I've embarked on a journey to learn more about gender and sexuality both to understand myself better as well as to ensure I am treating others with respect. In response to the violence directed against transgender individuals, especially black transgender women, I wanted to take some time to break down some of what I am learning. I am by no means an expert on this, but as someone who had (and likely still has) misconceptions on gender that I know many others likely have, I wanted to share my misconceptions as well as make it clear that knowledge is not a prerequisite for respect.
One thing I struggled with when trying to understand transgender identities (when using the term transgender in this article, I am using it as an umbrella term to define any person who's gender differs from their sex and/or gender they were assigned at birth) was the idea that by rejecting gender binaries or by transitioning to one's correct gender, it was essentially creating a further divide between men and women that furthered the idea that men should be one way and women should be another.
This struggle I had shows a major flaw in my logic. I was clearly stuck thinking in terms of the gender binary.
Most, if not all, of us grew up thinking of gender in two ways: women and men. There are those that defy societal standards of what men and women are supposed to be like (i.e. tomboy); however, men were still men and women were still women. As a soon to be an undergraduate psychology graduate, what allowed me to begin to break away from this binary idea was relying on what I spent four(ish) years of my life studying anyway, psychological and neurological literature.
My eureka moment was when it clicked how much every human varies from each other.
If you look at any study that compares men and women, you see researchers draw a conclusion based on the average responses and results of men and women. These averages suggests there are differences between men and women, but I can guarantee you, all women are not alike and all men are not alike. An average doesn't mean all, so there are some women who aren't going to fit the mold of what the average woman is supposed to be like and there are some men that are not going to fit the average mold of what a man is supposed to be like. One can go as far as to argue that there are more differences among women and among men than between women and men. You can see this in literally ever aspect from brain structure to hormonal makeup. All women and all men are not made up the same way.
Knowing that there can be quite vast differences between people and knowing that we humans are a result of a countless number of variations and mutations, it is impossible to expect everyone to be on and identify with the binary and it is illogical to claim that only people with vulvas can be women and only those with penises can be men.
My way of looking at and explaining gender to myself started out in a more scientific way as that is what I am used to as a psychology major. However, I always keep in mind science can be biased. Please know that my understandings have drawn heavily from listening to others tell their story, reflecting on my own thoughts and misconceptions as well as seeking out information to continue to educate myself even when that means I have to admit I was wrong about something.
The best way to go about learning something you don't understand is to listen to what people in the community are saying (while keeping in mind that not everyone in that community will think the same way) and to respectfully and considerately ask questions and seek out educational resources when you don't understand.
It's okay to admit that you had/have transphobic thoughts and it's okay to have questions that sound ignorant or even blatantly rude. What's not okay is to feed those thoughts instead of challenging them, to disrespect people because you do not understand them, and to hate someone because you do not agree with how they chose to express and identify themselves. Gender can be complicated and confusing, but it is NEVER okay to use ignorance as an excuse to hate, hurt and harm others.
If you want to learn more about gender (and sexuality), here are some of the resources I have found helpful:
-"The ABC's of LGBT+" by Ashley/Ash Mardell (They also have a youtube channel)
-"Beyond the Gender Binary", pocket change collection by Alok Vaid-Menon
-Google, you can find so many resources and interesting literature with a quick google search
-Follow LGBTQIA+ hashtags/people on social media