Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Most transgender/non-binary folks have been there. You open up about being trans, and then the other person is like, ".....what?" They have no clue what that means; and they may or may not want to. They wanna know how it happened, what it means, etc. The difficult part here is that you are a trans individual trying to explain your experience to someone who can't possibly fully understand it. Not that that is a bad thing! You should, if comfortable, describe your experience and what it means to you. But sometimes your knowledge can get in the way, and you may end up confusing the other person further because they have no foundational knowledge to work with.
Who I'm writing this blog entry for is for those who wish there was a nice little article/descriptor they could just hand the other person to read over and ask for clarification on particulars later. Kind of like giving them some homework and self-study, and then letting them show their understanding afterward through having a more enlightened discussion with you. This entry is not meant to be perfect or thorough. Far from it. It will be simplified, very much so. What I aim to do is explain the implications of being trans in a way that binary (and unwoke) folks can "get it." I figure I can do this pretty well as I myself am a cisgender female, and when I started out a year ago, I was far from being very educated on this subject (and I had considered myself pretty well woke, ha). And I remember what it was like when I first started learning all these terms and meanings and feelings and.....whew. It can be overwhelming.
I now stand on the opposite side of the knowledge line, where I still might not understand what it is to truly BE of the trans world, but I'm likely as close as I can get without being trans myself.
So, this entry is geared towards those without prior knowledge or experience with this type of stuff. Basically, how I used to be. Feel free to direct folks to read this blog, or copy/paste it and send it to the person who you need educated. Also note that I will be using the designated term "transgender" or "trans" because those are the folks I deal with most often in my online hormone clinic. But any of the other gender identities could be substituted here (agender, gender-queer, gender-questioning, non-binary, etc.).
So let's get started.....
You've Been Chosen
So, someone you know and/or love has told you they are transgender (or trans for short). Congratulations! This person must have a great deal of trust and hope in you as this can be a very difficult discussion to have. There is a very real statistical possibility of rejection from those they love, so be very aware that this is actually quite a high honor to be included in their inner circle of confidence. Proceed with an open mind and open heart, please.
Terms To Remember
What does it mean to be transgender? Everyone describes/experiences this a little bit differently (and some can wax quite lengthy and poetic on the topic), but for those who aren't "in the know," I will try to simplify it.
Here are a few terms to be familiar with:
-Sex: having to do with physical body traits, such as a penis, vagina, testicles, and ovaries. This is actually separate from one's gender (surprise!).
-Gender Identity: the inherent knowledge of one's gender, being masculine or feminine.
-Cis-gender: a person whose gender identity matches their physical sex. So, in my case, I am physically a female (ovaries and all) for my sex, and my gender identity in my brain is also female. So I match. Yay!
Brain = Female, Body = Female: Cisgender.
-Trans-gender: a person whose gender identity does NOT match their physical sex. So, for example, let's say a person has the body of a male (penis and everything), but their brain tells them they are female.
Brain = Female, Body = Male: Transgender.
Uh oh, this seems potentially troublesome.....right?
-Gender Dysphoria: a marked feeling of distress/anxiety/stress over the incongruence between one's physical sex and gender identity. This can be mild or severe, or anywhere in between. And it may wax and wane in intensity throughout the course of even a single day. Not everyone who is trans experiences it, but it is very common.
-It should also be noted that sexual orientation (gay, lesbian, asexual, bisexual, etc) is completely separate from gender identity, so don't get them confused!
How Did This Happen?
If you are their parent, lover, or spouse, you might be asking yourself, "What did I do to cause this?" Or maybe even, "What happened to them to cause them to turn out this way?" Please believe me when I tell you that you have done nothing to cause this, and there is nothing in this world that is going to simply cause someone to change gender identity and become transgender (within reason, I am not going to argue the point of extreme torture methods).
The cause isn't located on the outside, but rather on the inside. It occurs early during development in the womb. There are many theories on this subject matter, but none have the ultimate proven/accepted answer as of yet. Almost all of them center around a period during a fetus' development when there is a critical time wherein the fetus is exposed to androgens (namely testosterone). The actual exposure itself is what causes the physical differentiation between males and females to develop (until that point, we all develop physically as a female). The timing of this androgen exposure is then what is thought to create the difference in gender identity. While the reasons thought to be behind the androgen exposure timing being "off" are wide and varied, most agree that this is likely the major developmental variance that results in a gender identity developing that may not align with the physical sex of the person.
Regardless of the reason, what you need to understand is that this is NOT a fad or a phase. It is a well-documented scientific variation of gender that is not going to just go away or resolve on its own. This is not the same thing as when a little kid says they are a fireman or a horse and then runs around dressing up in a costume and pretending to be something they are not. When a child pretends to be a horse, they are having fun pretending. They are not seriously BEING another mammal; they realize it is make-believe. They will not consistently look at themselves in the mirror and become distressed and upset that there are parts of themselves that are not actually a horse. Yes, many children have a kind of gender explorative period, and it is important to just let them be and let them explore. They will settle on their true identity eventually, no matter what external influences there are (such as pink clothes for girls, sports for boys, etc). This is not a case of Nature vs Nurture; Nature has already won. For most, this simple gender exploration will resolve prior to puberty, and they will settle on one gender. Those who have a true incongruence between their physical body and their gender identity will continue to experience issues, however.
What Does This Mean?
For many who identify as transgender, this means they will eventually wish to transition in some way so as to more closely mirror their true gender identity. There are many ways of doing this: Social, medical, and surgical transitions are the most common. And any combination of these (or none at all) can be chosen for their transition. And sometimes one may choose to change it up as they go. There is no right or wrong way to do this.
Social: dressing and acting like the identified gender. These are pretty much reversible changes. Fairly inexpensive.
Medical: taking medications (usually hormones) that will allow physical changes to the body to develop in order to better reflect the identified gender. These have many changes that can be permanent, but some are reversible. Can be inexpensive depending on area of the country one is located in, health insurance coverage, and financial status, but generally is not prohibitively costly.
Surgical: undergoing surgical procedures to physically alter one's body in order to better reflect one's identified gender. These are generally all fairly permanent changes. Pretty darn prohibitively expensive for most, although sometimes can be mostly covered by health insurance.
Doesn't This Go Against God?
Short answer: No. Please know that this is an argument that cannot be won by using scripture as evidence. Since God's word was pretty darn explicit to love one another, treat everyone well, don't judge, and so on, it seems a little petty of one to decide what they think God believes and wants. And that's what it is...your interpretation. There is nowhere in scripture that will truly and specifically address transgender folks, so stop trying to dig for reasons to hate people. If you hate them, that's on you. Don't tell us that God told you to hate, because he never has. Period. Many of the directives in the scriptures have become outdated and misinterpreted by mankind through the centuries. I mean, shoot, if we're gonna stone women to death who are divorced, then there better be a whole lotta rocks out there because we'll need every damn one of them to kill all us divorced chicks. So come on. Gimme a break. Don't use God as a crutch for your hate. He loves all, even the haters.
What Do I Do Now?
Listen. Be kind. Be patient. Allow yourself time, too. You may need a grieving period, even. Because even though the person is still alive, this will definitely be changing your relationship to some degree, and that deserves an adjustment period for you. But please know that as confusing as this may be for you, it can be a thousand times worse for them. This world is so full of hate towards the unknown. Transgender folks have it rough to say the least. They are discriminated against at every turn, from family, friends, coworkers, employers, colleges, society, etc. It is often to the point that they have a justifiable fear of violence and death. Their suicide attempt rate is 41%. WTF?! If it's all so bad, then why do they choose this, you ask? Because they don't. There is no choice here. There are transgender. They can pretend not to be, but they are.
The best simple example I heard recently to help folks understand the concept of how a person recognizes that they are transgender was in another blog I came across with a person talking about being right-handed (scarymommy.com "Someone Else's Gender Identity Isn't About You").
So here is the mental exercise for you:
How do you know you are right-handed (or left, or even ambidextrous if that's what you are)? How exactly? How did you figure it out? And what happens when you try to use your non-dominant hand instead? How does it feel? And what makes you think you can stand there and tell me that you are right-handed if I tell you that I am left-handed? How can we prove that you are right-handed and not just faking being bad at using your left hand? Or are you just "going through a phase" of wanting to use your other hand, perhaps? What if I told you that as of today, unless you do everything in a left-handed manner, you will be constantly discriminated against and maybe even killed? Could you eventually learn to use your left hand? Sure. But you would always remain right-handed even so, because that is how your brain developed. Is this a super simplified example to help explain transgender development? Yes. Applicable, though? Undoubtedly.
So be kind. Be patient. Ask questions and show interest and support. They will need you now more than ever.
Spectrum: The Other Clinic
Transgender Hormone Therapy
Telemedicine Clinic in Mississippi
601-466-9495 Text Me!