Are your weird observations about Caitlyn Jenner causing you to lose Facebook friends? If so, please consult this nifty guide.
First, a bit about my expertise: Years ago, a loved one confessed his life-long struggle with his gender identity, taking me down a rabbit hole of transgender support groups, websites, articles, essays, and adventures. Over the course of an extremely busy year, I got to know hundreds of transgender people and befriended many. Here is what they need you to know:
You have at least one transgender person in your life
The transgender community is still extremely closeted. There have been many studies conducted to pinpoint the population size, but the numbers run all over the map, since the US Census does not address gender identity. Claire Cain Miller wrote a great article about all of the latest research, but one thing is extremely clear, the vast majority (70+%) of all transgender people in this country hide their true gender identity.
Transgender people come in all shapes and flavors, so it’s actually very difficult to stereotype. I’ve personally known many burly firemen, construction workers, and metal heads who loved being women. I’ve met many female-to-male (FTM) transgender people who would love to be able to grow a mustache, but still love cosmopolitans and girl pop.
You don’t know that Bob from your bowling league likes to wear a nightgown to bed, and you don’t know that Amy the office gossip stuffs socks into her panties. Heck, you may not know that your brother is truly a lesbian trapped in a man’s body, even if he jokes about it constantly. If you publicly deride transgender people, you do so at the risk of deeply offending someone you care about.
Drag queens are not the norm
Most transgender people are simply casual, work-a-day folks who wish to be themselves. They don’t spend hours blending glitter on their eyelids and perfecting Cher impressions. Drag queens are performers who create caricatures in order to entertain you. They also tend to be out-of-the-closet homosexuals who are very loud and proud about who they are. A drag queen is a walking work of art, an exaggerated homage to glamorous women. Drag queens represent a tiny minority of the transgender population.
In contrast, your average MTF (male-to-female) transgender person, who was born a man and identifies as female, will often dress very casually and wear simple make-up. That’s because your average MTF already identifies as a woman. The make-up only enhances what is true in the heart.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely separate characteristics. Just think about the celebrity transgender people you know about:
Caitlyn Jenner = Born a man. Attracted to women.
Eddie Izzard = Born a man. Attracted to women.
Chaz Bono = Born a woman. Attracted to women.
Laverne Cox = Born a man. Attracted to men.
Their genitals are none of your business
Do you enjoy describing your junk to strangers? Well okay, maybe YOU do, but most of us don’t, you friggin’ pervert.
Transgender people are no different – most of them hate to be asked about their private parts, so get your mind out of their underwear.
And on that note, transgender people just want to go to the bathroom in peace. They’re not trying to slip into your stall or sneak peeks at your vajayjay. They just want to pee in convenient public places without drama.
For those of you who are still obsessed with genitalia and consumed with curiosity, just know that sexual reassignment surgeries are rarely performed, since they are mostly cosmetic, still somewhat risky, and extremely expensive. So if you really must venture a guess, odds are favorable that the genitals are the same since birth.
Their gender identity is not a threat to yours
Much like gay marriage is not a threat to traditional marriage, a person born a man, but identifies as a woman, is simply stating the gender she feels inside. This is not an affront to the painful periods you suffered, the child labor you endured, or the hot flashes you now sweat through. If you choose to be completely butt hurt because Caitlyn Jenner cannot fully relate to the trials and tribulations of being a woman, then please turn the channel, because clearly, keeping up with the Kardashians is not for you.
Sorry, but you’re no longer just “straight”
When your grandfather was “straight,” it just meant that he wasn’t high on drugs or booze. These days, you have to identify as “straight” to indicate that you are not homosexual. However, since sexual preference has nothing to do with sexual identity, “straight” is not a simple phrase that automatically distances you from all LGBT categories. Therefore, you are now “cisgender.” I’m sorry, I know it’s a lame word and perhaps someone will come up with a cooler one, but for now, to let someone know that your personal gender identity matches the genitals assigned to you at birth, you can say “I am cisgender.”
Every transgender story is different
Many transgender people have struggled with their gender identity since early childhood. Some vacillate between their male and female sides their whole lives. Some fall somewhere in between the male/female perspective. Some have a full sexual reassignment early in their life. There are many colors in the transgender rainbow, and that’s okay.
If you are straight and cisgender, you may not understand many of those colors, and that’s okay too. Gender identity can be a very confusing topic. After all, outside genitalia, what actually defines gender? You may never be able to fully relate to a transgender person because you probably don’t put a lot of thought about what makes you inherently male or female, or what it would be like to be the opposite sex – you just play the hand you were dealt.
So just keep doing that. All you have to do is be yourself and be kind to others who are simply being themselves. Respect their privacy, respect their dignity, and give them the space to express themselves without becoming hostile, rude, or worse yet, violent.
The dark side to transgender people is the closets they build for themselves and the people they hurt while doing so. It’s surprisingly easy and common to hide your sexual identity from your community, your children, and your spouse. This creates distance, brings unnecessary shame, breeds heartache, and destroys intimacy. Hopefully, the day will come where no one ever has to live in a closet again, and the Kris Jenners of the world will be a thing of the past.
Even worse, being transgender in the United States can be extremely dangerous. The murder rate for transgender people is 50% higher than the murder rate for lesbian and gay people.
Adding insult to fatal injury, courts in many states still give murderers the benefit of the doubt if their victim was flirtatious. It’s called the “trans panic defense,” which absolves men of accountability for their murderous rampages should their rage be triggered by finding a penis where a vagina should be.
It’s no wonder most transgender people are still hiding in their closets.
Being transgender is not a mental disorder, but it can be extremely stressful.
A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Transgender people do not consider their gender identity to be distressing or disabling. However, getting the outside to match the inside, and then getting others to accept the real you, can be extremely taxing. Changing your body can be a monumental undertaking that includes counseling, hormone therapy, and expensive medical procedures. And even when you have all that under control, you need to try and alter societal perceptions in order to freely express your gender identity while facing discrimination, broken relationships, and even the threat of violence. With all this pressure, it’s no wonder that the suicide rate among transgender people is at a staggering 41%.
So please, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it on Facebook.