1. For transsexuals, it isn’t a transition to someone new.
For the transsexual, “transitioning” isn’t about becoming something new. They aren’t becoming a woman or a man. They are finally coming out as the person they have always considered themselves to be.
A common reaction people have when they learn that someone is “transitioning” is to ask, “Why would you do that? What does becoming a woman solve?”
But the transsexual isn’t trying to become anything. What they are trying to do is to end a lifetime of self-repression and pretense. They have decided to finally stop pretending to be something they aren’t. They are finally becoming their authentic self.
This is why many transsexuals generally dislike terms like “sex-reassignment surgery”. “Gender confirmation surgery” more accurately reflects their experience.
2. Transsexuals generally don’t care to be thought of as transsexuals.
Transsexual women consider themselves women. Transsexual men consider themselves men. It isn’t wishful thinking on their part. It is the only way they know how to process their reality. It is how their brain has been wired all their life. Many spend a lifetime attempting to “rewire” their brain to conform to social prejudices—but without success.
The ultimate goal of most transsexuals is to be accepted as the person they are inside. Far from wanting to preoccupy themselves with gender, their main goal is to put gender behind them. They want to move on to leading a normal life where they can finally take their gender for granted—like everyone else.
Sadly, only 21 percent of transsexuals surveyed feel that they can consistently pass as their identified gender. The other 79 percent are forced to live with what they experience as a visible birth defect—like a sixth finger. The greatest kindness you can show such people is to focus on who they are as a person. You will likely be amazed to learn how gifted they are.
3. Transsexuals are as diverse as the rest of the world.
It’s like the old saying goes: “When you’ve met one transsexual … you’ve met one transsexual.”
Only a few decades ago, society was saddled with gross stereotypes about what it meant to be Black, Asian or female. The stereotypes persist, but growing numbers of people see past them today. They recognize that women are incredible in their variety. They understand that someone’s race does not define how they think or what they are capable of.
Transsexuals are no different. One of the reasons that transsexual stereotypes persist is that there is a bias in the profile of transsexuals who expose themselves to the media. There is nothing wrong with what these people choose to do. But transsexuals should no more be defined by these celebrities than a woman should be defined by Lady Gaga, Hilary Clinton, Mother Theresa, or Sarah Palin. We are all unique individuals.
The majority of transsexuals that I have come to know lead fairly conventional lives—as bankers, software programmers, waiters, truck drivers, policemen, lawyers, and teachers. Like most people, they want to be known for what they contribute to the world, not for what they carry between their legs.
4. We aren’t out to change the world. We just want to live in it.
Sadly, transgender men and women are the one remaining minority in America without legal protections against job and housing discrimination. In most states, gender variance has been explicitly written out of equal rights legislation. In the military, transgender personnel are the one group still covered by “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Even though they are twice as likely to serve in the military and 25 percent more likely to register to vote, gender variant people enjoy fewer rights than other citizens (As this blog goes to post, it appears that the U.S. military is preparing to reverse this policy.).
Transgender men and women are almost twice as likely to have achieved a college or graduate degree compared to the general population (47 percent versus 27 percent). This is all the more remarkable when you consider that, in grades K through 12, 78 percent have been harassed by peers and 31 percent by teachers and staff. Over a third (35 percent) have been physically assaulted and 12 percent sexually assaulted. And yet they stick around to graduate.
These accomplishments notwithstanding, gender non-conforming men and women are twice as likely to be unemployed. Twenty percent have been denied housing owing to their gender variance. Nineteen percent report that they were denied medical care by health professionals owing to their gender non-conforming status.
All that most of these men and women want to do is to lead healthy lives, love their families, and contribute to society.