Trans 101: Misconceptions

There are a ton of misconceptions, incorrect facts, half-truths, and a myriad of other problematic information about trans people floating around in the media, academics, word of mouth, and so on. In fact, these misconceptions are often perpetuated by mainstream media and academia. For example, Orange is the New Black which is touted to be extremely positive towards its portrayal of trans people with its trans woman character, Sophia, has its problems. Sophia has had bottom surgery and has been on hormones for a while, I will not spoil any of the plot, but the show ends up showing Sophia sprouting chin hairs and experiencing breast shrinkage due to issues accessing hormones in prison. Neither of these actually happen to trans women who have had some form of bottom surgery. However, the show incorrectly shows Sophia experiencing secondary sex characteristics that are typically male due to her lack of hormones. While minor, these types of misinformation plague the trans community and society at large, creating a lot of confusion and misconceptions about trans people, transition, and their lives.

I am going to dispel some of these misconceptions and misinformation throughout this piece. I have split it into three parts:  Identity/Sexuality, Surgery/Transition, and Choices/Binary/Enforcement. There will be things that fit into several or all the categories. I picked the best category I felt for each option.

Identity/Sexuality:

“Trans people are really/actually the gender they were assigned at birth”. This is the fuel behind every exclusionary argument. This is the root behind why trans people are barred from correct gendered bathrooms, locker rooms, and so on. The idea that trans people are not their actual gender is bunk. It is rooted in biological essentialism and the idea that sex is something concrete, when it is just as malleable as identity can be. The idea of sex being some overbearing idea is something I’ve addressed in my piece, Sex is Dead.

“Trans people used to be what they were assigned at birth.” This is another misconception that can be correct for some, but not for all. There are trans people who at one point identified with their assigned at birth gender. There are trans people who were always something different than what they were assigned. Assigned at birth genders are assumptions based on genitals due to stereotypes. They are not always correct. Saying that someone used to be men/women may be correct for some, but it is often incorrect. Many trans people have memories of always seeing themselves as their actual gender, not the guess they were assigned with. Assuming that all trans people identified at one point or another with their assigned at birth gender is incorrect.

“Trans kids are just confused and need to be pushed in the right direction.” Children do not have completely developed brains, however, ask any small child if they are a boy or a girl and many will be able to answer you. However, they may not be able to give you a reason why. Children like Coy Mattis and Jazz, both young children who have transitioned, are extremely happy. People are more concerned with accidentally letting a cis child regret living as a different gender than assigned for a few years, than preventing the mental anguish and incorrect puberty of trans children. Many people believe that allowing tran children to transition means surgeries and hormones, which is incorrect. Trans children are given puberty blocking drugs that allow them to avoid puberty to a later age so that they can decide at a more mentally mature age to go through the puberty of the gender they truly are, whether it aligns with the assumption made at birth or not. Trans people experience high rates of suicide and depression, much of which can be prevented by allowing a child to transition through their correct gender.

“Trans people know their whole lives they are trans.” As previously stated, some people do know from a young age they are trans, others do not. There is not correct age to figure out you are trans. There are people who do not figure out until they are middle aged or even later. There is no correct time to transition either.  While the younger the better for results, there is no such thing as too late to transition. Identity is not something that is always fixed and often fluctuates. This includes gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality. Someone who has had no previous experiences or thoughts about being trans may develop them over time. This does not invalidate the identity of those who have known for years, but simply shows how vast the human experience is and how identity is not something that is always concrete for some.

“Trans people are just enacting a fetish/sexually confused.” Autogynephilia is something that was created to describe normal female feelings of sexiness and enjoying ones’ body for trans women. There is no autoandrophilia or similar for trans men. Simply put, the idea of a sexual fantasy is something that is only believed about trans women. Trans sexuality is something that is given a huge double standard. Trans people are both systematically desexualized, while being oversexualized  in the media and in porn. I say trans people, but the reality for this is that only trans women are perpetually sexualized and desexualized. While there are people who cross-dress for sexual gratification, they are usually not trans people. They are usually cis people who do not wish to transition. Autogynephilia is a largely perpetuated myth. In fact, 93% of cis women in a study would be classified as autogynephiles.

“Being trans is just being extremely gay.” Trans women are just extremely femme gay men while trans men are just extremely butch lesbians. This is instantly disproven by the fact that there are queer identified (sexuality wise) trans people. Lesbian trans women exist and gay trans men exist. Trans people are every flavor of sexuality and romantic orientation that cis people are. Being trans is not linked to someone’s sexual orientation, in fact, it is far from it. Also, having a trans partner does not negate the sexuality of the cis partner. A straight man dating a trans women is still straight, no matter what the operative status of his partner is. He is a man dating a woman, the very definition of what a straight man is.

“You can’t be trans if you will be a gay trans person.” Once again, being trans has nothing to do with ones sexuality. Trans people are as varied as cis people are in their sexual orientations. You do not tell a cis woman she cannot be a lesbian nor do you tell a cis man he cannot be gay (and if you believe that, how in the hell are you on my site?).

“Trans people are deceivers/traps/drag queens.” This is a trope that is mainly played upon trans women and trans feminine CAMAB (coercively assigned male at birth) trans people. Trans people are not deceiving anyone since they are their identified gender. That is their actual gender and sex, not the one they were wrongfully assigned at birth. Trans people who do not disclose are not deceiving anyone as it is on the person who wishes to sleep with them. Disclosing trans status is extremely dangerous and can lead to rape, harassment, physical assault, and even death. If you do not wish to sleep with a trans person, it is on you to ask, not the trans person to disclose. This is extremely personal and up to the trans person. You do not ask every person their intimate medical knowledge, do not expect trans people to give it to you. Trans people (especially CAMAB trans people) are not traps either. This implies, once again, that they are trying to deceive usually straight cis men into sleeping with them. This is incorrect. Finally, trans women are not drag queens. While there are some trans women who are drag performers (such as Carmen Carrera), this is usually not the case. Most drag queens are cis gay men who dress in feminine attire and clothing for performance reasons. Drag is about performance. Being trans is not.

“Well, I think I am a tiger! ROAR!” There are a lot of differences between believing you are an animal and being trans. Gender is something that is expressed across cultures, no matter what. It is something that is innate to all people in some form or another, whether it lines up with the assigned at birth gender. All cultures have what Western/Eurocentric culture would deem as trans people and people who exist outside of the Western/Eurocentric culture binary. Gender is expressed and identified with in many different forms across the globe, it is a universal even though it may manifest in many different ways. What people deem as masculine, feminine, third gender, etc. varies and changes upon culture, but they are all still there. While mythos involving animals and animals spirits exist in many different cultures, this is not something that is expressed explicitly as an identity across cultures in the same way that gender is. (I have nothing against Otherkin. In fact, all the otherkin I know happen to also be trans. Also, this section may be slightly problematic, so if anyone has issues, PLEASE contact me on how I can express this one better!)

 

Surgery/Transition:

“All trans people want hormones/surgery.” There are many trans people who cannot medically transition due to health reasons. There are also trans people who do not want to medically, hormonally, or surgically transition. Many trans people cannot afford to transition either. Hormones are relatively cheap, but when you have high joblessness and homelessness rates that trans people face, gaining access to medically necessary transitional needs is difficult. Combine that with the gatekeeping that trans people must jump through, and it becomes even harder. Many gatekeepers are old-fashioned as well and uphold the binary ideas of trans people, believing that trans women must be attracted to men and femme and trans men must be masculine and attracted to women. This makes accessing medical care extremely difficult for non-binary or gender non-conforming people as well as for queer trans people. Hormones and surgery are not necessary to be trans, nor do all trans people want them. Varying degrees of want and need also exist in the community, but transitional medicine is medically necessary to save lives (remember those high suicide rates I mentioned earlier?). There is no such thing as someone who is more trans due to wanting to medically transition over someone who does not want to or cannot medically transition. This leads me into the next misconception.

“All trans people experience dysphoria.” While dysphoria (the depression, disdain, upsetness, and otherwise negative emotions associated with having body parts that do not quite fit you) is extremely common in trans people, it is not necessary to be trans. Dysphoria is also experienced in varying degrees among trans people. There are trans people who experience extreme discomfort (thus dysphoria) due to certain body parts or attributes while others may experience none at all. Dysphoria is not a requirement, nor is it a scale of how trans someone is.

“Trans people just get their parts ‘cut off’.” There seems to be this belief, especially for trans women or trans feminine people, that they get their penises chopped off. In fact, the same tissues for their penis are used to make their vaginas. Trans men and trans masculine people do not have their breasts chopped off, but have the fat and breast tissue (and maybe some skin) removed. Their nipples may be repositioned or removed entirely if they desire. Thus, the idea that trans people have their parts just chopped off is incorrect.

“The surgery” is often used to discuss bottom surgery and is held in the belief that there is just one all encompassing trans surgery. Generally this is a trans woman getting a vagina and a trans man getting a penis. However, there are numerous types of surgery for trans people. Trans people may want varying degrees of surgery and someone who wants more is not more trans than someone else, nor is a trans woman with a vagina anymore of a woman than a trans women with a penis. Surgery is not what makes a person their gender, being their gender makes them that gender. In other words, surgery is something that is sometimes medically necessary to alleviate dysphoria, but it does not make a trans person any more or less of their gender. This is why I personally have issues with gender/sex reassignment surgery or gender confirmation surgery as terms to describe bottom surgery. Surgery does not reassign the person’s sex/gender, they do that themselves. Nor does surgery confirm someone’s gender, that is once again something the person does. I prefer genital reconstruction/reassignment surgery because the surgeries reconstruct or reassign the parts to be a different set of genitals.

“Hormones don’t do anything.” People underestimate the affects hormones have on someone’s body. Most of the changes someone experiences during transition come from hormones. While everyone is different, hormones generally cause a great deal of change. People on testosterone grow facial and body hair, their clits enlarge. People on estrogen/progesterone grow breasts, skin becomes softer, body/facial hair becomes lighter. Everyone experiences body fat redistribution. Everything associated with puberty comes with those who are on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This includes all the bad things (such as acne). While it does not allow for trans women to become pregnant, nor do trans men grow a penis, many of the secondary characteristics associated with this hormones come about.

“Trans people are just mutilated.” You do not say someone who gets laser eye surgery is mutilated. You do not say someone who gets some form of cosmetic surgery is mutilated. You do not say that someone who has an arm amputated for medical reasons is mutilated. They are changed due to a medical condition or due to personal choice (neither of which is wrong or problematic). Trans people are not mutilated people, they are just people who may have had surgery. This is something that is personal and also does not need to be discussed. You do not expect all of your partners to give a rundown of their surgical or medical history, do not expect the same from trans people.

Choices/Binary/Enforcement:

“Trans people are trans because their hormones are too low.” The idea that trans people can be ‘cured’ by giving them hormones that match their assigned at birth gender is false. While there are some trans people who do experience lower than usual levels for their assigned at birth genders, there is no direct explanation as for why trans people are trans. There are many theories, some of which involve in-utero hormone levels. However, it seems that being trans is a complex biopscyhosocial (biological, psychological, sociological) experience that is congruent with natural human variation. Giving CAMAB (coercively assigned male at birth) trans people testosterone does not change their trans identity. The same goes for CAFAB (coercively assigned female at birth) trans people. While some trans people are also intersex (they do not fit neatly into the assigned female or assigned male box for whatever reason), this is not a reason someone is trans. There are trans people who are not intersex as well as trans people with hormone levels that are typical for their assigned at birth gender. Thus, this idea that trans people can be cured with hormones of their assigned at birth gender is absurd and incorrect and can lead to more harm than letting a trans person transition.

“I let my child play with X gendered toy, now they are trans!” The idea that people become or turn trans by playing with certain toys or objects is kind of ridiculous. There are more cis people who played with specifically gendered toys (cis men who played with barbies, cis women who played with trucks, etc) who are still cis. There are even children who may have cross-dressed as children who are cis. While gravitating towards stereotypically differently gendered toys is common for trans children, it is not why they are trans. The idea that is that children are impressionable and thus, any little deviation from the norm will make them trans, queer, or something else. In fact, it is better to expose children to diversity because it shows them the possibilities in the world. Allowing a child to play with certain toys or allow them to dress a certain way will not make them trans, but it may show that the child has an identity other than the one they were assigned, or it could just mean they enjoy those things.

“Trans people are a recent phenomenon.” As previously stated, people who could be described as trans by Western/Eurocentric standards exist across all cultures, just as gender exists across all cultures. In fact, there have been discoveries of ancient people where skeletons that were identified as stereotypically male were buried with stereotypically female or feminine items at the time. Thus, there is a possibility that our ancestors in their cultures experienced possibly more than just the binary gender we experience today, or people we would describe as trans. There are accounts of people who could be considered trans across the globe in books and documents dating hundreds of years back. Thus, trans people are not explicitly a recent phenomenon.

“Trans people are always hyper feminine or hyper masculine. They are just caricatures.” Trans people of all gender expressions exist. For example, I am a cross-dressing, non-binary presenting trans male. I identify as male but prefer feminine clothing such as high heels, bright colors, tight jeans, and so on. There are trans women who enjoy motorcycles, football, or other stereotypically masculine things. There are feminine and masculine trans people, across all boards. There are also non-binary trans people. The idea that trans people exhibit certain, hyper feminine/masculine characteristics is something that is a lay over from gatekeeping (that is still around today). While there are femme trans women and masculine trans men, this is not something that makes them more authentic than anyone else. A butch trans woman is just as much of a woman as a femme cis woman. Trans people are capable of the variations of gender expression that cis people are capable of as well.

“Trans people uphold gender stereotypes.” This is just another way of stating the above. Another branch of this though, is the double standard that trans people experience. Trans peoples’ identities are constantly scrutinized. There are even people who demand trans people be binary as well as masculine or feminine depending on their identity. It is a double-edged sword, damned if you do, damned if you don’t type deal. Trans people who display more characteristics that are stereotypical to their assigned at birth gender are just proving how they aren’t really their identified (ie actual) gender, but what people assumed at birth. Trans people who have more traits that are stereotypical to the gender they identify with (ie actually are), are seen as upholding stereotypes.

“Trans people transition because they are self-hating/betraying their assigned at birth gender.” While this may be true for some (since there are misogynistic trans men, and trans women who dislike men), people do not usually transition due to self-loathing. They transition due to the fact that the gender they were assigned at birth is not truly them. The whole “born into the wrong body” trope is overdone. Trans people may feel this way, but in actuality, the assumptions made about their body was wrong. They may hate their parts, but not for the fact that they belong stereotypically to another gender, but due to the fact that they are not correct for that person. This is something that varies among trans people and reasons for transitioning are personal. They are not betraying an entire gender by transitioning (nor are they raping them). They are simply existing and creating their own body how they view it should be. I view our bodies (all of them) as art in progress and we are free to work with them as they want.

There is a lot of incorrect information about trans people. If there is anything you would like to see added, please feel free to contact me or comment!

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One thought on “Trans 101: Misconceptions

  1. Pingback: » TERF HUB: Resources for those who want to learn what Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism is really about

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