On Being Different

Posted on December 1, 2010 by

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A few weeks ago I was staying in Olympia, Washingon. The city is pretty small with only 42,000 inhabitants and would not  be special if it had not got Evergreen State College. Many of the students going there belong to liberal green/ left activist movements. For two nights I was staying with one of them: a couchsurfer called Davi.

What made it all the more interesting was the fact that Davi and one of his/ her friends was transgender, which came up in a conversation with another friend of his/ hers. She (his/ her friend) corrected me that I should not regard him/ her as male. I must be honest, my immediate thought was pretty much:

‘Wow… what the heck have I gotten into here?’

I do not know if you are, but I wasn’t that clear on what transgenderism is. Here is a definition from Merriam Webster:

‘Transgender is relating to, or being a person (as a transsexual or a transvestite) who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth.’

And the story continues as follows: initially, I took it as something of a joke, but Davi’s friend friend confirmed the fact minutes thereafter, causing me some confusion. Multiple times I pushed myself to address “him” as “her”, but I really struggled, as I perceived “her” as a male.

She/ he wore a beard, spoke with a voice that I classified as male and dressed as a male as far as I could judge. My reason for addressing him/ her neither solely as him nor her is that I could not find a term that was precise enough (“it” didn’t feel right either). As he/she said:

‘I do not identify as female. The whole idea that there are two sexes or genders and that everyone is one or the other is unsupported by any credible science. It is an unfortunate situation that our medical establishment forces people into one of those two arbitrary roles within minutes of birth. If the doctors cannot decide which is more appropriate based on the shape of the child’s genitals, they simply make a choice, and mutilate the child’s genitals so that they conform with the doctor’s ideas of what people “should” look like. This is far more common than you would ever want to believe.’

Hence, he/ she argues that the use of gender is obsolete and we should abandon it. As a result he/ she does not regard himself/ herself as belonging to a particular gender. This is different for his/ her friend Gabe about whom he/ she wrote:

‘Transgender has nothing to do with “converting” or change. Gabe is not becoming a man, he IS a man. He has always been a man. He was born that way.’

or

‘The assumption that men and women look a particular way and that you can identify who belongs to which gender simply by looking is just plain wrong. The only thing that is (hopefully) changing are the assumptions that you make based on a person’s physical appearance.’

Confusing perhaps? It’s all because of our conditioning.

My Twisted Mind

It took me some time, that particular night in Seattle, to internalize this perspective by simply understanding what it meant for them to be transgender. Initially, after Davi’s friend confirmed that Davi does not identify as “he” nor Gabe as “she”, my mind ran riot. I felt that my neurons could not make that connection and I had to train them to do so. Mainly for that reason I left the party we were at for about an hour or two and went for a walk around Seattle. As I returned I felt alright with not perceiving Davi as a man and accepted Gabe’s choice to be a man. Yes, it was strange! However, I realized that they people with wills and desires like anyone else, and I shall accept their choices. We all have different tastes in hobbies, in clothes, in food and in jobs, so why not in gender too?

All of this had tickled my curiosity so I swung myself in front of my laptop a few days later and did some research which helped me discover various interesting insights transgenderism.

Discrimination

Transgenders face difficulties in an incredible array of everyday situations. It starts with which toilet to choose and ends with which sports team you are going to play for. There were some interesting cases of sports women, who in reality have been men. To an extent this could be seen as cheating, but there are a number of individuals who have competed openly as transgender. Erik Schinegger for example is an Austrian who competed in down-hill skiing as an officially recognized woman.

Apparently, besides this comparably mild form of discrimination, transgenders are also subject to an improportionally high number of homicides as an article of the human rights campaign states. I suppose it is somewhat similar to how Albinos are faring in Africa. Openly admitting to be different does not always work out in your favour, especially in very prejudiced societies.

Indigenous Tribes

I have also come across a Wiki article (sub-headline “Transgender people in non-Western cultures”) stating that Indian tribes in the America’s termed transgenders ‘berdachis’. Within indigenous communities they are nowadays referred to as ‘two-spirited’ and in numerous places valued more highly than people with only one gender. The logic is that it is better to have two genders than one. Makes sense?

The Zapotec culture in Mexico goes a step further by recognizing the existence of a third gender called Muxe.

These groups acknowledge the existence of individuals with multiple genders or those that feel caged in the wrong body. They pay them respect and treat them at least as equals if not superiors to everyone else. Such a level of acceptance is starkly lacking in our ‘advanced’ ‘modern’ civilization.

Thanks!

Following these experiences experience I feel very grateful towards  the openness shown by Davi, Gabe and all the others. I believe to have partially understood another part of what it means to live on Earth.

Davi and friend making apple-cider.


Checking the bottle of applecider…


DONE WITH APPLECIDER. YAY!!!

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Posted in: Gender, Sociology