Ben Artin’s Gender Primer

You are probably here because I handed you a card that answers some questions about my gender. Thank you for taking the time to learn more.

If your questions aren’t answered here, feel free to follow up in person or in email.

Why did you hand me your card?

I handed you the card because I wanted to clarify some aspects of my gender that are a common source of confusion.

I did not hand you the card because you did something wrong, or because I have bad feelings towards you.

Why didn’t you just talk to me in person?

First of all, I don’t want your daily activities — or mine — to be derailed by conversations about my gender. So, I gave you a card that has enough information for both of us to get on with our day, and lets you learn more whenever that’s convenient for you.

Second, answering the same questions day-in and day-out is time-consuming and exhausting for me. Answering the common questions in a less-tiring way allows me to be available to answer more in-depth questions in person.

What is your gender?

Let’s put a pin in that question.

Most of the time, when people ask about about my gender, they are really trying to find out which assumptions they can make about me based on my gender. So, let's talk about gender assumptions first:

What words should I use to refer to you?

In short: with the narrow exception of “he” and ”his”, please do not refer to me using gendered words.

To elaborate: you can refer to me using my name (Ben), the emerging gender-neutral pronouns (they, their), or the usual male pronouns (he, his).

I understand that many people grew up with “they” as a plural pronoun and thus find it difficult to adapt to the emerging use of “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Because the gender-neutral “they” is not a central part of my gender identity, I don’t insist on it.

(For many other people, ”they” is as much part of their identity as “he” or “she” might be for you; please respect their pronouns as they respect yours.)

You can also refer to me using gender-neutral nouns, such as “person”.

Please do not refer to me using gendered nouns, such as “man”, “guy”, or “dude”.

Please do not refer to me using a title. “Mister” and “sir” do not apply, and no suitable gender-neutral title has gained acceptance yet.

When you refer to a group that I belong to, please do not use phrases that divide the group into two genders, such as “men and women”, “males and females”, or “ladies and gentlemen”; use non-gendered words instead, such as “people”, “colleagues”, or “folks”.

If you are referring to my clothing or accessories, please do not attach gender to them; my skirt and purse are not a “man-skirt” and a “man-purse”.

You do not need to fear offense or embarrassment when using words you consider feminine when referring to something I do or wear. I wear skirts and leggings, I use moisturizer, and I sometimes have hair highlights. Even though all of those are stereotypically feminine, they are also a part of my life.

What should I do if I use the wrong word when talking to you or about you?

Correct yourself and move on. No apology is necessary; the correction itself is a demonstration of good will on your part, for which I am grateful.

What clothing do you wear?

I wear a combination of men’s clothing, traditionally women’s clothing, unisex clothing, and clothing custom-made to fit me.

Please do not ask that I alter my manner of dress because it does not conform to a style conventionally considered to be male or female.

I do welcome feedback; shortage of fashion guidance and role-models is an ongoing challenge for me, and I am happy to hear feedback that is mindful of my gender.

What bathrooms do you use?

I prefer all-gender (unisex) bathrooms.

OK, so, what is your gender?

Language surrounding gender has been changing rapidly in the recent years. Of the currently available words for gender, the most common correct one for me is “non-binary”. Other — less common — ones that would also be correct are “gender non-conforming” and “genderqueer”.

Emerging colloquial variants of “non-binary”, such as “enby”, are fine.

Are you trans?

It depends; language surrounding transgender identities has also been rapidly evolving.

Historically, “trans” used to be short for “transsexual” and, in that sense, it referred only to individuals who had undergone medical treatment (hormone therapy) or surgical treatment (gender-affirming surgery) for gender dysphoria. That sense of “trans” is outdated (on account of not including the full spectrum of transgender experiences), and it does not apply to me.

More recently, “trans” has included all who transitioned (or were transitioning) from male to female or vice versa, whether of not they have undergone medical or surgical interventions. That sense of “trans” is common today, and also does not apply to me.

Currently, “trans” is sometimes expanded to also include those who — like me — transitioned (or are transitioning) from male or female to neither. This use of “trans” is not widespread, but “trans” in that sense does apply to me.

Those three meanings of “trans” describe overlapping-yet-different sets of experiences, and each functions as shorthand both about ones’s journey of personal discovery and exploration, as well as shorthand for one’s experiences of trauma and discrimination.

I think of myself as trans, but whether I refer to myself as trans is highly contextual, because of the potential for both misunderstanding and misappropriation. If you refer to me as “trans” or “transgender”, you won’t be entirely wrong, but you may be misunderstood. Referring to me as “non-binary” (or “gender non-binary”) is preferable.

What should I do if I have more questions?

Ask me! I prefer in-person conversations to email, but if email works better for you, that’s fine.