I saw a post recently on my Facebook newsfeed about Caitlyn Jenner that most disturbed me. It was condescending and oppressive to all trans folks. This particular individual shared a post that essentially called all trans people frauds. “Being a woman is more than just boobs and nice hair. He is so disgusting.” Why I forced myself to read the entire ignorant post is beyond me. Perhaps I saw it as an opportunity to educate; but in the end, I just un-followed this person. I am not sure if it was the right choice. I don’t want to side with oppression and ignorance.
All that said, this experience has led me help educate myself and others about the trans community. I am a heterosexual cisgender woman; NOT BY ANY MEANS an expert on trans individuals. However, I do not think it should be up to trans folks to educate US on who they are. I think it is our responsibility to educate ourselves.
Let’s start at the basics with a definition. According to Transequality.org,
“Transgender identity is not a mental illness that can be cured with treatment. Rather, transgender people experience a persistent and authentic difference between our assigned sex and our understanding of our own gender. For some people, this leads to emotional distress. This pain often can be relieved by freely expressing our genders, wearing clothing we are comfortable in, and, for some, making a physical transition from one gender to another.”
Please, can everyone get out of their heads the idea that a trans person wakes up and casually decides they don’t want to be a man/woman (sorry for binary) anymore.
You are not responsibly for determining someone’s gender. So don’t.
Know that transgender people belong to different social, cultural, and economic identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
We have been socialized to immediately determine someone’s gender upon coming into contact with them. Are they a man or a woman? We celebrate gender while an individual is still growing in the womb; we splatter blue OR pink about to signify the assumed gender this unborn child holds. We are OBSESSED with gender. Yet, we are slow to accept and educate ourselves on anything outside the gendery binary of cisman or ciswoman. FYI: CIS is when an individual’s experience of their own gender agrees with the sex they were assigned at birth.
What can we do? No-what MUST we do? Educate ourselves. Stop judging. Stop obsessing. Be accepting.
Educate yourself about transgender issues by reading books, attending conferences, and consulting with transgender experts. Be aware of your attitudes concerning people with gender-nonconforming appearance or behavior.
- Know that transgender people have membership in various sociocultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
- Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask.
- Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know (e.g., you are a physician conducting a necessary physical exam or you are a person who is interested in dating someone that you’ve learned is transgender), ask.
- Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
- Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person in your life.
- Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.
- Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resources.
Advocate for transgender rights, including social and economic justice and appropriate psychological care.Familiarize yourself with the local and state or provincial laws that protect transgender people from discrimination.
That was an incredibly basic and general overview. But you have to start somewhere.
Educate yourself and spread love, my friends.