If you’ve seen it on TV or heard about it from your friends, you might think you’ve got this trans* thing figured out. So how about we take a closer look.
If you clicked on this, you might fit into one of the following categories:
You’re cisgender (which means you aren’t transgender).
You’ve come to the realization that transgender people are a “thing” and, since you are not transgender, you are out of your depth when it comes to know what the heck to do or say about or around transgender individuals.
You want to know more so you can to be a better advocate.
You want to know more so you don’t screw up when you meet or know a transgender person.
Maybe you fit into all or none of these categories. Maybe you just want to read this so you can be a troll at the end and disqualify the mere existence of transgender people.
Not really my business. This is for you, regardless of why you’re here. Hopefully you’ll read it and leave it knowing more than you did before.
Here are 10 Things You Don’t Know About Transgender People:
1. We aren’t all the same.
There’s really no list I could create that would be comprehensive of what it means to be transgender in America, let alone the entire world. Just like there isn’t a list for all women, men or moms, or teenagers, there isn’t a list that you could read or boxes you could check off so you could go out into the world fully confident that you knew all there was to know to support “transgender people”. We are individual people, first and foremost, so get to know us just like you would any other person. If this just made you realize that all women and men aren’t the same either, we’re off to a good start.
2. We don’t all get all “the surgeries”.
It doesn’t surprise me that people are curious about “the surgeries”. People equate being transgender with parts—specifically sexual parts. They don’t really think about the complexity of what it means to be a person and they go right for the bits. Hey, I understand. Realize that the process of surgically changing your body is a really big deal and involves a lot of time, money and other resources that many people don’t have. They might also simply choose not to. When you meet a transgender person, assume nothing about that person’s body and you’re off to a really good start. As you develop a relationship with someone, decide if asking questions about that person’s body feels appropriate. You know, act like you would with anything deeply personal, intimate and vulnerable for any other person you meet. If they don’t want to talk about something, respect that.
3. We didn’t know the moment we were born.
Did you know at the age of five you would have the job you have now? How about kids—were you thinking about that when you were 10? Reflect on five traits that make you, you. Remember the moments you realized those things about yourself. Just like you have come to gradually know who you are, transgender people come to the same realization over time, some when they are young, some as adults. We didn’t all come out of the womb knowing we were trans* and spent our childhoods fuming and miserable in our bodies. Saying “now you’re the person you always were” is like…weird and wrong. We were the person we were, just like you were, and we are evolving, just like you are.
4. We don’t all want to be transgender poster children.
Being transgender is currently a societal anomaly. It’s becoming less and less so with each passing day. Some of us have chosen to use our experience as transgender people as an opportunity to make a living out of talking about it or educating people about it. Some people just want to make brownies and paint happy trees, play with their dogs or cats, have a job and watch movies. But it’s unusual and new and interesting to you and you want to know more. Great! There are some great books and plenty of articles about it online. If someone you know is trans*, read up on what’s already been written or published and don’t expect, need or want the person you know to be your teacher. That person may not want to talk about their life in that much detail. If they do, that’s called the healthy exchange of friendship and will happen organically. They also may not want to share their background with just anyone. Talking about it for them, whether it’s by using the wrong name or pronoun when you know what’s correct or excitedly telling someone how well they “pass”, may be robbing them of their comfort and safety, as well as inviting others into a deeply personal part of their lives.
5. There isn’t a transgender community.
Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a transgender community. It’s true, there are people who are transgender and they share that identity in common. Sometimes, in different cities and town, they get together and hang out. Sometimes they even do it in large groups. There is not, however, a consensus among all transgender people that they agree to like, support and encourage each other as individuals and consider themselves part of a solidified social network that all agree on or share the same politics, identities, interests and hobbies. Heck, some trans* people I know are some of the most unkind and most unsupportive people I’ve ever met! Community is chosen and created by individuals—sharing an identity does not a community make.
6. We don’t want to read or watch every video or article about trans* people.
You saw something on Facebook or the Huffington Post and thought of someone you know who is trans*. You were awed and inspired and found it really interesting. That’s great! But the chances of that trans* person you know wanting to read the article or watch the video are pretty small because it isn’t as incredibly interesting to us as it is to you. At this point in history in our culture, while you think it’s cool or inspiring, being trans* may be really awesome but it may also involve tremendous loss, disorientation and grief. The first few years may be difficult at best on most days and those articles or videos could be incredibly triggering for us. Ask if we want or need to see something before it sending it. Or if you’ve known us for a while, tune in for clues about how we feel about this (like, “I am so sick of these ‘inspiration’ stories. There have been at least 20 things a month!”). If you are a weightlifter (kind of an unusual interest), do you want someone to send you every article or video that is published about weightlifting?
7. Not all transgender people know each other.
There’s a great line in Frankie and Johnny where Al Pacino’s character meets Nathan Lane’s character for the first time and realizes he’s gay. He does the whole, “my cousin just came out as gay” thing to which Nathan Lane responds, “Great. I’ll look him up. In the new listings.” It was funny when I was a teenager and it’s still funny now—but in a different way. While the trans* population is small compared to cis people, the chances of me knowing the person you know are small. Really small. And when you suggest that we meet, you’re assuming we will have more in common than just being transgender, or that we need or want to talk about it or support someone else. If you don’t immediately connect every new mother with other mothers you know, don’t assume we need to be connected if we don’t ask to be.
8. We find it weird how much you think about our sex lives.
Sexuality is part of what it means to be human. Thinking and talking about sex is healthy and awesome. What is surprising is how many cisgender people actually seem to be thinking about the sex lives of trans* people WAY MORE than they do their cisgender peers. Do you wonder or worry about cisgender folks’ bits and pieces and positions as much?
9. We don’t understand the constant pronoun f*^&-up.
We told you which ones to use. And you messed up once. Cool. No biggie. But you keep doing it over and over again. What exactly is the hang up? We know other trans* people and learn their preferred pronouns and just tell our brains to say the right thing—kind of like when you call someone the right name. We wonder if you’re calling your boss Jim when his name is Bob or your friend Maggie when her name is Michelle the same amount of times you repeatedly call us “she” when you know we use “he”. It’s even more puzzling when you’ve known us a who we are for months or years before you know we are trans*…and then you get it wrong, over and over. What’s happening there? What do you need to do to bridge the gap to get it right? What are you choosing to not accept that’s getting in your way? Help us help you. (Note: Telling us if we would just act or look “more like a real man/woman” and how to do that doesn’t count.)
10. We aren’t as different from cisgender people as you think.
Some cisgender women have short hair and leave the house without makeup on. So do some transwomen. Some cisgender men hate sports and prefer cooking. Some excel at both. Some transmen do, too. Some transgender men and women embrace and demonstrate “traditional” appearance standards and gender roles and live happily that way and some don’t at all, just like some cisgender people. We all choose to either live by arbitrary standards or reject them. Look around in your life and notice who is doing this. Is it you? Consider that transgender people and cisgender people really share this in common more often than not.
I’m sure there are a lot more than ten. I’ll probably get called out for only including 10. Maybe you’ve read this because you want to see what I missed. Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments. And if you already knew all of this stuff? Great! Tell your friends because there’s a good chance that someday, they’ll know a trans* person, too.
Photo: Kurt Lowenstein Educational Centre/Flickr
Find author Dillan DiGiovanni at dillandigi.com.
Follow Dillan on Twitter @dillandigi.