You’re not that different from the trans people around you
Walk around the grocery store, and trans people are in the next aisle. Go to school, and trans people are in the classroom. Talk with strangers on the internet, and you’ll find trans people are also voicing their thoughts. Between 1.4 million and 3.23 million in the United States are known to fall somewhere within the broad umbrella of trans identities, including intersex people. I suspect the number is much higher.
Given the more recent visibility of trans people and the less than ideal representations in movies and in television shows, fear and misconceptions are commonplace. We often don’t realize how much everyone has in common.
People who are trans have typically (but not always) long felt deeply uncomfortable and incompatible with the gender and/or sex assigned at birth, and many of them embrace social and medical solutions to reconcile the split.
People who are trans often abandon their birth names in favor of ones that better fit their gender identity and don’t hold painful memories. For example, actress Nicole Amber Maines of “Supergirl” and subject of a powerful book was assigned a different, traditionally masculine first and middle name at birth; she abandoned it while making the social transition from male to female. Others might go by initials or by a name that isn’t gender-specific.
While I fall in the space between “trans” and “not trans,” I love my initials/nickname “AJP” for this very reason.
But disliking at least part of one’s name isn’t confined to the trans community. Think about the people you know: How many go by something other than their birth name, or would if they could? How many have different names for different situations? It is a significant number. A 2013 survey reported in the New York Times found that 21 percent of responders disliked the name assigned to them at birth.
For both trans men and women, social transitions often include a new appearance. One trans woman might buy skirts and wear makeup and a traditionally female hairstyle, while others might adopt a masculine external appearance. A trans boy might buy pants and get a buzzcut.
Trans or not, due to society’s intense focus on gender roles and appearances, we all struggle, at least occasionally, with behaving in the desired masculine, feminine or androgynous ways. Body image issues are pressing. Finding comfortable clothing, jewelry and hairstyles can be difficult.
Some trans folks only socially transition. But, some also opt for medications and/or surgeries.
Trans women are likely to take Estradiol for estrogen. Trans men are likely to take AndroGel or Axiron for testosterone. Surgeries to add or remove female breasts or to modify external genitalia are some common aspects of medical transitions.
Similarly, we all have, and often take advantage of, options to use hormones and surgeries to achieve desired feelings and looks. In 2018, 17.7 million people in the United States had elective cosmetic surgeries, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. An NBC News report says that 20 percent of males 45 and older have used Viagra or similar medications and such medications are increasingly used by much younger men. Prescriptions for testosterone or estrogen replacement are common for a variety of medical conditions.
And for everyone, biological sex falls across a complicated spectrum. No one is 100 pecent male or 100 percent female with variation in chromosomes – chromosomes can come in combinations beyond XX and XY – secondary sex characteristics and external genitalia. Levels of estrogen and testosterone in the blood fluctuate throughout the day. Men have decreased levels of testosterone and increased oxytocin and dopamine levels when taking care of children. Women in the military, with the intense physical activity that involves, potentially have increased levels of testosterone.
I don’t want to overstate the similarities between people who are and aren’t trans.
Trans people have absolutely unique struggles. They are at significantly greater risks of dying by suicide or of facing violent attacks. Trans people, especially black trans women, have much more difficulty accessing equitable employment, healthcare and housing than other groups. Trans people face daily harassment, which many others will never know.
Still, realizing that the struggle to enjoy life and be comfortable in one’s own body and in society at large is a lifelong process for everyone should be a positive step toward making the world safer and more welcoming for trans people.
Understanding leads to acceptance and that saves lives. Trans people are people, and they are everywhere.
Andrew Joseph Pegoda, teaches women’s, gender and sexuality studies; religious studies; and first-year writing at the University of Houston and can be reached at @AJP_PhD on twitter or at [email protected]