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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Are We Ignorant of Transgender People?

To condemn things we don't really understand makes us unfairly intolerant and obstinately bigoted. When something is diametrically opposed to our belief system, we tend to shut our minds to learning about the issue because it is so repugnant that we believe it to be unnatural and, thus, inherently bad.

This rigid opposition is illogical without thorough investigation into the issue. I believe transgenderism fits the description of being largely misunderstood. I also believe most people choose to know very little about transgender people -- their status, their minds, and their hopes and fears. We owe those humans the simple grace of understanding. We must make ourselves better by our own tolerant, loving actions.

A. H. Devor, Ph.D. of the sociology department at the University of Victoria, Canada, writes ...

"Unfortunately, we have been very slow to generalize this concept to our understandings of gender, sex, and sexuality. We tend to continue to think of people whose genders, sexes, or sexualities are unusual as "mistakes" of either nature or of nurture. Our dogged insistence on thinking in terms of binary categorizations of male/female, man/woman, heterosexual/homosexual, either/or, right/wrong, serves to blinker our vision. It is time that we begin to recognize that there are far more 'mistakes of society' than there are 'mistakes of nature,' and to begin to retool ourselves for the job of coming to see, appreciate, and understand the value of human gender sex, and sexual diversity."

(A. H. Devor. "How Many Sexes? How Many Genders? When Two Are Not Enough."
June 29, 2007) 

It is important to understand the difference between sex and gender. Sex is assigned at birth and refers to one’s biological status as either male or female. It is associated primarily with physical attributes such as chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and external and internal anatomy. Sex may be female, male, intersexed, or hermaphrodite. Sex statuses are usually assigned by doctors on the basis of visual inspection of the genitalia of newborns. However, when genitalia are inconclusive, persons' sexes can be determined on the basis of chromosomes.

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women. These influence the ways that people act, interact, and feel about themselves. Therefore, gender as a social status is usually based on the convincing performance of femininity or masculinity. Persons may be women or girls, boys or men, or transgendered. While aspects of biological sex are similar across different cultures, aspects of gender may differ greatly.

("Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression." The American Psychological Association. 2015)

Intersexed or hermaphroditic, and transgendered or transsexually inclined people have been among us as long as human beings have existed. They appear in ancient history, myths, and tales of many cultures. Indeed, the very word hermaphrodite comes from ancient Greek lore.

According to legend, the god Hermes (known as Mercury among the Romans) mated with the goddess Aphrodite (known as Venus among the Romans). Together they begat a son, Hermaphroditus, who, at the age of 15, so fell in love with a nymph that his body fused with hers and he became intersexed.

Transgender persons have been documented in many indigenous, Western, and Eastern cultures and societies from antiquity until the present day. Now, approximately 700,000 individuals in the U.S. identify as transgender.

Transgender is the state of one's gender identity or gender expression not matching one's assigned sex. Transgender is independent of sexual orientation; transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual (without sexual orientation), etc. Some may consider conventional sexual orientation labels inadequate or inapplicable to them.

("GLAAD Media Reference Guide - Transgender glossary of terms."
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. May, 2010)

The definition of transgender includes:

* "Of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these."
* "People who were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves."
* "Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth."

A transgender individual may have characteristics that are normally associated with a particular gender and identify elsewhere on the traditional gender continuum, or exist outside of it as ...

(a) agender -- in which the biological sex (or lack thereof) is not associated with specific features and tendencies of personality,

(b) gender-neutral --  the idea that policies, language, and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to people's sex or gender, in order to avoid discrimination arising from the impression that there are social roles for which one gender is more suited than the other,

(c) genderqueer --  a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine; identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity (having a match  between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.

(d) non-binary -- the understanding that a person can exhibit both traits that have been traditionally rendered exclusive to a "girl" or a "boy"

(e) third gender -- acknowledgement of another category of gender altogether independent of men and women, and, thus, defining gender and not the sex that biology gives to living beings.

Transgender people may also identify as bigender (those who moves between masculine and feminine gender roles fluidly with two distinct personalities depending on context), pangender (those who feel they identify as all genders), or along several places on either the traditional transgender continuum or the more encompassing continuums that have been developed in response to recent, significantly more detailed studies.

(Lynne Layton. In Defense of Gender Ambiguity: Jessica Benjamin.
Gender & Psychoanalysis. 1996)

It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of transgender people, mostly because there are no population studies that accurately and completely account for the range of gender identity and gender expression. But, acording to the Williams Institute at UCLA's School of Law, there are only 700,000 transgender people in the United States. The general understanding of "gender reassignment" in the past was that, in order for a transition to be considered complete, the transgender individual had to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

However, modern health experts' current understanding of gender transitions is that transitions are an individualized process that can involve a variety of steps- sometimes involving surgery, but often not. In short, gender transition is anything but cookie-cutter.

(Cole Thaler. "What Does It Mean to Be Real? Transgender Identity and the Law." 2010)

Persons may be transgendered on the basis of only their feelings about themselves, they may appear ambiguously gendered to others, or they may change their gender and live unnoticed as another gender.      

Many transgender people experience a period of identity development that includes better understanding one's self-image, self-reflection, and self-expression. More specifically, the degree to which individuals feel genuine, authentic, and comfortable within their external appearance and accept their genuine identity is referred to as transgender congruence.

We know tremendous social status hinges on one's gender. We also know transgenderism is not well tolerated in present-day Western society. All persons, including intersexed persons, are expected to live as only one gender throughout their entire lifetimes and the penalties for gender transgressions have often been severe and even fatal.

Researchers conducting analysis into the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) revealed pretty much what we already suspected -- transgender people who experience violence and family rejection are at higher risk for suicide attempts.

The report in 2011 entitled "Injustice at Every Turn," confirmed the pervasive and severe discrimination faced by transgender people. Out of a sample of nearly 6,500 transgender people, the report found that transgender people experience high levels of discrimination in employment, housing, health care, education, legal systems, and even in their families.

In 2012, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released the Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ), and HIV-Affected Communities report. Among the key findings were that transgender people, people of color, gay men and people under 30 were groups that were most impacted by intimate partner violence. 

The report found that transgender survivors were two (2.0) times as likely to face threats/intimidation within violent relationships, and nearly two (1.8) times more likely to experience harassment within violent relationships.

 (Derrick Ing and Tiffany Woods. "Why Talking About Domestic Violence in the Transgender Community Matters." 2013)

It is perfectly clear that the positive affirmation of an identity is central to a man or a woman forging a path to social acceptance, liberty, and a peaceful existence. Is this any less true of a transgender person? Oh, people can deny the existence of these individuals, or they can use religious rhetoric to condemn them as sinners and abominations. Yet, this blanket hatred only serves to create wider divisions based on misinformation and bias.

We live in a world far more diverse than any number of simplistic definitions of gender can contain.
Are there only two genders? I do not think so. I believe it is evident there are many. The American Psychological Association reports the following:

"There is no single explanation for why some people are transgender. The diversity of transgender expression and experiences argues against any simple or unitary explanation. Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities."

("Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression." The American Psychological Association. 2015)

Whatever the explanation for transgenderism, many transgender people are the targets of hate crimes. They are also the victims of subtle discrimination—which includes everything from glances or glares of disapproval to discomfort to invasive questions about their body parts. Perhaps some simple understanding can prevent crimes and discrimination from occurring. Opening our minds to reality is the first step to living in harmony. It is not enough to say, "I don't hate anyone." It's past time to live and learn. It's now time we accept those who may rankle our stale perceptions and welcome their inclusion.

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