One thing at a time

There are days, sometimes weeks, when I feel fantastic. Then there are days, sometimes weeks and months when I feel pretty crappy. On the crappy days, my mantra becomes “one thing at a time”. When my depression was really bad, it was the only thing that got me out of bed. It was my mother who taught me about this. When I was in my first year of university, back in 2009, I would struggle with getting out of bed. My mum’s advice was to just do “one thing at a time”. She also suggested having little rewards to work towards to motivate myself to do the things that needed doing. When I couldn’t get out of bed, my reward was Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – if I managed to get out of bed, I would have a bowl of it for breakfast. I ate crunchy nut for breakfast that whole academic year.

Nowadays, when my depression tries to drag me into despair and hopelessness, paired with despondency and an inability to motivate myself to do anything other than lie on my bed and play Spider Solitaire on my phone, I remind myself of this advice. “One thing at a time”. For this to work, it requires not so much total focus on the task at hand, but more of a passive awareness that I may only manage to do this one thing, without any further pressure on myself to complete another task. Only by taking pressure off myself to do anything more than a single task, will I manage to motivate myself. Often, this is paired in my mind with a small push such as “if I manage to make the bed, then I might walk to the shop to get an ice cream”. Although the reward in itself is also a task (which would have completely defeated me a few years ago), now I am able to work the energy up to take a walk to the shop to get the ice cream. 

For those who haven’t lived with depression, it can seem a ridiculously simple thing to be defeated by. Unable to find the energy to walk to the shop? #firstworldproblems. Part of me feels the guilt of this mindset. After all, I’m lucky that I live in a country where it’s safe to take a random walk to the shop, and that I can afford such luxuries as ice cream. I’m aware of this, but knowledge of this only serves to make me feel more worthless, compounding my depression and making it even harder to work up the energy to leave the house.

As I lie on my still unmade bed, contemplating the simple task of getting out of bed and making it look tidy, I realise that writing this blog post is simply an avoidance tactic to delay getting out of bed. Perhaps, when I’ve posted it, I’ll make myself a coffee. One thing at a time, followed by a reward. Maybe, once I’ve had my coffee, I might have the energy to make my bed. 

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What? I can’t hear you…

I’ve never really written about my hearing loss, perhaps because it’s so much a part of who I am that I struggle to separate myself from it. I was born with high-frequency hearing loss and I’ve never navigated a world without it, so I don’t have any other reality to compare it to. It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like without it because it permeates every aspect of my life, from my interactions with other people, to the way that I navigate the world, both in my home and outside.

I have a particular type of hearing loss that is, apparently, common among people whose birth parent had pre-eclampsia (high-blood pressure) during birth. I was born a blue baby, taken away from my mother as soon as I was born to be put into an oxygen incubator. I remained there for a few days, or perhaps a week, I can’t remember what my parents told me. No one knew what might be the side effects of my birth as a human-smurf and my parents were told to watch my development to see if I would be ‘normal’. As I grew into a toddler there seemed to be no major issues, and it wasn’t until I went to pre-school that anyone noticed that not everything was ‘as it should be’. My pre-school teacher had worked with deaf and hard of hearing children before and picked up on my hearing loss through my behaviour, which matched the behaviour she had seen in other children with hearing loss. I would fail to respond when my back was turned despite repeated calls for my attention, I would watch other children’s behaviour and actions before taking part group activities, and other children were aware of my hearing deficiency even before I was, telling the teacher that I couldn’t hear her and repeating instructions to me without being asked.

When my teacher drew my parents’ attention to this, they had my hearing tested and my audiology reports came back confirming my teacher’s suspicions. I remember having speech therapy classes for a long time, to teach me how to speak properly, for how could I voice sounds that I couldn’t hear? I remember my speech therapist fondly – she spoke with an accent that could be called “the Queens English”, and I accordingly developed quite a posh accent that became a source of much distress for me during my teenage years in Ireland, as no one would believe, on first meeting me, that I was Irish, as I didn’t have the accent.

I’ve had a series of hearing aids over the years, with varying results, none of which I have worn for very long. As anyone who has worn a hearing aid will tell you, they are itchy and somewhat uncomfortable to have in all day. When it’s windy, they squeak at a very high pitch that would normally be outside my hearing range, but unfortunately is very much within my hearing range when I’m wearing my hearing aid. After an unsuccessful attempt of wearing a hearing aid in both ears around the age of 7, I never requested a hearing aid for my right ear again. I remember complaining that sounds echoed and sounded muddled with a hearing aid in both ears. As an adult, an audiologist explained to me why this would have happened – apparently the high-frequency hearing loss in my right ear is too profound to be ‘fixable’ by modern technology. It’s not possible to amplify sounds that I simply do not pick up on at all. My hearing loss is related, not to issues with the structure of my ear, but to nerve damage from the oxygen deficiency I experienced when I was being born. The sounds that I don’t hear in my right ear are the sounds that are crucial for understanding speech. The sounds that we make in speech at the start and ends of words are high-frequency. Without being able to hear these sounds, speech becomes a muddle of vowels without the consonants present to make sense of the noise. Words like cat, bat, that, pat, hat, fat, sat all sounds the exact same coming through my right ear.

Now I’m living in Berlin, in a country where I’m only just beginning to learn the language (German), a few people have told me that I seem to be quite quick at picking it up. The irony is that my hearing loss prevents me from hearing many of the sounds that distinguish words in the German language, and learning languages, although easy for my musical brain, are extremely difficult for my ‘ears’. The reality is that navigating the world with my particular type of hearing loss (I cannot speak for other types) is much like navigating the world in a place where one is only beginning to learn the dominant language of discourse.

Have you ever had the experience where you’ve picked up enough basics to make it seem like you can speak the language without actually being able to understand much at all, and the other person begins jabbering away at you, assuming you understand everything they say? Well, that’s pretty much what it’s like for me on a daily basis, regardless of what language people are speaking. I’ve become an expert at reading people’s body language, tone of voice and facial expressions, for these are much easier for me to understand than speech itself. So when people speak to me in a language that I barely understand, I can bluff my way through a conversation by nodding at the right points, smiling with interest, and dropping in the few words that I do know: “Ja, danke” etc. It’s really not so different to listening to someone speak to me in English in a crowded environment with a lot of background noise, or where the person speaking has a particularly soft or high-pitched voice.

I’ve more or less given up on wearing my hearing aid, despite having got the latest high-tech version in the last 2 years. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s just that I’m so used to hearing the world my way that I don’t really enjoy hearing it the ‘normal’ way. Of course, this means that I often speak too loudly, miss parts of conversation, or make a lot of noise that are really loud to others, such as banging cupboards, closing doors, clacking my cutlery on my plate or bowl… the list goes on! All of these sounds resonate at low frequencies that I do hear, but they also resonate at much higher frequencies that I don’t hear, which sound much louder than the low frequencies do, so it sounds deafening to anyone with average hearing. Anyone who has lived with me will give testament to this!

On the whole, I like being able to zone out of the chaos of the world around me. Sometimes, though, I have a tendency to avoid situations that can be difficult without my hearing aid. Phone conversations are my worst nightmare, as I rely on visual cues that just aren’t present in a phone conversation, including lip-reading. Large group situations, loud parties/clubs, windy locations or spaces with lots of traffic noises (including sitting in a car) make it nearly impossible for me to distinguish speech. Wearing my hearing aid can help, but if someone is sitting to my right, I will spend most of the night nodding and smiling in much the same way that I do when someone speaks to me in a language that I’m attempting to pretend to understand. Honestly, only people who know me really well are able to tell when I’m pretending – my family, close friends, and sometimes partners. The longer you know me, the easier it is to notice the symptoms: blank look in the eyes, lack of active response to conversation, lots of vacant smiling. I’m usually quite an engaged person when partaking in conversation, and the more important a situation, the better I am at pretending, so much so that people have whole conversations with me that I do not follow, which can result in sometimes comical, other times embarrassing situations, in which they refer to the conversation which I then have to pretend to remember. The monkey with face in hands is the only emoji appropriate for this situation 🙈, yet it recurs ridiculously often!

You might ask: “why not be honest about your hearing?” My response is that I have experienced so much assumption that being partially deaf = being somewhat socially incapable/stupid/unemployable that I usually don’t tell people about my hearing loss until they know me much better, at which point I usually get the “oh, I never noticed/I never would have realised/ You’re just like a normal person response.” It becomes incredibly tiring to be told that my hearing loss doesn’t prevent me from being normal (why the obsession with normality??) so I just keep it to myself and get on with life in my own way. Normality is overrated.

I believe the queer outlook I have on life originates with my experience of life by being partially deaf. I just don’t see life through the same lens that others do. I don’t experience peer pressure in the same way that many other do. I exist in my own private world that protects me from much of the criticism that life might otherwise throw at me. I don’t allow anyone to tell me how to live my life. Maybe this comes from my hearing loss. Maybe this comes from my upbringing, which was unconventional in many ways, with a strong emphasis on individuality, feminism and self-belief. Maybe I would be exactly the way that I am without my hearing loss, but there’s no possible way of determining that. Nevertheless, I think that my experience of life through being partially deaf has changed me, affected my politics, my outlook, my empathy and my understanding of others. Being queer is being me, and being me is being partially deaf. For me, one does not exist without the other.

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Sorry, you do not exist. Please try again.

Last month I finally received a decision from the Irish Department of Social Protection regarding my appeal for legal gender recognition as a non-binary person. They responded with a resounding “No.” Although it was disappointing to receive this decision, I was not surprised. There is no precedent in Ireland for recognition of non-binary gender, nor even a hint of the existence of non-binary gendered individuals.  My appeal had been based on an interpretation of the Irish Gender Recognition Act as failing to state explicitly that gender is binary. Quite clearly, as you can see in the letter below, the government officials disagreed.

The next stage in the process is either to appeal through the Circuit Court, or to bring a plenary action challenging the constitutionality of the Act. The Irish Republic is founded upon the Irish Constitution and is the fundamental law of the country. It guarantees certain fundamental rights and my lawyers believe that the best route for challenging this decision is to demonstrate that the Gender Recognition Act breaches certain fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. If the Act can be found to be in breach of the Irish Constitution, then they will have no choice but to recognise my gender as non-binary. This route will not be easy, nor will it be quick. However, I knew that this challenge to the Irish Gender Recognition Act could take years and I decided at the start that I was committed for the long haul.

If we decide to bring a plenary action, my lawyers will call oral evidence in order to properly assert my fundamental rights. I will need to give evidence, and my consultant psychiatrist from the Belfast Gender Identity Clinic will have to give evidence regarding non-binary gender as an inherent aspect of many people’s identity. We will also need at least one, if not two, other independent doctors to endorse the fact that non-binary gender is a reality for many people. An academic who can provide evidence about other countries’ acceptance of non-binary gender and a relevant NGO which could give evidence of the negative effect of non-recognition of people’s non-binary gender will also be called upon. We are going to have to convince the court that recognition of non-binary gender is a fundamental right of those people who regard themselves as neither male or female. (Paraphrased from an email correspondence with lawyers).

I’m both nervous and eager to move forward with this plan. My hesitancy is based on my abhorrence of the medicalisation of trans identities worldwide. By calling upon so many medical professionals to “prove” the existence of non-binary gender, we will be feeding back into this twisted understanding of trans people as somehow “sick” or “mentally ill.” However, I am aware that sometimes in order to break the system you have to do it from within. If this route will bring about non-binary legal gender recognition, then I’m willing to commit to it. Already, this process has been going on for over a year, and very little has happened so far. I’m ready to start the real fight.

I’m incredibly fortunate that TENI (Transgender Equality Network of Ireland) supported my initial appeal by helping bring together the fantastic group of lawyers who are working on my case pro bono. When it comes to human rights, there can be no half measures. It is not acceptable to only partially recognise the trans community – non-binary people deserve legal gender recognition too, and I refuse to back down until my gender is recognised, not only on passports, but on my birth certificate, in medical institutions, in educational institutions, by banks, by insurance companies, even by corporate entities. It’s evident, as demonstrated by the “pink pound,” that corporate advertising is as valid a measure of equality as any other, albeit one with many elements of discrimination inherent within it. I know that legal gender recognition won’t solve many of the issues faced by the non-binary community (particularly for those facing intersectional discrimination), but it’s a step towards forcing wider society to recognise that gender is not binary.

 

Posted in Non-Binary Journey | 2 Comments

Irish Non-Binary Legal Recognition

There have been a number of posts on social media this past week, applauding the introduction of a new bill to be debated in the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) this May (2017). This bill introduces a number of amendments to the original gender recognition bill, not least of which includes recognition for children under 16 years of age, and the removal of the tedious requirements for recognition of 16-18 years old. However, many people have (incorrectly) stated that this amendment also introduces non-binary legal recognition. This is not the case.

If you read the language of the amendment relating to non-binary legal recognition, you will see that it doesn’t so much introduce non-binary recognition as state that the government will consider the inclusion of non-binary people in the review of the gender recognition bill, due to begin in September 2017 and to be published in September 2018. The exact wording relating to this recent amendment of the bill regarding non-binary legal recognition is quoted below:

“[to] ensure that the review of the operation of this act specifically considers, amongst the other topics and questions determined appropriate by the Minister, the possibility of providing legal gender recognition to persons who have a preferred gender which is neither man/male nor female/woman.”

Although it is important that non-binary legal recognition is considered in the amendment of the original 2015 bill, it’s imperative that we do not become complacent by believing that the Irish government will just allow non-binary legal recognition without a huge push from the Irish trans &/ non-binary community.


Some of the issues that will undoubtedly come up when non-binary legal recognition is considered are how this will affect: gender segregated services and institutions, such as educational institutions and the prison system; medical records including the registration of gender at birth; insurance policies such as health & life insurance, with the exception of driving insurance as Ireland has removed the weighting of driving insurance based on gender as part of its “equality” legislation; social welfare regulations and employment legislation such as retirement age and equality legislation (how do we rule for discrimination if there are more than two genders?); and access to gender specific services such as women’s shelters which require segregation based on a binary gender system.

Unlike legal recognition of binary trans identities, non-binary recognition highlights the fallacy of legislation and a constitution written on the basis that gender is binary. How our society is structured, right down to the question often asked of pregnant people “is it a boy or a girl” will be challenged with the consideration of non-binary legal recognition. So we have to ask – is Ireland ready for this? We have quite a traditional culture – marriage, children, family, gendered roles in society – all of these things are built into Irish culture. Of course, there are many of us who reject these roles, but we aren’t necessarily in the majority.

I believe that the Irish people are fundamentally in favour of freedom of identity. If we look at our history, with the centuries of oppression from both British rule and the Catholic Church, Irish culture has come to represent a rejection of authority, and along with that, the concept that everyone deserves the right to live freely and honestly, without fear and without the need to hide our true selves. The recent overwhelming vote in favour of marriage equality highlights this.

The campaign for marriage equality was won, not in the courts, but through the hearts of the people. By encouraging LGBQ Irish people to come out to their parents, their relatives, their friends and their neighbours, many who may have voted against the constitutional reform were persuaded instead to vote for the sake of someone they love who would be affected positively by the introduction of marriage equality. It is my opinion that we need to approach the inclusion of non-binary gender identities in Irish legislation and society in much the same way.

Beside the social affects of non-binary inclusion in Irish legislation, there are the practical aspects. As a non-binary Irish trans person with both UK and Irish citizenship, I have many contradicting forms of gender registration. My UK passport states that I am male. My Irish passport and driving licence state that I am female. My UK medical records state that I am of “indeterminate” gender and my bank statements use the gender-neutral title Mx. I also have different usages of my name across various departments: tax, healthcare, ID documents. This is due to the costly and time-consuming nature of changing documents without a procedure that allows for recognition of a non-binary gender identity.

Today, I went into the driving licence centre to renew my licence and the woman processing my application spent a good 30 minutes trying to figure out a way of allowing me to have an X marker and a gender neutral title on my driving licence. She didn’t question the validity of my gender identity, nor did she take issue with my contradicting forms of identity as both male and female. She was helpful, understanding, and told me, as I was leaving, that if she could have it her way she would give me an X marker (in the end we had to agree that I would have an F marker until the Irish government legislates for non-binary legal recognition). She couldn’t see how my possession of an X gender marker would negatively affect society because it DOESN’T negatively affect society any more than marriage equality does. Greater inclusion leads to greater acceptance which reduces hate crime, suicide and mental ill health rates and ensures that the next generation will grow up with a greater tolerance for difference. What’s so wrong about all that?

I still haven’t heard back from the Irish government regarding my appeal against their refusal to accept my application for an X marker on my birth certificate. I sent in my appeal in October 2016. It is now April 2017. By their own rules they have breached my right to a response to an appeal within 90 days. Perhaps they think if they just ignore me, I will just go away. If so, they couldn’t be more wrong. I have lived experience of the inordinate amount of inconveniences that lack of legal gender recognition imposes upon my everyday life. I also refuse to accept that what I am asking for is impossible. All I’m asking for is the right to privacy, the right to autonomy, and the right to freedom of movement… and the removal of the countless daily frustrations resulting from lack of non-binary gender legal recognition.

So if you’re on the fence when it comes to the inclusion of non-binary legal recognition, or if you have never even heard of non-binary gender before today, consider how it might feel to constantly deal with the inconvenience of NOT having your gender recognised, and consider speaking out for the inclusion of non-binary legal recognition in the upcoming gender recognition review.

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The Daily Stress of Being Misgendered

There’s one aspect of life that is unique to gender non-conforming people, that gender conforming people don’t have to worry about, and that’s misgendering. Many people mistakenly believe that misgendering is something that only happens to trans people, but it can happen just as often to gender non-conforming cis (not trans) people.

Before I realised I was trans, my haircut was ‘short back and sides’ and I was wearing men’s section clothing. I had more issues then using women’s public toilets than I do now as a non-binary, post top-surgery trans person. Perhaps, in the intervening years, society has changed enough that people are less likely to react to a gender non-conforming person using the women’s toilets. Certainly trans visibility has massively increased over the past 4-5 years.

Nowadays, however, my biggest issue is not being kicked out of public bathrooms (although I still dread using them as I have to make a choice between using the men’s and the women’s every time) but being misgendered. My pronouns are they/them/theirs. I could write an essay about the history of these pronouns and how they have been used as singular pronouns for centuries, but there are many other articles about that already, and I don’t feel like justifying my pronoun usage on my personal blog. 

The issue isn’t really people who know what pronouns I use, but people who don’t. Gender neutral pronouns are traditionally seen as impersonal and thus aren’t used much unless someone is intentionally being dismissive of the person to whom they are referring. Further, it’s not possible to know what pronouns a person uses simply by looking at their appearance. Finally, very few people outside of the queer and trans communities are aware of gender neutral pronoun usage. This creates a daily dilemma whereby I have to make the decision whether or not it is worthwhile correcting someone misgendering me based on my calculation of the number of possible future interactions combined with the meaningfulness of these interactions alongside consideration of the social situation in which the misgendering takes place.

Take this example: I’m in a coffee shop and the barista asks me “what can I get you ma’am” (or sir). I could correct this person by saying “actually I don’t use gendered terms so could you please not refer to me as ma’am” (or sir). However, the likelihood of me interacting with this person again in the future in some meaningful way that would make the effort of correcting their use of gendered language worthwhile is negligible. The social situation also doesn’t present an acceptable reason for such a correction – in this situation the barista is simply following their training and referring to me in a way that is generally socially accepted for purchase transactions in retail/food & drink industries. In these situations, I ignore the misgendering and order my coffee as usual. 

Some people might argue “but the only way you will change society is by educating everyone you meet along the way”. Although I do not disagree with this sentiment, the reality is that constantly educating everyone that you meet is utterly exhausting. I already have to remind friends, colleagues and family members to use the correct pronouns for me. I have discussed in depth with my nearest and dearest the lack of gender-neutral terms to refer to people. If I added to this the educating of every single person who misgenders me throughout the day, I would only ever have conversations about gender. And there’s just a whole lot more to my life than being non-binary!

Other situations, I might respond to differently. Take, for example, a house party. If I’ve met someone at a party who interacts regularly with other people in my social circle, or it seems as though they might become part of my close or extended social circle, I will usually tell them my pronouns at some point in the conversation. It’s a difficult one because there’s no socially accepted way of doing this. “Hello, my name is Naomhán and I use they/them pronouns, how about you” is one way of doing it, but it can be quite daunting to do this with someone who, for all I know, might be transphobic. 

This is why I prefer to interact in queer setting where questions such as “what pronouns do you use” are as common as “what is your name”. I have to admit that outside of queer circles I rely on my friends to correct newcomers when they misgender me. I encourage my friends to do so, and I have also found that it’s much easier to correct the misgendering of someone else than it is to correct the misgendering of myself. I don’t know why, but that’s how I feel about it.

The other issue that I have when meeting new people is the use of my name. I decided, when changing my name, to take a name as similar to my birth name as possible. Although this has been advantageous in many ways (people don’t question the discrepancy between my old and new names on various documents, thinking that some administrator simply misspelled my name), it also causes a lot of stress for me, as many people read my new name and pronounce it the same way as my old name. Sometimes, when I tell people my name, they ask me to spell it and then say “is that a variation of *birth name*”. It’s really distressing to have gone to all the effort of changing my name only to have my old name brought up again and again in conversation in reference to me. It cuts a little too close to the bone.

So take heed, if you are at the point of changing your name, picking a name similar to your birth name can mean that you may never escape it. Perhaps you won’t want to, but I have had to learn how to embrace the fact that my chosen name is a constant reminder of my birth name and all that goes with that (memories of self-loathing, depression, unhappiness and discomfort). It’s something worth considering before settling on a new name.

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The Choice of a New Name

It’s often assumed that the name we are given at birth is the name that we will carry with us to the grave. Although surnames can change (for those that choose it), usually our first name remains. For some trans and/or non-binary people, however, changing our name is often one of the first steps that we take towards social transition.

It’s a difficult process, choosing a name. I know of many people who simply shortened their name to the first letter. B, D, G, J, K and V are the most common letters that are shortened into gender-neutral names: with spellings such as Bee/Bea, Dee, Gi/Gee, Jay/Jai, Kay/Kai, Vee (to list those that I’ve come across). However, if you’re unfortunate enough that the first letter of your name does not shorten into a useful nickname of sorts, then you have to actually make a decision before you ask those around you to change the way that they address you. The first letter of my birth name is N. En. Enn. It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as some other letters, does it?

Many trans people choose not to share their birth name, and I am usually one of that cohort, but for the purpose of this story, I will tell you my given name.

tirnanogMy parents named me Niamh (pronounced neev, or nee-uv). It’s a rather beautiful name that comes from an old Irish legend about the Land of (Eternal) Youth, Tír na nÓg in Irish (Gaelic). The legend tells a tale of a young Irish lad named Oisín who falls in love with Niamh, a girl with golden hair who rides upon a white horse. He goes with Niamh across the ocean on the back of her white horse to marry her in her homeland – the land of eternal youth. The wedding celebrations continue for 101 days, at the end of which Oisín begins to miss his family and asks to return home. However, time on Tír na nÓg passes much more slowly than time in Ireland. One day on Tír na nÓg is the same as one year in Ireland! Niamh explains this to Oisín, but he still insists on returning home. Resigned, Niamh lends him her white horse and, as he mounts it, she warns him that on no account is he to set foot on Irish soil, for if he were to do so, he would become the age he would have been had he not come to Tír na nÓg.

I think it’s only fair to tell you now, before I go on, that most Irish tales tend to have very sad endings. I expect, knowing this, that you can probably imagine what happens next. Oisín travels back across the ocean and returns to his village, only to find that everyone he ever knew is dead. He discovers that his parents, believing that he had run away, died of broken hearts. Devastated to hear this, Oisín return to the ocean’s edge, intending to return to his sweetheart on Tír na nÓg, when he comes across a group of men struggling to lift a log. As Oisín was descended from the last of the Irish giants, he has incredible strength and so offers to lift the log for the men. But as he leans over, his saddle slips and he falls onto Irish soil. As he touches the ground, he ages before their eyes, into a very frail, old man. This much of the story remains the same in retellings, although later versions will say that one of the men runs to find a priest who performs the last rites,  before he is allowed to die. Personally, I prefer the original version without Catholicism, but pick whichever appeals to you most. When Niamh’s white horse returns to her without Oisín she guesses what must have happened and is overcome with grief. And here ends the story. I did warn you…

So as you can see, there’s quite a bit of Irish storytelling history behind my birth name, which I was always quite proud of growing up. The decision to change my name was incredibly difficult for me because I wanted to pick a name as equally significant. However, in the end I chose to go with Naomhán (nay-von, neev-awn, nih-von) because I believed that it would be easiest for people to switch to, being quite similar to my birth name. In order to honour my parent’s name choice, I changed my middle name, which had originally been Margaret for both of my grandmothers (Margaret and Maighread – the Irish of Margaret), to Oisín. Thus, I kept the story of Tír na nÓg in my name, although admittedly I’ve always thought Niamh to be the better character of the story. Irish women have much more developed characters than the men, perhaps a reflection on those who told the stories! Incidentally, the name of this blog originates with this story. Tír na nÓg. Tirnanog. Tirnanog-no gender. Tirnanogender!

So there you have it. From Niamh Margaret to Naomhán Oisín, the story of how I changed my name. There have been advantages and disadvantages to the similarity between my birth name and my chosen name, but I’ll write about that next week…

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Experiences on Low Dose Testosterone

As any trans person who has made the decision to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or ‘hormones’ for short, will tell you, the experience of taking hormones is that of going through a second puberty. The body changes, the experience of emotions change, reactions change, even thought processes can change. Taking a low dose of testosterone over a long period of time is just a slower transition that taking a higher dose. The changes happen, but slowly, slowly… sometimes too slowly!

I made the decision to take low dose testosterone because I don’t actually want to look like a man. Many trans people who take testosterone (and I’m talking about masculine of centre trans people, or non-binary people whose bodies started out being fueled by oestrogen) WANT to look, to ‘pass’ as, male. I, however, simply want to stop looking quite SO female.

To be fair, I’ve always been quite muscular and broad shouldered, but gender clues are so subtle that even I cannot tell what it is that makes people still gender me as female. I have been on testosterone for almost 11 months now. I started out on a quarter sachet of gel, which I took for 3 months. Then I move up to a half sachet of gel for 8 months. Now I’m on a full sachet of gel (10 days and counting) and I’m really hoping that something more starts to change so that people stop automatically gendering me as female.

I think, on the whole, it is my voice that ‘betrays’ me. I’ve discussed this with other friends, trans and cis, and we agree that the range that I use when I speak is the factor that genders me female. When I speak with a more monotonous voice, I sound less female (and, consequently, more male). However, I don’t want to stop speaking in a musical voice just so that people stop gendering me female. I like colourful clothes and I enjoy being expressive and ‘camp’ or effeminate in my gestures – I don’t want to change these things about me.

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My awesome queer Testogel jar!

It is for this reason that I’ve decided to up my dose to a full sachet. I’m hoping that doubling my testosterone dose will somehow push my voice over the edge and make it break. I’ve felt it twinging each time I’ve upped my dose, but although it has definitely deepened, it has not yet broken. It seems the best option, as a deeper voice will hopefully mean that I stop getting gendered female, regardless of how flamboyantly gay I come across as with my speech and gestures.

Of course, if my voice does break I am then faced with the issue of being gendered male constantly. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with – that no matter how I change my body, I will always be gendered as either male or female. In our society there is no language for non-binary people, no understanding of our identity and thus no acknowledgement of our existence in everyday speech. It is frustrating, a battle that I will fight continuously until something changes. I protect myself from burnout by surrounding myself with wonderful people who respect my pronouns and don’t question my gender identity. It’s with their support, along with the increased comfort in my own body post-top surgery, that helps me to deal with daily misgendering (and deadnaming – but that’s for another post!)

 

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