Press enter or return to search.

Opinion & Editorial

T is for Transgender

It’s all too often that we get so wrapped up in our achievements that we forget to consider what can still be improved. If you get a 97 percent on a test, you’re not too likely to put too much thought into why you missed those other 3 percent. But what if you got a 75 percent? What if you only got three fourths of the questions right? Or even fewer? Would you pay attention then?

If we can comfortably break down the umbrella acronym “LGBT” into four pieces, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, then we can assume (hypothetically) that each piece deserves equal consideration, respect, and importance. 25 percent all around. So why is it that too many of us continuously neglect the “T?”

I’m absolutely not trying to say that lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities aren’t still facing distressing amounts of discrimination and hate. That would be ignorant thing to assume. I want to make it explicit that we still aren’t giving these communities the consideration, respect, and importance they deserve. For the sake of this analogy, none of these categories have their “full” 25 percent portion of recognition within the  LGBT community.

While the  three aforementioned populations have become more accepted over the course of the last few decades, we still have a long way to go on the social justice front.

We’re in a place where 97 percent of physicians are reportedly comfortable working with lesbians, 95 percent with gay men, 94 percent with bisexual men, and 96 percent with bisexual women.

Yet only 77.5 percent report being comfortable working with transgendered people of either gender.

Not only are an average of 22.5 percent, nearly a full fourth, of physicians uncomfortable working with transgender people, in 2011, nineteen percent of a sample of the trans population reported having been refused medical care. This percentage was much higher among people of color.

Historically, health providers have had very little training when it comes to LGBT patients. A study in 1998 reported that on average only two hours and 30 minutes are spent covering this kind of care in traditional medical school trainings. This is alarming when we consider many transgender people have suffered at the hands of inept medical “professionals” who didn’t know how to best treat them.

The root of the problem, I’m confident, is a lack of knowledge. Society has grown increasingly aware of what it means lesbian, gay, and bisexual. But even as we’ve watched famous transgender women such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner share their stories in the media, we haven’t fully understood what it truly means to be trans in 2015.

To be transgender is to have been born in the wrong body for what you feel your gender should be. In a nutshell, your biological sex doesn’t match your gender identity.

To gain some long overdue appreciation for this group, let’s start by getting a better sense of what the difference between “gender” and “sex” really is.

Your biological sex is reflected through your chromosomes and sexual organs. Biologically, people are either female, intersex, or male. This is not to be confused with your gender identity, which is how you think about yourself. This identity is allegedly based on your own interpretation of your body’s hormonal levels. So, it is possible (and not at all uncommon) to be biologically male but identify as female, or vice versa.

It’s also important to understand that gender expression is the way in which you “demonstrate” your gender, whether through dress or behavior. Gender expression can be classified as feminine, androgynous, or masculine. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, refers to who you are physically and-or emotionally attracted to based on their sex or gender in relation to your personal sex or gender.

Perhaps you’ve never really heard of a few of these concepts. If so, it’s because we exist in a world grounded in heteronormativity, where things like being intersex or androgynous aren’t often discussed or discussed enough.

The real catch in all of this is that scientists are becoming increasingly aware that these factors do not exist as dichotomies as we had previously believed. Each exists on a spectrum, and many people prefer to not firmly identify themselves on any part of this spectrum. For example, the spectrum of gender ranges from male to female, but some recognize themselves as more male than female, or more female than male, and, therefore, do not label their gender as strictly one or the other.

At a recent conference at Nationwide Children’s Hospital regarding the “biopsychosocial approach to sex development and gender,” Dr. Henry Ng offered some insight into what he affectionately referred to as the “gender expansive youth.” Dr. Ng made a point of the idea that our generation is “busting binary identities” by questioning what gender really means to the human race.

As terms like “genderqueer” and “non-binary” and “gender fluid” begin to spring up, it becomes increasingly important for the medical community as well as society in its entirety to take these “new” groups seriously.

So, now that you hopefully have a better understanding of some basic pieces of one’s identity, let’s get back to what it means to be transgendered.

Merriam-Webster defines transgender as “of or relating to people who have a sexual identity that is not clearly male or clearly female.” But it’s definitions like this that lead to prejudice and discrimination in the first place. What does “not clearly male or clearly female” mean? Wouldn’t transgendered individuals define themselves as “clearly” one or the other?

Taking the “mystery” out of being trans is the first step in shaping a less transphobic world, and we can start by normalizing language used in definitions such as this one.

The transgender rights movement is almost certainly the “next big thing” in social justice, and even if it isn’t, we can’t keep ignoring and persecuting such a huge part of our world. Each sample of 1,000 people will contain approximately 1-2 who identify as transgender.

So what can you do? Learn as much as you can.

With understanding comes acceptance, and then support, and then unity.

In the words of a four-year old being treated at Nationwide, “sometimes girls have boy’s privates.”

And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.


Comments are closed.