Discussing Gender With S. Bear Bergman


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Photo: Coren Michael Rau

In Butch Is a Noun, S. Bear Bergman whittles down the often convoluted issues of gender identity through personal observations about gendered cultural norms like which bathroom and what clothing one chooses, and argues against the gender binary from the positive perspective of love and acceptance.

What were you trying to convey in your first chapter, “I Know What Butch Is”?

I really wanted to make the point that there is no one true way to be butch. I think that often butches get shamed or critiqued or disregarded because of some other person’s statement that they’re “not doing it right.” I’m saying: Listen, pay attention to good role models and then do it how it comes naturally to you.

What is it about gender that makes everyone so hardheaded?

It’s about how we live in the world every day, and it piles onto everyone, no matter where else they are privileged or disempowered. It grabs hold of us when we’re tiny—pink and blue blankets, dolls and trucks—and refuses to let us go. The culture never stops trying to police it.

Why are bathroom politics so important to examine?

Bathrooms are one of the places in public where you have to make an unequivocal statement about your sex. Many trans folks point to the first times they passed in “the other bathroom” as great moments of triumph in their gendered journeys.

Why do you translate transgender literally?

I translate it literally in the book because I want to make a point—that transgender is not about “the opposite gender.” There is no “opposite gender,” just some others. So I want to say, specifically, clearly, that being transgendered is about crossing—crossing out of boxes.

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