By: Jacqueline Stafford
For the past several weeks, the hot word on everyone's mind is transgender. Ever since the now famous Diane Sawyer interview with Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender community has become the main focus in the press and on social media. Caitlyn’s debut on the cover of Vanity Fair, on June 9th 2015, has gotten twice as much attention as the interview. Watching this true life story unfold in front of our eyes has really given people an insight on this unconventional topic.
I think it has been an amazing opportunity for our society to not only acknowledge this subject, but also to begin to understand it. Seeing one of America’s greatest athletes, and in the eyes of past generations the model of male excellence, publicly admit his lifelong battle with his sexual identity is one of the greatest paradoxes to say the least. Even though it was shocking for everyone at first to hear of Caitlyn’s secret, overall it has received a huge positive response. If anything it has put the transgender community on the map for serious discussion. We are not living in the 1950’s where everything is in black and white; we live in a Hi-Def era where all our characteristics are able to be seen, and hopefully accepted.
Now even though the theme of transgender has flooded headlines recently, it does not mean everyone understands or even believes it fully. For instance, one argument I’ve heard put plastic surgery in the same category as a sex change. Saying that our society has become so accustom to the idea of changing our appearance that this is just another form of it.
This is not simply about appearances, but instead it is all about what a person identifies as. Also, to compare basic cosmetic surgery, such as breast implants that are now such a widely common procedure, to a sex change is a prime example of how this subject can be misconstrued. Before we go ahead judging and putting our personal opinions on the topic we should learn a little more about sex and gender identity, in general.
I suggest everyone to read AFTER IDENTITY: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Gender, By Georgia Warnke. The author does a great job at examining how we understand people and ourselves as a man or a women. Basically, the main question at hand for this book is what makes someone a male or female in relation to social influence and physical appearance.
As human beings we strive to understand the world around us, and more importantly the people around us. We like things to be simple and packaged in neat little boxes that is easy to comprehend. The problem is when someone doesn’t fit into the mold our society has formed, or a specific category, we are quick to blame the person. The real problem is our tendency of over generalizing individuals to fit into our already established perceptions.
I’ll take a quote from AFTER IDENTITY to put it simply, “Conceptions of biological sex are themselves culturally conditioned by conceptions of gender and gender classifications already construct the framework for sex-based classifications” (Warnke, 4).
We pigeonhole the human race with only two labels, female and male. What I mean by this, is if you were to ask anyone to define who they are as an individual their automatic response would be in relation to their gender in some way or form (mother/father, sister/brother, wife/husband, etc). Think about how difficult this question would be if the way in which you truly felt contradicted what society has already labeled you as. It not only has to do with appearance, or what’s going on downstairs, but instead how one innately feels.
It’s a difficult concept to understand since for most of us this idea seems so foreign. For those who do face this struggle must be living a constant nightmare of embarrassment, confusion, and isolation. So to trivialize any transgender person or the transgender community, is greatly insensitive to those individuals. Just because you might not be able to understand it does not make it any less real. I don’t think anyone would chose to go through such an ordeal if they truly didn’t feel it necessary, because the stigma doesn’t just end after one receives a sex change.
We need to learn that human beings are complex creatures, and most of all individuals. Each person is different and unique and to understand people means to be open-minded and accepting rather than our natural tendency to stereotype and label.