I don’t watch reality TV. At least, not as a general rule. So, I honestly have no idea who the Kardashians are or why they’re famous. (I also don’t care.) However, there was one thing about the family that, once it caught my eye, it wouldn’t let go.
I was standing in line at the grocery store the first time I really looked at a photo of Bruce Jenner. My immediate thought was, “Bruce Jenner is a woman.” Perhaps it is because I have more than a few transgender friends, or perhaps it’s because, since I have Asperger’s syndrome, it is much easier for me to pick up on the “energy” of another person rather than their outward appearance. Either way, there was a part of me that sensed Caitlyn before she emerged.
I think Caitlyn Jenner is a brave human being for coming out and being so open. She is paving the way for more people to reveal that they too are transgender.
Here’s the thing: When you are a cisgender person (an individual whose gender, body, and personal identity all match that of the gender assigned at birth), I’m sure it can be really difficult to wrap your head around the entire concept of being transgender.
You may believe, as you see more and more people emerging from the transgender closet, so-to-speak, that this is just some new “trend” going on in the LGBTQ community right now.
If you do, you’re gravely mistaken.
Bridging the Gap – What Transgender Would Be Like for You
- Scenario 1 – The Transgender Child
Imagine yourself as a young child, perhaps 5 or 6.
You love to play dress-up with your sisters, play “mommy” to your dolls, and daydream about having a home and a child of your own someday.
As the years go by, something changes in the way people interact with you. The adults keep shoving you into uncomfortable clothes and your sisters won’t let you get into the bubble bath with them anymore.
The first time you reveal your crush on Eric, the next-door neighbor, your mother’s jaw hits the floor and she protests.
Her cold, measured reply is like a two-ton wrecking ball being driven into your stomach:
“Michael, you’re not a girl. You’re a boy. I mean, it was cute when you were little, but you should know better by now. It’s time to stop pretending!”
- Scenario 2 – The Transgender Adult
You’re a single man living in a small apartment. You’re building your career and can’t wait to find the right woman to settle down and raise a family with. You imagine living in your own home, taking care of the yard, fixing things up, and being both provider and protector.
As you get ready for your third date with an incredible woman, you take off your clothes and get into the shower. You wash quickly, trying to ignore the breasts and vagina that came with this body, because they are not yours.
You spend an hour picking out your clothes, binding your chest, and packing to create the bulge you know should be there, but isn’t. It is only after you do this that your outward appearance matches the way you feel inside.
- Scenario 3 – The Cisgender Swap
You went to bed last night a heterosexual, cisgender woman. However, as you reached to turn off the alarm this morning you immediately noticed something strange. Your slender arm and long fingernails were gone, replaced by a muscular arm and a large hand covered with hair.
You scream (and realize you now have a baritone voice), jump out of bed, and run to the full-length mirror, knocking over a side table that never used to get in your way. As you stand there, gaping at yourself in open-mouthed shock, you see your round, supple breasts have been replaced by a broad and defined chest.
You look down and see something swinging between your legs that you have absolutely no idea what to do with. You don’t even know how to pee out of it never mind use it for sex. And you have no desire to.
A horrible realization sets in: Your mind and soul is still that of the woman you were when you went to bed, but your body no longer matches. You still want the sexual fulfillment of a man inside you, but now when you think about such things, you feel this new part of your anatomy harden, instead of what you remember start to soften.
Imagine what it would be like if this happened to you. Your mind, your desires, and your heart stay exactly the same, except your body changes. Men who used to flirt with you and hold the door open for you now nod curtly and avoid your glance, as there’s something about it that makes them uncomfortable.
You will never be seen or loved as a straight cisgender woman again, and, assuming you are able to mentally cope with being in the wrong body, any romantic relationship have will never feel as authentic and fulfilling as you need.
This is just one of the reasons 41% of gender nonconforming people attempt suicide each year. (That’s 9 times the national average!)
Gender Dysphoria is a Scientifically-Proven Neurological Condition
Being transgender is not a phase, a fad, a mental disorder, or some sort of desperate cry for attention. The appropriate medical term for transgender individuals is gender dysphoria, and it is a proven neurological condition.
Two studies published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research showed that transgender people have measurable differences in the white matter of their brains than cisgender people.
The white matter microstructure pattern in the brains of female-to-male transgender people more closely resembles the pattern of their gender identity (male) than their biological sex (female). It is the first study that has ever proven that the brains of female-to-male transgender people are masculinised.
The white matter microstructure pattern in male-to-female transgender people falls halfway between the patterns of biological males and females. Though the brains are not completely feminine or masculine, female-to-male transgender individuals still feel female.
The Difference Between Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation
Sex and gender are two words that are commonly used interchangeably, but there actually is a difference. Sex refers specifically to the genitalia while gender is a societal construct created to differentiate between men and women.
It is also a common misconception that all transgender people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This is not always the case.
Many transgender women are attracted to heterosexual, cisgender men. Many transgender men are attracted to heterosexual, cisgender women, bisexual women, or queer femmes (feminine women attracted to male-identified butches and/or transgender men).
Being Transgender is Not the “New” or “In” Thing
While there certainly has been a lot more media coverage of well-known transgender people such as Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, and Caitlyn Jenner, being transgender is not some new thing that just happened.
Plenty of women lived as men and vice versa throughout the ages until their death, when their sex was finally revealed. In 2011, archeologists even uncovered evidence of a 5,000-year-old transgender skeleton.
So nope, nothing new. It’s just that more transgender people are coming out, transitioning, and making the community more visible. And that’s a good thing.
Transgender people are not the new toy, the new scapegoat, or the new fetish.
They have always been here and will continue to be here. They are our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, and they deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone else.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr/Mel Green
Black and white photo of transgender woman courtesy of Flickr/J. Saringo