LABELS full transcription

My name is Llano Blue. I am proud of who I am, and who I am does not need to be defined. But just so it’s covered, let’s try.

We as humans are fond of labeling ourselves and others. Largely as a means to explain our identities and interests succinctly, which can help us to find communities we feel safe in.

Although I recognize the importance of labels, I don’t like how limiting they can be, or how subjective they are. Everyone has their own connotations and hang-ups with language, and if you define yourself to someone using known labels, what those words mean to you and what they mean to someone else may greatly vary.

Having spent my life in alternative communities throughout Northern California, I am lucky in that I have not often needed to define myself. The question I am most often asked is in regard to my race.

I identify as mixed race. My usual answer is, “half Mexican, half European mutt, with a smattering of Native American on both sides.” My friend Sean is fond of saying, “in the future, we will all be light brown.”

I do feel some connection to my cultural heritage, but I didn’t grow up fully emersed in any one culture’s traditions, so although my ethnic background informs my identity, I do not feel defined by it.

The other question I sometimes get asked is, “are you a boy or a girl?” what I would like to respond with is, “yes.” But the people who ask this are children, and usually their parents will hush them as if they’ve asked something very rude. I tell them that I am a boy and some times they’ll have a follow up question like, “why are your nails painted, why do you have earrings, why do you have long hair?” And I tell them that there’s more than one way to be a boy, just as there’s more than one way to be a girl.

The other question I get asked, though not often, is about my sexual orientation. My romantic partner of 6 years is female, but I have my own hang ups about language, and straight is not a word that either of us identify with.

When it comes to sexual orientation, I find the labels hetero,  homo and bisexual to be limiting, because they imply a binary system: you can choose both, you can choose the thing that is opposite you, or the one that is the same as you. Even bisexuality is often thought not to exist, because in a binary world, it’s a gray area. And asexual doesn’t even fit on this scale which is something my sister identifies as, as have I at different points in my life.

I am attracted, not necessarily sexually, to a wide range of people, and I like the label pansexual, or even pan-sensual, because it encompasses people whose bodies, intersex people for instance, and whose gender expressions do not fit into the narrow boxes of female or male.

I also like the label quirkyalone, coined by Sasha Cagen, which is basically the idea that you like your own company, and don’t seek out romantic relationships. People who were quirkyalone but ended up in a relationship, might call themselves quirkytogether.

One joke that gets made, by me and by others, when trying to define my sexuality is that I am a lesbian. My gender expression is often very feminine, and had I been born a woman, maybe I would have identified as a lesbian. Since I was born a man, that feminine gender expression is what makes a lot of people assume that I am a gay man.

I have had a very feminine side for as long as I can remember, and my childhood story of being dressed up like a girl is one shared by many a brother with an older sister. Unlike most of them, I never stopped playing dress up.

Sisters

I am extremely grateful to have such open parents who always encouraged my interests, and from whom I never received any messages that playing with dresses, makeup, or dolls was inappropriate because I was a boy.

Ever since I was little I’ve had a sort of female alter ego. When I was a kid, the girl name I went by was Crystal, or Chrissie. I was always jealous of the label Tomboy, and wanted an equivalent for a boy who liked girly things. In an effort to genderswap Tomboy, I called myself a Chrissiegirl. Since then, the term Janegirl has emerged.

Being a man who wears women’s clothing, some people might define me as a crossdresser. I find crossdressing to be an inadequate term because, again, it is rooted in a binary system- you are one thing and you dress as the other. I like the word transvestite because I associate with Tim Curry and Eddie Izzard, but there is a fetishism attached to the term that I don’t identify with.

While we are on words that start with trans, let’s talk about transsexual. Someone who is transsexual is often thought of as FTM or MTF, meaning female to male or vice versa. Trans people are often further categorized into being pre-op or post-op, op meaning operative, or operation, although there are plenty of people who identify as trans who have no intention of surgically altering their bodies. All of this language is still firmly grounded in a binary system.

Transgender is often used interchangeably with transsexual, but where as transsexual implies a change in your sex, or body, transgender can simply mean someone who doesn’t identify with the cultural conventions of gender. That’s me. Because transgender means many things to many people, if I were to tell someone I identified as transgender, they probably would have a different meaning in mind than I did.

The opposite of transgender is cisgender, which is the idea that your body, the gender you were assigned at birth, and your identity all match. Once again, having cis on the other side of trans creates a binary system that once again, I’m not sure where I fit into.

End of PART 1

PART 2

Had I grown up in a different environment, I think it’s likely I would be a male to female transsexual. It’s something I did research into as a teen, and had I received more messages that my feminine gender expression was wrong for the body I was born into, I may have felt the need to change that body.

The thing that helped me most to feel comfortble in my own skin and in exploring my identity was seeing people whose gender expressions were a little off the beaten path. A couple big influences are the work of Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw, and Monika Treut’s documentary Gendernauts.

Although I don’t want to change my body surgically, I do sometimes enjoy the act of transformation through drag. I have performed as a drag queen for several years. Although my day to day outfits can be somewhat outlandish, when I dress in drag I generally wear much more makeup and often pad my body to change my proportions. I see drag as an exaggeration and performance of gender, often poking fun at its conventions.

Being a drag queen is generally seen as the territory of gay men, which is another reason why someone might assume that that is what I am. The interesting thing about being in the drag community and having a female partner, is that sometimes I have to reverse out myself.

Drag queens in San Francisco are a very diverse group that includes a lot of biological women and bearded men, which is a San Francisco tradition dating back to The Cockettes of the 1970s (late sixties, ed). A documentary about the Cockettes was another big influence on helping me to understand that I could express my gender any way I wanted to.

The drag world is also a context in which I am referred to as she. I have no problem with male pronouns, but it’s nice to have some variety.

Photographer Chloe Aftel has been photographing people who identify as agender and often go by the pronoun they. I am excited about this identity gaining visibility, but it is not my identity.

As far as pronouns go, I think having gender neutral options is important. Personally, I will happily accept all pronouns used with respect, which I guess makes me more pangender than agender.

The concept of agender feels very neutral to me, and while I often inhabit a neutral space, to me the joy of gender is its fluidity. As RuPaul says, “You’re born naked and the rest is drag.” Sometimes when I get dressed in the morning I combine clothes that borrow from men’s styles and women’s styles for a more androgynous look, while other times I might dress in a more specifically gendered way. Although even when I’m at my most masculine sometimes I am still taken for a woman due to signifiers like long hair or earrings.

It is this fluidity that makes me wary of labeling or defining my identity at all. I don’t want an identity that is dependent on the way that I dress, act, speak, dance, or play, because while it will always be authentic, it might not be the same every day.

The language of identity is constantly being reinvented. New words come into fashion, and often old ones are ostracized, sometimes at the expense of how people identify themselves.

People become very sensitive about words that others use to identify them as, and very protective of words that they identify themselves as. There are a lot of words that if I used for myself, someone might feel I was appropriating their identity.

The word I Identify with most in LGBTQIA etc, the word that I feel most included by, is queer. If your gender, sex, or sexuality makes you feel different, chances are you fit under the umbrella that is the word queer.

My favorite labels are the ones that are the most open. Like gender fluid, gender bender, gender variant, gender f**k, gender queer, or how about just gender other, gender nebulous.

All of these words are non-binary, and while agender and pangender could be seen as a binary, I don’t think a scale of all or nothing leaves anyone out.

While not everyone has caught up, many of us already live in a post binary world. Post binary is the idea that we have moved beyond the system we use to measure gender, as well as sex, as a choice between man and woman. An example of something holding us in the binary is how we are marketed and sold to, which starts when we are born with color coded toys and clothing. Facebook adding so many options for gender is an example of us moving in the direction of post binary.

In the same way that our races are mixing and the world is becoming a melting pot, or how music being made today is constantly creating new genres and hybrids, identities are blossoming and outgrowing old labels. Having only two options is obsolete.

I do realize that I am incredibly privileged- I can pass as male, I can pass as white, and depending on how I dress, I can pass as straight. I’ve never been physically assaulted or made to feel unsafe. I get my fare share of stares, and I have had faggot and freak yelled at me from passing pickup trucks, but I feel comfortable walking down the street expressing myself however I choose, and I feel accepted by my community. That is a huge luxury that millions of people around the world don’t have.

There are many people who are invisible and fighting for acceptance, recognition, and labels can be helpful.

And while I am comfortable with my identity remaining undefined, plenty of people accept me for however they choose, subconsciously, to define me.

My experience, and my expression are my own, and when I speak, I am not speaking for a specific group. It’s important when we interact with people, to interact with them as individuals

It can be nice to ask someone how they identify and what pronouns they prefer, but only when it is done respectfully, and it should never be the first thing you ask.

It would be lovely if we all made an effort to understand people who may not be like us. It can be hard for sexual people to imagine being asexual, and homosexuality makes a lot of heterosexual people very uncomfortable. We all need to understand that what we experience is not what everyone else experiences. I feel like I don’t fit a lot of the more conventional labels, but plenty of people do.

Regardless of how any of us identify or are identified, we have something in common. I am human, and as all too many humans forget, I am animal.

Actually, there’s somewhere I don’t mind getting more specific- I am a glitter wolf.

What are you?