Complexities & Congruence: The Many Faces of Trans Lives

Photo Courtesy of Tribune News Service
Eighth-grader Avery Kaplan poses in a hallway at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Ill., on March 20, 2015. He was born a girl but recently began to identify himself as a boy.

Jacob Jardel
Managing Editor
@JJardel_Writing

One of the most problematic things about viral content is the language creators and sharers use when titling or describing something.

Oftentimes, when someone makes a point they feel nullifies an opposing viewpoint, they will use some variation or synonym of the word “destroy” to describe the gravity of argument’s point – regardless of whether or not the point achieves this effect.

Take, for example, a February 2017 video from Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro titled “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Transgenderism and Pro-Abortion Arguments.”

In it, the Harvard Law grad answers a series of questions from an audience member at a speaking engagement, citing court cases and traditional thought processes to make his point that being trans is an affront to a traditional definition of the natural biological order.

One of his answers to an audience question elaborated on how identifying as trans is a sign of a mental health disorder, citing Gender Identity Disorder, now called Gender Dysphoria. In short, these disorders describe the ill effects of an incongruence between biological sex and gender identity.

However, where Shapiro falters in his argument is the twisting of the definition – ironically, in parts regarding biology.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) provides criteria for Gender Dysphoria (eight for children, six for adults and adolescents), all of which must have lasted at least six months. Of these 14, four involve biophysiological aspects of the disorder.

The common theme of these specifications was summed up in the seventh criterion: “A strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy.”

In his video, Shapiro wishes luck to people suffering through dysphoria but implies that the solution is to regain congruence between gender identity and sexual anatomy. This idea could not be further from the truth, since it assumes there was a congruence to start.

More importantly, it fails to consider the four biophysiological criteria contribute to the definition of gender dysphoria – criteria that resolve only with altering physical biology.

Despite these flaws in logic, though, there continues to be a stigma toward trans individuals, one that typically manifests from fear. Whether it is fear of the ambiguous, fear of the atypical or fear of social contagion, the stigma permeates many parts of society.

In some cases, it leads to hate speech, intentional misgendering and confusion stemming from pedantic interpretations of rules. In others, this stigma can lead to biased double binds in the name of morality.

One such example is the story of female-to-male trans boy Mack Beggs. Because of recently-enacted regulations that required student-athletes to compete under the sex listed on their birth certificates, Beggs wrestled in and won the state title in the Texas girl’s wrestling division.

Upon his win, boos echoed through the gym just as much as cheers. Commenters on social media websites referenced Beggs while intentionally using feminine pronouns. Other comments speculated him of cheating, having an unfair advantage and using the new rule to his personal
benefit.

This case was just one example, though – an allegory for nationwide narratives involving the rights of trans individuals, particularly involving the use of public restrooms.

Recently, White House administration lifted federal guidelines that allow trans students to use the restroom congruent to their gender identity. This regulation had counteracted bills in places like Texas and North Carolina which required trans individuals to use restrooms based on the sex listed on their birth certificate.

These cases exemplify the double bind most apparently. The basis for these laws have their roots in morality, wanting to protect people – particularly women and young girls – from predators who pass off as trans.

But these regulations have caused a variety of dissonant results.

One of the most prominent shows of this incongruity has been Michael Hughes’ hashtag #WeJustNeedtoPee. A 45-year-old trans man, Hughes has taken selfies of himself in women’s restrooms to show how out of place he is in that setting.

Frankly, it looks like a scene many who supported the legislation morally wanted to avoid.

One of the reasons the current administration lifted these regulations was to make trans-related bathroom laws a state’s rights issue. For Cameron senior Sav Price, though, this argument is a front that masks a usually-overlooked aspect of the fight for trans people’s rights.

“It’s not about limiting federal overreach,” they said in an interview with KSWO. “It’s about isolating transgender individuals and their bodies.”

Isolation is a very demonstrative concept. It puts special focus on someone or something, for better or worse. In the case of bathroom rights, isolation leaves trans individuals in a spot that could lead to discrimination.

A 2013 study from the Williams Institute found that nearly 70 percent of trans individuals experienced some sort of harassment in restrooms, with another nine percent falling victim to some sort of assault. These results do not count the 18 percent who were denied restroom access.

While the survey only encompassed 93 participants from the Washington, D.C., area, these numbers could potentially generalize to trans people in other areas, especially in areas that place great value in masculine and feminine honor cultures.

Meanwhile, experts from 12 states have shown no real correlation between trans bathroom access and sexual assaults – counter to the logic that fueled restroom laws.

In the end, it turns out trans people just want to use the facilities in peace.

There are many other variables involved with the bathroom issues, from gender bias in protections to misconceptions of fluid gender dynamics.

But they all go to show one thing: There is more to understanding trans individuals than simple comparisons and assumptions.

Being trans is not a changeable state or an “ism” like racism or capitalism. It is a biological fact of life. It is an identity. It is a life somebody leads that can help bring congruence between mind and body, even amid the bullying that happens because of it.

Most importantly, the trans identity is complex.

No two trans experiences are the same, whether intrapersonally or interpersonally. There are so many factors that go into a trans identity that the list would be unfathomably long.

But one thing is true, no matter the individual: You cannot destroy the trans identity with invalid comparisons and ill-informed logic.

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