Monday, May 2, 2016

Clarifying Gender Identity

So, probably like a lot of you, my Facebook feed has been filled with various perspectives on bathrooms. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about various statuses related to what transgender really is. Much of it seems to be related to our sex-obsessed culture that seems to see sex in everything.

Gender identity simply has to do with whether someone identifies as male, female, both, or neither. When one's gender identity doesn't match their biological sex, that is when the term "transgender" starts to be used (although it's more complicated than that, as well, such as genderqueer, but we'll keep it simple here). Also, know that there are not necessarily just two genders--other cultures around the world have more than one gender that does not necessarily correlate to biological sex (Samoan culture is one good example).

To be clear, transgender has nothing to do with sexual orientation. People make this mistake a lot, likely in part because "T" is part of "LGBTQ," although it's one of the most misunderstood of the letters. Sexual orientation/sexuality has to do with who you are sexually attracted to.

People who identify as transgender can be considered heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc. The orientation is defined by their gender identity rather than their biological sex. And again, don't assume sexuality has anything to do with gender identity.

Transgenderism also is not the same thing as masculinity or femininity. These latter two concepts are related to cultural-specific expressions of gender. Masculine women and feminine men are not transgender. Again, biological females who have a masculine tendencies who still identify as women are still women. They're not transgender. And they're not necessarily lesbians. I've seen posts going around confusing masculinity/femininity with gender identity. They're not at all the same thing. Boys who play with dolls are not necessarily either gay or consider themselves to female. They're just expressing behaviors that our society labels as more feminine.

Transgenderism is not the same thing as transvestite or cross-dressing. Some people, for a variety of reasons, like to dress as the opposite gender at times. Despite the appearance, this has nothing to do with gender identity. It's closer to the masculinity/femininity discussion above. Cross-dressing also does not necessarily mean anything about sexual orientation. Biological men who are heterosexual sometimes dress as women. They never actually identify as a woman nor as gay.

It's interesting to pay attention to research on transgenderism. Discrepancy with one's gender usually starts very early and causes significant distress. More masculine or feminine expression doesn't solve it because it's not as much about expression as it is identity--being able to considered male or female. Transitioning to the other gender relieves that distress, which I think conveys something significant about how real it is. (Of course, we cannot understate that transitioning also adds a whole lot more due to societal non-acceptance. Transgender populations have one of the absolutely highest suicide rates because of this.)

I find it quite interesting that people of many faiths are increasingly able to accept non-heterosexual orientations, but are quick to reject transgenderism, which has to do with identity more than behavior. Morality is fundamentally about behavior rather than identity. Identify informs behavior, and when we have identity conflicts, bad things happen.

The only argument I've heard against transgenderism is that God creates everyone and doesn't make mistakes, so therefore transgenderism isn't "real." One only needs to scratch the surface of birth defects to undermine that argument, which is also extremely poor theology.

So if you're going to make arguments for or against policies and laws related to transgenderism, please be informed with fully accurate information. It's also important to listen to real people's stories and stop sexualizing everything. Accurate knowledge allows us to have adult conversations rather than promote ignorant fear mongering.

1 comment:

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