Photo credit – Robot Hugs (c) 2017
I could wait until Trans Day of Visibility in March but since it’s on my mind now, I wanted to say a few things, mostly for the benefit of allies and friends who aren’t part of the trans and nonbinary communities.
Transgender people come in literally all shapes and sizes and colors. If you have a type of person that you picture when you think of us, I want to you make a conscious effort to broaden that.
Trans people have every kind of genital arrangement imaginable. Some people are born with genitals outside of the binary assumptions which we usually call intersex. And some intersex people identify as trans and some do not. Some people choose to have one or more of a wide variety of gender affirming surgeries to align their body with their identity, and for some people that isn’t even a choice but the difference between life and death. Some people consider themselves pre-op and are saving up for surgery or are trying to navigate a healthcare system that tries to exclude us. Some people are waiting for the out-of-the-box options they want to become available (like myself). Some people redefine their relationship with their genitals and may use different terms to refer to the parts they were born with. And some people don’t have any genital dysphoria.
Trans people don’t look a particular way. There are as many ways of performing and describing gender as there are people in the world. Some people want to be exclusively masculine or feminine and may describe as trans women or trans men. Some people want to blend in or “pass” while others prioritize feeling like themselves even if they don’t fit in. Some people are feminine but butch at the same time. Some people try to find a neutral place in the middle. Some people combine aspects of “traditional” gender binaries to create their own blend. Some people swing far in one direction and then settle on somewhere in the middle. And believe me when I say that someone’s appearance can’t tell you a damn thing about what they looked like when they were born.
Trans people come from every culture and race in the world. The idea that this is a new phenomenon is a very Western perspective. Gender diversity outside the binary has existed on nearly every continent for all of recorded history with an incredible variety of names and concepts. European and US colonization has attempted to wipe out many forms of gender presentation but we are resilient and many gender warriors have kept these traditions alive. And while the people that you know who are trans may be white, the people most at risk for violence are trans people of color who have led our movement from the beginning.
Trans people use an ever expanding vocabulary to describe ourselves and our experiences. There is no right or wrong way and for many of us, the evolution of language has literally been a lifesaver in helping us discover ourselves and the people like us. Some people use terms that others may find offensive. Some people change labels as their own understanding of themselves evolves. Some people categorize words differently such as including their nonbinary identity under the trans label while other nonbinary people don’t feel like they fit in yet another binary of cisgender vs transgender. Some people feel like they don’t have any gender while some people feel like they have a lot. The only way you will know how someone describes themselves is if you respectfully ask.
Trans people use more pronouns than you’ve probably even thought of. Some people choose binary labels even if they don’t identify that way. Many people use they/them/theirs as a gender neutral pronoun, reclaiming ways in which it was used in historic English and continues to be used despite grammar police. Some people use different pronouns depending on how they are feeling or presenting that day. Some people create new terms like xe/xem/xyrs and ze/hir/hirs. If you want help learning how to use it in a sentence, just ask, or better yet, look it up.
Trans people have every intersection of ability and mental health imaginable. Because of the pressures and discrimination we have faced, many of us have the added burden of chronic health and mental illness. Nearly half of us have depression and/or anxiety. Over 40% have attempted suicide. And for reasons I don’t think are fully understood, there is a huge overlap between gender nonconformity and autism. When trans people get together we will often talk about these challenges openly even if we may be reluctant to share that with you because of how our identity was so recently treated like a mental illness itself. But just because someone is trans doesn’t mean you should assume they face these issues either.
Even here I’ve probably said some things that overgeneralize or erase experiences. I apologize for leaving things out but the main point I want you to take away is that you should never make assumptions. Even if you think you’ve never met a trans person, it’s very likely that you just didn’t know it. So rather than finding new ways to exclude us, think about all the ways your community and life could be enriched by the diversity of experiences we bring to the table.