the hell out of me.