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Thoughts on The Transgender Day of Remembrance
What does it mean to be a transgender person who wants to live
According to Pew, 90% of Americans know someone who is Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual, but only 20% say they know someone who is transgender.
Hello, my name is Charlie. I was assigned male at birth, but I am a nonbinary person. My pronouns are they/she.
A transgender person is anyone who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, and our people are endangered right now.
Today is The Transgender Day of Remembrance, where we remember those whose lives were lost to anti-transgender violence. These people were murdered because of who they are. They died from hate, fear, and ignorance. Many of their killers are proud of what they have done, and some even brag about it, but I don’t want to focus on murderers, but on the victims.
Violence against my community is a regular occurrence, and it has gotten so bad that innocent people are being caught in the crossfire. As I was working on this, Boston Children’s Hospital was locked down again because someone worked up into a rage about my community called in a bomb threat based on lies and misinformation.
Last night, a gunman injured 18 and murdered 5 at a Queer Nightclub in Colorado Springs. My heart and prayers go out to the heroes who rose to save their community and prevented further loss of life.
Creation Spirituality calls us all to be prophets and to interfere with injustice. While I don’t expect all of you to memorize everything that I say, I hope you will come away from this understanding my community better and that hopefully you will have a better sense of your own identity as well as a better understanding of those different from you.
None of this is new.
Magnus Hirschfeld opened the Institute of Sexual Research on the 6th of July, 1919. He and his team pooled together research from around the world as well as conducting their own. They determined, among other things, that a small percentage of people identified as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. They even found evidence that some people were of a “third gender.” They developed medical protocols to help these people relieve their dysphoria and offered these treatments for the first time.
On the morning of May 6th, 1933, the Nazi Student League raided the Institute, shouting, “Burn Hirschfeld.” They smashed up the building, beating up the staff. That afternoon, the SA confiscated all the records. Four days later, these records were burned in a mass book burning recorded by Leni Riefenstahl to be included in later propaganda films.
Over the following decades, all of this research had to be redone. The conversation was cut off and delayed, which is why most people are only hearing about these topics now.
First, we have to understand the difference between sex and gender, and sexual preference. Whether or not someone is Asexual (little to no interest in sex), Heterosexual (interest in partners of the opposite gender), Homosexual (interest in partners of the same or similar gender), or Bisexual (interest in the same and other genders) has nothing to do with someone’s gender identity.
Biological sex is a characteristics someone is born with and the secondary characteristics that develop at puberty.
Gender is socially constructed and prescribed roles assigned to people by their culture. Definitions of gender change from culture to culture and evolve over time.
We know that in humans, there is a minimum of three sexes, Males, Females, and Intersex (people born with ambiguous and/or multiple sex characteristics). You may have heard about this third sex, which other insulting or inaccurate terms. The proper and accurate words in Intersex.
Gender is different from sex. It is the manner in which someone lives their lives and presents themselves to the world. It is how you identify and feel on the inside as well as how you present yourself and perform your gender.
Gender is a complex system of coded things, from hair cuts to clothing, mannerisms and ways of speaking, and pronouns and names, and sometimes even aspects of a person’s own body.
So much of the conversation these days is about transition, or how someone changes from the gender they were assigned at birth to the gender they are, and when this transition can and should happen.
Most of transition is social. It involves little things like hair and wardrobe. Sometimes it involves changing one’s name and pronouns that people want to be called.
For example, I changed my name and pronouns. My name is Charlie, which is short for Charlene, and if you are curious, I named myself after Charlene Frazier from Designing Women. My old name is what is called a Dead Name, because it is not mine and I never identified with it. Never ask a trans person what their Dead Name is and if you do know it, you should refrain from using it. It is disrespectful and can drag up bad memories associated to when the person went by that name.
Don’t worry if you make a mistake and call a friend or relative by their dead name by accident or if you accidentally misgender them. Being overly apologetic often makes the situation worse. If you feel like you should apologize, do so no more than once and show your support by using the proper language going forward.
We Trans people don’t want to be the center of attention and just want to live our lives. We understand that some people have trouble remembering changes.
Gender is a spectrum. In fact, it is two intersecting spectra. One runs from male to female and the other from agender to hypergender.
The one that most of us are familiar with runs from male to female. If I were to name some points along this spectrum that you might be familiar with, they would be male, metrosexual, tomgirl, nonbinary, tomboy, female. There are a lot of other genders I can call out, but many of those are familiar to most people.
The other spectrum runs from people who have no experience of gender or agender to people you work hard to exemplify their gender, or hypergender. Examples of the latter would be Kim Kardashian and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who both work hard to perform hyper femininity and hyper-masculinity, respectively.
Traditionally, when a child is born they are assigned one of the binary genders, either male or female, then they are taught to perform that role as they grow up. Most of this is unconscious. It is done through the clothes they are dressed in, the haircuts they are given, the toys and games they are encouraged to play, and the media they are exposed to. For most people, there is nothing wrong with this.
You see, gender is like a pair of socks. When they fit well, you barely notice you are wearing them, but if they are too tight or too loose, they are distracting and all you can think about.
When it comes to gender, we call this discomfort dysphoria, which is the opposite of euphoria. Dysphoria can range from minor irritations to a painful soul extinguishing agony.
Most people have experienced some level of gender dysphoria without knowing that is what they were experiencing at the time. From women being told by misogynists that their only role in society is to have babies and serve men to men being told their role is to be aggressive and domineering. In more subtle ways, it could happen when someone is told they are infertile, or that they have to dress a certain way or have a certain undesired haircut to have a job. These are all experiences of gender dysphoria mixed with other emotions.
For a transgender person, we experience this dysphoria from far more things. The most obvious are names and pronouns. Some experience dysphoria from their voice and their body. Unlike the situational dysphoria experienced by cis gender people, trans people experience this dysphoria constantly.
You might have noticed that I contrasted trans people with cis people. Trans is a Latin preposition that means “across or over.” A trans person is someone who moves from their assigned gender to their proper gender. Cis is the Latin preposition that means, “on the same side.” It simply means that a cis gender person stays in the same gender they were assigned at birth.
Hopefully, by now, you can understand why some people go through all the work to change their gender. Living in a constant state of dysphoria is harmful to every aspect of life.
There are many ways to transition, and most of them do not rely on medical interventions. Not all trans people want medical intervention, while others cannot afford them or physically cannot tolerate them.
Many simply transition socially, like I did. I changed my name, my pronouns, my physical presentation, and my voice. Medical transition includes everything from hormone blockers to hormone replacement therapy to gender confirmation surgeries.
Prominent voices in the anti transgender movement have been successful in passing laws in 15 states to criminalize social transition for people under the age of 18. It is a felony to offer them therapy, and many of these laws classify name and pronoun changes as child abuse, despite the fact that many trans people know who they are by the age of 5.
The only medical interventions offered to trans people under the age of 18 is puberty blockers which is a medication that halts the onset of puberty and the irreversible development of secondary sex characteristics that come with it until a person is old enough to decide what they want to happen to their own body.
Disinformation about this treatment is what has led to the bomb threats at several Children’s Hospitals and hostile mobs interrupting story time in libraries all over the country.
It is also important to realize that trans people can be fired and kicked out of their homes simply for living their lives.
Why would anyone attack and harass trans people?
There are two main reasons. One, unscrupulous people spread lies and conspiracy theories about the community to whip people up into a frenzy for power and profit. There is a whole industry of anti transgender books, speakers. Like a lot of biased movements, there is good money to be made demonizing a minority in society.
The other, much more common reason is our culture’s lack of introspection. Humans fear what they don’t understand and when encountering someone who makes them question something as core to our identity as gender, it is easy to perceive that person as a threat.
If a person has never examined or contemplated their own gender, when faced with a situation that raises the question, they can experience disgust or fear. This manifests in the person crystalizing their preconceived notions and assuming they couldn’t be wrong about something like that.
We see this reaction in people when any kind of bias is brought up, including racism, misogyny, and homophobia.
I want us to take a moment to examine our genders together so we can build empathy for people different from us. When I discussed dysphoria earlier, you may have thought of a situation where you experienced that, and if you would like to share that with the group, I invite you to do so, but I would rather bring to you an exercise that is very common in the transgender community today.
When was a time you experienced gender euphoria? A moment where you felt so comfortable in your identity and your body, you had to smile or probably laugh. For some people, it is their first suit, a wedding dress, holding their first child in their arms. It is a moment of pure joy when you realized that this is who you are.