Saturday, August 13, 2011

Guest Post: Intro to Transgender 101


It isn't easy to explain being transgender, even though this isn't the first time I've done it. It can be very difficult for many people to understand, because for most people, gender is something we take for granted. Gender is complicated. So, I hope I am here to help along the process. Keep your ears and eyes open and all hands and feet within the cart.

To discuss transgenderism, it's important that you know a few definitions:

-Birth Sex-- Usually male or female, based on your genitals, assigned at birth by a doctor

-Intersex-- Someone who is intersex has a combination of male and female primary (genitalia) and/or secondary sex characteristics (facial hair, breasts, etc)

-Gender Identity-- The gender we each identify as, usually male or female

-Gender Expression-- How your mannerisms, and dress reflect societal understandings of masculine or feminine behavior/dress

-Gender Roles/Norms-- Expectations we have for men and women, rooted in a dichotomous understanding of gender

-Sexual Orientation-- The gender(s) we are attracted to, in correspondence to our gender identity

-Gender Dysphoria-- Classic trans symptom of feeling severe distress over having a body that does not match their gender identity

-Cisgender-- Birth sex matches their gender identity

-Transgender-- Birth sex does not match their gender identity

So, my name is Jack. My birth sex is female. As far as I know, I am not intersex. My gender identity is male, and, like most men, my gender expression is male. (I like to say, “The only thing female about me is my body, but even that's changed since I've been on testosterone.”) My sexual orientation is heterosexual since I am a man that is attracted to women. My girlfriend is cisgender because she was born with a female body, and identifies as female. Because my birth sex does not match my gender identity, I am transgender.

“Transgender” is an umbrella term for anyone whose birth sex does not match their gender identity, and this includes people all along the gender spectrum. Some trans people, like me, feel that their gender is on the opposite spectrum of their body- male to female, or female to male. Others feel that their gender fits somewhere in the middle as both male or female, a mix of the two, or neither. Often transgender people will use hormones or surgeries to better match their body to their spirit, which allows them to live in the world as their gender identity. But there are some trans people who never feel the need to transition fully or at all. Everyone is different.

Trans issues and transgenderism doesn't get explained all in one blog post, so it's likely you will have questions. I hope to be able to follow up to this post in the future. In the meantime, I'm going to stick to definitions and a few basic do's and don't's.


DO use the name and pronouns you are asked to use.
DO respect their privacy
DO educate yourself about trans people
DO be aware of any privilege you may have


DON'T ask what their birth name is
(If they want you to know, they'll tell you)
DON'T ask invasive questions
(How many strangers do you want asking about your genitals?)
DON'T out a trans friend. Never. NEVER, EVER, EVER.
(unless they ask you to)
DON'T offer suggestions to a trans person on how they could look more masculine or feminine.
(If you are asked for advice, it's fine, but otherwise, it's rude. You wouldn't want people offering suggestions on how you could look more masculine or feminine, and trans people are usually acutely aware of how they look and act.)
DON'T police bathrooms/locker rooms


  1. This was great, thanks so much. I don't know if you grew up in a Mormon environment, but if so I'd like to hear more about that: what went well and what could be improved in the culture?

  2. Jack, that was awesome! I appreciate you writing this much needed post. I know I've been guilty of a few of the "Dont's" on the list so this makes me eager to recommit to being a better friend to my friends. I hope you continue posting especially about what life is like as a transgendered individual. How do others treat you?

  3. Good list of don'ts except for "NEVER EVER EVER" ask them out??

    What if you met a (trans) boy and he talks about how hot girls are / flirts with you, what's so wrong with asking him out?

    That's how I met my boyfriend.
    I think it almost smacks of transphobia (never date a trans?), when your good intentions are probably 'don't assume orientation' and 'don't assume people want to date you', but that's good advice for the community in general, not just transgender.

  4. Chpmunk, No, sorry, not "ask out"; I meant "out". "Outting" is when their trans identity is revealed without their consent, similar to when glb people are "outted".

  5. Excellent post. This is an issue I'm not very familiar with, so I hope you post more!

  6. Love the post, Jack! please write more. Our blog (and the world) needs it :)

    @ Chpmunk, heavens please DO ask out whoever you like :)

  7. @ Austin,

    I wasn't sure whether I should answer you here. :S I grew up in American Fork (Utah county) in a very devout Mormon family. For the first 20 years of my life, I was very devout, but have since left the LDS Church. In my neighborhood, there was no concept of transgenderism, so I didn't have any kind of language to contemplate my gender outside of my genitalia. I would say, though, that living as a woman is what made me the feminist I am. What could change in the culture to make it better for trans people? Discouraging the rampant ethnocentrism, for starters.

    @ Jeremy

    No problemo. I enjoyed writing this, and I'm glad I could help. How have people treated me? Well, my parents have been fantastic. After I came out as a lesbian, they... did ok, but could've done much better, (me too, though) When I came out the second time, we both had learned loads so it was much easier. My siblings have been a mixed bunch, some totally accepting and respectful, others only half-way. (Refusing to call me by my name, but insisting on calling me by the name I was ascribed at birth, telling me I was weird and I embarrassed them and they weren't sure they wanted me around them or little kids) My extended family has been a mixed bunch. Either plain not-respectful to completely cruel.

    @ Chpmunk,

    Later I was thinking of your comment and laughed to myself-- I'd be in trouble if I wanted people to never ask out a trans person. My girlfriend asked me out, and I don't know what I would do without her. :D