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Transgender: Insight from the Inside



Understanding the Multi-Faced Nature of Transitioning

The transgender community is a diverse group of people that come from all walks of life. Each person has their own set of unique circumstances and lived experiences that make them who they are.

The Williams Institute released a report combining data from the CDC’s Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to determine the number of people that identify as transgender in the U.S.

According to the report, "1.6 million adults (ages 18 and older) and youth (ages 13 to 17) identify as transgender in the United States." With such a large number of people identifying as trans, it is a trend worth discussing, no matter which side of the political spectrum you subscribe.

What Does It Mean to Be A Trans Person

On an individual basis, there appears to be no cookie-cutter answer for what it means to be trans. Trans persons appear to have unique identity markers, circumstances, and lived experiences that define their trans identity.

However, there is a general understanding of the term transgender. As defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), a person who identifies as transgender is one whose behavior, gender expression, or gender identity doesn't uniformly correspond to the sex to which they were born.

To contrast with this understanding, RSnake's interview with Dr. Sheila Newsom points to how a person identifies as transgender or as Sheila mentioned what constitutes cisgender.

"Cisgender" refers to having the same gender as the sex your doctor assigned you when you were born. Like cisgender people, transgender people choose to express their gender identity in a variety of ways.

One method they use to describe their gender identity is through labels and language that is recognized as respectful by the trans community. Although the term "transgender" is generally appropriate, not everyone whose behavior or appearance is gender-nonconforming would identify as a transgender person, according to the APA.

As people become more aware of, knowledgeable about, and accepting of transgender persons and their experiences, the ways that transgender people are discussed in popular culture, academia, and science are continually evolving.

The Difference Between Gender and Sex

One common roadblock that some may encounter when learning about trans people and what it means to be a part of that community is the difference between sex and gender. This may not seem directly related however it is crucial to understanding the roots of a person's identity.

Sex is understood by biological attribution, in other words, a person’s sex is determined based on their physical sex traits, for example, reproductive or sexual anatomy or chromosomes found at birth.

Gender is currently expressed by trans activists as a social construction that defines individuals in relation to their behaviors, roles, and expressions correlated to their biological sex.

Additionally, gender impacts how individuals distinguish others and themselves, interactions and actions, resources in society and cultures, and the dispersal of power among people.

Gender and sex are distinguished as separate concepts however since gender is created in society, it is reliant on the biological properties of sex status to produce these meanings and characteristics.

Gender Performativity

Considering this difference, in understanding transgender people it is also noteworthy to understand gender as performative. This notion was first theorized by Judith Butler in the 1990s. Butler says that “…gender is not “a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow; rather, gender is … instituted … through a stylized repetition of [habitual] acts.”

Thinking of gender as performative is useful in understanding the perception of lived experiences and gender identities of trans people since it eludes to the gendered roles that one takes on. Butler says that thinking of gender this way is how "we act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman."

Understanding the Impacts of Gender Dysphoria

Performing gender can be one way of expression for transgender people. However, many trans people struggle with gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is the feeling of unhappiness or distress that trans and non-binary people can feel when their gender identity doesn't align with their bodies. This can mean distress linked to the mismatch in voice, genitals, or how they are seen and treated by others.

Dr. Sheila Newsom touches on gender dysphoria and her experience with it. She describes gender dysphoria as the feeling that "the inside and the outside just don't match up." Sheila described the act of crossdressing every day, for instance.

Gender dysphoria can have several negative impacts including:

● Negative self-image

● Social isolation

● Neglect of self

● Anxiety

● Partaking in risky behavior

● Depression

Navigating the Use of Pronouns

Gender dysphoria can manifest from a variety of misalignments of a person's gender identity. One significant reason can be the misuse of pronouns.

Curiously, pronouns have become a flammable topic once introduced into the mainstream media. Pronouns aren't new. They are used every day, put in front of names to identify people in languages across the world. Pronouns don't become problematic until they are used to refer to someone, that's typically when a person can feel disrespected.

"Mistaking or assuming people's pronouns without asking first, mistakes their gender and sends a harmful message. Using someone's correct gender pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their identity," according to the LGBT Resource Center.

During the interview with RSnake, Dr. Sheila Newsom explains the importance of pronouns. Sheila believes that pronouns are a way to honor what someone feels about their own journey. Additionally, Sheila alludes to the fact that using and recognizing pronouns comes down to an individual choice.

At the end of the day, there is no way to force people to recognize pronouns if they don't want to, Sheila believes it is best to externalize this. However, it is important to consider approaching situations and trans people with respect, as one would of any person of any background or circumstance.

The LGBT Resource Center suggests that asking for pronouns is one way of being sensitive and respectful, this also avoids misgendering which activists believe can be very hurtful to trans people. This is, of course, if indeed, one believed that such respect was warranted and that the hurt was worth avoiding – a debatable point amongst many on the right-wing of the political aisle.

What Is Dead Naming and How It Is Harmful

Something else that can be harmful to transgender people is dead naming. Many may have not encountered this term, and this is because people who have transitioned are more likely to experience this.

Deadnaming happens when a transgender person is addressed by the name they used before transitioning, whether on purpose or accidentally.