Christine Jorgenson occupies a special place in trans history for the United States. She was one of the earliest women to come out as trans, to go through transition, to speak up for the trans community, and she did so in an era when few people understood the complexities of gender and she faced a great deal of hostility. She was far from the only trans woman of the time, though — others were living in stealth, others went unacknowledged, others were struggling with their identities.
Nor was she the first trans woman in history, let alone in Western history. Humans have experienced some level of transness for an extremely long time, and that’s expressed in a number of different ways across different cultures and eras. While conservatives might want to deny it, not everyone has a gender that matches their assigned gender at birth — and gender is not as complicated as man or woman, as these genitals or those genitals, as this or that.
Gender is about a complicated series of interacting feelings, about embodiment, about place in the landscape and the world. For one person, it might mean pursuing full transition between two binary genders, for a variety of reasons. Another binary trans person might not be interested in transition at all, or might choose some components but not others. Maybe a trans man takes T and gets top surgery, but isn’t interested in bottom surgery. Maybe…maybe transition isn’t your business, because it’s a personal matter, and we need to shift away from defining people by how many aspects of transition they’ve completed, like this is a checklist that some people can fail.
And there are more than two genders. Culturally, numerous communities have long acknowledged the presence of people who are not men or women, who are known by a variety of names, who are accepted or rejected in a variety of ways. They are structured into cultural frameworks in very different ways — the language of the West is not universal and not everyone embraces terms like ‘nonbinary’ or ‘agender.’ Definitions of gender are hugely individual and cultural, and the way people who don’t identify as men or women choose to express their gender is also highly individual. Maybe it’s in gender presentation. Maybe it’s in transition. Maybe it’s in other ways.
But one thing I am universally and unequivocally tired of is ‘trans enough.’ If someone identifies as transgender, that person is transgender. Period. I don’t care how that person looks, how that person presents, how that person performs gender, what kinds of medications that person is on, whether that person has pursued medical procedures, whether that person wants medical transition, whether that person will later decide against medical transition — none of these things are my business. This person identifies as transgender, full stop.
If a person with breasts and full hips says he’s a man, he’s a man. If a person with a narrow, angular, tall build and a penis says they’re genderqueer, they’re genderqueer. Their identity matters more than my desire for categorisation and my insistence on imposing identities based on experiences with a ciscentric society. People are who they say they are, and denying their identities is disrespectful and hateful, in addition to incredibly damaging. ‘Trans enough’ is one reason many trans people feel unsafe, and may feel pressured into gender expression, even procedures, that they do not want — to pass, to be respected, to be treated like a human being.
This doesn’t just come from cis people, but from some within the trans community itself, which is much more disgusting. Policing the gender of others is a mark of disrespect and it illustrates an utter lack of compassion from other people who have similar experiences — those who could relate and serve as mentors and supporters are suddenly enemies. A trans man is trans enough if he says he’s a trans man, even if he gives birth to the children he raises with his partner. A genderfluid person is genderfluid even with a moustache and sideburns, long legs and a heavy build, even if that person wears suits and ties and never presents in tutus or other nonnormative gender expressions. Gender isn’t about how you look, but how you are and what you experience — though people who do want access to transition and other supports deserve it, unequivocally, and need to be provided with what they need in compassionate, respectful environments.
It’s time for the gender police to stop, and it’s time for other people to take an active and assertive role in challenging their behaviours. When other trans people pass judgement, we need to say that it’s inappropriate, full stop, and it needs to end — yes, even those who feel threatened or concerned by the rise of complicated conversations about gender, even those who fear an erosion of identity or an increase in difficulty in accessing transition. When people, regardless of gender and past, make crude, and cruel, and awful comments, we, collectively — not just trans people but everyone — need to say that this is enough. ‘Trans enough’ is not a thing. You are trans enough if you say you are.
Some people may find this distasteful and special snowflakey and ridiculous. I honestly don’t care. Being respected as who you are is a basic human right, and forcibly defining someone’s gender is never, and will never be, appropriate. Period. End of discussion.
Photo: transgender clause, Arianna Winters, Flickr