by Kate Sweeney

Kindness and Courage: Oliver

AGE: 28

Pronouns: They, them, theirs

How would you describe your gender identity? I would describe my gender identity as one of gentle masculine neutrality. While my presentation and much of my bearing plays and teases at masculinity, I identify with an active distancing of toxic masculinity. For me, my gender is political. It is a radical thing that I live my trans life in this trans body.

What has been the most surprising aspect of transition for you? Probably how very willing my chosen family was to accept me for who I see myself. From new pronouns to a new name, my family has been so very accepting, and understanding. I’m also surprised at the rare occurrences of cis people assuming that I’m just eventually going to identify as a binary trans man. There is certainly nothing wrong with a binary identity, but a binary gender identity is not what is true and valid for me. At least not today.

In your experience, what’s been the best thing about living authentically? I’ve found that there is a great sense of joy and relief to living authentically. My pronouns get respected and utilized in my professional setting. My name and pronouns are respected by my interpersonal circles. There’s still this sense of joy that I don’t have to subscribe to any particular gendered narrative of expectations. I live more authentically in large part because I can play with different expectations of gendered behavior. I can walk with a swagger and weep for joy when I see a cute dog walking down the street.

In your experience, what’s been the biggest challenge related to living authentically? There are so many parts of the humdrum of everyday life that has zero cognizance that gender queer people exist. It feels like a societal gaslighting—from paying my bills and seeing my old name, to noticing the little “female” box I often have to check on paperwork, to being “sir’ed” or “ma’am’ed” by folks. Trans people, and particularly gender non-conforming people have to carve out little spaces where they can just exist and it’s not treated like an unreasonable request that our pronouns and names are respected. So much of my life, I’m very aware that my body and selfhood are not seen the way I see them. I appreciate the spaces I can carve out to be me.

What kind of environment is Central Ohio for a TGNC (Trans or Gender-Nonconforming) person? I’ve lived the past six years in the Central Ohio area and found a real home here. This world is not perfect, and I certainly experience macro- and micro-aggressions related to my gender and sexuality regularly. There’s relative safety here, and I’m thrilled to say my chosen family and the spaces we tend to inhabit are great for me. However, I live in a gender presentation that reads as androgynous, and therefore queer, and as such, I’ve certainly found myself in some scrapes where I was targeted for threats. Central Ohio is a little artsy queer paradise that still has to interface with communities that are not as welcoming to trans folks. My negative experiences are thankfully few.

What question(s) do you wish people would stop asking you? Why? I wish folks would stop assuming that gender queer people are just confused and eventually going to pick a binary gender. We have always existed, but the nature of how the cis-normative world has recorded our deeds has chosen to gender us one way or another. And this feels very similar to the erasure that bisexual folks receive. Gender nonconforming people are finally getting a bit more notice in the media and larger world, and I look forward to when our identities are more widely and systematically respected. I also wish folks would stop saying my gender identity is just fashionable. My bow ties are fashionable. My thrifted selvedge denim is fashionable. My gender is an inherent part of me.

What do you want to share about your experience as TGNC person that most people might not know about? That’s a really excellent question. I wish people could know how lovely it can be to be myself. So much of the narratives for queer folks, and especially trans/gender-nonconforming people is focused on the trauma of our experiences. Yes, many of us experience dysphoria, mis-gendering, distance from biological family, and even violence. And those experiences are very real and common, and they need talked about. But I want people to know how much joy I receive in being myself, living my life, and hearing the sound of my name and pronouns trickling off my lips. Hearing my name spoken by others, can sound like wind chimes, and leave me grinning. And these moments of being seen for who you really are … they are a precious kind of magic.

What’s the most interesting thing about you (unrelated to your gender identity)?

The most interesting thing about me is probably my very specific nerdiness. I can be the biggest nerd about intersectional feminism, best practices in activism/advocacy, masculine fashion and its historic roots, bicycling, and cooking. But I also love hearing what topics bring a thrill to others. That energy of discussing the topics that makes one tick is intoxicating

What do you think is the most important concrete action allies could take to help support the TGNC community in Columbus? When in spaces filled with cis folks, correct the transphobia you see around you. Should you hear another cis person mix up pronouns or being actively vitriolic about a trans person’s identity, call it out and educate. As an ally, cis folks have greater ability to be heard then the trans person in a majority cis space. And should a trans person willingly speak about their experience, listen. That is a valuable and rare piece of education you are receiving that is actively costing us energy or even pain. After that, forward the voices of trans and gender non-conforming folks in your life and community.