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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It’s good to be back!

I haven’t written in this blog for quite a long time – 9 months to be exact. I wanted to take a break from sharing my life online, and I also wanted to reevaluate what I share and what I keep private. Personally, I am feeling much more settled in my life. I have a well-paid job, I am happy in my personal life and I want to keep that side of my life private now.

Previously I would have shared all aspects of my life on this blog, but recently I’ve been driven more by the desire to privatise many aspects of my life. This is partly because I have found a greater sense of inner peace, and partly because I have returned to full-time work after 2 years of working freelance and minding my mental health. I don’t want to share so many aspects of my personal life on a platform that my colleagues can easily access, so I needed to evaluate what I was willing to share, and what I wanted to keep private.

I’ve spent the past few months reducing the number of friends I have on my Facebook account. I’ve removed everyone who I previously had on there for work purposes, and specifically people from the LGBT community who aren’t close/regularly-in-contact friends. Anyone who knows my work professionally in the sphere of trans activism knows that I founded and run the Non-Binary+ Northern Ireland group and can contact me using that email address, so I decided to remove those people from Facebook. I also removed a lot of younger trans people who I’ve met over the years from various trans events that I’ve run. I don’t want my Facebook to be used for trans support anymore, rather I want it to be a space for me to keep in touch with people who live further away from me but whom I consider close friends, and to access Facebook events for things I’d like to attend locally.

To this end I have also been reconsidering what to share/not to share on my YouTube channel. I have decided to limit this to transition-specific information, particularly relating to non-binary medical and social transition.

On this blog, I’ve decided to talk about my mental health, trans activism and non-binary related discussions. I know that there is a lack of information about non-binary transition options, both socially and medically, so I’m going to go back over my transition-related choices and discuss these in greater depth in the hope that they might help someone else looking for this information. I’m also going to discuss how I manage my mental health in a constructive, hopefully helpful way, particularly managing it while working full time and doing trans activism voluntarily part-time.

My aim is to write as often as once a week to twice a month, depending on my schedule, and I’m happy to address topics brought up by readers. To this end, I have created a page on this website for anyone to submit their questions anonymously, to which I will endeavour to respond to in a blog post within a month (depending on my schedule).

It’s good to be back!

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Last video on the My Genderation YouTube Channel…

I posted my last video on the My Genderation YouTube Channel today. It’s sad saying goodbye to the channel, but I’m happy to be moving back onto my personal channel. I’ll continue to do videos there, and I’m going to track my experience of low-dose testosterone and my top surgery!

 

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What makes non-binary gender real? 

What makes non-binary gender real? Is it social acceptance? Is it a box on a form? Is it your decision to legally recognise it?

No! Non-binary gender is real because we feel it, we are it, we LIVE it. 

What is a man? What is a woman? What does YOUR gender mean to you? How can you explain it to me, describe to me exactly how it feels to you to be a man, a woman? Have you ever wondered why you accepted your gender as it was given to you?

Privilege! That’s why you accepted it without ever knowing what it feels like to be told that you are something that you are not.

Judith Butler tells us that gender is ‘performative’. Many people misunderstand the meaning of this word. Performative does not mean ‘to perform’. In this context it means that gender is believed to be static through the effect of reiterated acting, while obscuring the contradictions & instability of an individual’s gender act. 

In this way the narrative of binary gender, of male and female polarities, of what “true gender” is, is reinforced through the punishment of those individuals whose gender act refuses to believe in the lies, and by the concealment of individual variations.
Because my gender, by its very existence, refutes the idea of the gender binary, society decides that it’s easier for me not to exist than to coexist, and I am denied, by consensus, access to my truth.
Yet I cannot stop being me. To do so would destroy me from the inside out. Why do you think the incidence of suicide is so much drastically higher in the trans community than in the cisgender population? I have tried to hide myself, to push myself away by wearing other cloaks, putting on others’ masks. The problem with a mask is that it cannot conceal forever. Eventually the cloak falls away, the mask disintegrates, and we have to construct a new costume to conceal ourselves within.

The further down inside we push ourselves, the smaller our fire becomes until eventually it goes out completely. Without the fire, we have no energy, no light, no warmth. Life becomes dark, cold, tiring. Those around us do not know our truth, who we are. We feel like frauds in our own life. How can I know who my true friends are when they don’t know who I am? In the emptiness, it seems that there is only one way to escape.

Some people succumb to the darkness. Others manage fight back, often at the expense of losing EVERYTHING. 

How can our loved ones not love us? How can they have been so easily fooled by the masks, the cloaks, the costumes? Surely they must have known, really deep down, who I was? They were just playing along with the game. 

Truths cannot be denied. And we cannot hide from ourselves forever. Yet we only do so because you make it so. You douse our fires and shovel dirt over the smoke. No more!

I do not deny the existence of your gender simply because I don’t experience it. All I ask is that you pay me the same courtesy. Make good for your mistakes, it’s not too late…

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