GC and I went to a workshop about transgender people at Venus Envy on Sunday night. It was part of Radical Queer weekend. I think we were arguably the oldest and straightest looking people there. Not only that, but because we were so old we got sleepy and had to leave during the break, so we missed the movie, Cruel and Unusual, which we really wanted to see.
But we did manage to catch the first hour and a half, which was a talk by Nora Butler-Burke, a transgender woman from Montreal.
I don’t know a lot about transgender people, and I’m sure I still subscribe to some myths about them. But I’m not as misinformed as I used to be.
For example, years ago I believed trans people must have really rigid gender stereotypes, if their idea of what is male (or female, as the case may be) couldn’t expand enough to include themselves. I thought that if you felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body, then maybe your concept of womanliness and manliness was to blame, rather than your body.
Like most people, I believed a person’s gender was ultimately determined by their genitalia. When we were introduced to the concept, as preschoolers, that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, nobody said anything about any exceptions. So even now, when I meet a trans person, I tend to automatically think that they are “really” whatever gender their genitalia is.
But there are other ways to think about it. Maybe hormones determine gender. Maybe psychology determines it. Maybe it’s some complex combination of factors. The bottom line is, if someone with a penis says they’re really a woman, who am I to say they’re not? If someone’s gender identity does not correspond to their genitalia, should they get to decide which is correct, or should their genitals get to decide?
I admit to some confusion around the sexual orientation of trans people. I used to think they were all gay. (Actually, I was doubly misinformed on this one, because I wrongly assumed that a trans woman was gay if she had sex with men.) Trans people can be straight, gay, bi, poly, pan or asexual. There’s quite a spectrum of possibilities; you can’t assume anything. But I found myself wondering about the actual mechanics of sex, even though it’s none of my business. For example, if a trans woman is gay and she’s having sex with another woman, how does her penis factor into the equation? And in the case of two lesbian trans women, aren’t they actually having gay male sex? (I admit it, I’m still confused.)
Up until the workshop on Sunday night, I was under the mistaken impression that all trans people wanted to make the surgical/hormonal transition to the other sex. I realize now that this is not always the case, nor is it always an option. I also learned about some of the serious issues trans people face with respect to harassment, criminalization and incarceration.
I learned a lot at the workshop. But sometimes, the more you learn about something, the more you realize how much you don’t know about it.