First of all I'd like to apologise for not writing last month. It's been a very busy time for me, mainly because I've been legally changing my name and with it all my identification, bank cards and records which involves writing a lot of letters. Anyway on with the show...
So far I've introduced the concept of transgender and people who transgress society's gender roles and I've given you an insight into my own situation. Which leads me on to looking at the wider picture of transgender people out in the big wide real world.
Transgender is an issue the affects a very wide variety of people, not just the minority of people who openly identify as transgendered. It is just as important to educate people about freedom of gender as it is to educate about the freedom to love who you wish. When it comes to fear of difference promoting violence, a difference in gender is much more visible and difficult to hide than a difference in sexuality. You're only visibly gay when you're out with your partner, you're visibly gender-queer whenever you leave the house if your gender does not match people's expectations for members of your sex.
Transgender people are literally people who transgress the gender rules and roles set by society. As you can imagine this covers everyone from feminine men (or even just men who like to giggle or sing in public) and masculine women (or even just women who like short hairstyles and sports) to people who question the gender status quo, like feminists for example (questioning the role that men are superior to women). One of the most major gender roles and rules society holds is that men are attracted to women and women are attracted to men; because of this gay and bisexual people are transgressing gender roles and are therefore covered by 'transgender'. It is true that a large number of 'homophobic' attacks are motivated by an unsettling (for the homophobe) violation of their rules for men and women. These attacks can be simply because the person was a feminine man and not because they were a gay man. If you weren't seen kissing in the street or openly pledging your love to a member of your sex then there's something in your behaviour, your gender, that has prompted the 'phobe to attack you for 'being gay'. Most homophobic bullying in schools is against people who are perceived as gay, not necessarily people who are gay. How can the bullies know? Because they don't like 'sissies', people who don't live up to their idea of a male gender role. Are homophobic attacks against people who aren't gay but 'act it' really homophobic, or are they equally a punishment for breaking the attackers' idea of what a man or a woman should be?
So hopefully now you can see that educating people to be tolerant of gender variation as well as the diversity of sexuality helps everyone; gay, straight, bi and the rest of us, to be free to be ourselves without fear of being punished. It worries me that the main tactic in teaching people to be tolerant of 'alternative' sexualities is to say "they're just like everyone else except they love different people"-which really doesn't help you if you are visibly different from everyone else. Perhaps the best solution would be to teach people about the diversity of the human condition, and that variation is what makes society interesting, stimulating and worth living in.
I hope you've followed all of that, and that you can see my point about how acceptance of gender issues helps us all-because now I'm going to move on from the wider picture and look at those brave souls out there who actually go by the label 'transgendered'. Who stand up and shout "I am a freak!" in the face of a society which wants everyone to fit into convenient boxes marked 'Men' and 'Women'; from which there is no escape, and from which you will always be judged as one or the other and not as yourself.
OK so some select individuals from the transgender community have assembled for your viewing pleasure, gathered here today for the express purpose of educating the world of the vast diversity of gender! Drum roll please...
Transvestites come on down! Ah ladies, gentlemen and everyone else-the transvestite, gender transgression starts at home. Probably the most common of the TG crop, transvestites are cross dressers, people who wear clothes intended only for use by the other sex. Transvestites mainly do it in the privacy of their own home, only at weekends or covertly by wearing undergarments under their suit and tie. You probably know a transvestite; in fact you probably know loads. So why do they do it? For some because they just feel more comfortable when they're wearing clothes of the other sex, for others it's to express themselves erotically. For many it's just because they want to, and why not? Is there actually any rational reason why people shouldn't be allowed to wear what they like? (Homophobia (should that be Transphobia?) isn't rational I'm sure you'll agree).
So who's next? Ah! Who's that I see hiding in the corner? Yes... it is! Transsexuals! These generally come in two varieties, 'Men' and 'Women' (does this sound familiar to anyone?). So what's the transgression here? Ah you see, there's a twist in the tail. These men and women start out in life with an inconvenient medical condition, which places their sex in complete conflict with their gender. While they feel like men and women they look like women and men. Not a nice situation to live with, which is why they generally don't. Transsexuals seek medical help to do their best to push their body in the direction of their gender until they reach a point where they're happy or, sadly, they reach a point where they can't cope and commit suicide. Happily after treatment this high suicide rate plummets to the level of non-transsexual people making transsexuality one of the most successfully treatable medical conditions around. So what's everyone's problem then? Well while transsexuals are still, in the main, conventionally men and women they break all the rules when they realise they've been born into the wrong box and request a transfer. Even though most go on to live a happily gendered life, the fact that they've changed from one of the unshakable categories to the other is too much for many people to accept.
Who else is out there? Ah yes, you at the back... yes you! Intersexuals. These are a diverse bunch, born physically between the sexes whether it be due to hormonal problems, ambiguous genitals, non-standard chromosome combinations or all of the above (or even something else entirely) these people cannot be classed as physically male or female because they genuinely are not either. Or course this doesn't stop 'evil' doctors with rulers from making an arbitrary decision and backing that up with a scalpel and stitches which leads to situations not dissimilar from the transsexuals above. Just because society can't cope with the idea that there are people outside of the categories of physically male and female does not mean that everyone who doesn't fit those boxes should be mutilated until they do. Perhaps a more humane and just generally sensible solution is to leave the intersexed child until they're old enough to decide for themself if they're a man or a woman or something else and, if they want surgery at all, which surgery it should be. But then such things are far too controversial, and how many parents could deal with raising a child if they don't know which colour to paint its bedroom walls?
Oh who's that in the front row shouting and waving their underwear? It's the drag acts! The Kings and Queens. These are people who see gender as a performance and take it to extremes. These people want to be fabulous and boy do they work at it. They're larger than life and more slick than the average oil-based ecological disaster. These people are loud and proud and they know they're all that! You try to stop them from appearing on every chat show that's going-you try, chairs will fly!
And what about the rest of you people? Why there's a veritable parade of Gender Outlaws, people who feel like they're outcasts from the binary gender system because they feel like they have elements of both the accepted genders, or don't have any elements of either, or feel like they're something else entirely which wouldn't fit under 'male' or 'female' no matter how hard it tried. These people feel limited and restricted by the binary gender system and they feel dishonest when they try to compromise their identities and live under its rules. They have many different ways of stepping out of the system to a place where they feel more comfortable and able to be themselves. Some may just strive to be themself rather than hold back because it breaks the rules, others may try to visibly place their appearance outside the two categories so people do not know how to relate to them in anyway other than as a unique individual; this can be achieved through gender-bending, bending their presentation to something unrecognisable; or gender-blending, mixing the elements of both accepted presentations to the point where they could be seen as either or both. Either way Gender Outlaws think it unfair that society forces them into boxes, which don't fit without any other options than a simple two.
OK that's it you can all go home now... go on! Oh, what's that? Ah yes sorry... I've been asked to point out that all labels and categories are inherently limiting and never live up to the people they're aiming to describe. I've got a whole bunch of people who fit into all of the categories above in some way and others who feel TG but don't fit into any of that. Sigh, well it was bound to happen wasn't it? How can I classify the transsexual, male to non-gendered person who can't function in society as a man but doesn't feel like a woman, takes female hormones, feels limited by any gender roles and expresses themself erotically through their attraction to individuals of gender-bending/blending appearance and through their transvestite urge to dress in male clothes and over play the gender role to the extreme for fun? Oh yeah... 'transgendered' (but then there'll always be a few who don't like that label either).
OK ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, hot and cold, light and dark, people who classify everyone into two categories and people who don't- this is the end of our show. Hope you have fun and do come back soon, you've been such a fantastic audience you really have (oh it brings a tear to my eye to see you go)!
Zoe is a 20 year-old, pre-op male to female transsexual (but doesn't let it get her down). She lives in Canterbury, England where she studies Computer Science at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Her interests include somehow managing to read and contribute to large numbers of mailing lists, writing far too much on her website, watching Anime, reading imported American comics and spending quality time with her girlfriend.