It's so hard sometimes to quantify in concrete terms, what it is like to be transgender and how it is to feel "out of sorts" with the world I live in as the gender I was born as. I realized this all too well just last evening as I sat in a room and tried to explain this to others who were not transgender themselves.
The environment was a support group meeting known as PFLAG, which stands for "Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays". Although the original formation of the group primarily dealt with support the gay and lesbian population, it has, more recently seen an inclusion of the transgender realm to some degree. The name of the group however, has remained unchanged.
Of the eight individuals in the group, really only one other besides myself identified as transgender. As we went around the room and introduced ourselves and spoke a little about each other, it became clear as my turn came around, that I was finding myself adding a little bit of extra effort to try to explain what it means to be transgender.
I started with the premise that there are four basic realms of identifying who we are. I listed them out and explained each to the best of my ability...
1) Biological Sex - This is the plumbing one was born with
2) Sexual Identity - Who one wants to BE with.... a man or a woman or perhaps both.
3) Gender Identity - Who one sees themselves AS (male, female, or a little of both)
4) Gender Presentation - How one presents to the world (dressing as male, or female or a combination)
The first two were and always seem to be easily understood. They are tangible entities which in the instance of biological sex we can physically confirm, and in the instance of Sexual Identity, we can affirm by seeing a person with another person and in love with that person. The act of loving a person is something others can see tangibly.
Gender presentation is also a relatively easy realm to understand as we see women who may dress or groom themselves in a more masculine manner perhaps or men who choose to present in a more androgynous fashion perhaps. Within a certain amount of societal "leeway", one can present to a certain degree in a manner contrary to the gender they were born as. Certainly, it is without question in my mind that women may dress in a more masculine manner to a greater degree with less question or qualm by others more than a man may dress effeminately without drawing due amounts of attention in the world, but this is another topic of discussion regarding male privilege and societal hierarchies which may be better left for another blog entry.
Still, the point within the realm of Gender Presentation is that a woman who may dress in a more masculine fashion or a man who may don a more androgynous look does not affirmatively mean that the person is, themselves, unhappy with the gender they were born with and must therefore be transgender.
Now we move on to the last and, what I feel, at least to me, is the most difficult realm of all for others to often understand (let alone onself)....the concept of "Gender Identity"
Gender identity.... the concept of who one feels they *are* inside - man or woman - is not so concrete a thing. It is a feeling of belonging or of not belonging in a specific place in the gender continuum. It is not something that anyone easily sees or can diagnose, even though that is changing in the medical community as we come to learn more about the way in which the human brain develops, forms and works. But for now, it is primarily something which one's own interpretations and revelations come to ascertain through a process of self discovery which is unique to us all.
I tried to explain how, for me, it is more the social construct of how I fit in with the greater world that correlates to who I know I am. Aspects such as how I interact socially, how I communicate and how I interpolate the world and others were points I made. Self realization became affirmation when I first began living parts of my life as a woman. It became very clear that how I was being perceived and how others inter-related to and with me were in line with the female realm. I found myself able to freely communicate in ways and about topis which other women normally do between each other but for which as a male, wondering and confused looks by others were often given.
The female realm allowed me to slip into the world I felt at once comfortable with and the stress of years and years of repression were suddenly, in that instant, gone.
So then why is that I do feel the need to dress as a woman and to "pass" without question or thought that I was born male? Why then is that still an omnipresent need if one could simply just "feel or behave socially as a woman without having to dress as one"
The answer became clear, at least to me the moment I started to take those first steps out into the greater world presenting as a woman. It became apparent that to behave as a woman or feel as one or attempt to socialize as one but still looking as a male.... garnered seriously odd reactions from individuals and cold rebukes by both men and women who could not equate the behavior or submit to allow me to inter-relate. I was in a "No-Mans Land" of sorts so to speak. Because I did not feel comfortable nor ever in my life find it easy to socialize as male meant that most men found me an odd person and so I was often left alone. The vibes I put out were attractive, however, to most gay males who found my effeminate side to be attractive to them. As I found my sexual identity to be aligned with women, I was not at all interested in their advances whatsoever. This meant I was the "odd person" out of this group as well. As for the women, they found my conversations, my talk, my mannerisms and my whole being to be out of step with that of most men, yet I was not considered a woman enough to speak my mind, my thoughts, and my feelings and to inter-relate as one either.....and so I was left out of this group as well.
I was not or ever able to interrelate strictly to the male world, not interested in the gay male world, and not allowed to be at any level, a part of the women's realm. It was a lonely and very disheartening place to be.
I explained to the group that I could not play the game any longer as a male and that the charades and the act I played, and did convincingly well, were causing me stress and anxiety beyond belief and to the point of calling this life quits... abruptly.
Gender, I began to realize, and the socialization of men and women were vastly different and in many ways exclusionary. Gender, I explained, is then in practice, a social construct and that the two "boxes" of male and female do not always fit with a person's biological sex.
The words of Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true" resonated within me as I came to understand the dichotomy, the dysphoria if you will, and had a total nervous breakdown which lasted for longer than I wish to retell here. My personal awakening began with an act of determination to test the waters of the female world, as a person interpreted by the world as female.... and the result of the experiment determined who I was..... as I smiled and laughed and for once in my life.... for the first time in my 44 years on this Earth felt happy and at peace within.
I am sure there are many other ways to explain gender identity to a person whose gender is congruent with their body, but, at least for me, this was my story and this was how I awakened within myself, discovered, and learned. Hopefully I made something of a positive difference in helping others to grasp what it means to be transgender.