Mythbusting 7 Common Misconceptions Surrounding Trans Identities

Due to centuries of institutionalized transphobia, the trans experience has remained destructively elusive in the eyes of the general cis-gendered public, as very few dare to tread in the dark and uncharted territory of gender dysphoria. In the face of a political wave of LGBTQ+ inclusiveness, pseudo-progressives have, sadly, lagged behind, highlighting their inclusive views on same-sex relationships/marriage in an effort to disguise subtle and overt forms of transphobic behavior. “What? ME? Transphobic? Never. Didn’t you see me at Pride last weekend?” But sadly, buried underneath rainbow t-shirts and obnoxious virtue signaling lies some unresolved anxieties surrounding the trans identity. For us cis folx, who have never struggled with gender dysphoria, we are often left grappling with the question what does it REALLY mean to be trans? As a result, less than adequate or accurate depictions of the trans experience dominate the visible media, as most media producers bask in their glory of their cis privilege. To name one example, our beloved Fab Five from the hit television show Queer Eye, visited a trans man on their journey through Georgia, and were overwhelmed with critique by the trans community, that claimed that the episode “perpetuated the notion that surgery legitimizes our [trans] bodies,” and tokenized the trans experience as a tool to educate the community, rather than honoring its intrinsic value (Screen Crush.com).

So how do begin clearing the mental smog of cis privilege? We acknowledge the nuances and complexities of the trans experience, and make a conscious effort to combat toxic stereotypes. To do so, it’s important to mythbust the distorted realities our media has offered in regards to transness. Please note that this list, is in no way, a comprehensive list, as every trans person rejects and relates to stereotypes in their own unique way, but simply a list rooted in my education as a gender studies major.

 

1. Myth: Every trans person will feel the need to medically transition.

The “born in the wrong body” is perhaps one of the most popularized trans narratives, however, a common myth surrounding the trans experience is that gender dysphoria will always lead to a disassociation from or even an overwhelming hatred for one’s body and/or genitalia. This thinking is often rooted in a blind loyalty to the gender binary, where trans people can only transition from male to female or female to male (therefore implying that their genital status must follow their self-proclaimed gender identity). The medicalization of trans bodies is not only hurtful but is also extremely classist. For those of you who don’t already know, top and bottom surgery is unimaginably expensive and a luxury that not every trans person will be able to afford. So even if there gender dysphoria does reach a point, where their body is seen as a hindrance to their gender expression, they may not have the privilege of medically transitioning. A side note: this medicalization of trans bodies, is also damaging to the intersex community (folx who born with both male and female genitalia), as it asserts that a person’s gender identity is wholly dependent on the sexual organs. On the flipside, using intersex people as a frame of analysis, this specific community illuminates the absurdity of solely linking genitalia with gender expression, when there are people who live highly-functioning and cis passing lives, with both male and female sex organs (not that passing is every trans or intersex person’s number one priority).

2. Myth: Trans folx need to dress according to the opposite gender of the one assigned to them at birth.

Along with not medicalizing trans bodies, we must also be careful not to imprison trans folx with our gendered expectations of hair, fashion, or makeup. Sometimes trans individuals will enjoy the comfort of cis passing privilege, while fully identifying with a different gender in which they present.

3. Myth: Nonbinary folx can't also identify as trans

Embarrassingly, this was something I learned just this year when a non-binary friend of mine who uses “they/them” pronouns came out as trans. Again, returning to the very limiting gender binary so many of us rely on for guidance, said binary only grazes the surface of real trans lives. And by the very definition of transgender (identifying outside the gender one was assigned at birth), it would be absurd to argue that transness cannot include identities such as: gender non-conforming, non-binary, and gender fluid folx.  In short: don’t force the binary on your trans friends. ALSO, be careful not to assume that every non-binary person identifies as trans. Allow the queer people in your life to disclose their own labels.

4. Myth: Transness is just “trendy” to young millennials, who hope to advance in “Oppression Olympics.”

Gender dysphoria is a painful and turbulent experience to many trans folx, and assuming that transness is just a performance rooted in a need for attention and status is not only ridiculous, but incredibly insulting. Increasing representation or open transness isn’t just the “latest political trend.” Newsflash cis folks, the histories of marginalized communities have been systematically erased by the white, cis, male historical narrative we all know (and love to hate —looking at you Christopher Columbus, you genocidal maniac). But upon greater inspection, and a few extra minutes of research, you (or anyone with basic internet access) would realize that transness is not a phenomenon of the 21st century. In fact, in very early history, MTF priestesses of the Middle East, identified as “The Great Mother” (an intersex identity), while cross-dressing and gender-bending. Looking specifically at US history, in the 1930s “Two Spirit People” in Native communities earned well-deserved recognition in political conversations. However, unlike in the US, “Two Spirit” people are a nationally recognized community in countries like Canada; their stories are honored, not strategically buried. So, despite transness being coded as foreign and trendy, the harsh reality is that Americans (specifically cis Americans) are so myopic, that they fail to realize that transgender figures have roamed throughout our nationwide and worldwide history.

5. Myth: Transgender is a noun, not an adjective. 

A person is not solely defined by their transness, just like queer people are not solely defined by their queerness. By using transgender as a noun, i.e. “he is a transgender,” you are actually perpetuating the idea that trans people’s only worthy achievements are their gender identities. Look around, trans men and women are leading movements, advancing groundbreaking scientific research, and are even our political leaders (for example, Christine Hallquist recently became the first openly trans person to win the gubernatorial nomination of a major American political party). With this in mind, please be mindful of the way you use the word “transgender.” That woman is not “a transgender,” she ”is transgender.” She is also an advocate, a career woman, a mother, a wife, and a force to be reckoned with.

6. Myth: You get to decide whether you use someone’s preferred pronouns, based on your political affiliation.

Believe it or not, trans folx are not partisan issues. You don’t get to disagree with someone’s gender identity. Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, and liberals alike owe everyone the basic human decency of respecting the names and pronouns they would like to be called by. Set your “beliefs” aside, and prioritize the comfort, well-being, and safety of the people around you.

7. Myth: You should only use “they identify as ____” in reference to trans people.

In my career as a gender studies major, perhaps one of the most invaluable lessons on subtle forms of transphobia was learning that only using the term “they identify as” when referring to my trans friends and classmates is actually very transphobic. If you truly believe that both cis and trans people make a conscious and active decision in their gender identities and gender presentations, and don’t just surrender to the authority of what genitals we may or may not have, carefully choose language that reflects said beliefs. Try saying, “my cis friend Michelle identifies as a woman”—it will make a world of difference.

Perhaps the most destructive misconception of all, however, is that you as a cis person aren’t allowed to make mistakes. Like many of us, you are likely conquering years or even decades of internalized transphobia, and unraveling toxic thinking surrounding trans bodies that powerful institutions have upheld since the beginning of time. Just know that overcoming the blinders of your trans privilege is a process, one that can take quite a bit of time. So take the time you need, just be sure not to burden the trans people around you with the task of educating you and your cis friends on your privilege and your transphobic behaviors. Take your education into your own hands, as a service to yourself and the trans community.

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