With Bruce Jenner officially announcing his transition to becoming a woman, we are going to be hearing a lot more about transgender issues.
The trans community is one that is often overlooked because many of us do not fully understand it. That’s okay, though. No one is saying that you must understand every single thing there is to know about trans issues right this very second. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start trying to educate yourself, either.
A very basic definition of “transgender” offered by Dictionary.com is “noting or relating to a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth.” So let’s break that down a little.
What is gender identity? This is, essentially, the way a person psychologically identifies as either male or female or some other identity (gender is a social construct and does not operate on a binary, contrary to how most people generally understand it, but that’s a topic for another week). This identification may or may not “match” the (also arguably socially constructed) sex a person was assigned at birth based on genitals. If the two do “match,” so to speak, a person is cisgender. If the two do not, a person may identify as transgender.
Okay, so let that set in for a minute if you need to.
Good? Good. The trans experience is not something that can just be explained by someone who has not experienced it, but we can talk about it by acknowledging the privilege that comes with being cisgender. Being cisgender means never having someone question the bathroom you are using (men’s or women’s) and never having to question which bathroom you should use. It means having the public generally accept how you present your gender and your outward appearance. It means that you don’t have to worry about your gender expression stopping you from getting a job, an apartment or securing a loan.
The issues that trans people face don’t often receive much light because trans people themselves don’t have much visibility. We don’t have an accurate count of how many Americans identify as transgender, in part due to the fact that the U.S. Census lists “male” and “female” as the only options when marking gender, according to The Washington Post. There are very few trans characters on television and in movies. When we don’t see people represented as humans and as themselves, we tend to ignore the issues they face.
Risks of suicide and poverty are much higher for trans people. Of transgender people surveyed in Injustice at Every Turn, 41 percent said they had attempted suicide, compared to 1.6 percent of the general population, according to The Washington Post. Poverty is also an issue, as trans people are nearly four times more likely to have a household income less than $10,000, compared to the general population, according to the same study. Reasons for this may include joblessness, due at least in part to the difficulty some trans people face because of their gender expression, and homelessness.
Despite these and other difficulties, borne from the tension of the trans identity challenging much of what the general population understands about gender, the trans experience does not have to be a negative one. There can be beauty in living as a transgender person, just as there can be beauty in any life. We can help make that a reality for transgender people and cisgender people by learning more about people’s different experiences.
Students of Franklin College, we know that no two people are the same. We know that everyone has different experiences, but now we need to take the next step. Working to understand others is the first step to making sure that everyone is capable of having a high quality of life.