If you’re a cisgender person reading this (meaning you identify with the gender you were assigned), how much do you know about trans folk?
Thanks to trans activists like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, there’s been increasing media coverage in the US on trans folk. But if your answer is, “very little,” “does RuPaul count?”, or “uh…trans what now?,” then you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, you’re like many cisgender folk who know very little or know only stereotypes. So even for people who are trans friendly, they are often trans ignorant. And this can lead them to say and do harmful things to trans folk, even if they didn’t mean to.
So let’s share with you the single most important thing to know about trans people.
Transgender People Are People Too
That’s the big secret. Behind all these myths of how bizarre, confused, and just wrong trans people are, the truth is they’re people too.
They do people things just like cisgender people do. They eat, sleep, work, and love.
They want what most everyone wants. They want to be true to themselves, love and be loved, and lead full, free lives.
They’re different from many people (i.e. cisgender people) just because there is a mismatch between the gender they self-identify as and the gender they’re assigned at birth due to their physical sex. Some people are assigned male but identify as female. Some people are assigned female but identify as male.
But not all trans folks identify as the opposite gender. Some identify outside of the male/female binary as non-binary, agender, androgynous, bigender, genderqueer, gender fluid, Two-Spirit, third gender, etc. There are many diverse ways that people can experience their gender that go beyond simply being male and female.
Over time, trans folks may choose to adapt their appearance and/or identity to match how they present with how they feel. A person who transitions, from male-to-female, female-to-male, or to a place on the gender spectrum, may or may not take gender-confirming hormones and/or have gender-confirming surgery. Whether or not they do, doesn’t change what gender they are.
They’re still the gender they identify themselves as.
But Our Society Tries To Not Acknowledge They’re Human Beings Too
What makes being transgender really different from other cisgender people is not that they were assigned the wrong gender.
What makes being transgender so different is how much hatred, judgement, discrimination, and fear society has for them.
They have to face a lot of everyday issues cis people don’t even think about, like going to a public bathroom without fearing insults, attacks, or even arrests for being in the “wrong” one.
They have to deal with a level of social rejection, persecution, and ignorance that’s unimaginable to many cis people – just to be able to show who they really are on the inside.
But in some ways, that’s not that different from cis people actually.
What Cisgender People Have in Common With Transgender People
Without a doubt, transgender people face a much bigger battle in society to freely express who they are than most people.
But in many ways, trans folk fight a similar battle that many cisgender people fight as well. For example, if you’re cisgender, consider these questions:
- Do you believe you shouldn’t be judged for how you look?
- Do you struggle with believing you’re good enough because your body doesn’t match the social ideal?
- Do people try to put you in a box because of your gender, sexual orientation, race, class, religion, age, etc?
- Has the fear of other people laughing at you and thinking something’s wrong with you ever made you want to hide a part of who you are?
- Have you ever struggled to accept something about yourself that others thought was wrong?
- Do you want to stand up and show the world who you really are, how wonderful you are inside?
If you said yes to any of these questions, then we’re all in the fight against a society that tells us to fit a certain mold. Or else.
And this is what needs to change.
We need to change our society so everyone, including trans*people, can walk down the street without fear of ridicule and attack.
Where we can look in the mirror and not wish we looked different because of what others will say.
Where people’s right to determine who they are is respected and encouraged.
Just like everyone – cis or trans and including you – need support and understanding as we find our true voice and speak our truth.
Sandra Kim is the Founder & CEO of Everyday Feminism. She brings together her personal and professional experience with trauma, personal transformation, and social change and gives it all a feminist twist.