We are in such an important moment in time around gender. In the twenty years I’ve been in the sexuality field, the literature around gender, and in particular, transgender issues has erupted into a field of serious study and we have learned so much, yet we are still only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
More close to home, I had a brother who came out to me and my family as a woman and became my second sister. I sat with her when she told my dad and have had countless conversations with my father to help him understand and accept his newest daughter. I was there for her important moments in her physical transformation. The biggest thing that transpired, is that I watched my sister go through her entire transition not just into a woman, but into a much more happy and fulfilled person because finally, after wanting it all her life, she was able to be authentically herself. Next week she will be celebrating her tenth anniversary living as Kaitlin.
As I watch things surfacing around trans* issues, I am just blown away by how poorly we, as a culture, understand gender to the point where many transgender women are killed because of who they are—because they are living authentically in a world that does not make enough room for them. Transgender women are most at risk of any population for experiencing violence and being killed. Just last week as Caitlyn Jenner was coming out to the world with Diane Sawyer on 20/20, Francela Méndez, a prominent transgender human rights advocate in El Salvador was brutally murdered. At least seven transgender women have been murdered this year in the US and many more around the globe. The statistics about violence, murder and suicides resulting from transphobia are horrendous.
We’ve lost many transgender teens this year to suicide because they struggled so much in their lives and didn’t have the support they needed. It breaks my heart every time I hear another story of how we failed to create a safe place of acceptance for these young people. The problem is not transgender people. The problem is that we live in a world that does not make room for all of us to be who we really are. We understand that there is ethnic and racial diversity, religious and spiritual diversity, diversity of bodies and abilities and so many other aspects of who we are. So why would we then think that when it comes to gender and sex there are only a definable finite two? We are just as diverse when it comes to gender and it’s time we make space for that diversity.
As a sexual empowerment coach, one of the key things I do is help people be who they really are as sexual people — to accept themselves and to honor their desires.
How we express and experience our gender is a huge part of our sexuality, transgender or not.
When my sister came out to me, so many things made sense. She had such a hard adolescence and none of us quite understood why. It was like all these puzzle pieces fit together. She struggled since she was a child in her male body, and when puberty started things got very hard for her.
When she came out to me, I realized that I needed to support her and my family. It was a part of my life path. I’d been trained for this and also had my own human responses.
It took time to fully understand and make the shift myself since I was losing a brother and GAINING a sister. Everyone goes through some sort of transition in life.
Caitlyn Jenner is using her visibility to create change.
Transgender visibility is HUGE. The more we see transgender eople, the more it’s normalized. The more we see examples of supportive families, the more supportive we’ll be when someone in our family comes out.
As we have opportunities to know someone, we are able to care, understand and accept them.
Caitlyn Jenner is able to come out with a caring family and the resources to experience her transition the way she chooses — with the best doctors and means of support.
Not all transgender people have that.
The extent to which people are free to come out in big ways, to express their true gender and access resources, exists on an axis of privilege. And not all transgender people have that privilege. Many do not have access to the health care and support services they need. Many do not have a caring, accepting family.
My sister now speaks about her experience as a transgender woman to students and professionals who want to understand transgender people and gain sensitivity from their experiences.
As “cisgender” people — people who identify with the gender assigned at birth — it’s hard to understand what it would be like to feel like you’re someone so different from the definition the world bestowed on you.
Gender has many traps. Some people are calling for a genderless world, but I’m not sure we will see that world anytime soon. What would that mean for us to get rid of gender?
I think gender is actually fun and a part of our self-expression and sexuality … if we don’t take it too seriously and get dogmatic about what it means. There are so many different kinds of men and women, and there are so many people who don’t identify with either.
So it’s time to expand our ideas about gender and to raise our children with possibility, rather than limitation because of their perceived gender.
It’s time to acknowledge that there are actually a lot of things we just don’t know.
I believe that transgender people have a lot to teach us, if we will be open and listen. There is a transition to a better world inherent here for us all.