Breaking down transgenderism | Our Corner

It's looking like Washington's new bathroom laws are staying in place, for now.

It’s looking like Washington’s new bathroom laws are staying in place, for now.

It was announced Initiative 1515, which sought to reverse the laws in this state that allow a transgender individual to use restrooms and other facilities based on their gender identity did not receive enough signatures to get placed on the November ballot.

I was looking forward to it being on the ballot, mostly because the vote would settle the issue, and I was confident the initiative would not pass.

While I-1515 was still alive and kicking, I talked to several of my friends who identify as transgender and the many others who are heavily involved in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community (LGBTQ+) about the new bathroom laws and the initiative.

There was one point that was consistently touched on during these discussions: the general public lacks the information and connections necessary to understand trans issues.

So while I-1515 did not receive enough signatures to get placed on the November ballot, there is still an information gap surrounding transgender issues that I would like to help fill.

Here’s the gist: Transgenderism isn’t about getting in touch with your feminine side (thanks for nothing, Mike Huckabee). Transgenderism is about expressing and internalizing a highly individualistic mix of physical traits and societal roles that lie outside the boundaries of what many people consider male and female.

Hm. OK, that was a little too clinical. Let’s break it down a bit more.

According to the state and the LGBTQ+ community, the term “sex” means your chromosomes – XY for male, XX for female (or “intersex” for the various conditions that can put an individual in-between genders). A person’s sex does not change.

What can change is a person’s “gender identity,” which refers to the gender you associate with. For example, I strongly think of myself as male.

Since I have my XY chromosomes and I identify as male, I’m considered cisgendered (“cis” meaning “on the same side of”) which means my gender identity aligns with my sex.

Transgender (“trans” meaning “across” or “transcend”), means your gender identity does not match your chromosomes. A typical example is a transgender man who was born female (with XX chromosomes) but identifies as male. Conversely, a transgender woman was born male with XY chromosomes but identifies as female.

From here, we branch into whether a person is “passing” or “non-passing.” Passing simply means to be regarded as one sex or the other by the general public.

For some trans individuals, their goal is to no longer pass as their sex but to pass as the sex that aligns with their gender identity. This often involves cross dressing, body modification and/or sex change surgery.

Other trans individuals are OK with not passing as the sex their gender identity matches.

Still with me? Awesome, because here is where some people start to get lost.

The term “sexual identity” has nothing to do with your sex or your gender identity. It only means what sex (or gender identity) you’re attracted to.

Sexual identity for some is concrete; they’re full-on straight, gay, lesbian or asexual.

For others, sexual identity is more fluid – bisexuality is a common example. Another can be a cisgendered female considering herself straight while dating a transgender male, or a woman who identifies as lesbian but fell in love with and married a straight cisgendered male.

Long story short – gender identity describes who you are. Sexual identity describes who you like. Neither defines the other, and the only person who should be able to determine how you identify in either category is you.

Of course, I’ve really only scratched the surface of transgenderism, and I expect that while I’ve answered some of the more basic questions, more will inevitably rise.

So if you want to learn more about transgenderism, you’ll have to probably ask someone in the trans community. But there is a right and wrong way to do this.

Gender and sexual identity are extremely personal topics for many people, trans or not. I don’t walk up to just anyone on the street and ask them, “Hey, what do you identify as?” That’ll get real weird, real quick.

The first thing to understand is there is no single magical answer to all the situations you may encounter. General tips seem to fall under the “don’t make assumptions” rule; don’t make assumptions about gender or sexual identity; don’t assume someone’s personal pronoun usage aligns with their appearance; and don’t assume that just because you know someone is trans, everyone else does (revealing this information is also known as “outing”).

In my experience, the vast majority of trans people welcome conversations about their gender identity, so long as they feel they’re being respected and you genuinely want to learn about transgenderism.

They want other people to understand their identity, just like you would. So just be respectful, don’t assume, and hopefully, everyone will leave happy and you’ll have learned something new.

Of course, there are things to avoid doing when inquiring about transgenderism, and they all fall under the “don’t be creepy” and the “don’t be a jerk” umbrellas; don’t ask a trans person their “real name”; don’t consistently and knowingly refer to them by the wrong pronouns; don’t badger them with questions about their gender identity; and don’t ask them about their sexual orientation or their sexual organs (you wouldn’t do that to other cis folks).

Something that can be hard to avoid are backhanded compliments, because they’re generally said with little to no thought as to how these comments will be taken. Avoid comments like, “You look just like a real man,” and, “You’re so brave.” Even trying to give helpful tips on makeup and appearance can be taken very negatively, so just avoid them altogether.

Those are the basics of transgenderism. I think much of the uncertainty many people have toward the state’s current bathroom laws stem from a lack of understanding of transgenderism in general, so I hope explaining some of the more common terms used in the transgender community and the “dos” and “don’ts” of interacting with trans folks will help relieve some of the general anxiety.

But there are some issues people have with the new bathroom laws that won’t be smoothed over through a little education.

Through reading articles about trans bathroom laws (and the comments under those articles) it seems many people are worried about two things: that their privacy is going to be severely invaded by the trans community, and their children’s safety is at risk.

It’s an uncomfortable idea, opening up our most private facilities to folks who may resemble the opposite sex. But just because it can happen, doesn’t mean it will. In fact, it generally won’t.

Safety is paramount to the transgender community – an estimated 50 percent of transgender individuals experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes, and many more experience verbal and physical abuse because of they way the look and act.

Because of this, many trans individuals won’t use the facilities where they’ll stick out. In general, they’ll pick the locker room or bathroom they’ll feel safest in, which is often using the restroom or locker room where they look like everyone else (or where they pass).

That’s not always the case, though, and many other trans people, passing and non-passing, still choose to not use gendered facilities at all, if possible, in order to feel safe and further lessen the chances of becoming involved in an uncomfortable situation.

Facility preference can change in more private or familiar settings, like in the work place or in non-crowded public facilities. Trans individuals may feel more comfortable expressing their gender identity, rather than their sex, in these controlled environments, as opposed to a public facility crowded with strangers.

In addition to this, many people are also afraid these new bathroom laws will open up loopholes for sexual predators to exploit.

This is a fear made reality by some disturbed people out there, and a quick internet search will bring a plethora of depressing results.

This is an important issue that needs to be addressed. However, it’s not a transgender rights issue.

Predators specialize in finding new and inventive ways to prey on us, but we can’t let that reality get in the way of social progress.

It’s going to take effort, education and understanding to get these bathroom laws to work the way they should, so I address my fellow cisgendered individuals who are worried about these bathroom laws.

These laws are an important step toward bringing everyone together as equals and understanding each other as people. Laws that separate us based on how we look or act only serve to drive wedges between us.

So as the majority of the population, it’s time for us to extend the comforts and rights that we’ve enjoyed for so long to those who may look different than us, but feel the same inside.

Let’s not get caught up in the labels that seem to separate us. Cisgender or transgender, straight or gay, or however you decide to identify your gender and sexuality, we all want the same thing.

To belong. And, when nature calls, to pee in peace.

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