Some profound conversations I've had with friends wanting to gain understanding around what it means to be transgender

Throughout my experience transitioning, I've had some deep conversations with friends. These conversations were helpful for my friends in gaining an understanding of what it means to be trans, how to treat trans people, and why. They've been equally helpful for me, as they challenged me to thoroughly examine my experience and explore my identity and its implications on my life.

One thing I've often heard--and had felt myself--is hard for cis people when trying to learn about gender and sexuality is that it's very hard to know what to ask--what is okay to ask--without hurting their trans friend. The conversations I post here are those with close friends that I've known for years and respect at the deepest levels. This allows me to trust that clumsiness used when expressing their questions and thoughts comes from a place of both ignorance and a genuine desire to remedy that ignorance. That's something I'm all too eager to help with.

All that to say, do not just go up to a random trans person you meet off the street and ask these types of questions, or things will go poorly for everyone involved.

Gender and Pronouns

C is a friend I've known for about six years. He holds moderate-conservative values and has asked to remain anonymous. He grew up in a similar environment to my own, ideologically and religiously, and we share much in common. I trust C with my life, and I'm not saying that lightly.

  • So I have something I've been struggling with, but have been hesitant to talk to you about. Though it may sound silly, it's about pronouns. lol

  • Haha, You of all people do not need to worry about my pronouns. If you remember to, use "she"; otherwise, don't worry about it. Unless that wasn't your question.

  • It was, sort of. Would it bother you if I referred to you as "he", honestly?

  • Only if you did it deliberately. Honestly, I probably wouldn't even notice.

  • I guess this is where I struggle the most. Biologically, you were born a male. Now I understand the gender vs biological sex thing, and the gender dysphoria thing, but I guess I have trouble saying that a biologically born male is a biological female. I understand that you feel that you are a woman gender-wise.

  • Why do pronouns refer to biological sex rather than gender? I mean, it's a matter of definition, and the creators of English probably didn't think to distinguish the two.

  • Because you're a physical, biological person?

  • I'm also an emotional, mental person.

  • Then it almost seems like either should fit. Why is this so confusing? lol

  • Haha, In my opinion, pronouns replace the name, and a name is attached to identity. If someone identifies with a certain gender, then it makes the most sense, definition-wise, to use their preferred pronoun.

  • Hmm, an interesting argument. I usually think of them as tied to specific physical people I guess, but people are both physical and mental. I still feel like both would be valid in my opinion, but I can see your point.

  • Go halfway? "She" with a lisp?

  • Hahaha, Make "she" with your mouth, but say "he" with your diaphragm.

  • Rofl, Perfect.

  • Ok, another question. But I want cold, calculating Jordan that will poke holes in my argument. This is going to be offensive, but I have been told this by people and cannot think of a good rebuttal for it.

    Say we're in Middle Earth (sick, right?). A dwarf wanted to be a human, underwent surgeries to look like one, learned to talk like one, etc. Would you call them a human?

  • Hmm... Good question. Well, the first issue with the question is wording: "wanted to be a human". It should be worded "saw himself as a human, and could not see himself as a dwarf".

  • Fair point. We'll say I said it that way.

  • Done.

  • Though to be fair, if you saw yourself as one, you'd want to actually physically be one too, likely. So I was only half insensitive.

  • Hahaha. So there are a couple decent pathos arguments, but I know you're looking for a logos argument. And if you wanted to really piss a liberal off, you'd have not used Middle Earth, but instead asked what if a white person identified as a black person.

  • Is that offensive? I am so out of the loop on what's not ok.

  • It would be offensive if the white person did not have the shared experience of collective black people, which is almost certainly the case, no matter whether they were adopted into a black family or not. (My boss is white and was adopted into a southern black family, so we've talked a bit about this.)

  • Ah. I almost always mean well, so I've sometimes offended people without realizing it.

  • Oh, I totally get it. It's a minefield. I give people the benefit of the doubt if I can--

  • I'm glad you know I'm never meaning to make you sad or mad or whatever.

  • --and you've certainly earned one.

  • Much appreciated.

  • Okay, so here's my answer. The question was, "Would I call the dwarf a human?" Unless it would be incredibly offensive to humans, yes I would, not as a matter of fact, but as a matter of respect. If calling my dwarven friend a dwarf made him feel disrespected, and assuming humans wouldn't be incredibly offended by the dwarf taking that identity, I would want to preserve my friend's sense of respect and preserve the relationship.

    Odds are that if he and I see things differently, it's because we have different experiences. I cannot possibly know what it is like to be a dwarf, nor can I know why he is absolutely certain he is human. In general, it is best to give the person ownership of their own person. It is rare that you know more about a person than they know about themselves.

    Things change when people identify as nonsentient beings, and I don't know where to draw the line, to be honest. But in this case, barring some Middle Earth lore, I don't see the harm in calling him human.

  • I guess the previous statement (the matter one) is where I get stuck. I think of it as a matter of fact, despite having respect for someone. I have trouble saying something isn't what I see it being, even for someone's benefit. Now, that said--

  • Hey, 2+2=5, alright?

  • STAHP

  • Hahaha sorry, go on.

  • Now, that said, I do not typically run around emphasizing differences I see or drawing attention to most things that are only going to cause relational strife. I see no need or reason to. Relationships and people are important to me. So I have a balance.

  • Good. They aren't to a lot of people. 😕

  • I'm not going to lie, it is a challenge to live this way. I have strong views on [certain non-salvation-critical biblical topics]. If people ask, I'm not going to hide it, and I won't change my stance because it offends someone. But I value people and relationships, so I try to keep it to myself, as scripture itself instructs.

    So, all of that said, I will probably just refer to you as Jordan most of the time. lol

  • That's fine.

  • Who needs pronouns when you can just say your name all the time?

  • I'm guessing you understand the difference between likelihood and probability? [Note: In all cases except in Bayesian probability, "likelihood" and "probability" mean the same thing.]

  • It's like 2am here, Jordan. I may know the difference, but my brain gives not one crap about which is which. XD

  • Same here. I can barely remember and I found it interesting, but that's not the point. The point is you know that there is a difference in a certain context: Bayesian probability. In any other context, they mean the same thing. So, if someone is talking about Bayesian likelihood, and you're talking about regular probability, you're going to mean different things with the same word.

  • Then I should have said, "In all likelihood".

  • Hahahaha

  • You made me say it. You monster.

  • Anyway, my point is that when you say "he" you're talking in the context of biology. When I say "he" I'm talking in the context of identity.

  • Yes.

  • Are we both right? Kind of. It depends on the discourse. So the question is, which one is more pedantic? Which is the default? If I say "likelihood", in MOST conversations, I'm talking basic probability, even though I know that in Bayesian probability, it means something else.

  • I feel like I've come out of this conversation knowing both more and less than when I started.

  • Gender does that. xkcd made that point several years ago. haha

    I would make the argument, starting from an agreement that gender identity and biology are correlated but separate, that the default should be the context of identity. When you use the pronoun "me" you are referring to yourself, not to your biological sex. If we were in a biology lab or something--if it was clear we were talking about genes--then "he" would be appropriate for me.

  • While they may be separate, I guess I see them as inextricably linked, with the biological self being the primary distinguishing characteristic. If I were pointing out an African American man on the street, I wouldn't say, "There is a father and middle school music teacher right there." I instead say, "There is an African American man with (distinguishing physical characteristics) right there." Now, that brings up the point of what about after reassignment surgery, which I would still refer to the biological self. [Note: In the hindsight of not-2am, C thinks his example was a poor one to show the link he sees between identity and biology.]

  • Okay. What if you saw Michael Jackson walking down the street and you didn't know he was African American? Would you say he was white or he was black?

  • I would likely say what I thought he looked like. However, if I knew that he was one or the other, I would say that he was whatever color I knew he was.

  • Okay, and if you were talking to someone who didn't know he was black, but you did, would you say "that black man over there"? My point, albeit roundabout, is that in your example, you were saying "African American" rather than "father" or "middle school teacher" because it distinguished the person from the other people around him. It identified him. If you saw me post-transition, and I looked as female as most women, would you use "man" to identify me to someone who did not know me?

  • Hmm. The correct term would be transgender woman, in that case.

  • If it was obvious, perhaps, though more likely you'd just say "the person in the pink dress", 'cause my dress is REALLLY pink.

    My point is that in this example, we're using identifiers for a different purpose than when we're using pronouns to talk to or about each other.

  • An interesting point. I guess I still see them as inextricably linked, though I will have to think on this some more. I do see what you're saying, though.

  • Yes, until you conclude that they aren't inextricably linked, this conversation just won't ever make sense. 😕 I only believe they aren't linked because I've experienced it myself. Maybe I would have come to the conclusion if someone I knew well was trans, but I don't.

  • I know why we as people can't come together and talk about things like this, but I feel like everyone would be so much better off if they did. And I appreciate you always being so open to talking to me about this stuff. I know it's close to your heart.

  • I agree. It only works when people trust each other, though, and so they have to get to know each other first.

  • True.

  • I love conversations like this. Absolutely love them.

  • I'm glad to hear it. 😀

  • Every argument I made tonight I hadn't considered before this conversation, aside from the respect argument which wasn't as fully developed until this conversation. So this conversation was good for me too.

  • I've always been intellectually stimulated by our conversations, Jordan. I'm glad to hear it's reciprocal.

  • Oh, totally. I'd be surprised if you got more out of our talks than I do.

What does gender feel like?

A is my friend Amy. She's very open-minded, curious, genuine, and kind. She has a distinctive chatting style. The xx's at the end of each message just denote that it was said with a friendly tone.

  • I'm feeling oddly masculine today. 😕

  • How so? "Feeling" a gender or masculine/feminine has always been a strange concept for me aha xx

  • in four years, I've only come up with one analogy that kind of works
    first off, it's not an emotion, as my mom would have you believe

    Suppose you have your eyes closed and you're handed a piece of unpolished wood. If you rub your fingers across it, you can feel the direction of the grain of it. There is a definite and indisputable direction that's there even if you aren't feeling it or looking at it. It's a property of the wood, but if you touch it, you can feel it. Gender, to me, is like the grain of a piece of wood.

    Where this analogy falls short is that the grain can change directions sometimes. For some people it varies wildly by day, or even by hour. For most people (cis and otherwise), if it changes at all, it only shifts a few degrees here and there. I usually fall in this latter category. For the first couple years, and even a bit before I came out as trans, I considered myself agender: very weak feelings of both masculinity and femininity, though more strongly feminine. As time passed, and I lived more and more as the woman I am, my masculine component stayed about the same, but my feminine one jumped significantly.
    and for whatever reason, today, I feel about twice as masculine as normal, and a bit less feminine.

    People were referring to me as "she" in meetings, and I thought, "That's kind of strange." I think today, if I wanted to bother with telling people, I would use they/them pronouns, but odds are, I'll be back to she/her by tomorrow at the latest

  • So, what do you constitute as male and female? Like I have some masculine behaviours, I tend to think more masculine than feminine, and I enjoy feeling pretty as much as I do feeling strong. While those things are typically male or female, I don't feel like feeling or being that way impacts my gender identity. Does that make sense?

    What are the actual differences/changes in today rather than yesterday?

    You don't have to answer BTW, it's just always something that has interested me as I know someone who goes by they/them and changes by the day, and the things they describe to me are things I on some level feel too but don't think it changes my identity xx

  • Yeah, it's hard to explain. I don't even really understand it. It's kind of one of those "it just feels right". If I remember right, you said you were tone deaf?

  • Yeah I can't sing for shit xx

  • if you listen to a piece of music, can you tell if someone doesn't quite hit a note? like if they're a little flat?

  • Most of the time but not always xx

  • yeah, I think that's most people, including me
    if you ever listen to a violinist tune their instrument, they'll use the peg at the top of the instrument for larger changes, and most violins have screws at the other end of the strings to fine tune the pitch.

    To tune a violin, you typically tune the A string first, usually with a tuning fork or against a piano or whatever. Some people can just picture the tone of an A and tune to that (I can sometimes).

    After the A string is in tune, they'll play both the A and the D string together in order to tune the D. An A and a D are what's called a fifth apart, and when they're in tune together, they have this remarkable resonance that just feels right. It is easy to tell, without knowing anything about music theory, that the D is correct when it hits exactly a fifth below the A.

    Gender is kind of like that. It's like I have this underlying identity in my soul, and I know what my gender is when I hear it resonate.

    As for practical differences, I'm not really sure. At the moment, I don't really feel like wearing a dress, though I do badly feel the need to shave before my counseling appointment in a couple hours.

    It's also hard to separate the gender binary stereotypes (pretty = feminine, strong = masculine) from gender itself. Men are "supposed to" take charge. Okay, but women are supposed to take charge too, whether society wants to acknowledge that or not. Women who do take charge or no less women than women who prefer to follow.

    Maybe the best indicator is in what we feel like doing. When I'm feeling especially feminine/girly, I want to put on makeup, dress up as cute as possible, find someone to dote on me, act sweet, giggle, be more playful. When I'm feeling more masculine (which hasn't happened until today in quite a long time), I feel like doing more practical things. I care less about my appearance, I'm a little more assertive, and I think maybe I want to go outside and do some adventuring, maybe toss a football around (American football).

    Again, those are all stereotypes of feminine and masculine behavior, but I don't think the behavior defines the gender--the gender influences the behavior.
    of course, the easiest litmus test is, "Do you feel like making a sandwich or asking a woman to make you a sandwich?" ðŸĪŠ

  • I get that, I think because to me gender is just a thing that is rather than something I am aware of feeling.

    I have days where I wanna go hiking, build a table, don't wanna wear make up or feel cute, other days I wanna wear heels, do my hair and feel pretty, but again I don't think I associate those with genders as they're just different aspects of my personality, not my identity.

    I think it's inherently personal what someone associates with their gender identity, and its fascinating how something I just take as part of who I am, someone else views as another part of them (if that makes any sense). The difference between something being part of a whole, compared to that same something being associated with something "separate" and a different part of their identity xx

  • I think gender is just a lens on top of identity. So yes, "they are just different aspects of my personality" and your personality is a major component of your identity. Gender--which many people will tell you is just a construct--is a way to interpret that identity.

    As far as it being inherently personal and subjective, you are spot on.

    That said, there are definitely "right" and "wrong" pronouns for me. It's deeper than just a preference.

  • Oh definitely its understandable to have a right and wrong pronoun, like I'm a woman and I expect to be addressed as such it shouldn't be different for other people xx