Understanding Trans

This is a generalisation — and possibly a dangerous one — but I believe that for most people the “T” is the least understood part of “LGBT.” I’m one of those people, but I hope that I can make progress in this area.

A dear friend recently trusted me enough to come out as transgender, and I am 100% supportive of Ms. Jones as he goes on the journey to becoming a she. Really the only difficulty I’ve encountered over the last several days is my inability to comprehend what it feels like to be transgender. This inability doesn’t mean that I don’t love my friend just the same as always, nor does it mean that the fundamentals of our relationship will change in any way. But as the great Joss Whedon once wrote, “She understands. She doesn’t comprehend.”

So here are the things I’m trying to wrap my head around. I’d love help figuring these things out.

Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual are easier for me to understand as a Cisgender Heterosexual because they involve choice of whom to love, which is a feeling I have experienced. It’s my firm belief that bisexuality is the future norm of the human race. Human beings don’t love a gender; they love individuals. I understand why transgenderism gets lumped in with homosexuality, but I don’t think in the long run these issues should be classified together. Gender identity is something altogether different from the love one individual has for another. I can understand the feelings a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person has for the one they love. I don’t comprehend what it feels like to feel transgender.

I have a lot of worries about Ms. Jones. I want her to be safe as she transitions. She’s moving from occupying a public status in the most privileged class — heterosexual cisgender male — to being a transwoman, which is an extremely at-risk category. I want my friend to defy the odds of being at higher risk for violent crime, HIV, and discrimination, but I worry that she’ll experience difficulties just the same.

I also worry about my ability to understand how a person who is a transwoman relates to my understanding of myself as a woman. The feminist part of me is eager to see gender roles broken down and done away with, so I must admit to feeling some confusion at the idea of someone deliberately wanting to adhere to the arbitrary gender constructs. Again, I don’t feel a lack of support or respect for Ms. Jones, just a lack of ability to see things from her perspective. I hope as time goes on that my perspective can be enlarged, but for now I’ll just have to be patient with not really understanding how this works. Ms. Jones will never menstruate, conceive a child, or experience PMS, but is that what makes a woman? It’s possible that at some point she’ll understand what it’s like to have to maintain constant vigilance while moving in public places because of the constant barrage of catcalls, unwanted conversations, and other ways that men try to assert ownership of women, but is that what makes a woman?

I think that part of what makes it so difficult for me to comprehend is that while I understand that female sex and female gender are two distinct issues, for me there is little to no conflict between those two spheres. I’ve never woken up in the morning and thought, “Today I feel like one hell of a bloke.” I’ve wondered once or twice what it would be like to have a penis or to shave a beard off my face, but only in the same sense that I’ve wondered once or twice what it would be like to be able to do a backflip or drive a Maserati. I’ve never felt like a man.

Another area that I may need to rethink is my discomfort with dramatic body modification. Obviously surgeries are something that is fairly far down the road with any transgender individual, but even then it does conflict with the my fundamental feeling that body modification is mainly a product of marketing bombardment telling us how we should look. Perhaps this issue is different for transwomen than it is for biological females. I’m not sure, and I’ll have to do more thinking on the topic.

I’m not afraid of any of these questions or conflicts. In fact, I believe it’s good for me to think very hard about this issue. It can only help me understand more about myself and the people in my life. There is always more to learn, and I look forward to expanding my understanding.

One thought on “Understanding Trans

  1. Thanks for this post – you’ve expressed some of my own thoughts on the big T that I’ve grappled with while trying my best to support my T friend, who has now fully made the transition from M to F and, I’m thrilled to say, leads a more fulfilled life as a result. I’m happy for her and with her. But throughout it all, the distinction in what defines a gender so much that a person would be unfortunate “in” one and want to be “out” of that one and “in” another I find challenging. Maybe, as Whedon said, because I understand but don’t comprehend. I suppose our internal conflict is in both wanting to support our friends’ transitions as something that’s right for them, but as feminists also seeing less definition around and limitation by gender a positive thing for society at large.

    Maybe you can’t truly understand if you’re not T. I should talk to my friend. Meanwhile, I hope your friend finds as much support and happiness in this process as mine did. I’m glad she has such loving support from you. She’ll surely need it.

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