Why Transgender Matters to You

Transgender refers to a range of behaviors, identities and expressions which challenge the rigid bipolar gender system in our society. In our culture, people labeled “male” at birth are expected to conform to masculine stereotypes, identify as heterosexual and be content with the category “man.” People termed “female” are required to be “feminine” straight women by conventional society and are bound by a patriarchal system which systematically devalues and oppresses women. Anyone who strays from the strict categorizations of gender traditionalism and heterosexuality are often called “freaks,” “perverts,” and “deviants” and are considered outcasts by mainstream society. Since the 1990s, the Transgender Liberation Movement has been fighting back against conservative gender ideology and is attempting to cast gender as a civil rights issue on both the national and international stage. Many people reading this column may know little about Transgendered people’s lives, and may wonder: what does transgender have to do with me? There are many reasons why Transgenderism matters to you. Here are some important ones to reflect upon and to begin the conversation:

1. YOU may be transgender. Approximately 5% of the population have gender identities or expressions which place them into the Transgender population. Transgender refers to people who do not fully identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. This includes folks who permanently cross the gender divide as well as people who “trans” it occasionally and who blur the categories altogether. Transgender is an umbrella term which includes cross-dressers, transsexuals, transgenderists, drag queens, drag kings, gender queers and a plethora of other gender-diverse constituencies. If you experience a frequent discomfort with your assigned sex or if you desire to dress in clothing associated with the “opposite” gender, you may be Transgender. While it is difficult to come out as Trans, there are many people out there to support you in your unique gender journey. Stand tall and be proud of who you are; revel in your gender expression and realize that you are not alone.

2. You probably know someone who is Transgender. “SOFFA” refers to Significant Others, Friends, Family and Allies of the Gender Community. Even if you yourself are not Trans, the chances are strong that you will discover that someone in your circle of friends and families identifies as gender-different. As more and more Trans people bust open the closet door, their friends and family members undergo a “coming out” of their own. As a persecuted minority, us Trannies need the support, loyalty, love and compassion of those close to us. If you are the Loved One of a Trans person, examine your own fears and biases and increase your cultural competency of gender issues. Reach out to Trans friends and family members and offer them your unconditional love, even if you do not fully understand. Too many Trans people lose their family members or partners when they come out or are thrown our of the house; this needs to change and starts with each SOFFA taking a stand and deciding to stand by the Trans Loved One.

3. Discrimination against any human being is wrong. Transgender people face employment discrimination, are denied housing, are the victims of hate crimes, and are laughed at, derided and degraded on the streets and in the community. Approximately two transgender people are viciously and brutally murdered every month in this country in horrific violent attacks. Transphobia refers to the irrational fear and hatred of folks who cross, blur or transgress the traditional gender categorizations of male and female. Transphobic attitudes lead to institutional discrimination that oppresses Trans people and causes much undue physical, economic and emotional distress and suffering. The hopeful news is that it doesn’t have to be this way! Each and every one of us has the power to make a difference and to improve the world for all our fellow human beings. Take a stand against transphobia and work to challenge your own assumptions around gender.

4. The Transgender Liberation Movement is a fight for freedom and justice which intersects with other social justice struggles. Feminism, the anti-racism movement, the LesBiGay Movement, the movement for Economic Justice and the Disability Rights Movement (to name but a few) are all deeply intertwined with the movement for Gender Freedom. The powers-that-be succeed because they count on oppressed people fighting against each other, squabbling over a sliver of the pie while the ruling class enjoys the lion’s share of economic power and institutional resources. By pitting us against each other, they prevent us from organizing and winning real social change. In order to be victorious in our movement for Gender Liberation, we must unite and learn to link our diverse struggles for emancipation. We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity and realize that NONE of us are free until ALL of us are free.

5. The Transgender Movement is fundamentally about GENDER and thus it is an issue which affects ALL of us. Is anyone really 100% male or 100% female? Doesn’t everyone, in one way or another, differ from the socially-constructed notion of a “real man” or a “real woman?” Every person I know has felt limited, constrained or devalued for exhibiting “opposite” gender traits, behaviors or mannerisms at some point in their life, and what a shame that is! Each and every one of us are a complex mixture of male and female, masculine and feminine. No one should be made to feel shame or guilt for expressing the full range of human emotions and behaviors, for they are our unique and Goddess-given birthright. Gender is not a black-or-white proposition; rather, there exists an infinite rainbow of innovative options. I urge you to bravely stretch and discard outdated gender roles, requirements and expectations and open yourself up to the full and vibrant spectrum of human freedom.

I hope that you after reading this you look at “Transgender” in a slightly new way and that you challenge yourself and others to become a “Gender Defender: a person who celebrates gender diversity, speaks out against transphobia and other forms of bigotry, and realize how we as human beings, all of us, are in this struggle together.


Copyright 2003 by Dr. Joelle Ruby Ryan. All Rights Reserved.