Understanding Transgender


As much I have read about the transgender experience through a number of biographies of trans men and women, and through a few trans individuals that I have gotten to know, the trans experience, while more known to me, still feels so different from my own life as a gay man. 

What I have found most meaningful in the biographies of trans individuals is seeing the similarities with men, like myself, who came out later in life, and being trans but hidden. We both went through parts of our lives hiding who we truly were before deciding we had to come out as gay or trans.

As I keep reading and learning, I feel I am coming to understand what it is like to feel, from a very early age, different than the gender you are assigned at birth. The Washington Post has a wonderful article recently about the new book Becoming Nicole, The Transformation of An American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt, which discussed but the lives of two identical twins, one cisgender and one transgender, and the emerging science behind transgender. I am now reading Becoming Nicole and finding it a warm, inviting, fascinating book.

At this point, I feel I understand being transgender as much as anyone who is not transgender, but I also feel that I still have much to learn. I find my own hidden prejudices and discomforts can arise around trans women in particular. Earlier this week I attended a meeting that pulled together a number of LGBT, straight and trans individuals. I sat between a friend of mine, an African American lesbian LGBT activist, and two trans-African American men and two trans Latino women. Both trans men look male and unless you knew they were trans, you might never guess. But the trans women look slightly off. Their physical size is larger than most women and their faces are an interplay of masculine and feminine features. One of the women’s hands are too large for a woman and look quite masculine. These things still make me uncomfortable.

There was some kind of conversation between the trans individuals going on when I sat down that I was not part of and had me feel like an intruder or outsider. I began to feel uncomfortable in the way I had so often as a child when I felt like an outsider among the straight boys. But this was different, I was a different kind of outsider, the older white male in the business suit, surrounded by younger African American and Latino trans individuals, all casually dressed, laughing and talking about topics I was not part of. With my discomfort, I began to withdraw in myself and separate myself from the people around me. I got quiet and introspective. I felt I missed an opportunity to reach out and interact with these individuals.

There is more I could say on this topic but suffice it to say that we all need to fight our own prejudices and hidden cultural biases to become the people we want to be. I have been proud to push for health insurance coverage for transgender employees where I work. I have enjoyed getting to know a few transgender individuals as friends. I have felt excited as I continue to learn about the transgender experience. And I feel stronger through exploring my own biases as a way to change and become more culturally open, diverse, and respectful.

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