Gender-identity conversation comes out of the closet

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2013 - 7:13 AM

Some members of the GLBT community are challenging the norm that everyone must live as one gender or the other.

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Toni Foxx prefers not to be referred to as “he” or “she.” Foxx is “genderfluid,” a relatively new term to describe people who identify as both, or neither, male or female. Foxx, who recently moved from Minneapolis to California, is a freelance fashion designer who is developing a line of genderfluid clothing.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Foxx is “genderfluid” — one of several relatively new terms to describe people who consider themselves some combination of male and female. “I’m a way better person since I started identifying this way,” said Foxx, who recently moved from Minneapolis to California and is developing a genderfluid clothing line, Label Killer.

Tim/Kimberly Walker, 51, a self-employed engineer in St. Paul, uses a two-sided business card, with one side showing a picture of Tim, a rugged man with a shaved head, and the other side showing Kimberly, a smiling woman with side-swept bangs, a V-necked dress and a chunky necklace.

“I have gone to clients as both,” Walker said. “I enjoy being both, and I took ownership of it.”

Gender is a fixed fact of life for most people, from the moment the doctor says “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.” But a small yet increasingly visible segment of the GLBT community is challenging the idea that every person must live as one gender or the other. Instead they’re choosing to live openly — personally and professionally — as both, or somewhere in the middle.

People who experience a blending or alternation of gender states are recognized by the American Psychological Association as a subset under the umbrella term of transgender. But unlike some transgender individuals, such as recent Wikileaks newsmaker Bradley-turned-Chelsea Manning, who seek to transition to the gender that reflects their inner gender identity, some people prefer not to be confined by “binary” gender at all.

“I’m a person in-between,” said Roxanne “Andy” Anderson, 44, co-owner of Cafe Southside in Minneapolis and program director of the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition. “I can be passable either way.”

Genderfluid people are finding support online, on Facebook groups and blogs targeted to the “genderqueer,” “gender non-conforming,” “bigendered minority” and “gender renegades.”

“It’s becoming more prevalent — with younger people, in particular,” said Lauren Beach, a Minneapolis attorney who organized the academic component of a recent conference on bisexuality at Augsburg College.

“The conversations we’ve been having about sexual orientation are the same conversations we’re having now about gender identity,” said Jason Jackson, assistant director of the GLBTA (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, ally) program at the University of Minnesota, which sees “a lot of people” who describe themselves as genderfluid or genderqueer, according to Jackson.

Less stigma

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently updated its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to replace “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria.” The new classification removes the stigma-laden “disorder” in favor of a term to describe those who experience distress over a discrepancy between their biological sex and their experience of gender, according to Ken Zucker, the Toronto psychologist who chaired the APA’s sexual and gender identity disorder work group.

“The primary goal was to make it applicable to people experiencing distress and to keep out of gender preferences,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist, also a member of the work group. A diagnosis of gender dysphoria maintains access to medical care, including counseling, hormones or surgery, all of which require a diagnosis for insurance coverage.

And gender-related distress is on the rise, according to Zucker. “Gender dysphoria is coming out of the closet. Everybody [clinicians] is experiencing a notable increase in rates of referral.”

Why the increase?

“One hypothesis is that there’s less stigma, so more people are acknowledging their feelings,” Zucker said. “Another is that the Internet allows people to look for information about how they’re feeling. I see a lot of adolescents who say, ‘I didn’t know there was a word labeling what I’m experiencing.’ ”

When Foxx discovered the term genderfluid, “I was so happy — I felt like I was owning myself.” Growing up male, “I never felt like I fit in with boys, playing sports,” Foxx said. “I wanted to dance, do what the girls did. I’m not a typical competitor. I’m more of a creative person. I thought if I’d born female, I’d be happier.” But Foxx wasn’t interested in pursuing a surgical gender transition. “I love my body.”

One morning, “I had an epiphany,” Foxx recalled. “I’m an individual. If you want people to see you as just a person, take away the other stuff.”

  • related content

  • Tim/Kimberly Walker of St. Paul is a dual-gender person who lives and works under both identifies.

  • Tim/Kimberly Walker of St. Paul is a dual-gender person who lives and works under both identities.

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