My gender friends

transgender symbolI was talking about some personal gender stuff with Miriam yesterday and mentioned “Finn, one of my other gender friends” (because Finn had given me some really great advice). After our conversation I got to thinking about how important the concept of a “gender friend” has become in my life, and what an insider idea this is, a term that most people don’t even know.

A gender friend is someone I feel comfortable talking through gender issues with. I’ve got a range of gender friends, from folks I like to have nerdy theoretical conversations with to a few folks with whom I talk through incredibly personal issues. They’re people who share some important common understandings about gender, who I know I won’t have to explain basic concepts to when talking about something I’m struggling with or excited about. They’ve helped me process my feelings and experiences around gender, helped me explore my genderqueer identity and then come out as a trans woman. And I’ve helped friends through similar experiences.

My gender friends don’t necessarily identify the same way I do – in fact, my best gender friends are genderqueer and trans guys, and I’ve got cisgender gender friends. But they are people who know me well, who think seriously about gender at a political, cultural, and personal level, and who are great, compassionate listeners who are also willing to open up. We don’t always see eye to eye on everything either, but they’re the kind of friends who care about me and can support me where I’m at. I first had this sort of conversation in a genderqueer discussion group at college – some of the members of that group are still close gender friends today.

As one friend mentioned to me, there’s a gender comfort spectrum among people in my life. I find a range of comfort discussing certain issues with different folks, depending on how much they understand about gender and how well they know me. Obviously, I think it’s important to talk about gender with everyone, and there’s a real power in sharing the personal, or I wouldn’t be blogging here. But when working through certain issues there are people who I know will work to understand me when I can’t find the right words and will give me the space to process difficult shit. If it weren’t for some of my closest gender friends I’d never have been ready to share things like my own history with suicide or even my relationship with The Little Mermaid.

I think it’s important to have people in our lives who we can talk with about issues relating to identity. I have friends I feel more comfortable talking with about class, race, or religion. But gender’s the area where it’s been so obviously important that it’s been given a name by my community. This makes sense, since I’m talking about queer, trans, and gender non-conforming folks and allies for whom gender is so often a super salient and obvious part of our lives. I feel incredibly blessed and privileged to have people like this in my life – I hope tools like the internet can help geographically isolated trans and gender non-conforming folks find similar support networks. I think it’s a concept that could benefit a much broader range of people, though – after all, we all exist in a gendered world and have to deal with our place in it.

Do you have a close gender friend, or friends you talk about certain identity issues with? Would it be helpful to you to deliberately talk these topics with a good friend who understands?

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  1. Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    This speaks to my condition. And speaks to it so lucidly. Thank you for this.

    • Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      This is great to share with everyone. It’s about having friends that care about you and accept you and love you. Although I identify as heterosexual, I still think it’s important for everyone to have conversations about gender identity and know that any identification is okay and perfectly normal, there is not one right way to be! Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Posted June 30, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Of course, and I try to find such people as often as I can. I have two or three people I can talk to, who quite unsurprisingly were gender studies majors in undergrad. I envy you that you had the resource of a genderqueer discussion group. That must have been such a comfort. The most I had was a Gay/Straight student alliance that could be helpful at times but never had the leadership it really needed.

    I’m still working through my own issues regarding gender. Sometimes therapists have been the most helpful, though each of them has identified as cisgender. I wonder what it would be like to have a gender non-conforming therapist.

  3. Posted June 30, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really have a gender friend but it would be cool to have one. There have been times where I have had a strange gender related experience and then I felt like no one I knew would get what I was talking about. I am female and go by feminine pronouns but I don’t feel my gender lies on either extreme. The way it sticks out to me most is with clothing. I don’t wear men’s clothing (not really) but I avoid very girly stuff. A boyfriend I had for a short time made me mad by saying we should go to some dance thing and I should wear a dress. I said no repeatedly. Then I said if he likes dresses so much he should wear one. He replied, “I’m a man.” It made me extremely angry but I did not have a gender friend to go to!

    • Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know how but I can try for you: Good comeback to him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Posted July 1, 2011 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    I never used that word for it, but “gender friend” is a great title. My partner and I were each other’s original gender friends, a good while before we started dating, and I feel lucky enough to have a handful of people who I can talk about gender and trans issues with – most of them are also trans/genderqueer identified, but I have some good cis friends I can talk gender with as well.
    My thoughts about gender – both my own and how I think about gender in relation to the world as a whole – are always shifting and changing, and I process those changes best by bouncing ideas off of other people. I’m glad I have more than one person I can count on for good discussion and understanding in this area.

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