This post is part of a series on Debunking the 10 (+1) Lies About Trans People.
Myth #2: Transgender people are confused
In my personal experience, this myth is the big one. I don’t mean it’s the most widespread or most damaging, but it’s certainly one of the sneakiest. It’s the one that pops up when you least expect it. It’s the one that you can’t just show people – “Hey, look, I’m not confused!” – the same way you can show that you live a normal life. It’s an insidious little bugger!
The general opinion out there in the wide world seems to be that the transgender mind is hopelessly scrambled (although this false perception is changing and improving every year). Even a fully transitioned transsexual is sometimes assumed to be “indecisive” or “experimenting” or “addled.” At the very least, transgender people are assumed to be living a mistook identity; we’ve somehow gotten lost along the way.
Now I’m not saying that transgender people aren’t often overwhelmed by the complexity of their existence. By default every transgender person has to navigate a complicated life filled with deep questions of identity. That is to say: I’ll be the first to admit our lives are a tangled knot. However, I don’t think the word ‘confusion’ does us any justice.
Not to oversimplify things, but here’s the transgender condition in a nutshell:
Our bodies (well, our genetic and anatomic sex) say we are one sex (male/female), but our minds say we are the opposite gender (woman/man). My genitalia and xy chromosomes tell me I’m male, but my mind tells me I’m a woman. It’s a straightforward divide. It’s not a ‘confusion’; it’s a problematic reality. It’s a puzzle we have to deal with. It’s a problem we have to solve. It’s not like I woke up one day and wondered “Hmmm, maybe I’m actually a woman; after all, I love to cook.” No! Transgender people struggle every day for years and years because their mind unqualifiedly says (consciously or unconsciously) “I am a woman/man.”
The most puzzling thing about transgenderism is that it isn’t an insecurity in masculinity/femininity. That is: there is one very common kind of confusion that a young man may have in which he notices that he thinks a certain way and that his personality has feminine traits X and Z, and conclude from this that he is a fag or girly or an insufficient man. That’s certainly not what I feel. For me, feeling the way I do is a reality, not a conclusion. I feel perfectly adequate as a man. I know I could be a great, useful-to-society man if I chose to perform that way. The problem is the core feelings are, well… core. They’re an entire paradigm. It’s the inner reality of me. Being a man seems false for me.
I want you to try a little thought experiment to get what I’m saying. Ask yourself how you know you’re a man/woman. Is it your genitalia? Wouldn’t you still know you are a man/woman if your genitalia was modified or disfigured?
Is it your hormones? What if you suddenly had a hormonal problem and began producing the wrong hormone? Wouldn’t you still know you are a man/woman?
Is it your personality? If you had a concussion and suddenly became more feminine/masculine, wouldn’t you still know you are a man/woman? If you are a guy who likes chick flicks and appletinis, you still know you are a guy. If you are a girl who likes to work on cars and play baseball, you still know you are a girl.
Is it your sexual orientation? Gay guys are homosexual because they are men (and boy do some of them know it) who like other men. Lesbians are the same deal: women who like women.
If you are a woman, is it your womb or breasts that make you female? What if you have a hysterectomy or masectomy? Are you no longer a woman?
If you are a man, is it your beard or fertility? What if you can’t grow a beard or have children? Are you no longer male?
Gender identity is something deeply internal. It informs us who we are regardless of the accidents of life and biology. For a transgender person, their gender identity is different from what the accidents of their body tell them.
Please understand this does not mean that every transgender person is totally secure in their inner identity. It would take a pretty remarkable person to be 100% secure in an inner identity that all of society refuses to acknowledge as genuine. Transgender people have extra hurdles to overcome when it comes to growing into their own self-image, but this does not mean their self-image is scrambled or up for grabs.
As far as we know, gender identity is formed in the womb or very early in infancy, and is permanent once formed. Although it is not yet definitive, modern science tells us that as far as we can tell, transgender people have a biological justification for their feelings. According to several recent studies, male-to-female transsexuals have core brain structures that are female typical, whereas female-to-male transsexuals’ are male typical. In other words, although certain parts of the body (chromosomes and genitalia) say one sex, the brain says another. There is a literal difference between the brain and the rest of the body! If these studies turn out to represent all transgender people, then our reality is a far cry from the kind of “confusion” people imagine.
To put all this in a nutshell, transgender people have strong internal identities just like you. It just so happens that their strong internal identity is not what you would expect given the sex they were assigned at birth.
- Myth #1: Transgender people live crazy lives.
- Myth #2: Transgender people are confused.
- Myth #3: Transgender people are mentally disturbed.
- Myth #4: Transgender people are gay.
- Myth #5: Transgender people are radical liberals with crazy ideas.
- Myth #6: Transgender people hate their bodies.
- Myth #7: Transgender people perform in drag shows.
- Myth #8: You can tell someone is transgender just by looking at them.
- Myth #9: Transgender people aren’t “real” men or women.
- Myth #10: Transgender people are weird.
- Myth #11: Sex and gender are straightforward.