Feminism | Posted by Megan E on 02/6/2012

Transgender: An Overview

Many people don’t know what being transgender means. I, not being transgendered, don’t fully understand every aspect of it either but my fiancée is in the middle of transitioning so I want to express what I do know. Here is some information I’ve gathered about people transitioning from one gender to another.

Being transgender means feeling that you are a different gender than your physical biology. It means that a person does not see themselves as the biological gender they were born into. In other words they do not feel that their gender matches their sex (their body parts). Some people (like my sociology professor) refer to a person transitioning as “man to woman” or “woman to man” because (as he describes it) people transitioning are only transitioning their gender, not their sex, and that even if they change their actual sex organs their DNA is still the same. I asked my fiancée and he disagreed with my professor. Genetics are very complex and a lot still remains unknown about them. Scientists are not sure about all the genes that work in brain function — it is unintelligent to state that someone’s physical and mental biology is solely determined by an X or Y chromosome. New ideas are surfacing that a person’s biological sex may not be the sole factor of things like one’s physical strength, emotions and intelligence level.

We as a society have trouble differentiating between sex and gender, and I think that is where a lot of the confusion surrounding being transgendered comes from. A person’s sex is their biological organs but gender is affected by society in many ways. Society can have great influence on what a person’s gender is and is not supposed to be. People’s gender can be influenced without them even knowing it. Take for example masculinity. Men are pressured to be masculine through society and media. Masculinity suggests that boys must be strong, tough, powerful, and not weak, wimpy, emotional, and especially ‘girly’. These ideas do not derive from the XY chromosomes in a male’s body. Without masculinity, society and the media would be very different and that would lead to different views of gender and what it means to be a man.

Present day media rarely represents people who transition from one gender to another. Most people hear about children transitioning from male to female or female to male and do not consider adults who recently feel they have the ability and social support to transition and pass. We especially don’t hear about individuals who are FTM (female transitioning to male) as often as we hear about MTF individuals. The media puts the spotlight on little boys that want to wear dresses and love pink. Why? Once again I bring up masculinity. These children are questioning masculinity and that is seen as a threat to the patriarchy. Threatening patriarchy means a possible loss of control of the sexist status quo. Once control is lost, those in power feel that they will lose control of everything. So how do they keep control?

First consider who controls the media and keep in mind our patriarchal culture. White, heterosexual, affluent men largely control our capitalistic society. They generally want to obtain as much money and power as possible and eliminate all threats to that goal. They do this by creating unrealistic ideals, like for men to be incredibly strong and women to be extremely skinny (sounds like a bad combination); they also enforce the idea that for people of color light skin equals privilege (which in our society it does) which creates a hierarchy. They do this to turn us against each other so they can continue to make money off of people trying to reach that unreachable ideal. Getting back on topic, trans people blur the lines of gender. They threaten patriarchy just like any person of color or any non-heterosexual person does. What is most important in all of this is that everyone deserves equality and the majority of people do not receive it.

It’s important for us, as feminists and as people in general, to understand what being transgender means. We need to support the transgender individuals in our lives, because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s been shown that having peer support and counseling groups among LGBTQ people leads to less bullying and lower suicide rates. It’s vital that we all become educated, visible and reliable allies.

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  • Rebecca @ at 12:39 pm, February 6th, 2012

    Really love your discussion of gender. Personally I don’t believe it exists apart from societal polarization of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ things- clothes, hobbies, toys, jobs, hairstyles, room decor, you name it. Obviously it’s a scale if it exists at all. Forcing kids to choose pink or blue based on one aspect of their biology is ridiculous and damaging.

    Something else that’s annoying is that it’s OK for girls to be ‘tomboys’ (short hair, typical ‘boy’ clothes or interests) but it’s a massive no-no for a boy to wear a dress or love playing hairdressers. In this respect I think it’s important to realise that feminism has to be about fighting for the freedoms of both sexes. For example, I’m strongly in favour of equal parental leave rights for men and women, because I reckon that if men could stay off work to look after a baby it would be easier for the mother to go back to work if she wished. In cases like this men and women’s rights are inextricably intertwined.

    Very interesting, well written post- thanks!

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