Him or Her? Embarrassing questions about transgender people
August 9, 2021
Yes, these are truly embarrassing questions (and unembarrassing answers).
Transgenderism in Russia is still perceived by many as some kind of anomaly, a bliss, a symbol of decadence of prosperous countries. Of course, this is not true, but even the most polite people are sometimes confused as to what gender to address transgender people in, and cannot easily answer the question of which bathroom transgender people go to. “Meduza” collected embarrassing questions about transgenderism and answered them in the most accessible way possible.
Let’s start at the beginning. Are transgender and transsexual the same thing?
Correct, but boring answer. No. Transsexuals are people who have undergone surgery to correct their biological sex. Each of us is born with male or female sex characteristics (with the exception of intersex people, who have characteristics of both sexes); this comes with certain chromosomes, anatomy, and hormonal balance. Genetics cannot be changed, but hormonal balance and external sex characteristics can be changed. A transsexual who is born with male or female sex characteristics changes the characteristics into the opposite sex characteristics with the help of hormones and/or surgery. Such transitions are called ftm (female-to-male) and mtf (male-to-female). Transgender people are all people whose self-awareness and behavior do not coincide with their actual gender (transsexuals are also transgender). It is believed that sex is about the body, and gender is about the mind. Gender, unlike gender, is the result of cultural or social influence.
Now in my own words. Transsexuals have surgery: male sex characteristics are changed to female sex characteristics, and female sex characteristics are changed to male sex characteristics. Transgender people are all those who have a different view of their sex and gender than society and nature: a man can consider himself a woman (and a woman a man), something in between, or a man and a woman. A transgender person is transgender, but not every transgender person is transgender.
And how do we talk about transgender people? He? Her?
That’s a correct but boring answer. It’s a very complicated question, and there are no uniform rules – in terms of language practice. There are several practices of using gender-neutral pronouns in the English-speaking community, but we cannot say that any one name is the only correct one. For example, in the U.S. in relation to a stranger you can find the expression he or she (“he or she”), s/he or the use of the pronoun they (“they”) in the singular. There are also more exotic variants – ne, ve, ze, and many others. All these refer to cases when you are talking about a transgender person whose self-identification, for whatever reason, is unknown to you or is shaky (as, for example, in the case of biggenders).
Now in your own words. This problem is not solved, so do this: until it is clear to you what the person calls himself or herself, avoid the pronouns “he” and “she”.
Which bathroom do transgender people go to? The men’s room? The women’s?
Correct, but boring answer. This situation is still unresolved in many countries: many transgender people would like to go to the bathroom according to their gender identity rather than their biological sex characteristics, but society and legislation are not ready for this everywhere. Sometimes it goes to court. In the United States, a 16-year-old American high school student demanded that the school stop violating his rights and allow him to use the men’s room despite technically being female-a court initially refused to hear the case, but the student appealed. The Barack Obama administration has officially backed him.
And now in my own words. Leave it to transgender people to choose their own bathroom and don’t be surprised if you see someone who looks like a woman in line at the M and vice versa.
And what about transgender people’s genitals?
Correct, but boring answer. Not all transgender people are uncomfortable with the sex characteristics they were born with. Those who are painful to be in their bodies can resort to sex correction surgery – after passing a commission and medical referral for hormone therapy. Sometimes at this stage it ends: the person begins to feel comfortable without surgery.
If hormone therapy is not enough, an operation (or several) is performed to surgically correct sex. The surgery may include removal of the ovaries, facial surgery, and removal of the mammary glands. The most difficult surgery, which not all transsexuals resort to, is the correction of the primary sex characteristics. To make the transition from male to female, the penis is turned into a vagina, the clitoris is made from the head of the penis, and the labia are made from the scrotum. For the transition from female to male, a penis is created from the clitoris (metoidioplasty) or from body tissue (phalloplasty). If the penis is made from the clitoris, it retains erectile function, but it cannot enlarge much, which sometimes creates difficulties for vaginal sex. If, on the other hand, the penis is made of skin tissue, doctors can lengthen the urethra, but erectile function will be created artificially with an implant.
Now in my own words. A transgender person is not necessarily uncomfortable in his body, and transsexuals do not always swap their penis for their vagina and vice versa. Nevertheless, it sometimes happens-and in general, the “new” genitals work; though, with some limitations.
Transgenderism is not a disease. It’s what? An anomaly? A pathology? An aberration? How many transgender people are there in the world?
It is not known exactly how many transgender people there are in the world, if only because there are no statistics on them in many countries. There are many different estimates, depending on the location of the studies and their purposes: it is one thing to record cases of transgender people seeking clinical help; another is to ask children or their parents if they wanted to be of the opposite sex. One of the most frequent estimates: one transgender person per 30,000 cisgender (non-transgender) people. By comparison, 1.6% of people over 18 in the U.K. describe themselves as homosexual, and 1.7% in the U.S.. There is no full statistics on transgender people in Russia.
And now in our own words. Transgenderism is similar to homosexuality – not a disease, but an innate trait. However, it is less common.
I feel like I am not living in my body. What should I do? Maybe I’m transgender.
Correct, but boring answer. There are various problems with the perception of one’s own body, not all of them are related to gender. It can be dissatisfaction with oneself and depression due to not conforming to the prevailing canons of beauty, it can also be an eating disorder – orthorexia, anorexia or bulimia. The whole spectrum of difficult or traumatic relationships with one’s body is referred to in English by the concept of body issues – there is a great deal of separate research devoted to it. Sometimes problems with the body are solved by the choice of clothing, sometimes by plastic surgery or sex correction surgery, sometimes by separating your own perception from society, but in any case, to understand what is going on with you, will help a psychologist.
And now in my own words. Problems with their own body up to its complete rejection can occur in any person, but it is not necessarily transgenderism.
At what age does the realization of transgenderism occur?
The correct but boring answer. Usually it happens quite early – already in childhood, people are uncomfortable with their own gender identity. For example, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt recently announced that they support their nine-year-old daughter Shilo’s wish to be a boy and will call him John from now on at his request.
In countries where sex reassignment surgery is allowed, such as Russia, there is often an age restriction: surgery can only be performed after the age of 18.
And now in my own words. The feeling of discomfort from the body appears at an early age. Awareness of transgenderism depends on the country and culture.