Click here to watch iO Tillett Wright's TEDTalk.
First there was the woman in the stall next to me, who stopped short and stared as I passed her, but had the wherewithal to apologize at the sink.
Ten minutes later I encountered the TSA worker who admired the necklace perched between my breasts, but lifted it to unflinchingly run his hand down the center of my chest to check if I had a bomb strapped to it.
After him there was the lady who served me my tea, who stumbled between 'sir' upon seeing me, and 'ma'am' upon hearing my voice.
I would love to say I'm used to it. I would love to say that, this being my daily life, it doesn't affect me anymore, that going to the bathroom doesn't give me anxiety, but it does. Why? Why do I feel like people take some part of my womanhood from me when they call me 'mister' and 'man'?
For people outside the queer community, the conversation is simple; 'I thought it was a boy, now I see it's a girl.' The end.
For those within it, not so much. To those privy to the most cutting edge vernacular of gender conversations, the appropriate way to address someone is 'they/them/theirs'.
I'll just come right out and say it; I am not a 'they'. I am a 'woman'. With many elements of a 'man' about me.
There is nothing wrong with being a 'they', but, STRICTLY speaking for myself, the shoe doesn't fit.
A) The grammatical error inherently rubs every neurotic, detail-oriented bone in my virgo body the wrong way.
B) Unless you are going to 'they' every person you meet, you're just drawing attention to the fact that my gender presentation confuses you.
C) If you are confused, just ask.
There was a tear soaked conversation with my father recently, wondering if I am, in fact, transgender, and have simply been in denial since I made the switch back as a teenager. I am proud to say, that conversation was met with total openness by both he and I, but here's what I came to; in MY case (and one should only ever speak for oneself in these things), rather than embrace the opposite presentation of gender, putting on the uniform and performing 'male', I want to learn to be whole in what I am: A female, who has many masculine characteristics, and many feminine characteristics, and that there is nothing wrong with that. It doesn't make me any less of one or the other. And that is EXCITING. I may be the minority, and a rarity in the masses, but I am having too much fun being alive the way I am to squeeze myself into someone else's notion of what my vagina and breasts mean I have to be.
Conversely, I challenge the notions of what is 'masculine' and what is 'feminine'. I cherish the men in my life who cry, who hold each other tenderly, who are able to be sensitive and kind. I find them the most masculine of all, whatever that means. And the women who can build their own shelves, ride motorcycles and chop their own wood, like my mother, are the strongest examples of divine womanhood I think that there is.
Labels are essential to conversation, as are boxes, but I stand by my point, which is that it's not that there are too many boxes in the world, it's that there are too few. Each one of us is in hundreds of boxes, like watercolors, splish-splashing elements of ourselves over into the others, and in my view, when colors bleed into each other, we get the most beautiful rainbows.
It's been almost a year and a half since I did my TED talk, and a lot has changed. As of May 13th, 2014, I have photographed 4,620 faces in over 50 cities, and I have adjusted my goal to 10,000 faces. There is no longer just a percentage question, now we have three questions that more wholly address gender identity, sexual preference, and level of sexual activity to better measure the complex spectrum of human sexuality.
Most excitingly, just a few days ago we launched the WE ARE YOU campaign, targeted at counteracting the avalanche of bigotry and misinformation in the world with a positive message.
Please take 3 minutes to watch our new video, and join us in any way you can.
Click here for more information on iO Tillett Wright's photography project, Self Evident Truths.