Reflections on Trans Day of Visibility

Today is the annual Transgender Day of Visibility. A day dedicated to celebrating trans people while we are alive and appreciating trans excellence.

But for many of us, this year feels particularly hard. While we have recently enjoyed many of the benefits of being more visible in media and politics and the allyship we have gained from intersecting communities, that visibility has also come at a high cost. Violence against trans women of color is at an all time high. And the political right has chosen to make our identities a wedge issue, pushing forward hateful and harmful legislation across multiple states and at the federal level. The horrendous laws in Arkansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Tennessee have targeted trans teens in particular, excluding them from sports and gender-affirming care.

If you are cisgender, I encourage you to take some time this week to read about the issues facing our community right now such as the scientific evidence supporting trans youth in sports and find ways to act to support your trans colleagues, friends, and trans youth across the nation. As a starting point, I recommend reading this brief article from The Nation about how Visibility Alone Will Not Keep Transgender Youth Safe. I also encourage you to find transgender-led advocacy groups to donate to such as Seattle’s Gender Justice League and the grassroots Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network Fund.

Biological “sex” isn’t real

I’ve written many time before about how the concept of biological sex as a separate concept from gender is artificial. And how asking it on forms as if it determines everything about me medically is inaccurate. But I want to revisit the topic because it is really important. MANY cis people, both men and women, use this as a prop for their transphobia and make arguments based on biological determinism. When really, it is just based on internalized oppositional sexism, misogyny, and homophobia.

The main argument rests on the idea that your X/Y chromosome mix determines everything about you. But that is just a prop for our pre-existing binary thinking. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that chromosomes were first identified at a time in Western history where people were already socially trying to reinforce gender roles based on a patriarchal lens. And even they acknowledged that there are 5 “sex” chromosome combinations.

When you think about it, the only genetic difference between people with XX and XY is in 1/8th of 1/23rd of your genetics which works out to 0.5% of your primary genetic code. Half of that if you consider the recently discovered epigenetic component which is shaped by your environment and experiences in life. There are far more differences on other chromosomes than there are based on the Y.

And in reality, our genetics are only a small part of what makes us who we are in life. If you are really going to claim biological determinism then you need to look at the whole biology of a person. Which includes how their body was shaped by hormones in the womb, how their brain developed, and how their body has changed over time. And there are already studies that show that in many trans people, there are key areas of the brain that are more similar to their gender than to their chromosomal peers.

There is also recent data showing that bloodwork values on trans people taking hormones closely match their hormonal peers after only 6 months, regardless of the concentration of the hormones. So it brains and blood match and hormones only play a small role, that only leaves genitals.

The existence of intersex people due to natural variation in human biology already proves that genitals aren’t binary either. And with modern medicine, we can fundamentally change the shape of your genitals to the point that the average person can’t tell the difference between a neovagina and a natal vagina if that is your desire. So really, what is our excuse anymore? You can’t claim socialization because many trans people fundamentally experience their childhoods and lives differently. It really just boils down to oppositional sexism, misogyny, and homophobia.

So cis people, next time you hear an asshole say that they would never have sex with a trans person, or a TERF say that only cis women belong in their communities, press them as to why. Help them uncover their homophobia and transphobia. The burden for undoing that shouldn’t lie on trans people. We shouldn’t let jokes about “discovering someone used to be a dude” slide. Because those are just as much a part of rape culture as jokes about how women should dress.

And remember, just because you may hear at a Trans 101 training that sex and gender are different doesn’t mean that all trans people agree. Send them this blog and remind them that their argument isn’t based in science.

“Socialized male”

In my mind this is one of the most transphobic things you can say. Right up there with “so you were born male?”

I found this great quote in an article talking about hormonal cycles that really resonates (though it is from a binary perspective).

Trans women are not men who decided to become women, we are women who were forced to live as men until we could find a way to express the truth of who we are.

I don’t understand men, or know what it’s like to really be one.
Because I always knew I wasn’t.

Not everyone has always known that they were trans; I certainly didn’t. But neither was I “socialized as a man” in the same sense that a cisgender boy is. Yes, I have some insight on what kinds of things are said to boys to enforce masculinity. But my experience of them is uniquely shaped by my nonbinary gender.

When I was taught about what I was supposed to be, I didn’t hear them as things that I could actually achieve. Masculinity was this unachievable standard that I never felt like I could reach, even in the times when I thought I wanted to. But more importantly, masculinity wasn’t something I really wanted. Even the “sensitive men” in my life who didn’t display toxic masculinity had some indescribable maleness that I admired but more like in the way that I hear cis women describe attraction to men.

I’ve tried many times to write down what I think masculinity is outside of the hegemonic hypermasculinity. But for each quality that I name, I can think of a woman who displays it just as well or better without compromising her femininity. So I don’t have an easy way to tell you what I felt like I was missing that made me not fit as a boy/man. But I always knew I didn’t fit, couldn’t fit, and deep down didn’t want to fit.