Growing up, we learn very quickly that there are two genders. Female and male. You either have an innie or an outie. Everything in life reinforces this; adults, institutions, bathrooms, commercials, statistics, language. Case closed. End of story. Goodnight, Irene.
Having grown up, we come to realize that things aren’t quite as clear cut as they seem. It turns out that gender isn’t bipolar. It isn’t determined by a flip of the coin at conception. Genitalia does not define gender. Gender is more like a roll of a pair of loaded dice with some outcomes much more likely than others. Something we’ve always thought of as black and white actually holds greys and yellows and oranges and purples. Many of us rebel against this idea. We try to put the yellows and oranges into the familiar and well understood black and white boxes. Many purples and greys try to conform to the black and white paradigm because society reinforces that what they truly are is wrong.
A fairly decent majority of the population does conform to the traditional female/male gender. In gender studies, these people are called cisgendered. They are the people with penises that feel like “males” and the people with vaginas that feel like “females” as defined by popular society.
Everyone else is thrown into the familiar “transgender” bucket. They are the people with penises that feel like “females” and the people with vaginas that feel like “males” and every possible permutation and gradation thereof. Our society as a whole still considers them to be abnormal. In reality, they’re just the green eyes in a world of blue and brown eyes. It is well past time that society start treating them as such.
There is a whole lot of privilege built in with being cisgendered. Like every societal privilege, a majority of the challenge is getting those with privilege to recognize that they even have it. This is a monumental task but not one that cannot be overcome. Education and exposure is the key.
But where to start? I would say the answer to that is at birth. There is already a whole lot of stigmatization that happens when we identify a newborn with a penis as male and a newborn with a vagina as female. Gender may have been decided well before birth but it certainly can not be determined by adults or by the baby at birth. Birth certificates should lose their male/female identifier and replace it with a simple equipment check: Penis/Vagina/Both.
Of course, this would also require society getting over calling the penis and vagina “naughty bits”. Which is another monumental task in and of itself. But it does lead me to the second idea. We need to get people to realize that gender identity and sexual identity are two completely different assignations. I see gender identity as how you “feel” about yourself and sexual identity as how you “feel” about other people. Society deeply intertwines the two and that makes each much more difficult to talk about. Yes, there is a lot of overlap between the two that falls exactly where you’d expect it to fall, but we’re once again getting into privilege issues.
This is incredibly complicated stuff. One can understand why a vast majority of the population doesn’t give it much thought. And that’s actually fine. That’s how it should be. That is our goal. Our problem now is that people only think about it when they are confronted with a standard deviation from their norm. It is new and completely outside their realm of experience and that makes it scary. The idea is to help them get past the fear. To make them see other gender identities just like they would someone with green eyes. It might be worth noting for it’s unusualness, but it’s certainly not worth treating a person differently over.