Cisgender – Probably you. Anyone who isn’t transgender is by definition cisgender. Ironically, although 99.99% of the world population is cisgender, most don’t know this and simply think of themselves as people. ‘Cis’ is Latin for ‘staying within’ and not indicative of the person being “cissy”, even if they happen to be. It’s OK, I thought that too and first and kept mixing things up.
Transgender – Me. Someone who transitions from the outward gender appearance they were born with to the gender of best fit for their brain, spirit, or whatever you want to call it. This is technically an umbrella term that includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, gender-queers, third genders, drag queens, and a host of others that have since been identified. The term ‘transgender’ has been co-opted by transsexuals, because many find that term to be creepy or icky sounding.
Cross-Dresser – Someone who used to be identified as a transvestite until that term fell out of favor as being derogatory. Cross-dressers are usually, but not always, heterosexual men who identify as such but dress as the opposite gender, either partially or in full for a variety of reasons. Both cross-dressers and transsexual people typically get all kinds of offended when misidentified as the other, even though they look the same for all intents and purposes. If seen side by side, however, the cross-dresser is usually much better dressed.
Drag Queen – Someone, often but not always, who is a homosexual man who dresses as the opposite gender for purposes of entertainment. Like cross-dressers, they identify with their birth gender, eevn though they frequently appear fabulous.
Gender Binary – An outdated concept typified by Archie Bunker caterwauling at the start of ‘All In the Family’ about “when goils was goils, and men was men”. A paradigm generally insisted upon by the Taliban, and other fine organizations.
Gender-Queer – OK, I don’t have a great bead on this one. As I understand it, individuals who reject the gender binary in themselves identify as either, neither, or move in between. GQ individuals sometimes, but not always, go by third gender pronouns such as “zim”, “zher” and so on. I have never gotten a good handle on this to be perfectly honest.
Intersex – A more informed definition coming soon.
HRT – A medical intervention that consists of blocking to a certain extent the dominant gender hormones and replacing them with that of the identified gender. For trans women this includes testosterone blockers, estrogen, and sometimes progesterone. In trans men this means adding testosterone. Both mean going through puberty a second time, although this time with much more desirable results.
FFS – Facial Feminization Surgery. This includes plastic surgery used to make the face exhibit more typical feminine features. Hormone replacement makes some changes, but for those trans women who were born looking like Lou Ferigno’s ugly brother, anything she can do to avoid looking like Coach Bieste on Glee is often considered.
SRS or GRS – Yes, this is the surgery. Sexual or Genital Reassignment Surgery is utilized to reconfigure the genital region to match the desired gender. This is possible because male and female genitalia are essentially made of the same stuff, just like a taco and a burrito. In the case of trans women, it is the remaking of the burrito and not, by any means, cutting it off. Many trans people are sensitive to this question, but mainly because everyone keeps asking them.
Transphobia – Literally, being afraid of trans people. This is considered undesirable because people afraid of something usually don’t react well and it can get dangerous. Consider someone with arachnophobia and a large shoe in their hand. Generally this is mitigated through information and in some cases, some careful introspection.
Male-Mode – Also known as ‘dude-mode’. When a trans person, usually a trans woman, appears in public as a male for reasons of safety or convenience. Many pre-operative trans women fly in male mode simply to avoid a big old hassle from the enlightened folks at TSA.
Beard Removal – A wretched process by which trans women undergo a year and a half of being shot in the face with painful lasers, have a super tiny cattle prod inserted into each and every follicle, or both.
Transition – The period in which a trans person is making the extremely awkward move from their birth gender to their true gender. Unlike TV, this never occurs in a quick operation wherein someone is wheeled in looking like Ron Perlman and emerges a few hours later as Natalie Portman. Instead, this is a 2+ year process that includes: diagnosis, medical intervention, HRT, beard removal, coming out, second puberty, attempting to make up for lost decades of clothes and makeup knowledge, FFS, SRS, and so on, generally looking like shit and being called the wrong name and pronoun constantly, when not being disbelieved outright. Yes, it is totally worth it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Aren’t transgender and gay really the same thing? In a word, no. Transgender refers to someone who feels their birth gender is a complete mismatch with their mind or spirit. Gay refers to someone who has a sexual orientation wherein they are attracted primarily to the same gender they are. To sum, sexual orientation has to do with who you want to go to bed with, while gender has to do with who you go to bed as. A person may be one, both, or neither and the two are considered to be separate concepts.
So when you get the surgery, do they cut it off?Again, no. You didn’t read the definitions, did you? Not to sound all clinical, but the existing tissue is repurposed and configured to be identical to that which the person felt they should have had in the first place.
Aren’t transgender people just trying to fool everyone?Lots no’s here. The process of transition is onerous enough that no sane person would undertake take this but for the most dire of circumstances. No one doing this likes to be perceived as someone pretending to be the opposite gender, and hates it even more when people think they are doing it as a silly gag, or to fulfill a fetish of some kind. Generally speaking, most trans people feel they are not being honest representing themselves as their birth gender.
Why are there transgender people all of a sudden? It sure didn’t used to be that way! Actually, it did. Things for trans people used to be much, much worse. While many examples exist through history, many either chose unfortunate ends at their own hand, were disposed of as aberrations, or simply disappeared to the opposite coast to begin a new life. The suicide rate unfortunately is the highest of any group, with 50% attempting, and 30% (total, not the trying subset) succeeding.
What bathroom is typically used?People generally feel most comfortable using the bathroom of the gender they identify with. In public, trans women use the ladies room and vice versa for trans men. Trans women are in a position where in a choice must be made whether to risk being assaulted in the men’s room or hollered at in the ladies, and go with the lesser risk. This remains a divisive political issue, even though to date there has not been a single reported case of a trans woman acting inappropriately, much less committing assault, in a ladies room.
Aren’t You Still Genetically Male or Female? That can’t be changed, can it?No, a person born with XX or XY chromosomes will always have that. The genetic material on these chromosomes, however, is mainly only utilized in utero to shape the androgynous stem tissue in one direction or another. Hormones really do all the rest. Think of these chromosomes as the building plans only unrolled when the plumbing is being installed, then tucked away.
How Are There Trans People Then? Wouldn’t that make it a lifestyle choice?The prevailing theory, backed by autopsy studies, indicates that male and female brains all begin the same. In the 8th week of gestation, the mother will release a tide of hormones that shapes the brain as male in the case of men, or withholds them in the case of women. Transgender autopsies, currently the only way of really telling the difference, indicate these individuals had in utero brain development opposite what their sex chromosomes would indicate. In short, a simple missed signal. This theory is in line with the relative rarity of the condition – estimated between 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 40,000, but hard to determine due to the suicide rate and lack of census data.
What do I call someone transgender? Chances are, if you encounter someone who looks female, or at least is trying their best to, they greatly appreciate it when you call them by their female name (or as they think of it, simply their name), and use female pronouns. Most trans people don’t get upset when mistakes are make as long as it isn’t being done maliciously. As a general rule, a trans woman would much rather you engage her and make mistakes then avoid her out of fear of doing so.
Do trans people hate being frequently asked questions?Some probably do, but not me. While given a choice, I prefer not being asked deeply personal or invasive questions during a customer telecon, I have no problem with the same being put to me privately. Open book here.