What if you’re not sure what gender identity or label suits you? Or want to date or get busy with someone who identifies differently than you? How can cisgender folks better support trans and nonbinary people?
Today I’m excited to share a special bonus episode featuring my conversation with Rae McDaniel, sex therapist, speaker, DEI consultant and author of Gender Magic: Live Shamelessly, Reclaim Your Joy, & Step into Your Most Authentic Self.
“Bonus: Gender Magic Q&A with Rae McDaniel”
a Girl Boner podcast transcript
Surprise! You’re getting a bonus episode in your feed this month for a special reason. Instead of one of our usual deep dive stories, I’m going to share my recent conversation with past guest, sex therapist and DECI consultant, Rae McDaniel. Because… Rae authored a fantastic new book!
When I first interviewed Rae about their own sexual discovery journey, I remember thinking, I so want to read a book by them. Now we all can.
In addition to discussing the book, Rae generously agreed to answer several questions from you all, related to gender identity, supporting or dating trans or nonbinary folks and more — so you’ll hear those, too.
Rae’s book is called, “Gender Magic: Live Shamelessly, Reclaim Your Joy, & Step into Your Most Authentic Self.” It’s a first-of-its-kind practical guide to achieving gender freedom with joy, curiosity, and pleasure — whether you’re transgender, nonbinary, exploring your gender or want to learn about and support gender freedom for others.
Near the beginning, Rae wrote, “The journey to my non-binary identity was like discovering I’d been walking around in shews a half size too small.”
Rae: So I think my background, and if folks have heard our previous episode or are reading the book, you know that I grew up in a very conservative evangelical household. So I don’t even think I knew what trans was until I got to, to college, truly, and it wasn’t on my mind as something that might be relevant to me for a long time.
I had a lot of other things I needed to work through first. And so when it started to be this tickle, you know, I think we have this narrative that is often that a transgender identity or a non-binary identity, which is how I identify, is a light bulb moment. Or you know it since you were like three or four years old and neither one of those were true for me.
For me, it was very gentle until it wasn’t. And I, I like the shoe metaphor because if you have ever worn a pair of shoes that’s half a size or a size too small, you know the feeling of, oh, it’s fine. And you start walking and you start to get these blisters and suddenly that’s all you can think about and suddenly you cannot ignore these blisters and you can’t do things that were simple before, like walking, for example. And you certainly can’t go dancing or run or do any of those things that bring you joy, and that’s very much how my gender expansion felt to me. It wasn’t that the assigned gender and and sex at birth didn’t feel right for a long time.
I think for a long time it felt fine. Until it didn’t. Until I grew and I changed in a way that I needed more room. And as soon as I let myself have that room and gave myself permission to really fully be myself in the world, I could all of a sudden do all the things that I couldn’t before, right?
Metaphorically run and, and dance and live my life without thinking about my metaphorical shoes. AKA my gender.
August: Yeah, that makes so much sense to me. Yeah. So with this gradual evolution and, and all of these learnings that you were kind of absorbing and cultivating your life, was there, I know there wasn’t like a turning point, but were there moments along the way that we’re like a little bit light bulby?
Rae: I think so, yeah, there were several moments. A lot of them were gentle moments, which I really appreciate. I know that isn’t everyone’s story, but mine were pretty gentle and very introspective moments. You know, there was a moment when, I was dating someone at the time and I had asked her to play around with using Rae as my name.
And I remember the first time she did it and we were snuggling on the couch and she kind of whispered it in my ear and it was ju it set in chills down my spine and just felt right. There were other moments where there, there was. Some self doubt in there. Like moments when I would wake up and I would put on a binder and take it off again and put it on and take it off, and it was because with my non-binary identity, I didn’t feel trans enough.
Like there was a part of me that’s like, oh, people are gonna find out that I’m just faking it, that I’m not trans enough, that I’m trying to appropriate being trans. And reflecting on that, a lot of that came from this cultural narrative that you have to hate yourself in order to be yourself. And I didn’t hate myself. And I didn’t hate my body. But I felt better when I wore a binder.
You know, spoiler alert, nobody pointed fingers and said I was a fake. And I don’t have that thought anymore of my trans identity isn’t valid because of my non-binary identity, or because I don’t hate my body or the skin that I’m in. I just feel better now.
And then the other big moment I can point to is when I decided to have top surgery. So I had played with the idea of having top surgery for many years, but didn’t take it super seriously. It was kind of in the back of my head. It didn’t cause me a lot of distress. It was just a like, Hmm, I wonder if. And I remember a, a moment before I made the decision to have top surgery several years before, in fact, where I had gotten tested for the, the BRCA gene for, for breast cancer just to see.
And I didn’t have it. And I remember this tinge of being disappointed because if I had the BRCA gene, it means that I could have had my breasts removed in a culturally sanctioned way. And I, I kind of filed that away in my head for a long time. And then over the pandemic, I just came to this, again, very quiet, gentle moment of realizing the only reason I didn’t, or wasn’t moving forward with top surgery was because I had always had the body I have.
And it was familiar, but there were no other reasons. It didn’t benefit me in any way. I was wearing really tight sports bras or binders pretty much all the time. And I’ve never looked back. Like once I made that decision, it was really fast and once I got into recovery I was like, oh, why didn’t I do this sooner? It was just so immediately freeing for me and I, I love having a flatter chest. It’s great.
August: I love that. I know I have listeners, cause I’ve heard from them, who are curious about changing their pronouns or they’re, they’ve not come out as non-binary, but they’re starting to feel like that is a term that really is them. At what point did you, I guess, realize non-binary? Is it for me? Like the actual term?
Rae: Yeah, that is a really good question cuz I can’t point to a specific moment. I, I don’t know when the first time was that I said it out loud. I. I think even before I said it out loud, I was already playing with things like, do I want to shift my name to Rae?
I was playing a little bit with they/them pronouns and asking some close friends to, to try that out, and spent a good amount of time just kind of sitting with does this identity feel right to me? And I think, if I’m remembering correctly, the way it went down, was just in conversations. It wasn’t this big, I’m coming out to my friends, but a, I’m having a conversation with my friend about how I feel like this might be an expansion and a place that I’m moving to. So again, very, very gentle.
And for those who are exploring and, and are not sure, you know, does this term fit, does it not? That’s a big question. And I always encourage people to start with smaller questions, like what would make me feel the most authentic today? And to start gathering data about what feels good to you, and maybe not even gender euphoric. Right? But even my friend Lucy calls it gender good. What feels a little bit better than this other thing.
So that’s what I started doing and that’s what I would encourage others to test out is try on different ways of presenting. Talk to people that you’re close to about trying on different pronouns or a name. You know, give Starbucks a a different name and Listen to how it feels when they call it to pick up your coffee.
August: I love that. There’s this permission to not have all the answers right now, which is great.
Rae: No, well, we really, really don’t. I think there’s a ton of pressure to label your gender identity immediately, and I view gender and gender exploration and transition more as a a journey of self-discovery and a journey to our most authentic self.
And I know I never arrive at my most authentic self. Like I, I hope that I don’t stop changing today. That would be quite sad to me.
August: Yes, amen. Early in the book you say that “transition isn’t the point.” What did you mean by that?
Rae: I love this question. I don’t believe that gender transition period, or even gender freedom is the point because if we are transitioning, we are transitioning to something, right? And that, too, isn’t just about gender. It’s about a freedom to be yourself in the world and see what sort of magic happens when you get to be yourself in the world.
Because a lot of folks that I’ve worked with a and myself, were thinking about gender a lot. It takes up a ton of brain space. And so when you’re able to move through that and are just able to exist in the world, as much as possible, given the world we live in, as your authentic self, you show up in different ways to your relationships, to your work, to, you know, spending quality time with people, the causes you care about to art. It just opens up a whole world and a whole life, and that that is the point.
Rae’s book, Gender Magic, is based on the Gender Freedom model, which they described like this.
As a therapist, and as a non-binary person, I started getting really frustrated at the literature that I was reading and the research that I was reading about transgender identity and transition because it was all centered on suffering. It was all centered on, here are all the hard things about being trans. And those things are real. And those stories are important. Absolutely.
But I wasn’t seeing the flip side of the coin, which was I was happier in my own skin than ever before. My clients, so many of them were thriving in their identities and not only thriving when it came to, to gender expression and identity, but making really big moves in relationships, in housing situations, in career.
They were starting to play instruments and join bands and do art. And I really started asking myself, where is the literature on what trans thriving means and how can we as, as helping professionals, as therapists, as allies, support people in celebrating gender exploration and transition as a, a very normal and expected and exciting part of self-growth? And I couldn’t find it, so I wrote it.
And the gender freedom model is the basis of Gender Magic, the book. So it takes everything that I learned in my 10 plus years of experience as a therapist working with this population, a ton of research, not only into mental health, but also in educational theory, in human-centered design, in all of these different disciplines that I was able to bring together to create a coherent model about how to explore and transition your gender with much more ease and less anxiety in a way that centers play, pleasure and possibility, which are the three main pillars of the gender freedom model.
August: So wonderful. Just it’s radiant. I love it so much. And you have this wonderful example of some of the gender magic in your life, and I would love it if you would read us the excerpt from your book.
Rae: Yes, I’d be happy to. Also, you were the first podcast who has asked me to read an excerpt, so it’s very exciting,
August: Very honored.
Rae: Here we go. The goal of the gender freedom model isn’t to give you a step-by-step guide to discovering your gender identity. What it will give you are the mindsets, tools, and support you need to follow whatever path, gender exploration takes you down. I often think of it this way. On a solo trip to Lisbon, I wandered through the steep winding streets in the oldest part of Town.
Street signs were few and alleyways led to delicious tiny restaurants and bars sitting no more than five or 10 people at a time. Around dinnertime, I sat down in one of these hidden gems and ate fresh fish chatting with hand motions and drawings on napkins to the older French couple sitting beside me.
I listened delightedly as the cook, the grumpy old lady glaring at me from the street and about a dozen other guest singers serenaded us with Fado, the melancholy soul music of Portugal. I didn’t know where I was or how to get back to my hotel or what was next. But I didn’t care because at the moment, I didn’t wanna be anywhere else in the world.
The gender freedom model is like that experience. It’s not Google Maps directing your way through unfamiliar streets. Rather, it’s a travelogue inviting you to come along on a journey of curiosity, awe and discovery, where part of the joy is in not knowing exactly where you’ll end up. You’ll take in the moments of wonder, connection and ease along the way, knowing that wherever you are, that’s where you’re supposed to be.
August: It’s just so encouraging. That message is really there throughout, even when you’re talking about the challenging times. I think it’s so important that people have that sense of hope and the magic they can look forward to. It’s so, so fantastic.
August: So I did ask listeners to send in questions specifically for you. So I’d love to hear your thoughts on several. The first is, is there a simple questionnaire that helps individuals understand their gender identification?
Rae: Wow. Wouldn’t it be great if there was? Unfortunately no. There’s not a simple questionnaire, because it is such a deeply individual process, and so I would like for my answer there to be encouraging and not frustrating.
I understand that desire to be like, I need to know for sure. I need to nail this down, exactly who I am and how I want to express that in the world. And the truth is that identity development and really any area of our life doesn’t really work like that. Now there are things that you can question and things that you can get curious about, and Gender Magic has a ton of great questions that can help guide you in things to consider, things to to think about. And thinking about your experience growing up that can be helpful.
What I find to be the more helpful questions now though, are questions related to your authenticity today. So instead of doing this deep dive into your past, considering what are ways that I am expressing my gender that do or don’t feel aligned for me? Are there ways that I am experiencing the world, maybe being perceived as a man or being perceived as a woman that don’t feel like they completely fit?
And what I teach in the book is something I consider very powerful, which is instead of thinking about what are you leaving behind, or what are you running away from, I love for folks to consider what you’re running towards. What is your vision of your life? And the more that you are able to tap into pleasure in your life, the more that you get connected to your intuition.
I call it that kind of gut Yes. That you get when you’re like, oh yeah, that is, that is my thing. That feels good. The more you’re able to notice that, in all areas of your life, not just gender, the more that you have a clue for when you feel that around things related to gender. So it’s, it’s all a muscle and it’s all connected to just general self-discovery and a general journey towards authenticity.
August: I love that. Another person asked, are more people refusing to nail down a gender identity and letting that be a question that doesn’t need to have an answer that provides a label?
Rae: I think so. I think in younger generations that is way more common than it was previously, and I love that. I love that because of what we’ve been talking about, right?
That identity, it isn’t something that we stick a pin in. We’re like, this is who I am and this current expression forever and ever until I die. And that is a very good thing. It means that we have room to grow and expand with our life experiences and with understanding ourself better. So there are a lot of people who are either having a label for a time or not labeling their gender identity at all.
And I do think that is a positive thing and I, I also like to think about it the way we think about awe. I use the ocean and space as an example. You know, the more we learn about the ocean and and space and the cosmos, the more we realize what we don’t know. But typically that doesn’t cause a lot of anxiety for us.
It causes wonder and awe and makes us more curious and more excited to learn more. That’s the energy that I would invite people to bring to exploring gender.
August: Mm. I just thought of how little kids will eat a food for their first time. Like I remember eating Yes Kiwi when I was, I don’t know, I might have been like five or six, even in Minnesota. Maybe we didn’t have as many Kiwis then, but I remember my grandmother asking me to guess the color inside. You know, just this, this fun, awe and wonder when you’re, when you’re a kid, it seems like a strength that comes more naturally to kids, so perhaps we can learn from them.
Rae: Absolutely that play attitude. It’s everything. Absolutely everything.
August: Another person asked, how are trans and non-binary people dealing with all of the recent negativity, politically, etcetera?
Rae: Oof. It’s tough. It’s really tough. I’m gonna be honest with you, a lot of people I’ve talked to, both in my practice and just kind of in the general world, we’re struggling with it.
It’s really scary to think about rights being taken away for, for trans youth and how that’s also expanding to a lot of trans adults. You know, that is where I saw this going for a long time, is trans youth are the way in and they are not going to stop there. And I think we can all kind of see that trans rights are going to become not the new abortion, but kind of in line with abortion as a moral issue for the 2024 presidential campaign, which is terrifying.
So I’ve seen people struggle with it. I’ve seen people be overwhelmed by it. I’ve also seen it light a fire under people. I’ve been to the youth protests that are, are youth led and hearing how they speak out and the power in which they speak out, and the huge turnout of people.
I was in one, in New York a few weeks ago. It’s so hopeful, right? If you go to any of the actions, yes, there is some fear and people are fired up, but there is also a lot of connection. And I see that, too, in the middle of all this, is that knowing that this extremist right are, are coming for us and are taking away our rights, has pushed people to, to dive even deeper and lean even harder to community. And I think that is a, a really beautiful thing.
As far as anything practical, you know, I’ve been myself and also telling people to make sure that you are taking in news in a way that feels supportive to your nervous system. There’s a lot out there. You could doom scroll forever, and also that’s not helpful.
That’s not helpful to you. That is not helpful to the cause. It’s important to know what’s going on. It’s also important to give yourself space to not be on your phone, looking at the news, to rest, to connect, to do whatever it is that you need to do to refill your cup so that none of us are, are joining this, this fight and this advocacy with an empty cup as much as we can.
August: Mm. Yes. I imagine the timing of when you take in that news is important too. If you’re feeling a bit vulnerable or you know, right before bed, that kind of thing.
Rae: Don’t do it before bed. Y’all don’t do that.
August: Yeah. Put the phone down.
Rae: Or first thing in the morning.
August: No, no, no. Let’s not start the day that way. It’s easy to do, but so not, so not helpful.
August: Another person wrote in and asked this. What steps can we take as allies for this community besides voting and respecting pronouns?
Rae: Oh, I love this question. So one of the, the best ways is to simply be loudly celebratory of trans folks. Post about it on social media. Share trans creators. Read or watch media from trans creators. And on the advocacy front, be active. Call your representatives, write letters, show up at protests. The very extremist right, they’re very loud. So we have to be louder.
And I would also say on a more home front, talk to your family members, talk to the people at work, to your friends who may want to be supportive or on the fence, but don’t quite understand. You bringing up those conversations that can be difficult or are challenging. You have no idea about the, the impact that that makes.
And frankly, you know, you ask how trans folks are reacting to all of this. We’re tired. We’re tired. So take some of the weight off of us to be having all of those conversations. And it’s okay if you don’t get it a hundred percent right in those conversations, that’s fine.
We appreciate the effort, and appreciate you doing the work to get educated so that you can have those conversations in a way that is supportive. and, and gender magic is, I wrote it so that it could be a good tool for that. And that people could pick it up, they could have conversations based on it with family members and share it as a resource.
August: I really do think that it is such a wonderful way to not only support trans and non-binary folks, but like you said, to maintain, The positivity and the hope and the wonderfulness. If all you’re taking in as a cisgender person is the dark and challenging side as well. You know, it’s important for everyone to learn about the magic and also ways to, to support. Um, it’s just, it’s so important.
So, one last question for you. I love this one. It has to do with, dating and/or sex with somebody who has a different identity than you.
What is the best advice you can give someone who is cisgender when encountering someone who is trans or non-binary? Let’s say you’re going on a date and it’s your first time maybe getting close to someone who is trans or doesn’t identify as female or male.
This person also shared some context about using a dating app and they had been, essentially wanting to broaden their own horizons and, is concerned about like saying the wrong thing and et cetera, et cetera.
Rae: I love this. It, it’s such a juicy question and yay to the, the listener who sent this in. I, I love that they’re expanding their horizons. The first thing I would say is to consider what my friend Lucie Fielding calls ethical curiosity, which is you wanna be curious about somebody, yes. But also ask yourself, where is this question coming from?
So some examples would be asking about if someone is on hormones or if someone has had surgery in, the first little bit of your connection with them. That might be something that comes up naturally, but I’m guessing it’s probably not something someone wants to talk about on a first date. Some other things that ethical curiosity can bring up is asking about someone’s gender journey.
So that can be a really connecting point in a dating relationship and also, the person that you’re trying to go on a date with that is trans or non-binary, doesn’t wanna be reduced to that. That’s probably not the first thing they wanna talk about. Uh, It’s probably not what they wanna spend the entire date talking about. I would say focus on them as a person first. Get the information you need to be respectful. Right, their name, their pronouns, their gender identity, how they would like to be referred to. That is important, but you don’t need to know every single thing about their gender in a first date. In fact, they would probably like you to ask them about their dog and their hobbies and normal date questions. So that’s a really key one.
And in general, remember that we’re just human. Don’t be weird and, and don’t pull back from connection, which is why I love this. This question and the context that you gave me around it is wanting to connect, but I sense a little bit of, well, I want to be good, so I don’t want to make a mistake with a population that I, I am an ally for, and there’s a fear of but if I connect, maybe I’ll make a mistake and then I’ll be dubbed as like a bad ally.
And I want to to turn down the emotional temperature on that and just give you some permission and invite you to connect with people and be willing to make mistakes. Because you’re probably going to. Like, God knows, when I wasn’t out as trans, I was out as queer and first meeting trans people I probably said some really silly things. Absolutely. That is okay. It’s part of the learning process. It’s what you do with that. It’s how you repair. It’s how you take a mistake and learn from it and try not to make it again.
And you had asked about sex, so there’s some specific things there. Along with your, hopefully the safer sex conversation that you’re, you’re having, I would in the same breath talk about are there body parts that you really do or don’t like touched?
Are there words for your body parts that you want to be used? So that may align with what we typically think of, you know, with our anatomy. But it, it may it may not, depending on who the person is. You can ask about activities, right? What are you interested in doing? What sounds good for you? Is there anything that’s off limits?
And just getting a sense of how do they want to show up in the bedroom, and does it align with what you want, which is really at the core of it, just the sex conversation we should all be having in the first place.
August: Yeah, I was thinking how so many folks have a hard time expressing their own desires, talking about their own bodies, which parts they potentially don’t want to have touched. So I love the idea of this is a conversation, which means I’m not interviewing you, but we are talking about each other and ourselves and You’re giving and receiving, like it’s not: I’m gonna put you on the question spot right now.
Rae: Exactly, exactly. It’s just a conversation.
August: And would you say that, if you’re dating someone, let’s say you’re cisgender and you’re dating somebody who’s trans for the first time, do you think that it is an appropriate and or helpful thing to say “this is my first time dating someone who is trans, and I wanted you to know that because this is new for me and I’m excited to get to know you.”
Rae: I think that’s absolutely appropriate and it’s actually very good information. And I view it the same way As someone who is new to a queer identity. It’s often really good information for a partner to know if you are new and are figuring some things out, so that you can co-create that experience together.
August: Beautiful. So your book, Gender Magic, is there something in particular that you want folks to really take home and know about it?
Rae: I think the biggest message and then the mission of the book in general is that the world is a better place when we are all able to show up as our most audacious, authentic, lit up self free from fear and shame.
And that is true for anybody of any gender identity. And this is a book that it’s at its core is about freedom and freedom to do whatever that is for you, right? It’s through the lens of gender freedom, but it applies to all sorts of freedom. So I’m excited to be bringing a book to people that is not only what I hope to be a really important tool for trans and non-binary folks, but also a book that a cisgender person, an ally, somebody who works in medical or mental health or has trans people at work, can pick up and learn really valuable ways to support their loved ones, their coworkers, their family members, and also learn something about themselves in the process.
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Learn more about Rae McDaniel and the book on Instagram: @theraemcdaniel, or head straight to gendermagic.com – where you can also sign up for Rae’s email list. Gender Magic is available most anywhere books are sold, and Rae narrated the audiobook version.
Rae: Give me a follow. Obviously buy the book if you can buy multiple copies. That is such an amazing way to support. We know that trans and queer authors don’t get the platform that they deserve and need a lot of the time, and so by putting your money behind a book like this and letting folks know about it and talking to your friends about it, It’s a vote, it’s a vote for media to cover trans topics.
It’s a vote for publishers to, to sign and to put out more books by and for trans folks and queer folks. So anything that you can do is, is hugely appreciated and getting the word out.
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I second all of that. Find direct links in the show notes and feel free to share this Girl Boner bonus episode with friends or colleagues who might benefit as well. Thanks so much for listening.