~ Kayla Ward
Gender is a complicated thing. It’s a part of our everyday lives, yet most people rarely think about it.
Let’s get some definitions out of the way. Gender is an innate sense of self and has a bit to do with societal standards, where sex is the physical characteristics each person is born with (genitals, secondary sex characteristics, and so forth). The “sex assigned at birth” is a term to describe what gender you were said to be at birth, which has little to do with one’s actual gender as they get older. I’m not here to tell you the great mysteries of gender or how and why things work. All I know is that gender is expressed in a variety of ways and one should always be knowledgeable and respectful
Now that we have that out of the way, what in life are separated by sex and gender?
Bathrooms, sports teams, changing rooms, clothes and shoes, dorms, hair dressers (or barbers)… The list goes on. Now imagine that your physical sex or gender identity doesn’t match up with the male/female, black/white binary that most of society holds. It can get pretty rough and in many cases dangerous.
Let’s define some more terms: Cisgender people are those whose physical sex matches their gender identity. These are people who fit into the male/female binary. And that’s OK. There’s no shame in being cisgender, but when you are, you need to recognize that it comes with certain privileges in life. Like not having to plan bathroom trips.
As I’m sure you have figured out, there is quite a bit of gender variance in the world.
Intersex is when someone is born with genitalia and other physical characteristics not clearly male or female. This was formally known as hermaphrodite. Transgender (or simply “trans”) is an umbrella term used to describe people who do not fit in the male and female dichotomy, whether or not they ever choose to physically, socially or legally transition. Transsexual is a word generally used by those who have gone through full physical transition and is not used by the whole transgender community.
Gender variance has existed for as long as humans.
For instance, the Native Americans used (and still use) the terms two-spirit or berdache to describe transfolk. Nowadays, there is a plethora of ways to describe gender: genderqueer, bigender, pangender, androgynous, third gender and on and on. Cross dressers also are described as being trans. Cross dressers, formally known as transvestites, are people who identified as the sex they were assigned at birth but are more comfortable wearing the clothing of the opposite sex.
Many people are confused and frustrated by the need for so many terms. It’s important to be an ally to those who are gender variant; there are so few allies to this community. Transfolk are the victims to many crimes. In a report released last year titled Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, it was found that 63 percent of those surveyed had been seriously discriminated against (fired, evicted, assaulted and so on) and 23 percent had been impacted by at least three of the aforementioned events.
Sadly, trans people of color faced worse transphobia than white transfolk. Keep in mind that it’s still legal in 34 states to fire someone for being trans. Compare that to the 29 where it’s legal to fire LGB workers.
Since there’s so much when it comes to gender and gender identity, I can’t fit it into one article! With that said, be sure to pick up the next article of Womyn Centric to learn more about gender neutral pronouns and language, gender transitioning and other issues faced by transfolk alone, and tips on how to be a better ally to the trans community.
~The Chevalier D’Éon, dating from 1792, is believed to be the earliest surviving formal portrait of a male transvestite. At first, however, the painting was believed to be of a masculine-looking, middle-aged woman. It is thought to be the earliest known depiction in oils of a Transvestite, and is now under serious consideration by the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait depicts the ‘Patron Saint of Transvestites’ Chevalier D’Eon, notorious in his day for among other exploits, blackmailing Louis XV as well as being a champion swordsman. The painting had been lost since 1926 until discovered late last year in New York by Philip Mould.
Part Two is now avaliable in our July issue which you can read here!