A while back I wrote about My Cisgender Train Ticket experience on New York’s Metro North LDCR and due to the recent “bathroom law” controversy that post has received a great deal of new interest after flying somewhat under the radar for a few years.
I recognized then one of the problems with the gender binary as it is socially defined is that not only do transgendered people not fit into it, but cisgender people could just as easily be put into situations where they wouldn’t fit into it either. While the bigoted harassment a misidentified cisgender person might experience is nominal compared to the ongoing and relentless difficulties faced by transgender individuals it does not take away from the fact that the harassment exists and it does indeed have the potential to affect all of us very negatively.
My own personal experiences with my gender being misinterpreted by people I came into contact with I’ve generally considered isolated incidents that are undocumented apart from the memories of those involved. It is, though, one of the reasons I’m empathetic to the struggles transgender individuals face.
But, there is a growing body of evidence that this kind of misidentification is actually quite common. So, when we talk about protecting gender identity we aren’t just discussing the one-percent or so of the population who are, in fact, transgender but to protect all of us from the bigotry associated with transphobia that can indeed affect us all. Just look up Aimee Toms who’s experience in Walmart was reported in the Danbury New Times, or read the Dallas Observer to find Jessica Rush’s experience at Baylor Medical Center, or go watch the video Tamara McDaniel posted documenting police-led harassment of a ciswoman using a woman’s lavatory, or read Ellie DeLano’s experience at SheKnows, or Sally Kohn’s & Kelly Trent’s experiences as chronicled in Time, or review the series of personal instances documented in Beth Greenfield’s piece for Yahoo! News, or the research by Sasha Alexander for he Sylvia Rivera Law Project, or any of the other stories, including from Sir Elton John, that have come up in the past few years.
That’s all in addition to the rights violations that occur when vigilantes try to enforce their bigotry against transgender people such as Ebony Belcher’s story as covered by NBC-4 Washington, or Chrissy Lee Polis’s story as reported by the Baltimore Sun, or Jillian Weiss’ examples from the New York Daily News, or Joaquin Carcano’s piece in Time, or Angelica Ross’ opinion in the Guardian, or Sarah McBride’s story in Vogue, or Michael Cade Hughes’ story in the Huffington Post, or the misnamed “Straight Pride” campaign that came as community response to a transgender male’s experience in Vermont, or peruse the information in the the Williams Institute survey, the NTDS survey or the study by Georgia State University’s Kristie L. Seelman.
Bad laws and bad policy’s negatively affect everyone.
The ongoing problem here lies in the misconception by transbigots that visible appearance dictates gender identity. Think about all the tomboys you may have run into over the years. Straight or lesbian they were likely treated terribly just for being outwardly non-confirming to the gender binary stereotype. All the femme boys and guys with long hair too who didn’t fit the visual norms regardless of their sexual orientation. The asexual androgynous kids who just weren’t into being boys or girls but moreso just embraced being humans. The metrosexuals who chose to be gender neutral. And, so on… the ill-conceived notion is that how someone looks, particularly how they dress and groom, dictates the gender they are which is how cisgender people end up being the victims of antitrans harassment. And, there’s a lot more of these non-confirming cisgender individuals than there are transgender people which is why simply saying anti-trans laws or pro-equality laws will only affect 1% of the population. Nope. It’s hurting everyone and will continue to do so as the right pushes back more and more against progressing levels of equality.
Furthermore, even if we were to ignore the cis-misidentification problem (which we should not) the entire premise of gender identity as a binary is medically incorrect. Throughout human existence there’s been ample proof that gender exists on a spectrum. It’s established that nearly 1 in 15,000 people are born with a non-confirming chromosomal situation while 1 in 100 are born with some from of disorders of sex development (DSD).
Neuroscientists like Georg S. Kanz of the University of Vienna Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Giuseppina Rametti & Beatriz Carrillo’s study presented in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Arthur Arnold at the University of California, Los Angeles as published in the journal Nature, have all studied the gender spectrum beyond the biological presentation as well and present compelling examples of how the gender spectrum exists within the complexity of the brain’s makeup.
This is not just some “choice” individuals arbitrarily make to be male, or female, or neither but a function of human existence itself. We are born with a combination of neurological, hormonal, physical and chromosomal traits that may or may not all be in complete alignment with one another.
While most cisgender individuals take for granted the assumption that all those components align to create the opposing ends of the spectrum (so to speak) the reality is even within the cis community most of us are not in complete alignment. Since our experience at the ends of the spectrum is the only version of the spectrum we personally experience and appears to be widely shared with others we perceive gender within a binary.
But for those who don’t conform to the assumptions of a binary and recognize this, be them tomboys or transgendered, the presence of a spectrum is indeed real. As is the bias from those who have a difficult time imagining it.
Of course, the definition of conservatism is to hold onto a perception of the past, maintain the status quo and resist progress and in as such are very unaccepting even of scientific evidence to the contrary of their biases and beliefs. This is why it is so difficult for them to excepting the factual basis behind the gender spectrum because it challenges their perceptions that gender binary is solely defined by the presence of a penis or a vagina. And it is in this ignorance of the human body that they craft social bias and create these situations where minorities they don’t understand become a source of oppression.
Until these prevailing yet incorrect social norms catch up to the science behind the gender spectrum misdirected and opporessive laws will come to pass and individuals both targeted or not will be made to be second class citizens in their own country.