A case of gender identity

Fri, 06/17/2016 - 3:00pm

Transgender. It's like a dirty word to a lot of people these days. With all the hullabaloo in South Carolina about who's allowed in what bathroom, the issue has suddenly jumped to the front of popular consciousness. Unfortunately, it seems that education and understanding about the issue is pretty slow to follow.

Let's see what I can do to clear some of that up.

The thing I hear most often from people is "I just don't get it." People are so confused about how being transgender (or "trans") happens. It's something pretty far outside of the consciousness, something a lot of people haven't experienced and won't allow themselves to empathize with because it feels weird.

I never had that problem. Being trans always made sense to me. I'm not trans, but for me, gender is...malleable. But we'll get to my own experiences in a minute.

(Apologies in advance for any trans individuals I may annoy with this. I'm trying my best.)

Here's an exercise which is often used to try to explain how it feels:

You wake up tomorrow morning in a different body. It's the body usually associated with the gender opposite yours. Nothing else about you is different. Your mind is exactly the same.

But no one else notices. Everyone insists that that's your body. Not only that, but they treat you as though your body dictates who you are. They force you into gender roles you're uninterested in, clothing that makes you cringe, and expectations that you refuse to meet. They call you by pronouns that don't reflect you.

That's what being trans is like. It's not like suddenly a man wakes up in the morning and thinks he might like to be a woman. It's that a woman is trapped in a body and world that she doesn't want to be in. She's forced into a place in society that she doesn't want to be in.

It's pretty crummy.

Now, I've gathered that from a lot of reading and talking, not from an actual experience. I interact with gender in a very different way. We live in a time where people are finally starting to talk about this stuff openly and let me tell you, it's really excellent.

Let's go back to the mid-to-late 2000s. I was in high school. My fashion sense: the baggier the better. I wore not a single article of clothing that could be purchased in the women's section of a department store. I wore my hair short and pulled back, and sported a knit hat almost all the time. My goal was to be mistaken for a boy.

In fact, a new friend did just that for the first two months that we knew each other. No one bothered to correct her until she (a straight woman) decided to ask me out. Someone decided to fill her in. Which was when I found out all of this was going on. I was, and am, very proud.

I knew I wasn't trans. I didn't want to be a boy, at least, not all the time. But I certainly didn't want to be a girl. I considered it both ways. There was a lot going on in my head, but there wasn't a lot of information available to me. At that time, we were lucky that we even had a T in our "LGBT" association. It was considered pretty progressive.

Cut to about five years ago and I'm reading an article about gender and sexuality. A sentence mentions "gender fluid" individuals, whose gender changes, sometimes between male and female, sometimes something in between, sometimes something totally different.

There was a word for me. Finally. Over the years I've used it rarely as I dislike labels, but when I'm hard pressed for an easy answer, gender fluid in the one I give.

When I think of my own gender, it's like a pair of shoes. I have a favorite pair of shoes that I wear most of the time. Those shoes are comfortable and they fit me well. But sometimes I want to wear other shoes. I just wake up one morning and know it's time for something else.

I have what I call "boy days." It's not about being a tomboy, though I am often that. It's about not being a lady for a little while. Or maybe more of one.

But a lot of people don't have that luxury. A lot of people aren't able to just pass as tomboyish for a day or so. A lot of people need different pronouns (I keep mine regardless of my day).

A lot of people are getting denied jobs, health care, respect, and the ability to use a bathroom they are comfortable in because some people don't understand, or refuse to understand.

The laws are ostensibly to protect the privacy and safety of girls in those bathrooms (no one seems particularly worried about boys having to change with a potential girl). People say men are going to put on dresses and go attack women. That they're going to creep on girls in public bathrooms. The law is supposed to stop that.

Even though there's no evidence for this (studies say), do you really think that people interested in harming women are the kind of people who are worried about obeying laws? There are already laws against harassment and assault, whether it takes place in a public bathroom or not, and regardless of who is wearing what.

This law is about fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of trans people. Don't be afraid. Trans people have battled a lot of stigma in their lives. Going into the correct bathroom for their gender identity is a mark of their bravery. The rest of us need to get on their level and let them.

Protecting girls in locker rooms starts by explaining to them that the "boy" changing with them is a girl. Children are smart. They're open to new ideas. They learn quickly. They love easily. We just need to allow them to.

I urge everyone to support transgender rights whenever and however possible.