If you follow the news in any way, you’ve probably seen the concern from some conservatives and religious organizations that transgender youth are destroying sports, can’t be trusted in bathrooms, or need to be “fixed.”
Let’s gather around so we can dispel myths and learn a few (or many) things.
DefinitionsI prefer to start with what words mean so that we can all begin on the same page.
Anatomical sex: This is what is on your birth certificate or driver’s license for many of us. When you were born, a doctor, midwife, nurse, or taxi driver caught you as your parent pushed you out of their vagina or removed you from the uterus during a c-section. The doctor looked at your external genitals and declared you a boy or a girl. Bam! This is all that was used to determine your anatomical sex. This label follows you around everywhere. On legal documents, expected gender roles, the color of clothes in your baby closet, and so much more.
There is an important note to make here that 1 in 100 births result in people whose bodies differ from standard male or female. The term for this is intersex. Intersex folkx may have genitals (about 1 in 1500 births) that are obviously different, and a doctor will make a subjective judgment on the anatomical sex of the child. To learn more, please check out the Intersex Society of North America (www.isna.org).
Anatomical sex is more than our external genitals. It includes internal genitals, hormones, and DNA. These are not things that a doctor will look at or test when an infant is born. Yet, we have brutal legal fights to restrict access to health care based solely on external genitals.
Gender Identity: This is how you feel about yourself. This isn’t something that can be tested, cured by religion, or explained by science. Your gender identity is your personal feeling of whether your gender is man, woman, or non-binary.
Every person has this sense of self. For many of us, we identify as cisgender—anatomical sex (your genitals) matches your gender identity: male-man, female-woman. Other folkx identify as transgender—anatomical sex is opposite of your gender identity: male-woman, female-man. Still, others prefer not to stick to a binary choice and identify as non-binary. More and more generations are less concerned about fitting into a label or preconceived notion of male/female, man/woman. It is refreshing to listen, really listen, to younger folkx and learn from their acceptance and inclusive attitudes.
Gender Expression: The actions, behaviors, attitudes, styles that we exhibit as we move through the world. There is still a generation alive today that judged women for wearing pants. Another generation of men was harassed and discriminated against for having long hair (“those damn hippies!”). This is, easily, the most fluid and ever-evolving part of ourselves when we talk about gender. We have so much power in our self-expression, and it is also the entry point for hate, vitriol, and damage by people who want to hurt others. To express yourself outside the social norms associated with your perceived gender may anger some people. This anger is that individual’s responsibility and problem and not a reflection on who we are as a person. Sadly, there are a powerful few doing everything they can to control other people’s autonomy and health.
Attraction: Though unrelated to gender, we should talk about who we are attracted to or more commonly identified as sexual orientation. This isn’t only about sexual attraction but can include romantic and/or emotional attraction. Gay and straight are so last century! There are now a plethora of identities folkx use to talk about who they are attracted to – allosexual, androsexual, asexual, autosexual, bicurious, bisexual, cupiosexual, demisexual, fluid, gay, graysexual, gynesexual, lesbian, libidoist asexual, monosexual, non-libidoist asexual, omnisexual, pansexual, polysexual, pomosexual, queer, questioning, sapiosexual, skoliosexual, spectrasexual, or straight.
What a wondrous list! Some of these words you may know, and others may be completely new. What makes this list inspiring is that it has been expanded by the more open-minded and inclusive younger generations. You don’t have to pick a label from that list or only one from that list. Most importantly, find a way to celebrate your identity with whatever words do not harm yourself or anyone else. Also, worry less about other’s identities and trying to fit them into boxes for your comfort.
A bigger pictureAs I am writing this, I’m wrapping up a youth program, and I have 4th graders who are more understanding, thoughtful, informed, and empathetic than the majority of legislators who think we need to keep “that” kid away from others. As if being around a transgender youth is catching and even if that were true (it is absolutely not true), that being transgender is a bad thing, which it is not. We are not made to mimic each other or be carbon copies. Difference is strength. Diversity is beauty. Our youth are the future! There is no justifiable reason to harm children, ever.
We need sexuality education that speaks to real life. Sex happens—in marriage or orgies, consensual or forced, once or many times. It is more harmful to be silent on topics of sexuality than it is to talk about them. It is beneficial and proven through research¹ that comprehensive, medically accurate, inclusive, and positive sexuality education helps youth wait to have sex until they are ready.
Positive sexuality education creates safe and inclusive spaces where youth can feel empowered to learn more about what is happening with their developing bodies during puberty and beyond. It allows for the normalization of topics like consent, healthy relationships, communication, decision making, and, yes, sexual behaviors.
You don’t have to enroll your youth in a sex-ed class but please, teach them something of your values. Explain why you believe marriage is the safest place for sex or what it means in your religion to follow a particular path. I may disagree with your approach but saying nothing is harmful and leaves youth open to abuse. Talk about what to do in harmful situations. Find love in your heart and compassion in your soul if your child is different than you.
Yes, I am pleading with parents to do more and be more for our children. If you hate or fear a child because they are transgender or queer, stop and ask yourself why. Why does a child scare you? Why are you angry? Why are you fearful? And what does your hate or anger or fear give you?
Please donate to the ACLU (www.aclu.org/issues/lgbtq-rights) as they work to combat the legislative attacks against transgender folkx. More specifically, the abhorrent legislation passed in Arkansas prohibits healthcare professionals from providing or even referring transgender young people for medically necessary health care. The law also bars any state funds for gender-affirming health care for transgender people under 18, and it would allow private insurers to refuse to cover gender-affirming care for people of any age. Many of these state-level bills against transgender people are targeted at youth participating in sports.
¹ International technical guidance on sexuality education: an evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers and health educators
Document code: ED.2009/WS/36 REV.3
Year of publication: 2009
Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com