Transing the gender
A recent encounter I had with someone online made me start thinking of something. What was said was this:
Yeah, I can never understand why would someone change their gender, but it’s their decision and I respect that.
an anonymous redditor
There’s nothing wrong with this comment btw, it’s a very respectful way of expressing a confusion, but maintaining that even if confused, respecting the identity of other people is important. Kudos to anonymous redditor!
But, it made me realize, there’s a flaw in the word “transgender”. It makes it sound like the thing that changes is our gender, which may very well be the case for SOME, but me, and a lot of other people I talk to don’t have that internal experience.
To compare it to other words:
To change from one form/shape into another form/shape. “That tree transformed into a stone!”
Etymology: change from one port to another.
Move to one location to another, generally across long distances.
Mostly used in biology, but is referring to moving something from one location to another. Like one gene to another place in the DNA etc.
See the pattern here?
All these words imply that the thing that comes after the “trans” prefix are changing. If something transforms, the form is different. If someone is transgender, their gender has changed.
This is a very outside perspective of things. My gender didn’t change, it was always what it was. The thing that changed was my understanding of it.
Let me tell you a story, and we’ll analyse it
It’s a cold late night, partially lit by the waxing crescent moon. You’re out for your routine walk and you’re not feeling the lit up trail this day. You veer off path for a bit, into the woods, and suddenly spot a glade in the distance. A person seems to be sitting, hunched over as in pain, on a rock in the glade.
– Hello? Are you alright? you call out
There’s no reply, the person just shivers slightly. You decide to approach, carefully. Your breath is visible in the cold air of the night. A person in the woods is enough to make anyone nervous. You slowly approach and the person starts to change. A twig spurts out of their back, their nose turns into a leaf. As you approach, the person completes their transform into a regular tree.
Now, in this story, did the person actually see someone transform into a tree? Was there ever an actual person, hunched over on a rock, which then was no longer a person and transformed into a tree?
I mean, maybe, you may interpret it as such, and death of the author and all that. But the way I see it, and how I thought about it when I wrote it, was that a person was walking into an less familiar part of the woods, in a dark and dim night, and through a bunch of circumstances and a brains natural tendency to see the shape of people and faces, thought they saw a silhouette of a person hunched over on a rock, but as they got closer, perspective shifted and they saw the truth, the person was never really there, it was just a tree and an illusion.
In a similar way, I did not “transgender” into a girl. I was always a girl, and it just took some self exploration and a shift in perspective for me to actually see it.
And this may seem trivial. Why is this important, if the language implies that something that didn’t change do change?
Well, the issue is, the outward facing change, our gender EXPRESSION, is requires active participation from us. It is for some, technically, a choice to change gender presentation, as it is technically a choice to jump out of the way of a truck hurdling towards you at lethal speeds.
But the point is we’re not changing our gender, that’s not the choice we’re making. And this is where I feel the heart of “what if you regret it?” rhetoric comes into play. When people talk about top surgery or hormones to that give breast growth, a common worry we hear is “what if you regret it?”. And that comes from a misunderstanding about what the change is about. You’re asking a girl “What if you’ll regret having boobs?”. You’re asking a guy “What if you’ll regret not having them?”. This isn’t helpful, at all.
Am I saying these aren’t big decisions that needs some careful consideration? Of course not! But you, with this mindset, are fundamentally misunderstanding the issue at hand. The considerations you offer aren’t ones that focus on the actual issues at hand. “How certain am I in my own identity?”, “Is this the best available option for me?” etc.
And more importantly, it leaves you thinking the gender of trans people is fickle. It changed once, it can change again tomorrow. But that’s not how it works for most trans people. Of course there are some, most notably genderfluid people. But this is a widespread mentality that we changed our gender, when you see our expression change. And no, this is not the default. It may be the case for an individual, but you shouldn’t assume the gender identity of someone is fickle and changeable when it may be more robust than your own. But you also shouldn’t assume the opposite. You should treat the person you’re seeing in the now, as the person that person is in the now, and listen to the experiences of the individual.