What People Always Get Wrong About the Trans Community, According to a Trans Sex Educator
Am I trans enough? This is one of the most common questions trans people ask themselves. It's a question I asked myself for years as I tried to build the confidence to say what I felt out loud. To cisgender people (those who identify with the same gender they were assigned at birth), this question may come off as confusing. What is trans enough?
I have learned through both my work and personal experience, that "trans enough" means much more than it appears: Am I trans enough to access gender-affirming care? Am I trans enough for people to respect my name, pronouns, and gender? Am I trans enough to find community?
In the media and pop culture, dominant narratives of trans people — people whose gender identity doesn't match the sex they were assigned at birth — tend to follow certain patterns: knowing since you were very young, wanting to pass as cisgender, identifying as binary gender, having immense hatred for your body, being heterosexual, and wanting to medically transition. Navigating the world as an out trans person means you most definitely have people assume your identities and life experiences based on these archetypes. Cisgender people often will question if you're really trans if you don't fit into what they expect of a trans person. In reality, trans and non-binary folks all are individuals with intersectional identities and differing desires and journeys.
My work as a sex educator is heavily influenced by my experiences as a queer and trans non-binary person. In the last year, I have been co-facilitating a free virtual support group for transgender and gender-expansive adults 20 years and older on Instagram as @trans_apocalypse, and we recently started providing one-on-one educational sessions. With every trans client I work with, I feel a reciprocal relationship of healing. There is a deep understanding between us that can't be learned from a book or any form of media — an understanding that navigating the world as a trans person can be scary and painful because of the way people treat you, while simultaneously knowing that honoring your gender and expression will bring you closer to feelings of euphoria and wholeness. (Related: Nicole Maines and Isis King Shared Their Advice for Young Transgender Women)
Another common narrative regarding trans people is the idea that they constantly feel dysphoric, dream of having bodies that resemble cisgender folks, and want to medically transition. While this may all be true for some transgender people, it does not represent the majority of the trans community. In fact, the majority of transgender people I work with express not wanting to seek hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and/or gender-affirming surgeries. But because of this dominant narrative, they feel shame around having connections with and enjoying their body as it is now.
There's even a part of the trans community referred to as transmedicalists or truscum that strongly believe that people cannot identify as transgender without feeling dysphoric and must want to transition using hormones and gender-affirming surgeries. This way of thinking centers the trans identity around yearning to appear cis and ignores the reality that most trans people aren't able to access gender-affirming care for a multitude of reasons — and that some people simply may not want to regardless. Transgender and non-binary people deserve the space to express love for their bodies in whatever state feels good to them. Many of us can and do love being trans and do not aspire to be cisgender or medically transition.
In recent years, the trans community has become more unified than ever. A large part of this has to do with social media, which has helped us share a common language with each other, create community spaces, and most of all, increase the visibility of our existence. As a trans non-binary young adult, I've been in my fair share of conversations led by older cisgender people who claim that trans and non-binary identities are "a new fad." In reality, we've been here since the very beginning but were forced into hiding by violence and fear. The anonymity and vastness of the internet has bloomed a new chapter of trans liberation, one in which we have more control over how we're seen. (Related: Trans Activists Are Calling On Everyone to Protect Access to Gender-Affirming Healthcare)
But our increase in visibility has not changed the fact that we experience violence and discrimination daily. Trans women of color still have life expectancies of 35 years old. There are still no federal protections for trans people who experience housing and employment discrimination. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Health Survey found that respondents experienced poverty and homelessness at a rate of 30 percent — more than double the average for the general population. Many — if not most — homeless and domestic violence shelters do not allow trans people to access their care and housing. Finding doctors and therapists who will respect your gender and are informed about trans identities and care can feel nearly impossible. Most health insurances do not cover gender-affirming care or have limited approved surgeries that require trans people to engage in purposefully lengthy and complicated processes to get approved. Without insurance, gender-affirming care can easily cost thousands of dollars. Currently, there are 40 active anti-trans bills in 18 states largely targeting trans youth that demand our action in calling representatives of these states. Through all of this intense violence, discrimination, and fear, trans people still learn how to thrive. (See: I'm Black, Queer, and Polyamorous — Why Does That Affect My Healthcare?)
No matter who you are or what work you do, you have interacted with and know trans people, whether they are out to you or not. I believe as humans we have an innate responsibility to respect and not cause harm to others. There are vast ways for people to support the trans community and integrate gender inclusivity into the ways you navigate the world. Below are key concepts and actions you can take:
- You do not need to understand someone's gender or identity in order to show them respect. Transgender people do not owe you education about gender or their histories.
- Gender identity and presentation are not stagnant, nor does someone's presentation define their gender. No matter how someone presents, their gender is valid.
- Mutual aid in the form of sending funds to Black and Indigenous trans-led organizations and individuals provides financial support to those who need it most.
- Pronouns and names are not optional. Although trans people may experience misgendering daily, it is still painful.
- You cannot unlearn transphobia without unlearning racism. The book Black On Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity is a great resource.
- Diversify your media diet: Read and engage with media by transgender and non-binary people.
- Hire and compensate trans educators for workshops and lessons on gender.
For any trans person reading this, I want to remind you that you are enough. You deserve love, care, safety, and community. You are not too complicated or too sensitive. I hope that you find the freedom and space to express yourself and feel the euphoria that defines being trans.
Nat DiFrank, M.Ed, (they/them) is a white trans and non-binary sex educator who focuses on using education as a tool for community healing. They are trauma-informed and have extensive knowledge of and personal experience with anti-trans discrimination. Through their work, Nat hopes to help create a safer world for transgender and non-binary people. You can follow their work and find their offerings on their Instagram @transfats3xedu