How Would You Describe Your Gender?

Welcome to One Small Thing—my biweekly newsletter that provides you each time with one small thing you can start doing today to make a difference in the life of a person who identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming.

I’m so glad you’re here.

This past spring I had the pleasure of sitting down with the talented queer poet, D. Allen, to discuss all things gender. D. was interviewing me as part of an assignment for one of their graduate classes, so I expected it to be routine and like so many other conversations I have had before about gender.

And then I ended up getting all weepy. As it sometimes (often) goes.

I wanted to share an excerpt of the interview with you today because sometimes in the midst of the harsh and deeply sad news of the world, the pressure to be and say the right things, and the mundane, we all need a little break.

And a little poetry.


When grey doolin and I sit down to talk about gender and language one evening, the night sky is several hours old and has begun to radiate a pale lavender glow. Whether the color comes from the city or the promise of snowfall, I’m not sure. We sit on pillows on the floor of grey’s study, a room lined with windows and populated by neat stacks of art supplies, books, and files; though the windows face an urban street that becomes noisy in daytime, our conversation is only punctuated by the occasional gunning of an engine as the traffic light turned from red to green.

I wonder aloud how grey might phrase their gender identity differently if they could go beyond the social shorthand of terms like trans* and queer. ‘If you could describe your gender in any way,’ I ask, ‘using whatever words or phrases or paragraphs or metaphors you wanted to without having to rely on a commonly held understanding of those two words, how would you describe your gender?’

I look up from my notebook at grey’s face, their forehead edged with dark curls, their eyes filling with tears behind the glasses. They pause for several moments. ‘I don’t know, just…I think the weepiness is just….beautifully complex, you know?’ Beautifully complex. They pull down the sleeve of their sweatshirt and use it to dry their eyes, taking a moment to consider other answers to the question. ‘I got these images of the ocean, for some reason,’ they say. ‘Just these beautiful natural scenes that, I think, mean to represent what I immediately go to when you ask that question: if there were no social constructions of gender, and no shame, no oppression or violence based on gender, the idea of how freeing that would be. So I think the tears are about even the possibility of having no shit—no wounding or triggering—around gender. How lovely. I think we would all be beautifully complex gendered beings, wearing Little Mermaid shirts and playing with swords.’

Both grey and I can rattle off the names of many spaces that don’t feel safe for us, so I ask them to tell me about a place where they have felt most comfortable in their body and their identity. This time, the answer comes without any hesitation. ‘Lake Superior,’ they say. ‘I think there’s something about the depth and the power that I feel from the water. It both terrifies me, but also I think that there’s a sense there that it can hold my expansiveness, or hold whatever I bring to it.’ A motorcycle rushes, leaving a trail of bass notes in its wake. Through the open blinds, the sky has darkened to aubergine.

‘And I just feel like the lake itself is just such a beautifully complex…’ grey trails off, noticing the symmetry of these two words, before picking up the thought again. ‘It’s beautiful, and it can be violent, it can hold tiny children swimming in its clear waters, and it can take life. [The weather] can change in a moment’s notice…and it can freeze in winter so that people can trek across it, miles across it. It feels whole. Not perfect, but whole, in that it’s all things.’

What one thing can you begin doing today to make a difference in the life of someone who identifies as trans* or gender nonconforming? Consider your expansiveness. Practice it. Embody it.

I’m not talking about the kind of expansive where you take up two bus seats intentionally or interrupt people when they’re talking.

I’m talking about your essence: imagining yourself beyond the labels and boxes and confines that have been put upon you.

Because when we make room for ourselves, it naturally follows that we have more room for others to be who they are.

And that is a beautiful thing.

Let me know: If you could describe your gender in any way, using whatever words or phrases or paragraphs or metaphors you wanted to without having to rely on a commonly held understanding, how would you describe your gender?

Let me know in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with. Have fun with this; close your eyes and dream.

And if you’ve never thought about it before, consider it good practice.

If you know someone who needs a little poetry and/or expansiveness in their life today, please pass this along.  Or if you want more of both in your life, make sure to sign up for my newsletter on the sidebar or down below.

Many, many thanks to D. Allen for letting me use excerpts of our interview.

As always, I look forward to seeing you again soon.

With gratitude,
grey doolin

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