I am a woman. Being a woman is really the core of who I am. I grew up in a family in which I was the only female child or grandchild on either side of my family for the first 12 years of my life. This came with frilly dresses, dolls and the label of Daddy’s girl. I was of course many other things but it was the easiest way to differentiate me from my siblings. I was the girl.
I wasn’t the “girliest” of girls. I am still not. As a girl I wore shorts under those dresses so I could chase the boys or hang on the monkey bars without everyone seeing my underwear. My best friends were mostly boys. I felt the most comfortable with them. Girls perplexed me. Even in junior high and high school I often found myself in friendship battles that can be unfortunately typical of young girls. I never manoeuvred them well as I was lost in the drama of it all.
As I age, I appreciate my gender and my gender mates with growing regard. My appreciation of my girlfriends has become critical to my sanity. Being a girl has allowed me to connect in my relationships in ways that wouldn’t be as easy if I were a male. My role as daughter, sister, wife and mother are all roles I value above all else. My femaleness has driven me to my career as a Social Worker, as someone that strives for equality and compassion in the world. I have experienced sexism, discrimination and violence because of my gender. I think that gives me at least some small insight as to how other underprivileged groups experience the world. It is also why I am an unapologetic feminist.
A few years ago I started working with some transgender clients as a therapist. I am a pretty intuitive and empathetic individual so not much throws me. I’ve heard just about everything from people. That said working with this population has helped me over and over again see my own ignorance. Even now and then stupid things come out of my mouth. Recently with a client I became confused around what to label the sexuality of a client. It isn’t that complicated but somehow in my head I got it screwed up. It happened just when my client needed me to get it. I am so deeply rooted in my own gender and the gender norms of our society that it can be difficult to get my head around how these clients experience their own gender and sexuality. This is my failing, not theirs.
I still don’t fully understand my transgender client’s struggles. Just when I think I get it there is something else that blows my misconceptions wide open. The good news is that I am privileged enough to have some clients share their lives with me. I do my best to learn.
There are a few things that I do know. I do know that if someone tried to make me anything other than a daughter, sister, wife, mother or woman it would be devastating. I wouldn’t know my place in the world. I do know that if I had to walk out everyday in the world with my most personal issues potentially revealed by how I walked, dressed and spoke that I would not want to leave my house.
I do know that living in fear of being constantly ridiculed or laughed at or called a freak would make it hard for me to function. I do know that if filling out a form for a driver’s licence, a passport, a school application or a credit card would lead to long winded conversation and explanations about my personal life and genitalia I would not want to fill out the forms. I do know that if every time I went to the bathroom in public I would risk being outed, judged, called a sexual predator or assaulted I wouldn’t go to the bathroom.
It is idiotic to think that anyone would choose to have these struggles if they had a choice. I have great respect for anyone that has the courage to battle issues daily. It is often a public battle whether you are Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner or just a transgender person getting groceries at the store. I have hope that it is getting better.
We as a society have the power to minimize the struggles of transgender people. It is a shockingly easy thing to do. All we have to do is respect people’s privacy about their medical concerns. Medical issues are between them and their doctors. We have to mind our own business in the washroom, the genitals of the person in the stall next to you are irrelevant to the task at hand.
Finally we have to treat people like people. Being transgender is a label like any other. It is limiting if that is the only thing that you are seen as. They are also children, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, accountants, lawyers and so many other labels. They are as heroic and flawed as the rest of us. That’s because they are people too.
All of us are defined by all of our labels and by none of them. Our wholeness is greater than the sum of our labels. That is something I think we can all understand and that is where we should all start