The Gadfly

My hometown’s weekly publication, the High Plains Reader (HPR), is locally known as an alternative and well-researched paper.  Or at least, that’s always been my understanding of the paper.  One of the opinion columns is called Gadfly and written by Mr. Ed Raymond, and this has always been one of the highlights of HPR for myself and my family.  It has always been an informed critique of the goings on in society, and has focused on a wide number of issues both commonly seen in the public eye as well as those issues we’d all rather ignore.

My father has this adorable habit of cutting out newspaper articles, sticking them in an envelope, and mailing them to me to show his support of me.  Where other families might say, “Wow Brannen, you’re living such an authentic life and I couldn’t be prouder to have you as a child,” my family sends academic articles, newspaper clippings, and links to news reports or well-written blog posts.

And so imagine my pleasure when I opened my envelope to find a recent Gadfly article entitled “Bruce and Caitlyn and Friends”.  Knowing HPR, I thought it would be both informational as well as, you know, informed.  I read in horror as the first paragraph contained the phrase

Although he felt the pressures of the female brain as early as age six, it took him 59 years to transgender to female to satisfy those yearnings.

This was unfortunately not the end of the errors contained within the article, and so I decided to write Mr. Raymond an email delineating the points I felt were most salient:

“Mr. Raymond,

I’m a grad student at UW-Madison, but a Moorhead native, and my father sent me your article “Bruce and Caitlyn and Friends” to read.  I did enjoy the sentiments you expressed, especially regarding theology, but I did take issue with a few of your overlying themes.  I wanted to clear up a few points that you might not have been to clear about.

In your first paragraph you described Caitlyn Jenner as “transgendering from male to female.”  I wanted to bring to your attention that the word “transgender” is not a verb — for example, as a transgender person I cannot “transgender” from one sex or gender to another — but the term is an adjective.  So I am a gender neutral, non-binary transgender person.

Secondly you seem to conflate sexuality, sex, and gender identity, although granted the concepts are closely connected.  Sex is what we’re designated at birth based on our genitalia — male, female, or intersex — although as you reference with Nicole, this can be a confusing area for religious reasons as well as medical and social reasons.  Sexuality is who you are or are not attracted to romantically or sexually.  And gender identity is your internal feeling of yourself and where you stand, or don’t stand, within a typically gendered society.

You ask, “What makes us think that when it comes to sexuality each human has received exactly just the right amount of testosterone and estrogen to put us in a narrow ‘normal’ heterosexual range?”  This question makes no sense; hormones point to our sex assigned at birth, but heterosexual is a sexual orientation, part of our sexuality, and I don’t know that hormones play any definitive role in determining our sexuality.

The last concern I had regards your section on non-binary individuals, which really hit close to home for me.  “Non-binary” and “agender” are two completely different gender identities.  Non-binary is more of an umbrella term for people who do not subscribe to the notion of only two genders (the man/woman dichotomy).  Thus a non-binary person would not necessarily say they are male/female, as this connotes more of a feel of being intersex than it has anything to do with gender.  Some non-binary people do identify as bigender, however, and might say they are both a man and a woman.  Being agender involves not identifying with any sort of gender at all, or having a neutral gender identity, or even just not having any proper terminology to describe their gender.  This does not mean androgyny, as this is defined as being in between masculinity and femininity on that binary scale I mentioned above, and typically involves gender presentation (i.e. how you dress, behave, etc.).

(As an aside, being non-binary or agender does not involve “not choos[ing] a gender.”  People under the transgender and non-binary umbrellas don’t “choose” their gender any more than cisgender people do.  By the way, thank you for including that term in your piece!)

This is a handy site I’ve found that helped me clear up a lot of questions four years ago, when I first started coming to terms with my own gender identity.  The link is  I eagerly anticipate your response.”

I will readily admit I censored myself when going into the sex≠gender≠sexuality bit.  I did not want to inundate the email with a description of exactly how sex is determined by the body, but simply described how doctors assign us a sex.  And perhaps I hadn’t been as eloquent as I would have liked, but I felt that I had composed an overall good commentary before clicking “send.”  I was excited that instead of writing musings on my blog I had taken a step farther–to actually educating someone in a profession which I greatly admire.  I waited on tenterhooks, excited to hear what Mr. Raymond might reply.  And the next day or two I found this in my inbox:

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Gender Neutral Pokémon

Yes, I’m about to use Pokémon as a gigantic metaphor for my gender neutral, non-binary identity.  You have been warned.


Ralts used CONFUSE GENDER! It was super effective!

I always liked playing the Pokémon games on my ancient, beat up Gameboy Advance I bought off a middle school friend.  I was always partial to the core Pokémon (I’m a purist, what can I say?) but one Pokémon in particular always caught my eye, and it became a staple of my main team in every Green Leaf play-through.

Ralts and I were total buds.  From its cute high-pitched cry to its adorable green bangs, I knew we were meant to make a dynamic team together.  What’s not to love about a psychic fairy type, after all?  But it was about more than just having a psychic Pokémon for me.

I never had outlets for my gender identity or expression growing up, and most of the avenues I did find were highly monitored or criticised, either by my family or my peers at school.  Instead I buried myself in books and gaming, with Harry Potter and Pokémon becoming my main forms of self-expression and validation.

Ralts, like many Pokémon, looked fairly gender neutral.  But unlike most Pokémon it was able to evolve into two very distinct forms in its third evolution.  Gardevoir was also generation III, with a graceful dress-like body and flowing hair.  And yes, this Pokémon could be either a male or female.

In generation IV they introduced Gallade, which was solely a male evolution of Kirlia — Ralts’ second evolution which resembled a small ballerina with green pigtails.  But it was Ralts I always gravitated towards, and I always halted evolution because I couldn’t bear to see my tiny Pokémon counterpart change.

Ralts represented in the Pokémon world everything that I unconsciously felt about my own body and gender: that it was completely ambiguous and devoid of gendered presumptions.

For someone with no way to explain their gender neutral identity, is it any surprise this Pokémon caught my fancy?  Since then I’ve evolved into a grad student who plays more PC games and no Pokémon games to speak of, but I’m still the small, cute, gender neutral person I was back in middle school.  I imagine my Pokédex entry would look something like this:

Brannen: A small gender neutral, non-binary person who stores vast amounts of information inside their tiny head.  Will approach if offered tea and cookies.

My Life Without Gender

In reading a fantastic article by Tyler Ford I found, finally, a narrative that mirrors mine like no other trans narrative has before.  I’d never read about someone else who had never felt a connection to their body, who would instead retreat into their heads and become a “floating brain,” as I always liked to describe myself.  In their article, Tyler describes this more eloquently than I ever did:

I have always felt like a walking brain, living in my head while everyone around me seemed to have some innate understanding of their bodies: how they moved, what they desired.

Equally important is Tyler’s take on what it means for people to continually (and always inappropriately) inquire about their genitalia:

Strangers are often desperate to figure out what genitalia I have, in the hope that my body holds the key to some great secret and unavoidable truth about myself and my gender. It doesn’t. My words hold my truth. My body is simply the vehicle that gives me the opportunity to express myself.

I encourage you to read the full article, as it’s an incredibly eloquent account of an agender individual’s journey through and beyond the gender binary.  It’s a story that needs to be shared, just as all of our stories need to be shared, in order to challenge a society that tells us in effect, “You don’t exist.”


My hero. Courtesy of Tumblr and Google image search.

My relationship to feminism has changed drastically since transitioning to gender neutral.

In high school at the tender age of sixteen I was introduced to the American feminist movement — specifically the first-wave movement — by my AP American History teacher, and to this day I still love the movie Iron Jawed Angels.  Since that three-day unit on feminism I was hooked, and I quickly became the most outspoken introverted feminist of my tenth grade class.  Quite the feat, I assure you.

It helped that around that time, I also happened to be questioning my sexuality.  At first this was a sexual orientation question (men or women?) before I realized it truly was about more than who I was attracted to; it was how I was attracted to them.  By the end of high school I generally knew I was asexual but preferred the idea of romantic relationships with feminine-identified individuals.

This was all fine and dandy until I was twenty-one and started questioning my gender identity.  These were dark times for me indeed, but once I started accepting myself for who I am — and not  how others might prefer me to be — things got a lot easier.

Now, at twenty-five, I know myself to be a demisexual, sapioromantic, gender neutral trans person with a history of mental illness.

(That’s why I just introduce myself as “Brannen” at parties.)

But it was okay — easy, even — to identify as a feminist when I still thought I was a young woman.  In fact, that’s how I was able to keep my gender identity under wraps for so long.  I learned about first-wave feminism and thought, This is me!  No wonder I don’t want a relationship, and it explains my weird feelings about myself as a woman!

But knowing what I know about myself now, I also understand that no one is simply one identity; rather, we all have intersecting, multifaceted identities.

I’m asexual and transgender, and this puts me a very small, marginalized, and oppressed section of the trans/ace community.  I’m also a White trans person who has access to healthcare, which include having my hormones and surgery covered.  This puts me in an incredibly privileged part of the transgender community.

I am also gender neutral, which means that a majority of people do not even recognize my identity.  This lack of recognition — telling me that I don’t exist — is in itself is a form of oppression.  And my struggles with mental illness (dysthymia, depression, phobia, and gender dysphoria specifically) definitely marginalize me to American society at large.

In essence, being myself comes with an intersectional component that I was not aware of at sixteen.  And so being a feminist isn’t just about fighting for women’s rights and opposing the patriarchy.  I now consider myself to be an intersectional feminist.

Being an intersectional feminist means that I recognize the connections between
different forms of discrimination, and that I actively oppose all forms of oppression.

This is still a work in progress for me, but it’s something I’m committed to being more aware of.  We can’t fight oppression without educating ourselves first.

Mental Blocks Against Neutral Pronouns?

For reasons unfathomable to me, I have been encountering a surprising number of people who seem to have mental blocks against using my pronouns (they/them/their).  At last count I have four people in my immediate family, girlfriend included, and a few friends who either don’t know my pronouns or mess up way too often for it to be a coincidence.  I don’t hold any ill will towards these people; it’s clear that they still love me the same after I changed my pronouns.

But I can’t quite determine if I should be feeling disrespected or not.  I could imagine a situation where it would absolutely be within my right to be upset and claim disrespect was at play, such as if someone deliberately called me by the wrong pronouns and were total jerks about it.  But again, this is not the case.  They’re never rude about it, they rarely — if ever — gripe or complain about my pronouns, and they completely respect me and the decisions I’ve made.

However, I still can’t help but wonder where that line between being disrespectful and being too set in their ways to change lies…or perhaps it doesn’t exist?  In any event, I’m not the sort of person to get up in arms about my feelings and how I should be treated.  This essentially rules out me going up to everyone who refuses to use neutral pronouns and screaming, “THESE ARE MY PRONOUNS AND YOU WILL USE THEM!!”  I prefer to take a more quiet and gentle approach of reminding people a handful of times, waiting to see how they progress over time, and either continue my needling or give it up as a lost cause.

What are your experiences with refusals by others to use your pronouns?  Have you come up with any quick and easy ways to have your pronouns used and honored?  Please feel free to share in the comments below!

5 Things Cis People Can Actually Do For Trans People (Now That You Care About Us)


A good, concise post that sums up my feelings on what the LGBTQIA+ community can start working on now that marriage equality has been legalized. Mind you, this of course isn’t everything, but checking our attitudes towards and assumptions about trans people would be a pretty good place to start.

Originally posted on The (Trans)cendental Tourist:

It’s been a weird year for trans people.

Allow me to be more specific: It’s been a heated, daring, tumultuous, graphic, specularizing, aggressive, pointed,contentious, highlyfatal, and really, really complicated year for trans people.

Here are a few examples: Kristina Gomez Reinwald, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard, and many othertranswomen of color have been brutally murdered at the hands of lovers, family members, and strangers.Meanwhile,Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have come to fame and exhibited incrediblefeats of grace, articulation, and poignancy under the gaze ofan eager media. Blake Brockington, Leelah Alcorn, Taylor Alesana, and many other transgender youth have committed suicide afterenduring endless bullying and systematic brutality. Meanwhile, Jazz Jennings became the new face of Clean & Clear and published a children’s picture book about her life, and teen trans couple Arin Andrews and KatieHill (best known for “Can You Even Believe They’re Trans?!” types of headlines) wrote and published individual books…

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