In this episode, Risha discusses gender identity and gets the answers to your questions:
- What does it mean to be transgendered or non-binary?
- Why is it important to get another person’s preferred pronouns correct?
- How much grace should be given to those who are just learning about gender identity and fluidity?
All of this and more in this episode of Risha Talks.
[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi I’m Risha Grant. I’m the host of Risha Talks. And I want to welcome everybody to our first episode on gender identity and gender expression. And I wanted to talk about this topic first because I personally struggle with it, and I always want to be so respectful of how people want to be identified, but there are times that I’m not really sure.
Now, I’ll tell you I identify as she, her, and hers. But I want both of you to introduce yourselves. And please, give us your pronouns as well.
Yeah. So my name is Alex Wade. I use he/him pronouns. I’m Jaden Janak. I use they/them pronouns, and I identify as non-binary.
I’m glad you said that. Explain non-binary. I think there are so many terms within this topic that people can’t keep up with or that they don’t understand very well.
Yeah, so like with anything, identities are personal. And so people’s definitions can vary just depending on who they are and what their experience is. My understanding of my own identity as a non-binary person that I fall somewhere on both the feminine and masculine gender spectrums. And so I don’t identify exclusively as man or woman. I identify as something else entirely.
I think that is probably the most difficult one for people to understand and to grasp, because myself, you know, I do a lot of work around unconscious bias and bias synapse, and how our brain sees and perceives people. So when you see or perceive someone as a certain identity, even when that person says to you, you know, I want to be identified as something else, they, them, and their, it’s really hard for your brain to understand that when you look at a person. So why are the pronouns so important?
Pronouns are basically a recognition of somebody’s gender. When somebody uses the correct pronouns, that really validates a person’s identity and expression.
Tell us a little bit about your background, both of you, because I think that is important to even help people understand how you traveled down this road and what is meant for your families and people that have known you your whole life. Jaden, can you take that?
In conversations about gender, it’s always important to have conversations about race and class, because all of those things are linked. And so my experience of gender is racialized and classed. And other people’s experiences of my gender are also raced and classed. So as a black person, coming out as queer and as trans, sometimes those conversations can be difficult within our community.
Very much so.
Very much so. So we don’t need to go into all the specifics, but we understand that as black folk who are predominantly Christian-based in the South, folks have a certain understanding of how things should be and what people should look like and say, and maybe what they shouldn’t say.
And so my experience has been kind of a difficult one, in terms of coming to accept my own identity, because of the messages that I received growing up in a very well-known megachurch in the South to not say too much.
But I think when I came out as queer, the folks around me, my family members and my friends– that was a very difficult thing for folks to hear. And so there were questions about, like, are you sure? How do you know? Like, sort of a, can you prove it?
Are those not fair questions? Are those not fair questions?
So I think when those questions are asked to queer and trans people, my question in return is, well, how did you know? That question never get to ask to straight, cis people.
That question is only asked because in this society, and in every other one, folks who are queer and trans are marginalized. And those questions get asked as sort of a recapitulation of oppression. So those are not questions you should ask when someone comes out to you. When people come out to you, you should say, thank you, because that means that someone trusted you enough to share who they are with you. And in a lot of cases, folks just are not there, and choose to go about coming out experiences differently and don’t share that information with people who are close to them.
In light of what you– and all of what you said is true. But since we know people don’t think like that, I would say, on a large global scale, it’s more of what you said. You know, it falls into religion, it falls into your family structure and all of those things.
But one of the things that I hear is I travel quite a bit, especially from people who are trying to understand transgender within their own family if their kids are– I specifically remember a woman saying, it was so difficult for me, not because I didn’t want to accept that my child was transitioning, but more so because I didn’t have space or time to grieve. Like, he said he’s been dealing with this his entire life, but I had, like, two weeks to make this transition.
And I think there is a little bit of grace to be shown on both sides. Can one of you speak to that a little bit? Because I hear more and more from families is that I’ll get there, but there is no grace given, because maybe from their perspective, you may have been dealing it with your whole life, but they just found out and they’re trying to make the transition, they’re trying to make the name change, they’re trying to make the identity change and all those things, but don’t feel as though they’re giving the grace to do so.
Yeah. I can speak to that a little bit. I definitely see that quite often. So for my grandma, for instance, it took her a while to get used to the pronouns. It took a while to get used to her saying, like, grandchild versus granddaughter. Things like that that can really be taking for granted. But for me, I knew that she cared and she wanted to get it right. So for me, it bothered me a little bit, but not to the point that I was going to get mad with her. You know, she’s 70, and she’s doing a lot better at accepting me for who I am than some people I know who are much younger and who have much more understanding of transgender identities.
So personally, I definitely see that with people, that they don’t give that grace. But it is a very personal thing. And it comes down to, do I know that this person is trying? Do I know that they care enough? That’s a big thing. If I am interacting with somebody and they just met me, and they’re getting my pronouns wrong, like, that’s a whole other conversation than somebody I’ve known for 20 years who just found out.
You’re saying if it’s someone you just met, but– you know, I’ve known someone as transgender for a long time, but because of how they look, it was something that I would mess up their pronouns, and I felt absolutely horrible about it. I mean, to a point of where I almost stopped talking, just because I didn’t want to be disrespectful. But to the point I was making earlier, is if you look a certain way and your brain registers that, and you almost speak before you know it, I think that it is a thing of grace either way, just because– and I tell people all the time when people know you’re genuine, they’re willing to work with you. But I think that it’s just complicated by the fact that we’re not giving each other space to understand the newness of it.
Jaden, can you speak to it a little bit as well? Because I mean I know this a pretty new track for you. So I would love to hear your perspective.
I would actually– this is not actually a new track for me. Like, certain people found out very recently, but in my own personal life, I’ve been out for five years. It’s just a matter of sharing that information with family members and with people who were sort of family friends, but my own community has known for a number of years.
To build on what Alex was saying, I think it’s important for us to understand the stakes of what we’re talking about. So we need to understand that trans youth and trans people, in general, are at higher risk of suicide, or at higher risk of addiction dependency, are at higher risk of self-harm, and are at higher risk of other sorts of communal and state violence.
So this question of pronoun use is important. I think where things can get muddled is when the comfort of cis people comes before the safety of trans people. And I think folks can get grace, and I think a lot of trans people– I relate to Alex’s experience that I’m willing to give people grace who are trying, but I also am not sort of at the margins of the margins within the trans community. Those are black trans women.
Right. Who are dying at– yeah.
Yes. Who are dying at disproportionate rates. And part of that is because of cis male violence. Part of that is because of the conditions of the world that make the world seem and feel unlivable.
And a little piece of that is pronoun use and people not feeling like they’re being recognized for who they are. So it is absolutely important that people who have trans people in their lives figure it out. Like, figure that shit out. You really do need to figure that out.
And there are plenty of resources available. There are resources with OKEQ, there are resources even with the Human Rights Campaign, there are resources that are race-specific that help have these conversations amongst communities of color. You no longer have the excuse that you just can’t figure it out, because there are TV shows, there are YouTube videos, there are packets. And for me, I’m, like, if my 80-year-old black grandmother who grew up in the segregated South can figure out how to address me in a way that is respectful, anybody can do it.
Exactly. And you make a great point. And I think not just in the transgender topic, but when it comes to marginalized people and marginalized communities, there are so many things that people need to spend the time to learn and figure out for themselves. It’s an easy excuse of not knowing. So I really love the way you addressed that.
Can both of you give us a resource? Well, actually, Alex, you work for Oklahomans for Equality. So what resources are available at OKEQ?
Yeah. So my title is the medical services coordinator. So I organize the clinic that we just opened to provide lower cost hormone replacement therapy for the trans community. I also help run our gender support group. That means if it’s for anybody under the transgender umbrella, whether they’re non-binary, trans men, trans women, anything– you know, if they identify as trans, they’re welcome in that group. And that’s every Wednesday at 6:00 PM. If you reach out to the center, we can get that information for people.
Jaden, any party thoughts before we end this?
Yeah. I think I would like to reiterate that there are a number of resources available. I know that there’s a terminology glossary that’s available through a California organization called the GSA network that has a lot of important definitions for words like non-binary, gender variant, intersex, some terms that folks may not be familiar with. But I, too, would like to say that I don’t think that we give people credit for their ability to understand phenomena that have been around forever. So trans people are not new. Trans people have been around as long as people have been around.
Thank you for watching Risha Talks. You’ll be able to find our show on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, any of your favorite social media channels. We’re your pathway to people that are different from you. Until next time.
transwomen, transmen, trans lives, gender expression, gender identity, LGBTQ, nonbinary