I can understand completely how or even why it’s entirely counterintuitive for a cisgender (non-transgender) person to find it next to impossible to empathize with a transgender person. After all, I never really thought about it until now, but I guess it’s hard for a trans person to empathize with a cisgender individual about how it feels to be cisgender.
Gee, wouldn’t it have been nice to be born into a sexually female body—meaning a body with a vagina, clitoris, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, etc., as well as the ability to produce “female levels” of progesterone and estrogen, which would eventually lead to breast growth, menstruation, ova production, ovulation, and the efficacy to grow a baby inside one’s womb?
A girl can dream what it would be like to be female in sex and also woman in gender*. In one tiny way (actually two), I’m beginning to feel more physically female because my breasts are growing—not “man boobs” or “chesticles” but real breasts. It’s amazing how wonderful they make me feel. No joke. On days when I’m feeling really lousy and discouraged that my transition may never progress as far as I’d like it to, I look at my chest and get a little boost—kinda like a pushup bra for my soul ;D
Perhaps I’ll even find out someday what it’s like to have a vagina, a vaginal vault and, if I’m lucky, a clitoris. Do you see what I just did there? Right away, I started eluding to the idea that my gender can be legitimized by changing my genitalia and growing breasts. Why is does the gauge for success centered around genitals or looks? These are all just the superficial traits of a person’s sex that are the tropes Western Society often considers the definitive characteristics of gender.
“So you’re saying you wish you had a vagina instead of a penis?” “Are you going to have a sex change operation?” “He said he’s always felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body.” “He’s a dude with a va-jayjay.” In the past, when transgenderism and transexualism first showed up in the media, the focus was always on issues dealing with sex organs, crossdressing, sex workers and other caricatures of “trannies.” In her book Whipping Girl, trans hero, author, biologist, slam poet, essayist, etc. Julia Serano points out that only recently the media have begun to look at trans people as legitimate human beings (quotes from Julia Serano).
Nowadays, the people who are making an effort to truly understand those who are transgender eventually realize that sex organs—while they are a big concern for many of us—are not necessarily at the top of the list of concerns. Regardless, the fact that penises and vaginas are so pervasive in conversations about gender identity constitutes one of the biggest obstacles to having a meaningful conversation about transgender issues. My penis never made me a man (or a boy). It did lead the doctor(s), nurse(s) and my parents to label me male at birth. But it never made me a man. That’s because gender isn’t necessarily tied to a person’s sex at birth. (Transgender 101 is another great resource for information about transgender issues. It’s geared toward people who are not transgender that may have a friend or family member that is.)
We make assumptions all the time about people based on how they look. Everyone who sees me will assume I have a penis; however, an infinitesimal proportion of those people have ever seen me naked. Gender is not quite as simple to ascribe or attribute as many cisgender folks seem to think.
Just as my experiences aren’t the same as those of a cisgender person (a person whose sex at birth matches their gender identity), cis people experience gender identity in their own way, too. It’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to be cisgender. That’s simply because I’m not. And cisgender people are not transgender. The two are essentially mutually exclusive. Gender, however, is not. But that doesn’t mean we should be at odds with each other. Trans folks and cis folks don’t necessarily need to walk in one another’s shoes (insert predictable joke about heels here) to get along. We really just need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Specifically, trans people need to be thought of as intelligent, sane, legitimate, and just as capable of being self-aware as any cis person might be.
Getting back to my point: It’s counterintuitive for cisgender folks to understand transgender folks. That is, of course, unless we simply assume that a trans person experiences gender pretty much the same way a cisgender person does. That is, no gender is any more or less legitimate. Now, when you have an incredibly homophobic and likely transphobic “bro” who has probably experienced his own predilections toward homosexuality—or possibly even crossdressing—it might be difficult for this concept to sink in. I really shouldn’t stereotype. Honestly, anybody could be great or terrible at trying this idea on for size: Gender is real for everyone.
Let me say that again: Gender is real for everyone.
Now that I’ve gotten all of that off my slightly plumper chest, I wanted to share how encouraging it has been as a transwoman to finally begin my transition and express my gender identity. I’ve been on HRT for about 9 weeks. I’ve been living pretty much full time as a woman (because I am unfortunately laid off, I have no need to dress in men’s clothing, which helps me to stay on track in my mind). It’s crazy how much gender dysphoria as well as being a closeted trans person takes a toll on one’s mental health. Having said that, here’s my final point:
Basically my whole life, I hated looking at myself in the mirror. I may have said this before in a previous post, but when I was in high school art class and had to paint a self-portrait, I painted a somewhat terrible picture of an alien. As my mother could confirm (though she’s not speaking to me), I always absolutely loathed being in pictures—hated them! However, since I came out and started being me, I have begun to learn how to love myself. I love to take selfies. I sometimes even get a kick out of how I look. It gives me butterflies when I get a good shot. That’s the best part: There are actually shots that I like.
If you want to call me freak or any number of derogatory, euphemistic slurs because of the way I look, feel free! I finally feel free. Because really, the only thing that matters is that I finally have a proclivity to be happy. When I look in the mirror now, I can finally smile back at the person I see because she’s starting to look like who I’ve always felt on the inside. Ultimately, I hope those who say they love me can let that idea marinate in their thoughts for awhile, overcome the urge to think I’m just confused, and realize that my happiness is what counts.
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*Note: I’m attempting to distinguish between sex, gender and gender expression by using terms respective to each. (For example, sex = male/female; gender = man/woman; expression = masculine/feminine. More can be found on this in the book Transgender 101, which I mentioned above.)