Welcome to One Small Thing—my biweekly newsletter that provides you each time with one small thing you can start doing today to make a difference in the life of a person who identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming.
Thank you for being here.
Never in my lifetime—as relatively short as it’s been—has there been so much visibility of experiences and topics relevant to transgender and gender-nonconforming folks as there has been recently.
It’s both a beautiful and encouraging thing to see, and it also makes me cringe a little. And sometimes a lot.
One of the reasons it makes me cringe is because there is a lot of misinformation about trans lives swirling around the internet and making its way into conversations about Caitlyn Jenner and in the comments section of articles about the false comparison between trans-racialism and trans* identities.
I am grateful for the visibility because it means that there is a growing acknowledgement that trans* folks exist in the world and deserve to take up space.
But can you remember a time in your life where you felt misunderstood or people made assumptions about you based one piece of information?
I’m guessing it didn’t feel very good.
The thing I want to share with you today is this: There is no universal trans* experience.
When you hear that someone identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming, the only thing you really know in that moment is that that person identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming.
Now don’t get me wrong: I spent 13 years studying human behavior and applying theories and diagnoses to said behavior. My ability to help people was often based on a lot of assumptions, previous experiences, and current literature, which is pretty much just other people’s opinions.
Of course we make sense of the world based on stereotypes, assumptions, and the information we have. The human brain is designed to sort and categorize information quickly; our survival used to depend on it (and still does to a much lesser degree).
But look at the following statements:
Because you’re a woman you will give birth.
Because you’re a man you will enjoy watching sports on tv.
Because you’re from the Midwest you will be overly nice to strangers.
Because you’re Christian you will…
Because you attended such and such college you will…
Because you’re ______ you will ______.
There’s not much room for people in any of these assumptions.
It’s true that a lot of women will give birth. It’s true that a lot of men like watching sports on tv. But not all of them—not by any stretch of the imagination.
German Lopez, a writer for Vox.com, says this:
Trans communities are as diverse as any other group, filled with people of various socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, with varied personal challenges and life experiences. Although trans people face similar societal pressures and forms of discrimination, how they handle and respond to these issues varies from person to person.
Some trans* people will medically transition using hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery. Some will not.
Some trans* people were aware of feeling trans when they were children. Some were not.
Some trans* people identify as gay or lesbian. Some do not.
I’m presenting dichotomies here to make a point: there are variations on all of these statements and none makes someone more authentically trans*.
The point is this: there is no universal trans* experience.
So when you have the good fortune to meet or hear about someone who identifies as transgender or gender-nonconforming, I encourage you to make as much room for them to be who they are as you would appreciate having in all of your various identities.
I’m not asking you to stop making assumptions—it’s what our mind does.
But I am asking you to hold space for the idea that your assumptions might be wrong and that just because we all have assumptions about others doesn’t mean we have the right to put them onto others.
Let someone tell you their story, if they so choose. Be surprised. Be open. Be touched. Be changed.
I think one thing we can all agree on is that having someone make an incorrect assumption about us is a universal experience.
So, I’d love to hear from you: can you remember a time when someone made an incorrect assumption about you—based on anything—and how that felt? If so, please start or join the conversation in the comments section below.
If you know someone who might enjoy reading this or being part of the discussion, please send it their way as well!
And don’t forget to sign up in the sidebar or at the bottom of the page if you’d like to learn small ways to make a big impact on the lives of trans* folks.
As always, I look forward to seeing you again soon.