20th November is Transgender Remembrance Day. 24 hours dedicated to victims of transphobic violence. I think this is a good opportunity to explain some things about the term and to dispel certain misconceptions I’ve encountered ever since my partner came out and I or she disclosed her identity to others, even inside the LGB community.
She isn’t confused. She knows best for herself and she’ll find out steadily what she wants to do with her body. Of course, there’s nothing shameful with self exploration, that’s why the Q in LGBTQ stands not only for Queer but also for Questioning. But once a person says “I’m trans” it means they’ve reached a decision and that’s not something they did overnight but the result of a long, thoughtful and honest process.
As for the second part of the statement, it’s needless to say that being a trans isn’t contagious. Of course, the partner of a person in transition might find themselves contemplating anew their sexual orientation -namely, “am I still sexually attracted to my partner now that their gender expression and, perhaps, body might change?”. That doesn’t have to be interpreted along the lines of “oh poor you, you have it so tough because of that weirdo”. When your partner wants new things in your life, you talk it over and you either decline or compromise. It’s the same process.
> “He’s unsure of his gender and that influenced you (in saying you’re bisexual).”
Imagine that your whole life you were served pasta and liked it, but then it so happened that you got to another restaurant and you were served rice. After trying it, you realized that you liked it too. Does that mean you were influenced by the new chef? No. It simply means you were given another option and you found it equally tasteful. Sex is very similar to eating. I enjoy sour things but hate bitter ones for no particular reason. It’s just the way it is and it isn’t something that has to be painted negatively. It’s insulting to suggest I was ‘brainwashed’. Am I not a person of my own? For those who know me it should be clear that I’ve got my own worldview and style and have never been the type of person who followed the latest fad just to belong in.
> “Was he influenced from someone? Like all these people coming out as transsexuals.” or “Is it a trend?”
Gender identity manifests when the child is around 4 years old. It may take a bit longer for some people to comprehend what’s going on and come to terms with it. Therefore it’s not a matter of “being led astray” since most trans individuals know that they aren’t what others perceive them to be. It surely helps that there are trans celebrities who create awareness campaigns. Since gender is such an important aspect of each and every one of us, education through multiple venues facilitates self-identification and makes life easier. What’s wrong with this?
> “This came out of the blue. (= I have a hard time believing you. /You’re lying./ It’s a whim.)”
Just because such a revelation appears to come out of nowhere that doesn’t make it less real. People are complex human beings who have secrets, who may be in denial for a long time or even feel uncertain about the images and thoughts on their mind. That was the case with Neko-chi who, from a young age, fantasized herself as a girl yet was very hesitant to identify as trans because her personality and external factors complicated the situation. On top of that she hadn’t been in a steady loving, free relationship that’d help her explore such a possibility.
It’s a bit like being a mangaka under cover, using a nickname and all. The fact that others don’t know you aren’t a mangaka doesn’t cancel the fact that you are one.
Sexual and gender identity are two different things. The former is about whom you want to dig and turns you on big time, the latter is about how you’d see yourself if the mirror reflected your brain. There’s absolutely no contradiction in a lesbian transwoman or a gay transman. Although a boy’s desire to sleep with men may lead him to wish he had been born as the opposite sex, that doesn’t mean he is or feels any less of a man.
Another example: a bottom homosexual is in no way a woman. He’s a man. Being bottom doesn’t equate being a ‘sissy’ or getting it up in the ass -see tribaddism, mutual masturbation and fellatio. Some gay men may perform drag. There were trans women in the past, when we didn’t have this elaborate terminology, that didn’t experience their transness separately from their sexual orientation (I’ve written an article on the subject here). But in no way is this the rule for everyone. Zinnia Jones has conned a very appropriate term for such assumptions: “Gender Axis of Evil“.
Instead of seeing that gender, gender expression, and sexual orientation are separate variables, all of these distinct features are collapsed into a single position on a single axis. Because a shift in one of these features is seen to shift the rest along with it, this means using one aspect of a person to deny, redefine, or reclassify their other aspects.
You could take some time to read a bit about the genderbread person [*] to clarify these notions in your head.
> “A man having sex with a (pre-op) transwoman is gay, right?”
No. Or it actually depends. No one’s current partner is a sure indication of their sexual identity, the same way the absence of a partner doesn’t point to asexuality. A man may have slept only with cis men (=non-trans) and then be in a stable relationship with a transwoman -does this make him bi or straight? If we go by the book they are a straight couple (a man and a woman), but this can be a tricky thing to say, since the queerness quality is out of the picture and I’m not sure this is a good thing. There’s also pansexuality that is the attraction to all genders (male, female, genderqueer) but unless the person at question doesn’t label himself as such, we can’t and shouldn’t assume anything.
I find it important to point out to the fact that the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ involve the gender of the person who feels the attraction, which isn’t of interest when we speak of sexual orientation as I said above. Therefore the terms ‘androphile’ (andras=man and phileo=love) and gynephile (gyne=woman) are quite useful despite being a bit obscure.
> “Does this mean he likes girly things now?”/ “Yeah, he was too timid for a boy.”/ “No one is born with a personality […] If someone had no personality, they wouldn’t care what sex they are born in.”
Personality and tastes are totally different horses than gender identity. Just because there’s a tendency to see other people stereotypically, it doesn’t mean that this is the correct worldview. Not all girls like playing with dolls and surely not all girls are timid. The same goes with boys. Trans women might want to present themeselves more ‘femininely’ (long hair, make up, earrings, bracelets, skirts etc) but that’s not a prerequisite. If they’ve liked mecha their whole life or prefer sporty clothes, these don’t make them less of women.
As for the personality part, it’s good to look up the definition: “The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character” says Oxford dictionaries. APA says that “personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.” Yes, personality is shaped by your environment, but researches on identical twins tend to highlight all the more the influence of genes. Even if an introvert child learns to socialize, the enjoyment it receives from such an activity remains minimum. Just because my partner wants to live her life as a woman, her character won’t change. Much like adjectives like tall, short, fat or thin are not personality adjectives because they describe a person’s physical appearance (they answer the question “What does s/he look like?”) trans describes gender -nothing more nothing less.
> “So he thinks he’s a woman. Let’s say I think I’m an elephant, am I though?”
Don’t, just please don’t. Whoever has thought of saying such thing should know they sound like an idiot. Tumblr denizens might have heard of otherkins and trans-ethnic people, who are people who probably aren’t that sane and the parallels drawn to the trans state are degrading the least. If you want to give sound arguments, then this isn’t one. You can check the Your Logical Fallacy Is website and see that this falls almost under the “slippery slop” and I’d argue there are “appeal to nature” and “personal incredulity” fragments in this train of thought.
Trans people aren’t delusional, they aren’t trying to be special snowflakes or attract attention many times even at the cost of their lives and the casual bullying. Jillian Keenan wrote an article on Slate gathering all the up to date scientific knowledge showing there’s something going on in the brain of trans people and rightly pointing out that genitals are only one part of what constitutes sex; hormones, chromosomes and brain areas are also sex. And transgenderism is definitely not something new. If you look at this wonderful interactive map you’ll see miscellaneous similar examples of gender non conforming cases across time and cultures from two spirits to hijras. Once you get used to the idea, it won’t seem that ‘absurd’ or ‘ridiculous’.
> “You should see other psychologists, too. And another, and another… You can never be sure about such stuff. You grow old and you still learn stuff about yourself.”
This is often said by parents. In spite of the fact that people are on a constant journey of self-discovery, trans individuals know they are who the are and there’s no reason to see numerous psychologists until they find a -probably transphobic- doctor to deny their identity and satisfy their parents’ doubts. As I mentioned earlier, gender is established in early childhood. I understand it may not be easy to change the perception you have established of your child but a good parent is a parent who accepts their child the way he/she is. That includes both sexuality and gender. After all, being trans isn’t equal to being a criminal or an alien. Love means respect, understanding and support after all.
> “No matter what you say he’ll always be male because he was born that way. I don’t have an issue with referring to him as she, but the fact remains.”/ “You can’t misgender someone.”
When I hear such half-hearted answers I’m left bereft of a proper answer and I hate the mixed feeelings that overtake me. On the one hand the person will abide by the proper etiquette, on the one hand the ideas they hold are rejecting the essence of transgenderism. Identity is a very crucial part of everyone’s life and not all identities are objective like age and class. In the case of someone who was born in i.e. Greece and the was raised or immigrated in the USA, whether they feel Greek or American or both depends on the personal sentiments and experiences of that person. No one else has the right to say “No, you’re definitely x”. The same goes for gender, which is a social constract through and through. This is the reason the terms AMAB, assigned male at birth, and AFAB, assigned female at birth, are nowadays preferred by some over the older FtM and MtF, which also confirm the very constricting gender binary.
Chromosomes and genitals, parts of sex as mentioned above, are also socially agreed upon. And by that I mean that society decided to say that a person with a penis or with xy is a man and a person with a vagina or xx is a woman in the same way we assigned the word ‘tree’ to these things that are tall, grow from earth, have many leaves and sometimes bear blossoms and fruits. There’s no particular reason why we didn’t name trees ‘fire’ for instance. Then there are individuals born with sexual characteristics of both sexes. You might consider them as abnormalities since they are the exceptions but human bodies belong to individuals with personalities and rights. Human bodies aren’t like grammar where the exception reaffirms the rule. What constitutes a man and what a woman is a big question which can be answered from multiple perspectives. In the end, individuality and freedom of self-definition/expression are the ultimate values.
> “Uhm, that means he was born in the wrong body. When will he do the surgery?”
I’m fully aware that the phrase “wrong body” is used by many transwomen and -men. Most often it’s used to explain shortly to cis people uninitiated to gender theories people what’s going on. But there is no ‘wrong’ body in the sense of ‘faulty’ body -not necessarily. The trans state isn’t an illness. Trans individuals aren’t ‘broken’ and need ‘fixing’. There’s a sense of discomfort and dissonance between the image trans people have of their true self and how society and perhaps family pressures them to express themselves or views them. This discomfort comes at various degrees and no single trans person’s experience is representative for all. This is recognized now by the APA and thus the term Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is replaced by gender dysphoria and is no longer listed as a mental illness in an effort to remove the stigma associated with the former term.
A trans person might feel that getting a vagina and breasts or penis and breast removal of outmost importance or might not want to go under the scalpel at all. Some only want to take hormones, some others are fine the way they are and might only change their gender expression. All these options are valid and no transwoman is less of a woman or transman less of a man if they don’t desire hormone therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery (the term ‘sex change’ is shunned). These medical treatments can thus be either vital to the psychological health of a person or simply contribute to their happiness and general life quality improvement.
> “Cis sounds like a disease.”
I saw this written in an article by a TERF (=Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist). According to Oxford Dictionaries: “Denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender”. There’s nothing derogatory in the term itself. Is there something negative in the word ‘heterosexual’? You might wonder why we need a separate term and not just use ‘non-trans’. Because a. if you are in your right mind you won’t call your daughters ‘non-boys’ – in other words such a categorization is problematic and stigmatizing for trans individuals; b. cisgender people are a big part of the population, why not have a word for them? Moreover the origins of the term are relatively old going back to 1914.
Further readings/ watchings:
- Laverne Cox presents The T word documentary which you can watch on MTV -if you are outside of USA, worry not. Hola is the solution. It features trans individuals -both transwomen and transmen- with a variety of racial backgrounds and ages. I’d suggest listening to the after show talks as well.
- Follow Zinnia Jones on youtube; I highly recommend her Gender Analysis series and you can support her through patreon for the awesome visually and scientific-based work she puts out.
- Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is written by transgender for transgender and is a fresh and valuable resource on many areas like health, family, culture and age.
- On this site you’ll find articles on queer families and of course there’s an entry about being trans and parent.
- Take a look at Janet Mock’s project, Redifing Realness. Trans individuals share their pictures and stories.
- Alice Dreger’s TED Talk Is Anatomy Destiny? is worth listening to.
- Logo TV had a mini tribute to the 5 most influential trans public figures in light of the Day of Remembrance.
- You might have heard some ridiculous percentages about trans people regrettinf transition. Guess what -they are myths.
- If I’ve missed a question you could have, APA might answer it.
- Since this is primarily a blog about animanga/comics/animation, you might want to check my Transgender Manga Masterpost. Look forward to another such post with western (web)comics as focus.
- I’ve talked additionally about misgendering fictional trans characters and why that matters in my post Queer Troubles.
Note [*]: While doing a mini research while writing this post I learnt that the widespread version of the gingerbread person is supposedly made by Sam Killerman who was found out to have plagiarized the content for profit. Nevertheless I really like this version, so that’s why I linked to it. The book he’s published is an anthology of his online articles so if you don’t want to support him financially (you’d better not), you can always look up to his free website.
Thanks to my partner and Marina Galanou, president of the transgender association in Greece, who was willing to clarify certain things for me.