I 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?