Last week (November 20th, 2016) Athena Krafft wrote a piece for worship about transgender identity. If you were unable to attend service that day, I recommend you take a few minutes to read this insightful piece
One of the things our elder generations hold most dear is something they don’t even think about. Gender. Gender and gender roles are pillars of American society. Past movements have claimed to revolutionize and change gender roles, but really it was a limited reordering of a few aspects of them. Even within the most radical of past movements, changing gender roles have kept to their cores and maintained strict definition and form. Many people don’t realize how important that structure and those longstanding roles are to them until they are shown something that falls outside of it.
To cite a common example: “Mommy, is that man wearing a dress?” “Mommy, why is that girl going in the wrong bathroom?” “Mommy, is that a boy or a girl?” And it’s not just children with these questions running through their minds. Adults form judgements and assumptions based on people’s appearances and how they fall into gender boxes as well. And their ironclad grip on those boxes and those assumptions are what make trans lives hell.
Trans, or transgender, people identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. There are binary trans people, whose genders still fall under the male/female dichotomy. Then there are also the oft mocked non-binary genders, people who do not fall in either the boys’ or girls’ camps. The grey area where words like “bigender,” “genderfluid,” “agender,” “transmasculine,” and “transfeminine” come into play. All these people have vastly different lives and experiences, but they have one problem in common.
The gender boxes and assumptions of cis people. People who aren’t trans. People who think gender goes one way and one way only. People who assume a man wearing a dress is the problem, and never stop to consider that maybe they are the problem. After all, who’s to say that men can’t wear dresses? Who’s to say that that individual was even a man? Who’s to say how that person can and can’t to express themselves and their gender?
The answer to all those questions is, “Not you.” You are not here to judge that person and decide how they have to live their life. You are here to accept and respect them. You are here to be a part of the change, not to loiter in the base of the opposition.
We encounter many things that confuse us in our lives, but our strongest virtue is that we learn and grow from those experiences. Each new person you meet and every interaction you have helps you learn and grow towards your better, truer self. But how can you do that if you are shutting down those opportunities and walling yourself in with those very boxes of gender that you seek to change?
The first step to tearing down those walls is accepting your own ignorance. You don’t know everything there is to know about gender, and that’s okay. Gender is such an individual and varied experience that trying to apply one set of rules to everyone is just ridiculous. But we need to work on learning and accepting each other’s rules so that we can come together to build a stronger whole.
Stop assuming you know someone’s gender based on appearance. Ask for people’s pronouns when you ask for their name. Use those pronouns, even when the person isn’t there. Don’t stand by in silence when people claim “they” isn’t a singular pronoun, or that “ze” is just a made up word. Educate yourself. There’s no shortage of websites willing to explain anything that might confuse you.
Our culture is working towards its first true gender revolution, and it is going to be scary. But if you prepare yourself for the change, it won’t have to be. You can either be fighting on the forefront or you can find yourself scrambling to catch up. The choice is yours, but no matter what you chose, there will always be people ready to help you make the transition into the new world. The world of acceptance and hope where people are allowed to live and to Be without fear or shame.