Feature image of Hermaphroditus from Wikipedia
After finding out the Affordable Care act will begin collecting LGBTQ health data in an effort to address health disparities, it seems like we’re at a moment in our history when we can move towards a more sexually enlightened philosophy that no longer penalizes people for being who they are.
Still, I wonder if those who oppose non-conformist sexual identities are really just too embarrassed to ask who we are exactly. Actually, I’m pretty sure that many of the people who support LGBTQ rights themselves are a little iffy on the T part of the alphabet soup.
Transgender/Transexual people identify as a gender other than the one they were physically born into or in the case of being born intersex, other than the one they were assigned at birth. Some individuals elect to take hormones or have sex reassignment surgery, others don’t.
It’s a very personal decision and many times each person’s individual identity is in transition. So if you are ever in any doubt about how to interact with someone with a gender fluid identity, just ask. It’s generally a sign of respect to ask someone which pronouns they prefer.
Warning: Using the pronoun “it” to refer to anyone in the trans community is on the whole dehumanizing. Congratulations on reading this article, now you know better.
Exception to the rule: That person is your sexual partner and has asked you to use the “it” pronoun because being objectified gets them off.
I have a friend that recently chose to use the singular pronoun “ze” and the possessive pronoun “hir.” Honestly, it’s challenging to remember, but I do it out of love—and hopefully ze will be patient with hir friend who is still learning.
I know other people that exclusively prefer the pronoun associated with their new gender identity and who are going by sassy new names as well. Others may prefer the gender-neutral plural pronoun “they.” (More on duality later.)
There are all kinds of trans terms you should be familiar with to increase your sensitivity of the Trans community. For this portion of the article I am using the term “gender” and not “sex” out of respect for the reality that there are biologically more than two sexes:
Male to female, or MTF is someone who began in what society considers the male gender but now identifies as female. Female to male, FTM is someone who began with what is considered the female gender, but now identifies as male. Some people chose to maintain both characteristics, evolving an identity that is androgynous or gender queer, gender fluid or non-binary.
It is important to note that transitioning to another gender does not indicate sexual preference. A FTM person might find themselves attracted to men and thus identify with a gay sexual orientation. The same may be true of a person who is MTF. Some people may be asexual—regardless of what gender they identify with.
In the Victorian era, the term hermaphrodite was used to describe intersex individuals. Sure, corsets and chastity belts still have their appeal, but I think we can all generally agree that the Victorian era was not the best time for human sexuality.
That term comes Greek mythology’s Hermaphroditus, the child of Hermes and Aphrodite and a deity of bisexuality who had his parents bless a pool to help provide gender bending transformations like the one he had experienced when he united with the nymph Salmacis. Also for fun, see Aphrodite with a beard and ancient porn. (The Barberini Faun is the reason I majored in art history.)
Other examples of cultures honoring cosmic and gender duality in one being are the Aztec deity Ometeotl and the Indian deity Ardhanarishvara. My favorite, the “two spirit” third gender in some Native American belief systems, was seen as a gift of two perspectives. It describes people who embody both male and female characteristics, or spirits, in one body.
Today, I think most people like to play with gender from time to time. From trying on that fedora in the men’s section to carrying a man-purse—we all have our subtle ways of transcending what is expected of us. Personally, I get a real kick out of pretending to be the man of the house from time to time, speaking in a low voice and grabbing my non-existent balls until everyone is laughing. And if I had been born a boy, I know I’d be a drag queen. Who doesn’t wish they could look that good?
Drag kings and drag queens have enough cojones to subvert gender roles on a public stage and people who are trans have the courage to challenge those roles everyday. What’s not to love?
So now onto cross-dressing. Just to be clear, wearing clothing that is not considered gender appropriate does not in and of itself make someone trans. Some people just have a sexual fetish called transvestitism, which can be independent of gender identity. And many people who have adopted a new gender and are wearing the socially acceptable clothing for that identity won’t see themselves as cross-dressing, but as just being themselves.
There is an entire fashion legal history that surrounds the gender appropriate dress issue, which has been used to target members of the trans community. Check out this1978 case in Chicago. Fortunately, Illinois is now one of 15 states that bans discrimination based both on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 35 states, it is still legal to fire someone for being transgender, while in 29 states people can be fired for being gay.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make it illegal nationwide to discriminate in the workplace on both those premises. (This is progress because the 2007 version did not cover transgender discrimination.)
So if this article has opened your lovely minds to all the gender identity diversity that exists, be a dear and give Congress a jangle or bring it up at your local [Occupy] general assembly.