Monday, June 8, 2015

Trans-Visible


It’s Pride Month and we all know what that means:

Time to celebrate our queer asses off!

And what better way to kick off June than with Vanity Fair’s preview of its upcoming cover-all about Caitlyn Jenner or, as the rest of the world knew her for decades before, Bruce.  In case you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, Bruce Jenner gave an exclusive interview to Diane Sawyer and busted out as transgender once and for all.

This week, she emerged fierce and fearless as Caitlyn Jenner.  In her interview with Vanity Fair, Jenner explains the photo shoot:

“This shoot was about my life and who I am as a person.  It’s not about the fanfare, it’s not about people cheering in the stadium, it’s not about going down the street and everybody giving you ‘that a boy, Bruce,’ pat on the back, O.K. This is about your life.” 

As a cisgender man—that is, a man who identifies with the gender assigned to me at birth—I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to feel imprisoned by your own body.  For someone to come out as transgender takes some massive metaphorical balls. 

It’s brave. 

It’s beautiful. 

It’s the reason we celebrate Pride.

So in celebration of our trans brothers and sisters, today’s post is all about trans visibility and putting to rest some of the more common misconceptions of being transgender. 


Gender Identity vs. Sexuality

The only thing a person’s gender identity has to do with their sexual orientation is that both occur in the largest sexual organ in the human body:

The mind.

Gender dysphoria is defined in the DSM-5 as a marked difference in a person’s expressed gender and the gender others (like doctors and parents) assign them.  This marked difference in gender can be seen in children as young as a year old, and can cause considerable stress to their daily interactions.  Add intolerant parents, schools, or entire communities to the mix and you’ve got a nice phobic cocktail ready for any kid who’s different to drink.  Small wonder suicide rates in the trans community are so outrageous.

Sexuality, on the other hand, is who you want to fuck and how you want to fuck them.  The only thing it has to do with our genitalia is what we do with them after we get the sexy time started.  Transgender people experience the whole spectrum of sexuality—straight, gay, bi, poly—like everyone else.  And like everyone else, they express their sexualities in different ways. 

But to make that awkward situation with a trans person a little less awkward, I’d refrain from asking about their sexy parts unless you’re the one about to fuck them.


Transgender vs. Intersex

Where gender is mental, being classified as “intersex” is biological and has everything to do with a person’s genitals and/or body makeup.  According to Intersex Society of NorthAmerica:

“…a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.”

Another distinction to make between being transgender and intersex is that intersex people might identify as their given gender.  Their histories are about as tragic, though.  In the 1950s intersex babies were altered soon after birth, usually without parental consent and, as these things go, with horrible results.  Why were doctors so damn scalpel happy back then?


Pronouns!  Pronouns!  Pronouns!

Language is important, and the way we address people matters.  Anyone who has ever made the mistake of calling “her” a “him” or vice versa knows that gender identity is something we hold near and dear.  Babies are the worst, or should I say, the gender-specific parents of babies. 

But I digress.       

Pronouns are important.  Him.  Her.  He.  She.  They’re markers.  Status symbols.  For trans persons like Caitlyn Jenner the process may not be complete until they’ve informed the people in their lives of their new pronoun. 

Some may find it difficult to wrap around these new gender markers, and they are not alone.  Gender identity is one of the first things engrained in us.  For centuries we have tried to fit everything into this binary system in which the natural world simply doesn’t work.  And language doesn’t change overnight. 

Institutions like Sarah Lawrence College are working on finding gender neutral ways to address people, namely their students.  As an article in the the New York Times put it:

“Sarah Lawrence’s approach to this hot button issue is…use the second person instead of the third person. When that can’t be done, they recommend the use of ‘non-gendered nouns as needed (student, person, individual).’…They advocate the broader use of the plural pronouns “they” and “them” to “replace singular gendered pronouns (he, she, him, her)…”

Some also prefer the gender neutral terms “ze”, the subjective of he/she, and “hir”, the possessive and objective of his/hers.  

As it stands, though, language has a ways to catch up with our evolving attitudes towards the transgender community.  For now just use the pronoun the other person is comfortable with, and with a little respect and human compassion, everyone can avoid those awkward social mishaps.


Bathrooms

No, men are not dressing up as women to get their jollies from your little girl, despite how many robocalls some people make.  What’s that old adage?  Those who scream loudest…

Trans men and women need appropriate bathrooms because they have to piss.  Or maybe the Taco Bell they had that day is sweeping straight through them.  Either way, they gotta go and they gotta go right now. 

Thankfully last Monday, the same day Caitlyn Jenner burst into the limelight, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laid out a few employer guidelines to assure transgender employees can take a deuce in the bathrooms they feel most comfortable in.

“Gender identity is an intrinsic part of each person’s identity and everyday life. Accordingly, authorities on gender issues counsel that it is essential for employees to be able to work in a manner consistent with how they live the rest of their daily lives, based on their gender identity. Restricting employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity, or segregating them from other workers by requiring them to use gender-neutral or other specific restrooms, singles those employees out and may make them fear for their physical safety…”

Safety, after all, is the issue.  Trans people already suffer enough abuse from families, schools, police, and their doctors.  They don’t need to be harassed when they need to go to bathroom, too.  And if someone has a problem with it, they should just do what I do whenever I need to take a shit in public:

Hold it until the coast is clear.
     

Pride Month is all about visibility and with the birth of Caitlyn Jenner so is a new wave of discussion about the trans-community also born.  And while Caitlyn certainly depicts one aspect of the trans experience, there are over 700,000 other transgender people in America, all with experiences and lives of their own.

As it stands, trans-individuals are at a higher risk of suicide, sexual and physical abuse, poverty, and homelessness.  Trans-people don’t have proper medical insurance let alone access to trans-specific healthcare.  And that’s saying nothing of the transphobia so rampant here and in other parts of the world, where being gay or trans is still punishable by prison or death.  Despite the strides we have taken in the march for equality, our work is far from over.

That is why we celebrate Pride each year.

So here’s to you Caitlyn Jenner!  Enjoy every second of your new life.  You deserve it, girl.  Find your nearest Pride and go.  You’ll be the belle of the ball. 

And to the rest of my trans brothers and sisters here’s to each and every one of you.

Happy Pride!

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