Bathroom Advice

For transgender people, the bathroom is an incredibly significant place. I mean, sure, everyone uses the bathroom. However, for trans people, bathrooms can be stressful, embarrassing, frightening, or even dangerous. When a trans person is just starting transition, bathrooms can be one of the biggest obstacles they face, despite the fact all they want to do is pee. And so, I want to share some of my bathroom experience. I promise I washed my hands!
When someone decides to enter a bathroom, they are immediately faced with one of two choices (usually). Stick figure with pants or stick figure with a dress. You have to pick one or the other. Sometimes you will be lucky and find a gender neutral bathroom, but more often than not you will have to pick one of the two doors to go through. My advice for which door to choose is what I call “the bathroom of least resistance.” If you are presenting male, and look more male than female, use the men’s bathroom. If you present and/or look more female, use the women’s room. This can change based on the day, but the best bet is to blend when dealing with bathrooms. If you look too much in the middle, you will probably have issues blending. Gender ambiguous people often struggle a great deal more than transsexuals when it comes to using bathrooms.
Behavior is very important in bathrooms. Men do not talk, unless you are with a friend or were talking before you went in. Women will strike up conversation over the stall wall with strangers at times, and small talk is very common. It throws many trans people off when they first enter the other restroom, but it is easy enough to adjust.
There is a concept in the trans community called Stand To Pee, which may be very important for transmen. By using devices such as spoons (which you can buy easily over the internet), transmen are able to use a urinal just like any other man. It does take practice though, as well as finding the right device to use for yourself. Transwomen have to learn the opposite; when using a public ladies’ room, a transwoman should always sit. Its not because other women are going to be staring in your stall, but seeing a set of feat pointed the wrong way, even in passing, may cause alarm. However, a transwoman can still pee standing up without a problem. If I am ever out camping, I swear you will not find me squatting.
Another important pee-releated lesson for trans people is about sound. Transgender women and men (but especially men from what I have heard) have to change the sound they make when urinating; there is a subtle difference between how biological men and women sound when they go, and this is something trans people have to be aware of to blend in the bathroom.
The most important thing I can share from my experience is to be calm and relaxed. If you are overly anxious, it will be picked up on, and other people will become uncomfortable. If you’re comfortable, its more likely noone will pay enough attention to you to even start questioning your gender.
Some readers may wonder why all this is necessary. Its just peeing, why must it be so complicated? The truth though, is that it can be very dangerous. Since bathrooms are gendered space, any obvious trans people may be seen as an invader. Someone may want to prove the sex of a trans person. Some may feel violated just by our presence in their gendered space. There is often only one exit, so a trans person can be trapped easily. Not only that, but attacks from conservative groups paint trans people in bathrooms as “Men in dresses who are after your daughters.” In fact, bathroom-based attacks are very common amongst transphobic and homophobic groups and individuals. This has created a culture of anxiety and fear for trans people who wish to use the bathroom.
I always try to turn difficult moments about my transition into learning moments, either for myself or to educate the people around me. However, in such a strongly gendered place, it helps to know some tricks to blend in. Choosing your battles is another important lesson for all transgender people.

 

The Trans Individual VS The Trans Movement

I apologize for not posting in a bit – June was a very busy month! I’ll be resuming regular posts shortly!

Anyone who is reading this and has met me in person knows I’m a very feminine woman. When I was beginning transitioning, I was alarmed by this. I berated myself for not being a good trans activist since I was reinforcing the gender binary. I always thought I should have been more to the center of the spectrum and try to teach others through that. There is some amount of pressure from within the trans community that we should do what we can to break down the binary, since once people really start understanding the gender spectrum, it becomes much easier to understand transgender people as a whole.

During my transition, I was seen as a very androgynous person. I would get just as many “Ma’am’s” as “Sir’s” and I was incredibly uncomfortable. I was eager for hormones to work better, to learn about makeup and clothes, to figure out what to wear to make me look more feminine, to make me pass better. As time went on, hormones did their magic and I learned more and more about dressing right and using make up, I would get more and more “Ma’am’s” than “Sir’s.” There came a point where, even if I didn’t wear makeup or dress nicely, I would only get “Ma’am’s.” But I still liked wearing make up and dressing nice, not because it helped me pass, but because I liked how I looked, and more importantly, I liked how it made me feel. In many ways, I am that cliche girl who worries about her looks, just like many other women out there.

For a while, I considered being such a feminine girl being a failure to break the gender binary. But then I realized, the gender spectrum does have two ends, and being closer to one or the other end does not mean you are failing to see the spectrum. Instead, I’ve embraced where I identify on the spectrum, near the feminine end, but I acknowledge that it is a spectrum, not a binary. I had to physically live through moving through that spectrum, and I’ll never forget that experience. Still, I am who I am, and I am comfortable with that. I don’t need to change who I am to fight to break the gender binary. In that way, there is a major separation between the fight of an individual transgender person and the fight of the transgender movement.

Pronoun Slip

I know I have a very.. untraditional view of gender. The experience of acting like a gender I wasn’t, then physically transitioning from one sex to the other has given me a very different view of gender than most of society (Mostly the non-queer part of society). So it’s not uncommon that I’m left scratching my head at what others assure me is a “normal response” for a typical person. There is one such thing in particular that has happened a few times in the past weeks that have me especially confused.

I have many dear friends who have known me for years and years, especially many of my friends from Millersville University. A few of these friends have known me so long, they knew me before I transitioned. Some of these friends had to actively unlearn calling me by my male name and male pronouns, and train themselves into using female pronouns and my new name, Ashe (before I felt brave enough to go by Ashley in public). I knew it wasn’t easy for them, and I really appreciated how much effort so many of my friends then put into using the right name and pronoun. However, it was still hard when I would be hosting some event and a close friend would introduce me and accidently use the wrong pronoun. I understood, and I absolutely forgave them, but it was still difficult, embarrassing, and sometimes, dangerous if I was in a bathroom or some other fiercely segregated area like that.

Now, almost 3 years later, I am very comfortable with my gender expression. I feel confident I pass well enough to live peacefully as a woman. It’s my choice if and when to tell people I am transgender. I’ve mentioned that this is the case at work; only a few people know explicitly I am trans. When I walk down the street, everyone reads me as female, guys flirt, girls chit chat. I am incredibly happy I am finally at this point. There is a very rare occasion where, based on my voice or some other tell, someone will read me as male, but such occurances are very far and few between.

A couple of times in the past few months, I’ve been very confused to hear people who have only known me for the past 5 months, seem to slip up and use a male pronoun for me. I’m not super offended, but I have been very startled to hear male pronouns from people who have only known me as Ashley, who have never seen me as anything but female. It makes me question why? I understand when people from Millersville will still slip on pronouns every once in a blue moon, but I’m confused when this happens from people who never knew me then. It’s not that I’m angry, I know these people see me as a woman. I just don’t understand.. why?

What Makes a Woman?

Often “normal” people find it difficult to relate to the issues I face as a transsexual person. My issues are often approached by others as an outside, new, foreign set of concerns. One of the first things I try to do when speaking to a mostly heteronormative crowd is bridge that gap between myself and the audience. I do this by asking a simple question. “What makes a woman a woman?” There is a range of typical answers I get from this question. I’d like to go through some of these answers and show how the issues I face every day are things everyone has to deal with at some point in their life.

  • A woman can have babies while a man can’t – There are numerous women in the world who, for whatever reason, will not give birth. Maybe they had a hysterectomy, or have some hormonal condition, or do not have the body to be able to endure child birth, or maybe these women just dont want to have children. Regardless of why, many women won’t have babies and to suggest a woman’s role is just to pro-create will make many feminists angry.
  • A woman has boobs! – Well, hopefully its stated in a more.. delicate fashion, but this is not entirely true. Breast development is related to hormones. There are men who, due to hormonal imbalances, have breasts. Not to mention, I had breasts after a few months on hormones, several months before I outwardly presented as female.
  • Its all about the genitals – Whether the answer describes how women are defined by their vagina, their ability to have penetrational sex. To this answer I simply point out that, for about $40,000 and a few months of recovery, I would have a vagina as well. Also, there are numerous intersexed people born every year with ambiguous genetalia that blurs the lines between sexes.
  • A woman’s chromosomes are XX and men are XY – Another frequent answer I receive, especially in college settings. However, this is not an absolute definition either. There are many people who are born with chromosome arrangements other than XX and XY. For instance, Klinefelter syndrome is a condition where a person has a chromosome set of XXY, or Triple X syndrome (no its not a porno), a condition where a woman has XXX chromosomes. Also, there are numerous reports of men living their entire lives not knowing they actually had XX chromosomes. So this is not a good definition either.
  • Girls wear women’s clothing – Of course, drag queens, cross dressers, genderqueer people, and hundreds of other people break this rule, so its not a very good criteria.
  • Girls act feminine – Another comment that would rile up some feminists. There are some girls who act incredibly masculine and some who act very feminine. Some girls love to go shopping, chit chat on the phone, try on shoes, etc. Other girls love cars, grease, sports and so forth. Sex does not determine how a person will act.
  • A girl is a girl because she was born a girl – I find this concept somewhat insulting, as it insinuates that a trans person will never actually be the gender they wish to be. I consider myself a woman, absolutely, despite my birth sex. Also, this argument is again refuted by intersexed people. After all, this entire argument is about defining what it is to be a woman, and being born a woman cannot be the definition of being a woman.

When you really take time to think it through, it seems almost impossible to clearly define what a woman is. Besides a person saying they are or are not a woman, its hard to clearly define what a woman is. Even a completely heterosexual woman who has never known a transgender person can struggle with this question. Its a question that faces absolutely everyone, whether they are transgender or not, though it is a question that a transgender woman, someone who wasn’t born female and thus had to make the transition to female, is uniquely positioned to answer. I’d like to share my answer, though I want to preface this by saying not all transgender women agree on this. In fact, I can think of a few trans girls that may strongly disagree.

In my opinion, being a woman has little to nothing to do with any of the characteristics listed above. Being a girl isn’t about clothes, genitals, chromosomes, behavior, reproduction, or sex characteristics. Some will say being a girl is about self identification, if you identify as female, thats all you need to be female. However, I think there is more to it than that, though self identification is a huge component in it. To me, being a girl is also about waking up in the morning and spending a half hour debating what to wear, or waking up and thinking “screw it, I dont care what the world thinks” and dressing in the first thing you grab. Being a girl is walking down the street and meeting eyes with a stranger who looks at you and makes a judgement if you are a man or woman. Being a girl is about feeling emotions deeply, and ignoring that when you need to. A girl has to deal with shared experiences; being stared at by men, the ‘glass ceiling,’ being viewed as a sex object in society, facing assumptions they are less capable than men, facing all of that and fighting it, or try to get by in a world that is just that way.

In short, in my opinion, what makes a woman a woman is a combination of self-identifying as a woman combined with the experience of being a woman, of living as a woman day to day, of experiencing life as a woman, and interacting with others as a woman. Regardless of where we come from as women, we all share the experience of being women, and to me, that defines what it is to be a woman.

Again, this is simply one transgender woman’s perspective. Don’t take it as absolute, but it is absolutely how I feel.

Dating as a Transgirl

Up until the past few months, I’ve had very little experience with dating. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in serious relationships lasting upwards of a year; I just never dated. My previous relationships always started with someone I was already friends with. So the last month has been a crash course on the whole courtship ritual.  Needless to say, it’s been intensely educational, even more so than it would be for most women in my situation. On top of dealing with the trans thing,This is also the first time I’ve ever gone out with men as well.

When I was a kid, I was of course taught about dating. Everyone in our culture receives training on what is expected out of dating through tv, movies, our peers, and of course parents. There are other parts of courtship that may be more instinctive, a man looking for a very physically attractive woman or a girl looking for a stable man to become a good father. We learn these things almost subconsciously growing up. The guy pays for dinner and holds open the door. The girl smiles and laughs a lot at everything the guy says. As we grow older we make our own judgements on what we want out of dating. Some girls get incredibly ticked off if someone tries to open the door for them while some guy could absolutely love when their partner holds open the door for them. Of course, this all works out fine, a person can learn  what they want over the course of years and eventually (hopefully!) find the right person for them.

For a transsexual person, however, things significantly more complicated. Most trans people, including myself, went through childhood and teenage years in hiding, perhaps aware consciously or subconsciously about our sex/gender incongruency, but never speaking about it. We learn everything we are expected to learn, even if it feels wrong. Once we find the strength to come out and finally transition, we have to learn how to do everything that our chosen gender typically learns throughout their life. On top of that, we have to “unlearn” a lot of the things we were taught growing up.

Dating a guy for the first time has been an incredibly interesting experience for this transgender woman. I can see the lessons I learned as a child in his actions. It makes me wonder if gay/lesbian couples of 2 cisgendered people have a similar, familiar sensation to dating.

On a more overt level, there is the concern that I have not gotten gender reassignment surgery, and will not likely be able to for a few years. This presents an immediate challenge when dating, as I identify entirely as female, despite genetalia. When I meet a woman who I consider dating, I not only need to find out if she is interested in women, but isn’t the sort of lesbian who only wants to be with genetic females. When dating a man, I have to make sure they are attracted to women, as I am not interested in dating a gay man despite their occasional interest in me, and I need to be very careful that they don’t find out I am transgender in a dangerous way, as far too many stories like that have terrible endings for trans people.

For me personally, I choose to be as upfront about it as I can. I clearly state on my profiles I am transgender, and I am quick to have that conversation if I meet someone elsewhere. What this means is, before I even meet a guy or a girl face to face, I often have to have an intimate conversation about my genitals, which is an incredibly awkward situation, but at least it is safe!

Online Gender Exploration

There is a saying on the internet that might confuse a lot of outsiders: “There are no girls on the internet.” This is due to the fact that many people who say they are girls online are often men offline. There are many reasons for this, and I’m sure people with more time/money than I have done research into why this is, but that will not stop me from giving my take on it, from a transgender perspective.It does go both ways; there are many women who make male characters or pretend to be guys, however, it seems that it is far more common for a man to make a female character.

There are many reasons men say they make women characters. Aesthetically, the female characters are usually nicer to look at. Since videogame characters often are exaggerated stereotypes, the men are usually huge and muscular, with cold or ruthless expressions on their face, and the women all have tiny waists, huge hips, and C-DD cups, at least. Some people say that is sexist, but since each gender here is exaggerated, it really doesn’t bother me. The female characters are beautiful, fun to look at. A straight guy can make a girl character just to stare at her butt as he plays.

Female characters also often have an easier time when starting out in online games like World of Warcraft or Second Life. Straight men seem to treat women differently. When they saw me as male, I felt as if men saw me in one way or another as a sort of competition. It didn’t mean they treated me badly, but since they see me as a woman now, more straight men seem to see me as something desirable, rather than competition. Old men are cheerful, calling me hunn; teenagers flirt casually; middle aged men enjoy a pleasant conversation with a young woman. I don’t mean any of this in a dirty way. There are men who flirt in very inappropriate, offensive, sexist ways, and that’s not okay. The subtle flirting I am talking of seems to be mostly sub conscious, people don’t even realize they are doing anything different. I think I am going to do a longer post focusing on this issue sometime soon. However, all of these behaviors are carried over into online games. Some men really enjoy being treated that way, even if just online. It can be fun to try out. Most people will take your character at face value to start. If you say you are a girl, they will act like you are at least until they start to get to know you a bit more. Some guys take this behavior to rather extreme lengths, handing out huge sums of gold and items to female characters, but usually it’s more subtle and less.. uncomfortable.

There are many other reasons people give when asked why men make women characters. However, as a transgender individual, I see a reason that I think is often overlooked. In our culture, women have gained many freedoms as far as gender expression. It is totally okay for a woman to wear jeans every day. If a woman wears a guy’s shirt, it doesn’t really draw attention. A woman can go out with no makeup, guys pants, and a plain t-shirt, no one would give her a second look. However, if a man went out wearing women’s jeans, he will get stared at. People might call him emo or the “f” word. If he goes out with a girl’s blouse, he will be gawked at and ridiculed. Even if he just wears eyeliner and mascara, a man would get stared at, mocked, and even be at risk of being physically attacked. Its a terrible double standard. It’s changing slowly, but for now, it’s still dangerous for a man to explore his gender identity, while women are not only allowed, but encouraged by many to explore theirs.

The internet has posed a lot of creative solutions to many odd problems, and this is definitely one nobody saw coming. People could suddenly explore themselves anonymously, pretending to be younger, older, the opposite gender, etc. People could roleplay as demons and superheroes, orcs and elves. In games like Warcraft and Second Life, it is considered totally normal for a man to make a female character. However, it lets a guy experience just a little bit of femininity. It is a very different experience from actually interacting with people face to face as a woman, but it is still very different from interacting with men as a man. For many, many, MANY younger trans people, making a female character on some game or chatroom was one of their first and/or biggest steps in their transition. It gave us a way to be treated the way we felt we should be, to be able to express ourselves in a female way. It was safe, no one would find out unless we said something otherwise. It became a fear for many of us, that we would be discovered. Many trans people fake pictures, buy voice manipulation software, and so forth just to make sure no one knows the person behind the female character doesn’t look/sound female. I say younger trans people because I have noticed a trend that many trans people around my age explored their gender online, quietly, while older trans people tell the stories we are more used to hearing; wanting to wear dresses as a kid, saying they wanted to be the opposite gender. Younger people seem have found more subtle ways to explore their gender identity online without having to out themselves to those around them.

It is so common that people want to try out the other gender that Blizzard introduced a paid character change feature, where you can pay them 15 dollars and change the gender and appearance of your character. I used this feature so many times for the characters I invested so much time in.

I know my perspective is skewed, since I went through this exact experience during my transition. I believe I was about 12 years old when I created my first real female character for a game I played at that time. I went to great lengths to hide my female character from my parents, though I wasn’t sure why at the time (I understand now, of course). For many years before actually learning about what transgender is, I made more and more female characters and less and less male ones. I made some very, very close friends who only knew me as a woman. I lost many people in fear they would find out my sex outside the game, and I did lose a handful when the “secret” got out. That was a time of terrible guilt for me. There were people I felt deeply for, close friends and romantic interests, who I felt like I was lying to. It drove me insane, but I kept doing it. Now I know, I wasn’t lying to anyone when I told them I really was a girl. I just never knew that there were other people who felt like me, that there were real options, that someday, I could actually be the girl I wished I was. I’m actually in the process now of reconnecting with people from that time now, trying to salvage some important friendships that got lost in that confusing time.

Nexus: The Kingdoms of the Wind

This is Kaiyan. I made this character when I was about 10 years old in a game called Nexus:TK. Kaiyan was male until very recently. She was one of the very last characters I have changed from male to female, it is a huge symbolic change for me, even if its just a simple graphics game like Nexus.

Bathrooms

And now comes the dreaded bathroom post. I’m sure many of you were expecting this one!

Bathrooms can be a major problem, and I’m not referring to the numerous sanitary issues we all face in there. When you walk towards the restrooms, you see two doors with two signs, one with a little stick figure with pants, one little stick figure with a dress. There are only two doors, two categories, two options. It is at this point society abruptly forces it’s binary gender system on innocent gender variant individuals.

In order to do something as simple and basic as pee, transgender individuals must consent to be put into one of the binary gender categories. They are either men or women. If you aren’t one of those two, you cannot use the restroom at all.

For some of us, this is a physical problem. In my case, after about 8 or 9 months on hormones, I literally had no clue what bathroom I was supposed to use on campus. About half of the school knew me as Ashley, half by my old name. I wore women’s pants, but mens shirts; women’s socks but men’s shoes. I had breasts, but I had facial hair. The bathroom was a nightmare. If I went into the men’s room, people stared at my chest. If I went into the women’s room, people stared at my face. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I would hold it for 7+ hours while on campus just so I could avoid the bathrooms. This, by the way, is not healthy.

This also puts us transsexual individuals at risk of abuse and violence. Imagine a group of drunk, rowdy men enter the bathroom at a bar and find this small, androgynous individual standing in front of the mirror. Upon looking closer, the men see the curve of this androgynous person’s hips, the bump from their binded chest. They decide to prove this androgynous person is a woman. They attack him, strip him, and prove he is a she.

Unfortunately, that story is all too real, and all too common. Many cases of violence like that are reported throughout the country every year. Male, female, transgender, transsexuals, are all often put into danger in situations like this. While this overt anger and transphobia is incredibly disturbing, even lesser cases, having to deal with being stared at, questioned, insulted, is a constant drain on transgender individuals.

Many people are uncertain how to help this awkward situation. The answer is actually quite simple: Gender-Neutral Bathrooms.

For single stall bathrooms, it is not only extremely simple to implement,  but it makes perfect sense to most people. When guests come to your home to visit, do you tell the men they have to use the restroom upstairs and the women have to use the ground floor? With a single stall bathroom, there is no threat to privacy or sanctity. There should be no need for a urinal in a single stall bathroom.

The cost of switching two male/female single stall bathrooms into two gender-neutral bathrooms is only the cost of replacing two signs. The benefit? First, transgender individuals immediately feel  more safe and are no longer forced into difficult decisions and dangerous situations. Next, individuals who need assistance due to a physical injury/impairment are greatly benefited by this sort of bathroom if their helper is the opposite gender. In those cases currently, a grown adult of the opposite sex would either need to go into the bathroom with the person who needs assistance, or that person would have to find a way to do it themselves. The gender-neutral bathroom completely negates that issue. Last, if you add a changing table mounted to the wall, the gender-neutral bathroom becomes a family restroom, which solves the eternal question “How old is too old for a mother to bring her boy into the woman’s room with her?”

Multiple stall/urinal bathrooms are a much more complex issue though. Many people feel nervous about having someone of the opposite sex in the same bathroom as us. I personally feel it stems at least in part from people being self-conscious about noises made in the restroom, not wanting the opposite sex (who you are trying to protect) to hear. We are all indoctrinated on how men and women need to use separate restroom, and that makes us instantly jump to be upset by this idea. The cost of removing urinals and adding more stalls (possibly removing walls as well) would be high, but if this is planned early in renovations, there should be no cost.

But really, what is so scary? Especially in a college atmosphere, the amount of gay/bi people is higher than usual. You have a decent chance that someone else in a crowded restroom may be gay, and may be checking you out. Also, for people who do prefer same-sex partners, gender neutral bathrooms don’t really change much. Honestly, there is no real danger in peeing next to someone with different parts than you. Also, there should be no reason you are less-than-dressed outside of a stall in a bathroom, so that should not be an issue either. If, as many women fear, there is some creepy guy who is willing to step on the toilet to peek over the top of the stall, I really question whether the stick figure with a dress at the door will be enough to keep the peeping tom away. Not to mention, as of 2009, there were no reported cases of a transgender individual in the bathroom with a cisgendered person that the trans person was peeping or harassing the cisgendered person. It simply does not happen.

For you folks in GSAs and other activism groups, there are several steps you can take in order to get your campus/company/building on the right track towards gender neutral bathroom. First, get in touch with whichever department/group is incharge of planning the renovations. Try to get in touch with the HR/social equity department as well, so you have support when you approach the planning group. Ask first to change single-stall bathrooms to gender neutral. The fact there is little cost, little risk, and great benefit will make this the most likely to actually happen. Once the campus has seen these bathrooms cause no problem and create great benefits, they are much more likely to consider taking big steps towards unisex bathrooms throughout the campus/company.

Trans 101

This post will serve as a refresher for some and a 101 to others of some of the current terminology in the transgender community. If you do not know much about exactly what transgender is, this is a great place to start.

In our society, people often think sex and gender are synonyms. However, these two words have two separate definitions. According to webster.com,

  • Sex: Either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures
  • Gender: The behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex

To sum it up, briefly sex refers to biology(male/female), and gender(man/woman) refers to the cultural expectations that are usually ascribed to each sex (men act masculine and women act feminine). Our culture has its concept of an ideal man and ideal woman. The ideal man is strong, bold, brave, and forward. The ideal woman is beautiful, gentle, nurturing, and reserved. I often refer to the ideal man as “Ken” and the ideal female as “Barbie,” as the concept of perfection seems to fit strongly with these two characters. We are told, as children, strive to be Ken or Barbie, based on our genitalia. We are given two options, and no more than that.

However, none of us exactly fit these two categories. The people you see on the street aren’t perfect. There are men, gay and straight, that act more femininely, who are great cooks, nurturing parents, and are incredibly emotional, while there are more masculine women who play sports, provide money for their families, and have short hair. None of us perfectly fit into these two categories. Rather, these two extremes can be placed at either end of a spectrum.

Male ———————————————————————————————————- Female
(Ken)                                                                                               (Barbie)

All of us fall somewhere between the two.  This spectrum is often referred to as the Gender Spectrum. Whether you are transgender or not, you can probably figure approximately where you might fit in the spectrum (though there are some people who feel they constantly move back and forth, or feel like they are neither). Rather than being a binary, as American culture often assumes, gender can range anywhere on the spectrum.

The next set of terms that is important to be aware of are gender expression and gender identity. Even within the LGB community, these terms are often misunderstood.

  • Gender Identity – How an individually feels, internally, in regards to their gender. This can be aligned with the sex they were born with (this is referred to as being cisgender) or it can be something other than their birthsex (which could be referred to as transgender)
  • Gender Expression – How an individual outwardly portrays their internal gender identity. This can include mannerisms, speech, dress, etc.

There are dozens of different categories that are included under the transgender umbrella. I will go through just a few major categories.Note that these are only my definitions as far as I know them, they change frequently and are always up for debate. For people who want to read a more comprehensive list of terminology terminology, check out the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)’s resources section here: http://tinyurl.com/NCTE-terminology

  • Transgender – Someone whose internal gender identity is incongruent with their birth sex. Transgender is an umbrella term that covers a vast range of identities. Transgender individuals may never transition or try to outwardly portray as gender variant.
  • Transsexual – Someone whose internal gender identity is so incongruent with their birth sex that it causes them serious, constant discomfort. This incongruency can be so intense that transsexual individuals are often subject to depression. Transsexual individuals take hormones and/or receive surgery to bring their body into alignment with their gender identity.
  • Cross-dressers – Individuals who dress in the opposite sex’s clothing for the purpose of expression of some sort. These individuals often feel in the middle of the gender spectrum, or feel they switch between one side and the other. They will sometimes dress as the other gender, but will not usually take hormones or receive surgery.

Hopefully, this has helped explain the basics of the transgender community. I encourage anyone who asks questions to leave a comment, and I will try to answer it. I might even use your question as a jumping board for another post 🙂

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