A recent story shared by George Takei on Facebook about a 12 year old winning the right to have his birth certificate changed to reflect his correct gender attracted a lot of comments. This is not surprising, nor is the fact that so many were negative or transphobic. Not surprising, but very depressing.
Along with the usual equation of physical characteristics with gender (penis = male; vagina = female) there were many comments saying that 12 was too young to make this kind of choice.
Choice? Are they suggesting that somebody can choose their gender the same way they choose what to wear or eat?
Coming out, informing people around you that your gender is not the one you were assigned at birth, is not a lifestyle choice like being Vegan. It is a recognition of the true essence of one’s self.
If you asked a hundred random people of all ages what their gender is you would almost always get a hundred definite answers. Would you doubt that these people know what gender they really are? Would you insist on testing their chromosomes and genitalia? Would you even dare to ask a random stranger to confirm their gender?
So why is it that the element of doubt raises its head when the “transgender” label is present? Surely a transgender person has just as clear a view of their own gender identity as anybody else.
I didn’t choose to be a woman. I appeared to be male at birth and was raised as such. But from puberty onwards (about age 11) I knew that my body didn’t develop correctly. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) look like my internal self-image. I look in the mirror and if I’m lucky I will catch the occasional glimpse of myself, but more often I only see the out-of-place male characteristics. My brain developed as female, my body as male.
If you are not transgender yourself then imagine this: you are yourself, the same person you have been all your life, but every time you look at yourself you do not see what you expect to see. You see a face and body that is the opposite gender. Now also imagine that everybody else sees that too, and acts towards you as if that is your actual gender. But you know it’s wrong. Every day of your life you know, but you are stuck with it. Yes, it hurts to the point that it can be hard to carry on.
Unless you start to tell people that the way you look is not who you are. Unless you confront their disbelief, prejudice and mockery. Unless you fight to change your body so that it matches what you know inside to be your true self. The alternative is to try to pretend that you are somebody other than yourself, to live a lie. I tried to do that until it almost destroyed me. That is gender dysphoria.
So please try to be understanding when a transgender person comes out. Be accepting. It is hard enough living with the discomfort and distress of your body being of the wrong gender without also having to suffer prejudice and abuse.
Note: I have simplified things here for rhetorical purposes to mention only binary gender identities. These account for the majority of people but there is a significant minority for whom the categories of male/female do not fit. I’m not going to go into details here because there are many excellent articles about non-binary gender and I do not have the personal experience to add to what others have already written.