In our so-called tolerant society there are people who agonize about their gender identity, sometimes for years. Why is that you ask?
I say so-called because we actually need laws to treat each person equally; because the gender of the person still matters in all aspects of life; because trans people are still treated with ridicule; because marriage equality is still outside of our reach; because people are too lazy to look at the world and realize that it is more complicated than male/female.
Let us look at some definitions. These definitions are mine. They come from my personal journey and a million and one discussions with others. Please don’t take them as gospel and if in doubt either use ‘they’, ‘them’ or just ask the person which pronouns are appropriate for them.
Cis gender – a person who is happy to remain in their assigned gender. Cis comes from Latin and means ‘is’, or ‘as is’; remaining as is, as opposed to moving.
Transgender – a person who feels that the gender they were assigned at birth is a mistake and wishes to move to a different gender.
Transfeminine – a person who identifies as transgender and leans towards the feminine side of the spectrum.
Transmasculine - a person who identifies as transgender and leans towards the masculine side of the spectrum.
Non-binary (gender-fluid, gender-neutral) – a person who identifies neither as a woman nor as a man. Some people feel they transition into a non binary gender and therefore are also trans. Others just assume that identity outright without being trans as well.
So far so good, but what does ‘masculine side’ vs ‘feminine side’ of the spectrum means? Is it the hair coverage vs. smooth skin? Voice? Breasts? Long hair? I should hope this is not what guides our definitions. A person can have low voice, lots of muscles and some body hair and identify as a woman; while another can have no hair, very high tone of voice, be very gentle in their conduct and still identify as a man. Physical or personal presentation – the way we dress, cut or don’t cut our hair, polish our nails, voice, gestures etc., etc, etc., does not necessarily define our gender identity. In the 21st century, following the appearance of metrosexuals, personal presentation can mean the world to one person, and be an esthetic statement for another. I would argue that the gender spectrum is subjective and different for every individual. Transition is another subjective matter. Every person perceives transition differently. The physical manifestation can range from nothing at all to full surgical alteration. What is enough for one person, isn’t nearly enough for another. Gender, therefore, is best described as a subjective matter to every individual.
This isn’t to say that discussions about gender are useless. We can and should unpack this subject and make it accessible to the general society. If we don’t raise this subject, it’s easier for people to ignore it or tuck it into a dark corner and continue treating it as unimportant, or only happening to other people, in other countries and towns. How many times have you heard a principal of a school say: ‘we don’t have gay/trans/gender diverse students in our school. Statistically this is impossible. The only explanation would be that they are too lazy, embarrassed or outright hostile to allow a gender diverse person to come out as such. We must, therefore, keep the subject of gender identity on the forefront of social consciousness.
However, while discussing the subject openly and often, we must keep in mind that this is a very sensitive and emotional subject for many gender diverse people, so keeping it to general discussion is usually the best way to go. It allows that person/people to feel comfortable to be themselves.
So how do we know what gender a person in front of us is? We don’t. It is none of our business what gender the person sitting across you on a train is. It is also none of our business what gender the person applying for a job, or buying their groceries is. We treat each person as a person. In my experience most gender diverse people are quite happy to talk about their gender identity after they are comfortable with you. Let me give you an example. Imagine you are walking down the street, shopping, or having your hair cut and someone asks you ‘where are you from’. No preliminary chat, no nothing, just that. Personally I find it irritating. Instead of getting to know me, even on a superficial level, they want to box me according to their prejudices about my country of origin. Same principle with gender – it is private until the person decides to trust you with this information. It can take a few minutes or a few years, depending on personalities, emotional state of each person, openness, etc., etc.
If you are curious about a certain person in regards to their gender identity, ask yourself whether satisfying your curiosity would benefit them in any way. If the answer is no, then it’s probably your problem to deal with. What do they say? Curiosity killed the cat ;)