by Mac S. McGregor -
Special to the SGN
Most people think breaking the gender constructs or molds in our society shakes the very foundations of all that they know and understand to be solid. Although quantum physics teaches us that nothing is really solid, we still like to think it is. It makes people think they have a better understanding which makes them feel safer. Gender is supposed to be black and white, pick a side. You know, women are from Venus, men are from Mars. This makes life more understandable, and then we can put each person in a category that helps us know how to react to them and what to expect from them or not, right? Well, it, like the rest of the world, is not that simple.
The word Transgender literally means denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender.
Transgender is an umbrella term that like sexuality or orientation has a large spectrum to it.
On one end there is the fetish of a male-born person who dresses in women's clothing. On the other end there is the person who does not feel like they were born with a body that matches who they are on the inside and goes through medical procedures to make the body and mind more congruent. And then there is all the fun in between.
Even drag queens and kings fall under a part of the Transgender umbrella because what they do with part of their lives is not a part of the conventional gender norms. Maybe we call them 'Trans light.' In the middle now we have gender queer and gender fluid people who don't want to be stuck to one side or the other of this spectrum. They want the freedom to move about according to how they may feel at the time, or they refuse to buy into any form of the binary gender system.
Then there is gender expression, which means a person may want to dress a certain way, wear their hair style a certain way and so on, that can be anywhere on a spectrum from extreme masculine at one end, very fem feminine at the other and androgenic in the middle. How they present and walk in the world can also have a queer and fluid factor, which many are enjoying today. We all know that every man is not the most masculine man and every woman who is happy being woman is not the most feminine woman, so there is much depth to this scale or spectrum.
It is also important to point out that a person's gender expression or gender identity has nothing to do with who they may or may not be attracted to. This is only about who they feel they are inside. There are many who get confused about this and ask things like 'did you transition from female to male because you like women?' No, that has nothing to do with why a person transitions. Sexual orientation is just about who a person is attracted to, which is also a spectrum. All the way straight or Gay on either end and a buffet of fun in between.
Fascination with Genitalia
The Transgender community is the only group of people that are constantly asked about their genitalia. The fascination and focus on genitalia is a bit mind-boggling. Many Trans people get angry at this and I understand that; however, look at how shallow most of our society is and how little freedom there is in the western culture to talk about genitalia or sexuality. This is why, even though I am sometimes shocked at the how, when or where I am asked about my genitals, I have learned to have a sense of humor about it and to understand that most people are awkward to talk about anything to do with sex. This extreme fascination at times makes us feel like the side show at an old fair - 'step this way and come see the man born with a vagina'. Maybe I should buy a big top. Please understand that we in the Transgender community want you to know there is much more to us then our genitalia and being Transgender has more to do with our minds and spirits then our crotch. Speaking of mind boggling, isn't our largest sex organ our brain?
Could you imagine if we judged everyone by their genitalia? This thought makes me belly laugh. What would constitute a real penis? Does it have to be a certain size? Work a certain amount of the time to be counted? Is a woman not a woman if she cannot have children? I could go on and on here. So everyone stand up drop trousers and let's see how you land on the real man, real woman scale. Wait, let me get my glasses.
This may be shocking to you but not all Transgender people want to have their bodies altered, some just want the freedom to express the way they want to on the spectrum. The ones who do want to have procedures to alter the body to match more of how they feel have to have the access to do it. It is very expensive and many forms of insurance do not cover these procedures - although we have come a long way. There are companies now that include Transgender care in their coverage. And the medical profession is beginning to understand this is not a choice like being Gay is not a choice, and how this affects the overall health and wellbeing of the person.
According to recent polls, only eight percent of American's say they know someone who is Transgender, while 90 percent claim to know someone who is Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. This helps to explain why there is still so much education needed around the topic of gender. I believe that more people may know someone who is Transgender, but don't know they know them. Many Transgender people live a stealth life for reasons of safety, careers, and family relationships. And because being Transgender is still looked at as freakish. Many Transgender people still have to deal with fear of doing simple things like going to a public restroom, which in some places can literally be life threatening. The suicide rate among Transgender people is the highest of any group; the poverty and unemployment rates are also the highest.
Many are easily offended by the slightest misuse of a word in the LGBTQI community, and yet language is fluid and constantly changing. Who can keep up? I am a professional educator in gender, sexuality and kink and I have to constantly check in about the new ways of saying things. I believe the important thing for all of us to think about and evaluate is a person's intent. We all attach different meanings to words. Those meanings we attach are influenced by our families, our religions, our schools, our communities, what we read and are exposed to. Therefore, a word I might find offensive being from the South, you may not find offensive at all if you are from California. When we carry big chips on our shoulders and attack one another over the use of a word when the intent is not bad, we are alienating ourselves and understanding for our community. I truly believe that most people are not trying to offend anyone, but many are uneducated or the meaning they attach to the word is not the same as the meaning some of us attach. So check that chip on your shoulder at the door and in a warm, kind way educate.
Terms to know (right now)
Transgender - An umbrella term used to describe anyone whose gender identity or expression situates them differently than the traditional gender role they were assigned at birth. Some of the countless categories lumped together under this term include crossdressing, drag, transgenderism, transsexualism, androgyny, and many shadings between these larger groupings.
Cisgender - An obscure term for non-Trans people, meaning that someone's body and gender identity match.
Queer - An overarching term for anyone outside gender norms, including Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, as well as Trans people.
Gender Queer - Any individual that doesn't - or won't - adhere to the expectation of the only two gender presentations that which our culture allows, as based upon one's ministerial and external 'birth sex'. (as in, 'When Patrick was a kid, he didn't realize the extent of how genderqueer he was, despite his inherent tomboyishness on the playground.')
Gender Fluid - Gender Fluid is a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. A person who is Gender Fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more boy some days, and more girl other days. Being Gender Fluid has nothing to do with which set of genitalia one has, nor their sexual orientation.
Transsexual - Someone who wishes to take all the steps necessary to be accepted as completely as possible in their chosen gender.
FTM - female-to-male.
MTF - male-to-female.
Cross-dresser - Someone who enjoys wearing clothing and accessories intended for a different gender role. This can be done for both sexual and non-sexual reasons.
HRT - hormone replacement therapy.
Gender Expression - Gender expression refers to all of the external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions. Social or cultural norms can vary widely and some characteristics that may be accepted as masculine, feminine or neutral in one culture may not be assessed similarly in another.
Drag - A type of expression that typically involves exaggerated performance of gender characteristics. A performer is called a drag queen if they are performing as a woman or a drag king if they perform as a man.
Sexual Orientation - Sexual Orientation is the preferred term used when referring to an individual's physical and/or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender. 'Gay,' 'Lesbian,' 'Bisexual' and 'Straight' are all examples of sexual orientations. A person's sexual orientation is distinct from a person's gender identity and expression.
Mac MacGregor is Social Outreach Seattle's Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Outreach Director
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