This reality has made me view the world in ways that differ from how society portrays it, and these differences have motivated me to write.
In general, most people are not aware of transgender issues. This is particularly clear to me when I come out as transgender. One common question people ask is, “What does that even mean?”
As I wrote in “Transcending Sex and Gender Binaries” (Commentary, August 31), “People who don’t fit gender expectations are called transgender.” Such expectations include that there are only two genders, that the two genders match up with only two sexes, and that people of the two genders have to look a certain way – and importantly, that the two genders have to look distinct. These expectations can go to extremes – for example, “men’s” and “women’s” clothes even button differently.
Transgender, often shortened to just trans, is an umbrella term that refers to any person who breaks these norms in some way.
There’s quite a bit of different terminology for people who go against the grain of gender norms. For example, someone who defies the notion that there are only two genders could identify as third gender, meaning that they are neither “male” nor “female” but some other gender; or gender-fluid, meaning that the way they experience gender changes from moment to moment; or genderqueer, meaning that they have some gender identity other than the expected “man” or “woman.”
An example of someone who defies the notion that the two genders match up with two sexes could be a transsexual – someone who identifies with a different sex than the one socially assigned to them at birth, often socially or physically transitioning from their assigned sex at birth to the “opposite” sex.
Finally, an example of someone who defies gender appearance norms could be a cross-dresser – someone who, for whatever reason, sometimes wears clothing other than what is expected of their assigned sex.
Despite their differences, these groups despite having their differences, all show that the system of gender expectations, also called the “gender binary,” isn’t adequate to describe people. The binary also harms people because society’s structure reflects its assumptions. If you don’t fit into these preconceptions, people allot you a less privileged position in society – and these assumptions lead many people to react negatively to trans people, with responses ranging from lack of understanding, to harassment, to outright violence. This is why binary is for computers, not people. Because of these flaws, we should chuck the system out.
The next question people often ask is, “What does this mean for you?”
I’m trans – but more specifically, I’m a male-to-female transsexual (or a trans woman). This means that when I was born, the doctor probably said, “It’s a boy!” And my parents and society raised me to be a boy. And I tried to go along with this. However, it wasn’t instinctive for me to do so. I kept screwing up by using “feminine” body language or expressing “feminine” emotions without even realizing it. And I knew something was wrong – my internal body map didn’t match up with what I saw in the mirror. Finally, when I found out that transsexuals existed on the Internet when I was 13, I knew instantly that I was transsexual. And I’m currently mid-transition from “male” to “female.”
I also identify as genderqueer. I realize that in some ways I’ll always have both “male” and “female” traits, and I often see myself as an outside observer of gender. More importantly, I don’t just want to trade one set of social preconceptions for another.
However, mostly I just identify as me, Quinn. And I ask that you respect my identity – along with that of every other trans person.
Quinn Albaugh is one of The Daily’s new weekly columnists. Write them at firstname.lastname@example.org.