(This is a modified edition of a blog post originally published at Huffington Post GayVoices.)
“What exactly does it mean to be transgender?”
“Why do they want to change their sex?”
“Why can’t they just be gay or lesbian?”
These are some of the questions I so ignorantly used to think about transgender people. I just couldn’t understand what they were thinking. Then it dawned on me: I’m being just like those closed-minded idiots who judge me and whom I so despise! So I made it a point to educate myself. I am a firm believer that ignorance must always be replaced by education. I am grateful for the amazing folks who helped me along the way. They have taught me so much, but sadly, most wish to remain anonymous, because they fear the repercussions of being outed. Some fear for their jobs, some fear losing loved ones, and others fear for their safety.
As far as I could tell *transgender* is the proper term to use. The following words should never be used to describe someone who is transgender: “transvestite,” “she-male,” “he-she,” “it,” “trannie,” “tranny” or “shim.” These words are dehumanizing, and using them to refer to any person is disrespectful.
Here is the main thing I learned, they are just like everyone else! How crazy is that?! Who knew? I have said all of those same things about how I want to be treated as a gay person. The transgender mind simply doesn’t match the birth-assigned sex. (Of course, it’s not that simple, but it should be.) As I think about what it means to be transgender, I feel incredibly sorry that I ever had those uneducated thoughts. Knowing full well what it feels like to have always known I was different and to constantly be judged because of it. I am disappointed in my ignorance and vow to make it better. What strikes me as most upsetting is that even after the long journey of acceptance that each individual has to go through (and it can take years, even decades), these folks are more often than not forced to continue denying their true selves in most areas of their lives, for fear of losing their jobs, losing loved ones, etc. Try to put yourself in their shoes for just a moment. Imagine having to hide your true self every single day, at times having to hide all aspects of your life from the people you love, fearing that they will no longer love you or might turn their backs on you, and living with a constant internal struggle, with no end in sight! The emotional torment isn’t something that I can even imagine having to endure.
My main reason for doing this blog was to educate myself. But, I figured if I was confused about what it means to be transgender, others were probably wondering too. I think if more people were willing to step out of their comfort zones and get to know about someone or something they don’t understand, we would be a less violent and fearful society. I would like to challenge everyone to do just that. Step away from your comfort zone and learn something new! I am going to continue my personal growth on this subject and encourage you all to stay tuned for future blogs.
So, remember, the next time you see or meet someone who is transgender and you are unsure of how to react or what terminology to use, do not be afraid, do not judge, and do not criticize. Instead, extend your hand, offer a smile and call them “friend”!
I would like to continue this learning experience. If you have information or resources that would be helpful, please share them in the comments section below or email Jen here.
And if you are just coming out as transgender or struggling with your gender identity, you might want to try these local resources:
Jen originally blogged about this subject on Huffington Post. To view that post click here.