By Sabrina Samone, TransMusePlanet April, 7 2013
There is a pre-requisite to Transgender 101, and that is, transgender isn’t a form of sexuality. Just a hypothesis of mine, but maybe our Trans forbearers, though much respect is and should be given, may have over looked this fundamental pre-requisite when educating LGB and Heterosexual cis-gender people about what it means to be, Transgender. As a transgender person, you’d think it goes without saying, but the recent events involving the HRC, has gotten me to wonder about the root of this issue. Throughout the evolution of Trans Visibility we are more than not, facing the brick wall of ignorance to what and who we are. Even with a million and one explanations of being trapped in the wrong body, many cis-gender people, even those like the LGB that we may have taken for granted would understand, often get it wrong. Even close LG friends of mine seemed to always be amazed at what comes out of my mouth regarding what it means to be Trans, as if receiving fresh never before heard insights into our world. I’ve often just shrugged it off as just a lack of discussions out there, but lately, though this may seem laughable, I think the ones we refer to in the community as “Tranny Chasers,” may actually be leading us to a clue. Transgender is more of a medical condition and has nothing to do with sexuality. Of course, this has been said a million times and is leading to a growing movement to do away with the term Transsexual. Just take a look at many of the issues currently facing the trans*, the AZ bathroom bill and the constant fear from cis-gender people thinking that if trans children are allowed in the bathroom be fitting their presented gender, sexual behavior will take place. We are constantly judged sexually even though Transgender has zero to do with sex, any sexual orientation or sexual behavior, all because cis-gender people forgot the pre-requisite to Trans 101.
After deciding on the Transmuseplanet book of the month, ‘The Other Side of Silence-Men’s Lives and Gay Identities: A 20th Century History’ by John Loughery, something stood out to me. Due to the work of many great Trans activist like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson and countless Trans people today keeping the memory alive that it was Trans people at the front of the lines during Stonewall, which gave birth to the Gay movement, this book has reminded me one of the first steps to why the attempt to erase transgender people from Stonewall history even took place. They didn’t get the pre-requisite. After stonewall, and the movement began, there were many in what was then simply called the Homosexual Rights Movement sought to portray homosexual people as normal as possible and one of the casualties were transgender people. By the late 70’s the radicalism of Gay Liberation movement was eclipsed by a return to a more formal movement that joined gay and lesbian into a civil rights movement. One of the first major accomplishments was to no longer be listed as a mental illness. The American Psychological Association, declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, preferring to list it as a normal variation of human sexual orientation. For those in the gay movement who wanted mainstream society to view the gay man and lesbian woman as normal as their neighbor, this was viewed as validation of that direction. Guess what at the time could not be classified as a sexual orientation and could not be explained by gay and lesbian leaders as normal, Transgender.
Most transgender people agree, including myself, that being transgender has nothing to do with sexuality. I’ll mention it for the one millionth and two times, if a person is transgender they may be gay, lesbian, pansexual, asexual or heterosexual, which also includes what I call ‘trans love’. Trans-love, is relations between a Trans-man and Trans-woman and therefore viewed as heterosexual. For anyone that doesn’t know what cis-gender means, it is someone that is not transgender, therefore, also considered to be heterosexual relations is that between a Trans-man and a Cis-gender female or a Trans-female and Cis-gender man. Here is where those dreaded “tranny chasers” comes in and how many times has any transperson that has come in contact with one heard the internal turmoil question asked, “Does this mean I’m gay that I like a trans-woman?,” This question has always made me laugh and always made me pity cis-gender people; their need to torment themselves over labels and issues. If you are a gay man or lesbian, you may find it funny as well, but if I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked that question, I may have enough to buy all of us our equality. If you are gay or lesbian, for one, it is a sexual orientation, but also an attraction to the same sex, so if you are a gay man you like to look at your partner and see all the attributes of a man or masculinity and the same goes for being lesbian. In other words the basic self Identified gay man does not look at a lesbian and want to have sexual relations and vice versa. Basically same sex attraction, but you must also understand that sex is not just between the legs, but part of the mind as well. It’s what turns you on, so if you are a heterosexual man, you view the femininity or female form as appealing, period and vice versa. That is a form of heterosexual attraction. There are Trans-men and women that also find same sex form and mentality as appealing and therefore can be a trans-man that is gay or trans-female that is lesbian. Again, think beyond between the legs. Think of the attraction felt when a man or woman walks into a room, this is what you see, and this is what your mind makes your genitals respond too. If you are a gay man and see an attractive man you may or may not have any clue that man is a trans-man, all you see is a handsome man, period. There are also as many transpeople as there are cis-gender people who consider themselves pansexual, and forgive me if you are pansexual and this sounds a little crude but I am only trying to be as basic as possible for those that do not understand, a pansexual person means it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation or gender, everyone is attractive and a potential mate. There are many of us, Transpeople that also choose no sex at all. So what’s my point? The pre-requisite to understanding a transgender person is to know that being transgender has zero to do with sexuality.
I bring this up because of a recent conversation with a Trans-male friend about the rise of HIV within the Trans* and why. In a recent HIV prevention French video with subtitles, a young trans-man is about to have intercourse with a cis-gender gay man. When the T-guy asks for protection, the cis-gender gay male says “why do I need protection? It’s not like I’ve ever been with a trans-guy.” In our conversation this brought up a host of issues we both agreed trans-men and women face. Cis-gender people that think we have become transgender simply to have sex. That the choice to inject ourselves weekly with estrogen and testosterone, go thru mood swings, with body aches, have surgeries is simply to attract, sexually, the type of people we desire, totally missing the pre-requisite to being transgender. Which is, and yes I will say it again so that it sinks in some ones head, Transgender is not sexuality. This is why a certain, not all, but a certain type of transgender admirers has been given the dreaded label of “Tranny Chasers”, they are viewed by many of us as potential rapist, pervs, tricks or stalkers because of their constant attitude that you became who you are so that “They” could bless “us” with their attention and sex. We, to “them”, were medically treated so that they may have sexual experiences that go on in their heads. “They” are loathed because of lines like “I’ve never tried a trans before” and wait for an answer as if you’d say, “ok that’s what I’m here for, I am a walking lab experiment, anything you’d like to try, I’ve spent thousands so that you can use me like a blow up doll.” And if you know of a working girl or guy that is trans and are saying, “oh I know she or he likes me, I’m special,” you really don’t want to know what they really think of you, it is why you are considered and always will be considered a trick to them and very few working girls fall in love with a trick, unless he’s paying out the ass.
So how does this affect us as transgender people outside of the bedroom? The problem maybe just that, that few cis-gender people still can’t see us outside of the bedroom. For the fight that sexual orientation no longer be discriminated against and for the lack of being understood may have been the reason an HRC (Human Rights Campaign), member caused a recent stir by forcing a trans person to remove the transgender flag. It’s why we are pulling our hair out at the comments from mainstream conservative media, that if a little biological boy dressed and presented as a female, goes into the girls restroom, they’d automatically have the urge to show themselves sexually to the other young girls. Totally missing the point that there are not too many six year olds thinking of sex for one, but the fact that as a transgender that would be the last part of themselves they’d want anyone to see because as a transgender that hasn’t had S.R.S., most can’t stand even looking at the genitals themselves and are often viewed by the transgender person as their birth defect and how many people do you know that like showing their birth defects off to the world. Not to mention what is more confusing in a women’s bathroom, than a muscled, shirtless, hairy man coming into the stall. How does that help anyone? It will not only make those in the restroom uncomfortable but is emotionally unbearable for the transperson to have people screaming out of the restroom. I had a gay friend ask me why I would ever even consider traveling to another state to help protest that states decision to arrest a transperson from using the bathroom that does not match what is on their birth certificate. Not only is it a Human Rights Issue, and to go to the toilet has to be one of the most basic human rights behind clean air, drinking water and food. But if we as a trans* sit back and let this happen in one state we will have given the green light to every other state in the union and therefore a clear message to the rest of the world that it is ok. And if a shapely, attractive woman who happens to be Trans happens to make it out unharmed of a male bathroom and thrown in a male prison, you have sentenced her to death, period. And anyone who claims to be my family or friends that wouldn’t mind that happening in one state is basically telling me, you wouldn’t mind that happening to me, you wouldn’t mind seeing me brutally raped, beaten and killed. That is what no action from cis-gender world, straight or LGB says to me loud and clear. And while most cis-gender people can’t separate transgender from sexuality, we as trans*, do have a duality of thinking , and very well know you can’t and are more afraid of being sexually assaulted by cis-gender people than you are of us.
So with understanding the pre-requisite to transgender 101, now leads to the first question we often hear, what exactly is Transgender? Transgender is a term used to describe people who may act, feel, think or look different from the gender that they were assigned by society based on their biological gender. That is the typical definition, but much easier if viewed and realized that it is a medical condition called gender dysphoria. Similar but not exactly like Anorexia nervosa, only to the point where one suffers from a distorted body self-perception, we as transgender also look in the mirror and see an image that does not fit with what’s in our mind. And is not a choice, it is something you cannot live with, it angers me to hear gay and lesbian people who easily state that their sexual orientation is not a choice but being transgender is. Though there are more than less supportive gay and lesbian allies, there are still few that will not see being transgender and how you see and wish to see yourself is no more a choice than it is whom you are attracted to. I may have the choice to take the hormones, just as you have the choice to be honest with yourself to accept whom you’re attracted to, but not taking steps to be or have the body image in my mind is just like you living a lie with someone you’re not attracted to. All that maybe required to learn about us is to begin truly understanding the pre-requisite to Trans 101. Transgender is not sexuality but a medical condition.
For additional help in understanding your Trans family member, friend, co-worker or neighbors, try these ten easy ways to understand.
10 Ways to be more Understanding and Welcoming of Transgender People
- Avoid making assumptions about gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Respect a person’s identity and self-label, and respect a person’s chosen name and pronoun preference. Practice offering your own preferred pronouns when you meet new people.
- Do not assume a Trans-person is all-knowing and/or wants to speak about Trans issues. Do not assume a Trans-person can speak only about their Trans identity or that it is or is not an issue at all. Learn more about transgender identity and gender diversity on your own.
- Recognize that “transgender” is not a sexual orientation and educate yourself and others on the distinctions between sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Don’t say “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender” if you are only taking about sexuality. Recognize that a person can identify with more than one of those labels.
- Use terms that encompass all genders rather than only two (e.g., “children” instead of “boys and girls”; “people” instead of “women and men”; “siblings,” “kindred,” or “brothers and sisters and siblings of all genders” instead of “brothers and sisters”).
- Review member policies for gender-exclusive groups sponsored by your congregation—do they make room to include transgender people? Would people with non-binary identities have a way to be involved? If your congregation ever uses forms that ask for gender, think about whether that information is necessary. If it is, include a “Transgender” option, as well as a box for “Other.” Also, ask for “gender” rather than “sex.” Allow people to check more than one box.
- Talk to children about gender diversity. Provide age-appropriate education around understanding one’s gender identity and how gender roles and norms play out in our society.
- Create single occupancy, ADA-accessible bathroom(s) and label them in a welcoming way (e.g., as “gender neutral” or “all gender”). Make sure your signs elsewhere communicate that these bathroom(s) are available and point the way.
- Do continuing education for your congregation specifically on transgender issues. You might consider using one of the recommended curricula below, a film showing and discussion, a panel discussion, and/or a sermon on the topic.
- Learn about local and federal laws and how to change them if they are not inclusive (e.g., non-discrimination policies around employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations; name changes; and gender marker changes). Follow the leadership of local and/or federal transgender organizations.
At the end of the day remember whatever you want to call yourself, we are all human and only want to be treated with the respect, and love that all humans deserve and require.
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