13 Myths and Misconceptions About Trans Women: Part One

Debunking myths is one of those things that us skeptics are supposed to do, right?

Okay then…

(my triskaidekaphilia isn’t showing, is it?)

1. Trans women are just really, really, REALLY gay.

This one is impressively persistent, and unbelievably common. It was even pulled out recently while Lance Bass, an openly gay man, was guest-hosting Access Hollywood. The truth is fairly simple: gender identity and sexual orientation have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. A fairly common adage used to address this misunderstanding is “sexual orientation is about who you want to go to bed with, gender identity is about who you want to go to bed as.”

My own preference in addressing it is to simply point out the existence of trans lesbians (that is, trans women who are attracted to other women). Problem solved. Let’s go have tea and scones.

Or so one would hope, anyway.

I think a lot of this confusion stems from how strongly we associate behaviour with gender. The cultural assumption of heterosexuality is so intrinsic, we see gay men as being somehow in defiance of what it is to be a man. They become regarded as female-like or transgender simply by engaging in a mode of sexuality that is more common amongst women than men, even though many gay men express themselves in an almost hyper-masculine way. This misconception is amplified by our overemphasis of sex and sexuality when thinking about gender and what gender means, so we can end up regarding any expression of gender as being about sexuality. Such as the widespread assumption by men that women dress nice or stylishly or sexily primarily as a means of attracting men, rather than simply an expression of their own identity and feelings that day.

This myth is damaging to both trans women and gay men alike. It also often leads to trans issues being swept aside or subsumed within broader discussions of LGBTQ stuff. Such as how this ad that ran in the Canadian newspaper The National Post was largely decried for being homophobic rather than transphobic despite being almost entirely based around promoting fear of transgenderism, and how the narrative of PFC Manning has been written as the story of a gay man in the military, despite the fact that the evidence clearly shows she had been planning to transition immediately upon return to civilian life. She continues to be described even by her supporters in male and masculine terms.

Short answer: sex / gender and sexuality do not have a deterministic relationship to one another. Which is why there are such things as gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the first place.

2. So you’re going to get your penis cut off?

Another impressively common one.

In short, no. That’s not how it works.

I hope I don’t squick you all out too much, but I’ll provide a really rough, basic explanation of one of the common forms of MtF lower surgery (aka SRS, sexual reassignment surgery, aka GRS, genital reconstruction surgery, aka vaginoplasty), using the “inversion method”. The penis is basically split into three pieces. The tip is sort of detached from the bulk of the shaft to be formed into a clitoris. The skin of the shaft is removed and the shaft itself split down the middle. It is then inverted into a vaginal canal such that the exterior circumference of the shaft serves as the vaginal lining. This preserves sensation in the event of penetrative sex as well as allows for a certain degree of natural lubrication during arousal. The testes are indeed discarded but they’re pretty much the only bit of tissue that doesn’t get used. The scrotal tissue is used to form outer labia and create the aesthetic appearance of a typical female vulva. Remaining tissue and skin get used to form a clitoral hood and add additional depth to the vaginal canal as needed.

The procedure is remarkably effective, and has come quite a long way over the decades. Trans women today are able to preserve considerable sensation (often no loss of sensation reported at all), and very many report greatly improved sexual satisfaction and full orgasmic potential. The outward appearance is virtually indistinguishable from any other woman’s vulva. The only two things that are typically at all noticeable are that if your partner is particularly well-endowed, he may notice a slight lack of depth, and the vaginal canal is often a little bit steeper than in cis women, though that can be prevented by a trans woman taking care to exercise proper technique while dilating (a process required to ensure the vaginal canal doesn’t close).

There are a few things that I find particularly troubling about this misconception, or even just casual joking reference to “cutting off your dick”. One is reinforcement of the classic misogynist myth that women are incomplete men. Women are men, minus a few pieces. Female genitals are just the absence of male genitals. Castration anxiety, penis envy, blah blah blah, etc. Clearly, that is not true. Women are their own sex, not simply lesser men. So why should we assume that acquiring girl bits is as simple as lopping off the boy bits and carving a gash?

The other problem is how it reinforces an image of trans women as sexless, mutilated Barbie dolls. It reinforces the idea that we have simply discarded our sex rather than creating for ourselves a new one. It is reductive, and imagines our new state as “less” than our previous one. It reinforces the sense that we’ve rendered ourselves inferior in sacrificing our maleness. The reality is that transition is not a de-sexing of the body, it is a re-sexing of the body. Our genitals are not discarded, they are simply reshaped.

3. So you’ve chosen to get a sex change operation?

SRS is not what changes our sex. That’s only one tiny piece of the puzzle. And many trans women choose not to, or can’t, undergo SRS. A woman is not defined by what’s between her legs.

I lay this one at the feet of the media.

Unless a film or TV show is explicitly about the long, gradual, complex, multifaceted, emotionally harrowing, highly individual process of transition, it is impossible to really portray it accurately or fit it into a plot. Most of the times transition shows up in movies or TV, it’s as a plot device. Why waste time portraying something so complex and gradual when it’s just a little hinge in your narrative?

We’ve all seen it a million times. Bob goes into the hospital as a big, burly, manly dudely dude. Out walks Roberta in her heels and mini-skirt, with her D-cup breasts suddenly magically having appeared out of nowhere, her hair miraculously 12 inches longer, and goes swishing off to sleep with the first unsuspecting guy she can find.

No recovery time! No pain! No blood! No dilation! No bandages and packing! No long, tedious four year process for hormones to do their breast development, skin tone, body hair, fat redistribution thing. No irritating legal hassles with changing name and documentation. No emotional roller-coaster. No spontaneous bursts of tears. No voice training. No re-learning your body language and mannerisms. No anxiety about passing. No joyful revelation the first time you realize you are passing. No crying with happiness the first time you discover you can look in a mirror without hating what you see. No dealing with the scariness and awkwardness of beginning to date again. No re-learning the entire language of fashion and how to dress. No getting accustomed to bras and heels and earrings and annoying nightmarishly fiddly little jewelry clasps. No wondering whether the better orgasms are worth their infrequency. No rediscovering your sexuality. No long, complex process of reacquainting yourself with new genitalia and learning to understand them. No learning what you are and aren’t comfortable wearing. No getting nail polish all over your fingers and eyeliner in your eyeball because you never got a chance to learn how to do that stuff as a little girl. No coming out. No losing friends. No being disowned by family. No growing closer to the people who supported you. No adapting to the loss of male privilege and learning how to deal with cat calls. No nothing. Basically? No transition. None of any of the stuff that makes it such an intense and incredible and traumatic and rewarding and beautiful experience.

And she’s wearing a mini-skirt! After SRS! Which in real life basically amounts to your entire lifetime’s worth of periods condensed into a two month period of recovery. Bloody, hormonal, moody, painful recovery.

And she goes and gets laid, too.

Trivializing? Kinda.

4. “It’s a trap” / Trans women are just gay guys trying to attract straight dudes.

Art from

See above about us not being gay guys.

But this one goes a lot deeper, a lot nastier, a lot more demeaning, and a lot more dangerous.

Dangerous in that a great many trans women have lost their lives to sexual partners who felt they were “tricked”.

The concept of “deception” is a tricky one, and it can be very complicated to unpack the various ethical dimensions of disclosure and where a trans person’s responsibility lies in terms of informing her partner. That’s far too big a subject to tackle here, but Zinnia Jones provides a fantastic explanation in this YouTube video. I’d just like to say that I really don’t think it’s our responsibility to give you the opportunity to inflict your bigotry and hang-ups on us; it’s your responsibility to ask (if it’s that big a deal to you). And if a woman was attractive to you one moment and a repulsive, lying whore the next, when all that has changed is that you now know a largely irrelevant detail of her history, the problem is with your perceptions, not her body.

The problematic implications of us being “traps” are a bit too numerous to name them all. A few that come to mind are the basic assumption that we’re “really” men, believing that our decisions all revolve around you and we’re doing this for your sake, not our own (kind of like the earlier example about how men may interpret how a woman dresses), the issues of conflating gender expression with sexual motivations, the concept that femaleness and femininity are artifice and fake, etc.

But I guess the one that I’d most like to unpack is how, like the thoroughly debunked theory of “autogynophilia”, it looks at trans women’s sexuality and motives through a lens of male sexuality and motives. A hypothetical cis male sits on his couch and is absent-mindedly flipping through a porn magazine. He comes across an ad for “shemale” porn. He wonders, “why would anyone ever do that? Why would a man want to become a woman? That’s crazy!” (yeah, let’s put aside the implicit misogyny there… we can talk about that some other time) and rather than think about it in terms of why a woman would want a female body and not a male one, he thinks about it in terms of why a man would want a female body. The conclusions he draws, based upon the assumption that a man is fundamentally a sexual agent and a woman is fundamentally a sexual object, are that the “shemale” is doing it to get laid, to attract men to him with his new hot, curvy, sexual-object of a body. Either that or, as in “autogynophilia”, doing it to have himself as his very own personal sex object.

Never mind what happens to a trans woman’s libido during HRT. Never mind that for very many trans women, that period of time, exactly when the libido starts diminishing, happens to be when commitment often deepens, and any remaining doubts and questions are resolved. Forget that. It MUST be about sex. Because that’s all the female body is good for: sex.


5.  Aren’t you sort of reinforcing stereotypical gender roles? Aren’t you just going along with the idea that having a feminine personality means you must be female? Doesn’t that perpetuate the idea that there are certain ways women and men are “supposed” to be like?

Much like the existence of trans lesbians serves to disprove the “really, really gay” myth, in this case we can point to the existence of butch or tomboy trans women. Ta da! Myth vanishes in a puff of logic. But to explain further…

This is about a very basic confusion: lack of understanding the difference between gender identity and gender expression.

Gender identity is an internal sense of self and what one fundamentally is. It’s the sense of being a man or a woman (or both, or neither, or in-between, or something else). It is divorced from concepts of what a man or woman is or isn’t supposed to be like, and appears to be very much innate and unchanging. It also appears to be related to the neurological “body map” and relationship to one’s body- feelings of either comfort or alienation.

Gender expression is the degree to which one’s personality, interests and manner of self-expression is culturally regarded as “masculine” or “feminine” (or “androgynous”). This is heavily culturally and socially mediated. What is regarded as feminine in one culture may be regarded as masculine in another. There seem to be some gendered traits that are in varying degrees innate to an individual but gender expression is an aggregation of many, many, many such traits which can occur in an immense variety of combinations.

An imperfect but very helpful breakdown from the Center For Gender Sanity (which I think I’ve used before, actually) can be found here.

What makes a person transsexual, and motivates one to pursue physical transition, is typically a conflict of gender identity with physical, assigned sex. It is not a conflict of gender expression or role with physical, assigned sex. We transition not because we feel we’re too feminine to be men, or that the presence of feminine characteristics means we must be female. The motivation is far deeper and far less analytical than that. We transition simply because we know ourselves to be female… totally independently of how well we do or do not fit into female stereotypes.

Hence we are not simply basing this off of an overly strict concept of gender roles where we need to get our bodies to conform to a socially mandated binary. We are only seeking to get our bodies to conform to our sense of self so that we can feel that they are our own rather than a creepy gross alien thingy that happens to be attached to us. And our existence does not in any way support, perpetuate or rely upon those binaries… we are fundamentally transgressing them and asserting that they may be broken, and sometimes must.

6. If our culture didn’t have such strict gender roles, there would be no need for transition.

This is another mistake stemming from the confusion of gender identity with gender expression, and also again the belief that a trans woman makes her decision because she is uncomfortable with the male gender role rather than the male body.

The argument runs that, basically, if we were to break down the socially arbitrated binary and “gender straitjacket” we would no longer feel any sense of conflict between our selves and our assigned sex.

But, again, we do not transition out of discomfort with the male gender role. We transition out of discomfort with the male body.

No matter how open, enlightened and non-gendered our society could be, most women would go right on feeling just as alienated and disturbed by having a penis, a pair of testicles pumping her full of testosterone, a hairy face and body, a masculine distribution of muscle and fat, a flat chest, that acidic male locker room smell, ruddy oily skin, etc. And most men would go right on feeling creeped out and appalled by having a vagina, menstruating every month, having breasts, soft and smooth skin, no beard, a feminine shape, wide hips, the rising and falling cycle of estrogen and progesterone, etc.

Transsexuality is first and foremost about us and our bodies and our right to be happy within them, not all about social conventions or the politics of gender or what you think society should be or what you think is best for us. People whose gender identity is in conflict with their physiological sex will continue to exist no matter how well we accommodate for variation in gender expression. Solving society’s problems of gender won’t solve all the problems of sex.

Please, take it as a reasonable assumption that we’ve thought this stuff through, our decisions are our own, and we haven’t just been duped by the patriarchy or whatever. It sucks to have people who are ostensibly your allies tell you you’re living your life wrong and that the biggest, most important, most difficult, most thought-through decision you ever made was just a result of being brainwashed by the system, maannnn.

7. You’re so brave!

No. That’s a lovely idea, it is, and thank you. I do appreciate the sentiment and we often enjoy hearing that kind of thing. It’s an enormously tempting  idea, too, and hard to give up. It would be terrific to believe that I’m this wonderfully brave, courageous, strong woman who overcame unimaginable odds to assert her true self without compromise to a hostile, bigoted world. But it just isn’t true. We aren’t brave. We’re scared shitless and in tremendous pain and desperate for a way out, and don’t really have much of a choice.

Imagine you’re being chased by a pack of snarling wolves through a darkened, stormy forest. They’re nipping at your heels, just behind, barking and growling with long strings of saliva dangling from their bared fangs. Your body is aching and sore and straining against the exhaustion, just barely maintaining your sprint through a combination of adrenaline and the terrifying certainty of death should you give in.

Somewhere in the darkness and gloom you suddenly catch a glimpse of light. You run towards it, screaming for help as best you can through your bursting, panting lungs. It is a cabin. You finally make it to the door, you throw it open, and just in nick of time as one of the wolves lunges for your throat, you slam the door shut behind you. At last you’ve escaped. You’re safe.

Inside the cabin sits a friendly old man smoking a pipe and mulling some wine.  As you stand there, shaking and gasping for breath and crying and terrified out of your wits, he smiles and says, “wow, you’re really brave.”

Some of us are brave. Some of us are strong. But that’s not always the case, and can’t necessarily be inferred from our transition. We do what we have to do, however we can, no matter how scared we are.

But on the other hand, as it was articulated in Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, one of my favourite novels:

“Courage is being scared shitless and doing it anyway.”

The second half of this post will be available tomorrow morning on our brand new sister site, Queereka! Queereka will be a site devoted to LGBTQ skepticism… inclusion of queer issues and individuals within the skeptic community and movement, promoting rational, skeptical, evidence-based approaches to LGBTQ topics, and combating woo, pseudo-science, superstition and religious belief that promotes bigotry and misunderstanding of LGBTQ issues and identities. This post will be first in an ongoing series devoted to debunking common myths and misconceptions about specific queer identities.

Disclaimer: I’ve chosen to focus this article on trans women only for the sake of brevity and clarity. It is not my intent to contribute to the ongoing cultural erasure of trans men, and I believe their voices, experiences and identities deserve to be heard and understood.  Cis readers please note that much of this can be applied to transsexuality in general.

Featured image is from a photo essay entitled “a Series of Questions” by L Weingarten. Highly, highly recommended.


Natalie Reed now writes at

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  1. “Courage is being scared shitless and doing it anyway.”

    THIS. So much this.

    Thank you so much for this article.

  2. Another great article, Natalie! I knew about the vaginoplasty, and the delineation between gender identity and sexuality, but there were a few assumptions in there that I was, if not overtly guilty of thinking them, at the very least in absentia thinking them.

  3. Natalie, you are an asute and articulate Woman.
    I have been assailed by these very questions.

    My fav is “you were a dude weren’t you?
    Response-“Why would I want to be a mysogynist dick weed like you? And no I was not a dude.” And I walk away.

    I am one of the mythical trans lesbians that likes power tools and eshues pink things. I do like all day lip color. I do like my girlfriend, alot!

    I didn’t tranition because I thought it would be fun, Quite the contrary, I was scared shitless. It was painful, bloody, tear filled and I lost my marriage and then she died of cancer on top of it. Then I got cut out of the will because she died before the will was written. I lost my business, because people freaked out and dropped my contracts. I became debt ridden.

    But, on the good side, I rebuilt everything. I am more me than I used to be, I am happier even though I lost people I really loved. I also have a girlfriend and my business I restarted and it is going ok, not great but OK. Some would say I am a success, but I am never satisfied. I always want more.

    My main point is that I get more done than any of the spineless assholes who look down on me. I’m 74 inches tall so get a friggin ladder will ya?

    I’m used to struggle, but as is for most people, I don’t relly like it all that much. It just comes with the territory. You never know when someone is going to tell you who you are, because they know you better then you do. But, you learn how to deal with that too.

    I like being me and I realize that I am very fortunate to have survived. I am thankful for that, but not to a God, that would be silly. To me. I am thankful by not dwelling on the past and living in the now.

    I resolve to do a lot more of that in 2012.

    Thanks for the article Natalie.
    We both like you alot.

  4. Just wanted to say thanks for all your posts Natalie, you’ve said just about everything I can think of regarding transsexualism. Keep writing please!

    Number 7 made my eyes wet — Old Greg reference — because its so true. Can’t wait for the second half.

    Thanks again,

  5. Point 3, paragraph 5 (No X, no Y, etc): To me this sounds like a great starting point for a character arc in some new drama series that I might actually want to watch!

    Well-written and insightful, as always.

  6. The first one annoys me as well. We recently spent an evening in a lesbian club, showing a film about trans men, with a discussion to follow. Their verdict? “Fine, trans men are lesbians who…” No, no, no! It doesn’t work like that. I still don’t know how I managed to finish my explanation in the midst of the frosty silence that simple assertion generated.

  7. Natalie, you’re quickly turning into my favorite writer here. Which means quite a bit considering how good the other bloggers are.

    1. Natalie’s already become my favorite blogger here. It seems like every time she makes a new post, I end up linking to it on facebook. :)

      1. I’m a new Skepchick reader, but I went back and looked at articles that interested me as far back as the beginning of December. I think pretty much every article Natalie’s written I posted to Facebook. :P

  8. I’ve watched one of my friends go through the transition process over the past few years and seen the incremental change and how difficult a process it is. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through it or had someone close to them go through is realizes just what a hard thing to go through it is.

    Before I thought I was accepting and understanding of trans people and issues but it was a big eyeopener that while I was more accepting than most I didn’t really understand it at all. It’s so out of the realm of experience for most people that it’s hard to wrap your head around it. It’s a lot easier to understand someone being gay or lesbian when your straight because you understand sexual attraction but when you’re comfortable with your gender and physical sex it’s hard to understand someone not feeling like they were assigned the right gender.

  9. Excellent post as always Natalie :)

    You explain things I have trouble explaining myself, so this will be very useful to keep as reference when people ask these questions.


  10. At the moment I’m seriously pissed off at the young adult fantasy writer Maria V. Snyder, who came so close to creating a truly awesome FTM trans character in her “Study” series, only to mess it all up in the sequels. She says she originally conceived the character simply as a man who fulfills a certain role; the idea that he has a female body came to her later. Unfortunately, ordinary trans people aren’t allowed in her universe, so she had to tack on a stupid and contrived “possessed by someone else’s soul” retcon. I have never literally thrown a book across the room, but this time I came VERY close.
    A great summary of what went right and then wrong with said character here (Spoilers for the series, obviously, in case you want to read those books. If you do, stop after the first one):

  11. This is great!
    Maybe I should create my own list for genderqueer people. It would include such objections as “why can’t you just pick one?” and “but girls dress like boys all the time and that doesn’t mean they’re not girls”/”but drag queens are still men” and “is this just a phase before you go ‘all the way’?”

    1. We’ll actually be doing a series of these over at Queereka, and one of them will (hopefully) be about genderqueer, from our contributor who identifies as such. :)

  12. Everything you’ve written here has been utterly fascinating. I had no idea. I mean, I thought I did, but the more I read the less I assume I know.

    This quote reminded me of competitive parenting subcultures:

    “…we haven’t just been duped by the patriarchy or whatever. It sucks to have people who are ostensibly your allies tell you you’re living your life wrong and that the biggest, most important, most difficult, most thought-through decision you ever made was just a result of being brainwashed by the system, maannnn.”

    It’s a lovely encapsulation of what I want to say to the anti-vaccination folks who claim that I blindly and unthinkingly follow the medical/technocratic patriarchy.

  13. Awesome post. You represented very well how each of us is different. I think I’ll have to start following Queereka to read the rest of the series.

    I disagree with you on one thing, though: we are brave. The ones without courage are the ones who check out prematurely. This also applies to gays, and women in repressive countries, and kids whose parents said that doing what they loved wouldn’t make any money (but they did it anyway). Taking shit (whether from other people or from yourself) and weathering it is an act of strength. David Mitchell is absolutely correct.

  14. This article will be bookmarked as my go-to link for the next time someone says something ignorant about transgendered people.

  15. Where would trans women serve prison time? Does this become a special type of hell in those hell holes anyway?
    Is it the same in all States of America?

    1. Usually a special kind of hell, where the BEST you would likely hope for is solitary confinement.

      It varies by jurisdiction. Usually, if you’re legally male, you end up in men’s prisons, and if legally female, women’s prisons. Legal sex is usually not updated until after SRS, which makes the thought of incarceration terrifying for pre-ops, non-ops, can’t-afford-ops, and not-healthy-enough-for-ops.

      PFC Manning is being held in a men’s prison, and will probably receive a life sentence. She will not have access to hormones or treatment, will likely be treated with a great deal of abuse by guards and fellow inmates, will never be able to transition, and will be forced to conform to male dress-code. She is trapped in a men’s prison and trapped in a man’s body, basically for acting upon her conscience, while those whose actions she exposed go unpunished. Basically? Living my worst nightmare.

      1. In the states where legal sex can be changed without SRS I imagine most trans folk were usually changing their legal gender before SRS. Now that you don’t need SRS to update your passport/social security (which can then be used to acquire a new drivers license) – I imagine that almost all American trans folk will get their legal gender changed before SRS.

        As for Manning, well, you make the bed, you sleep in it. I know plenty of people who have served who have had objections for various reasons with what has been and is still done abroad, but they don’t take it upon themselves to do what Manning did.

        1. That’s actually not entirely accurate. Though the State Department did recently institute a long overdue and well-written new gender marker change policy, Social Security — the primary source from which most forms of legal gender stem — still obstinately clings to a policy of requiring an amended birth certificate to change one’s gender marker.

          To update a birth certificate, most states require proof of surgery (intended to be genital surgery, though since most laws were written specifically to provide barriers to trans women, trans men can sometimes slip though on technicalities). And several states won’t even amend a certificate if you do get surgery, which means that if you were born in one of those states, you can simply never change your Social Security gender marker.

          But as to prison assignment, if I’m not mistaken it usually goes by what kind of genitals you have, so the usefulness of documentation changes is limited in that context anyway, unfortunately.

          1. A “Court Order” can also be used to correct the records at the Social Security office. Birth certificates are a real obstacle for some. If you can get the ‘court order’ the Social Security Office will comply.

        2. Firm disagree. Manning’s gender identity – if e.g. female – makes the punishment both cruel and unusual – to be locked in a prison of men for 30 years. If Manning had not had GID then the judge would presumably[1] have passed the same sentence in terms of years; this is disproportionate punishment of trans* people. I also don’t believe that criminals lose all of their human rights as soon as they are sentenced – or, given that Manning has not been sentenced, as soon as they are arrested.

          [1] Hopefully!

      2. Thanks for the info Natalie
        In the state of New South Wales (only) in Australia we a have the worlds first gender neutral person.
        While this is certainly not for everyone, it was good to see a mature legislature at least have a reasoned debate with a legal outcome.
        I’m sure it will be challenged in the courts when there is a change of govt, but until such time comes we wish Norrie all the best.

        1. Pretty sure that decision was rescinded in a moralistic panic.

          There has been process elsewhere though regarding gender on passports and a high-court decision stating that transmen did not require a hysterectomy to change their birth certificate, something that *should* have implications for all gender specific legislation in the country. I haven’t heard of it being tested though.

      3. That is a special kind of hell the likes of which I cannot possibly fathom. It fills me with such dread and horror to just think about it. And I mean that quite literally.

    2. In Queensland, Australia, trans-women are held in men’s prisons. Those who can fight, or who form strong alliances with those who can, do ok. Otherwise they have to become unit whores if they want to survive, even though this means they will probably get infected with HIV and Hep. I was in one unit that had two trans women. One was pre-surgery, and because her hormones were not available, was reverting to a masculine appearance (with all the emotional problems that entails). Fortunately for her she fights like a threshing machine, and as a result cops very little flak. The other had had SRS, and as such stayed feminine (she was a beautiful lady, both physically and personality). Her strength of personality, and alliance with other inmates who were strongly anti-discrimination kept her safe. Others are not so lucky.

  16. Very interesting and informative post. Being a CIS woman myself, I never imagined the half of what you wrote in this post regarding trans people, and I am very glad to have my understanding improved. Thank you.

    1. Thank you!

      And thanks to everyone, as always.

      Just a quick terminology note:

      Cis isn’t an acronym, it’s a prefix. It’s from the latin word meaning “on the same side”, commonly used as an antonym for “trans” which means “across”.

      It’s common in chemistry (cis-acting and trans-acting molecules) and in scientific naming conventions (“cernuella transalpina” and “cerneulla cisalpina”).

      In a few days (maybe a week?) we’ll add a little glossary at Queereka for some of the trickier, newer, lesser-known and particularly specific LGBT terms.

  17. Great thoughtful article, Natalie!

    I’m a bit confused though about #6.

    “…we do not transition out of discomfort with the male gender role. We transition out of discomfort with the male body.”

    I do have very strong and serious discomfort with people treating me as if or expecting me to follow the male gender role – specifically, to live a disposable life of lesser value as male and to never cry or complain about it.

    And (my guess is that perhaps) because my male secondary sex characteristics cause people to make the assumption that I am male and hence a man, I strongly dislike my male secondary sex characteristics – a hairy face and body, a masculine distribution of muscle and fat, that acidic male locker room smell, ruddy oily skin, etc. I would like to have (and I do have now) soft and smooth skin, no beard, a feminine shape, wide hips.

    While I am not creeped out and appalled by having a vagina, menstruating every month, having a flat chest / breasts, I am also equally NOT creeped out and appalled by having a penis and a pair of testicles pumping me full of testosterone (I dislike the physical effects of testosterone, but testosterone and estrogen feel the same to me mentally and psychologically). In other words, I’m indifferent towards the sexual organs or primary sex characteristics.

    Finally, the rising and falling cycle of estrogen and progesterone would definitely disturb me as would a rising and falling cycle of testosterone. It would disturb me not because of estrogen, progresterone or testosterone, but rather because changing sex hormone levels causes depression in me.

    Given the above, my point (and perhaps question too, as I’m still in the process of self-discovery) is that even the gender binary rules within the trans concept may not necessarily apply the same way to everyone having gender dysphoria.

  18. Natalie, a lot of what you are saying is good, but this?

    “No re-learning the entire language of fashion and how to dress. No getting accustomed to bras and heels and earrings and annoying nightmarishly fiddly little jewelry clasps. … No getting nail polish all over your fingers and eyeliner in your eyeball because you never got a chance to learn how to do that stuff as a little girl.”

    Seriously? For someone who’s saying it’s not about gender roles, you’re laying it on a bit thick here about the importance of learning gender roles.

    I really really hate how this is supposed to be just so natural for women. I am a 50 year old cis woman and I don’t know how to do most of that shit, and I don’t see why I should. Teaching this stuff to a little girl sounds pretty much like Toddlers and Tiaras style child abuse to me.

    1. In that particular bit, I’m just kind of riffing on my own experiences. It’s a lot more personal than most of the post, a tad on the stream-of-transiness side, and is meant to just be some of the stuff that MAY be part of transition for a trans woman. Obviously, every transition, and every individual narrative, is different. Many women (cis and trans) don’t even bother with nail polish or eyeliner, of course.

      1. On the other hand, (I’m in early transition here), I’ve been riffed by a straight male (a crossdresser no less) for the fact that one evening I had my nails painted, with no other outward signs of feminimity and another evening I was wearing breast forms and a dress without having my nails painted… and he expressed dissapointment that one night I only did one thing and the other night I did everything else but left that out…

        so yeah some of us get gender cop’ed on how we handle cosmetics.

    2. Cajela,

      I get your point, but it really is an assertion of cis privilege to say, I as a 50-year-old cis woman don’t do numerous things which are socially coded as feminine, thus it shouldn’t be entailed upon for transwomen to have to concentrate on dress, behaviour, and other gender presentation issues – basic things which many of us transgendered folk didn’t have the opportunity to learn when we were socialised in our birth gender, and really have to make an effort at them to comfortably fit in, in all sorts of social situations.

      I can only agree in theory that it would be very nice not to have to worry about gender codes and policing of gender, and only do such feminine-coded things (like wearing make-up) that we want to do – but in practice it becomes a real matter of personal safety to be out in public and be clocked as being trans* because of some hint of your dress, or your make-up, or your behaviour, or some other factor. You might be regarded as an unfeminine-looking woman, but on the cis side you would probably not be in danger of being physically confronted or threatened for not being thought a woman.

      For instance, I was out with a couple of friends on Friday and a bunch of teenagers (three young men and a young woman) clocked me, because sometimes it just is a matter of seeing a person’s face or reading their body language; I picked up almost immediately that (1) they’d clocked me (2) they knew that I knew, etc. and that the young woman clearly wanted to provoke the guys into doing something aggressive about it to validate herself (fortunately, her friends didn’t rise to the bait). So once I saw what she was trying to do I wanted to get out of there PDQ, but only one of my friends was equally quick on the uptake, so my other friend was saying, “Why does C. want to get out of here so fast, what’s the rush?” She hadn’t noticed that someone was trying to make an issue out of me, just there and being myself, in public.

      (BTW, Cajela, I’m only just starting to transition at the age of 40 minus a dozen days – and I’m someone you know in real life, from IVCFs :-)

      1. I think this specific issue is one of the biggest remaining reasons for friction with the feminist movement. I can but laugh at the “it’s a trap” paranoia, or the idea that any man is going to want to go through all the hassles of SRS just to sneak into a music festival or the ladies’ changerooms. But the embracing of femininity remains very jarring. Parts of what Natalie describes as cis-privilege, to me reads as gender *dis*-privilege.

        I thank my parents that they *didn’t* bring me up to be feminine. That I wasn’t forced to wear makeup and stupid damaging shoes and constricting underwear and have expensive hairstyles and remove my body hair. Presenting this as something that would be a “privilege” if I’d learned it? No, actually, the opposite, I feel very lucky not to have been made to.

        When you’ve spent a large portion of your life and energies objecting to major aspects of femininity; it’s not easy warming to someone who is grabbing at it with both hands. I have had a bloody gutful of being told that I’m not a proper woman from the gender police. I’ll be on your side when they tell you that you’re not a proper woman, but not when you’re in there agreeing with them that I’m not!

        I do appreciate the safety issue – that’s clearly a much bigger problem for trans-women than it is for cis-women. (Not that the butch-appearing among us are all that safe.) I’m also aware that many trans-women find a strong performance of femininity necessary, because their doctors and counsellors demand it as part of the process.

        (And finally, I’m now quite curious as to who you are, Xanthe, and I do very much wish you well.)

      2. I think people shouldn’t tell others to act more feminine or act more masculine I mean it annoys me so much that people keep calling others weird for acting the way they feel comfortable, telling others their life would be better if they have a child but not everyone wants a child or telling some ladies that they should be more feminine or saying a guy is gay because he likes to cook or doesn’t like sports which is bullshit people can act however they want and people still label others liking sports doesn’t make you straight, liking ice skating doesn’t make you gay or if your a girl and you dress like guys because you like it doesn’t make you lesbian people are just assholes telling people how to act and people who call transgenders traps are asses or feminazis who freak out when men dress like women are asses, I really don’t know why people have to act so negatively about others when there is nothing wrong with them and why would so many people think transgender women are just guys dressed like women.

  19. firstly i’m gonna object to your usage of we, it’s as if you’re attempting to speak for all of us. you can’t. you may dislike your male body, i may dislike mine (a feeling that has grown stronger as i’ve transitioned), but many tg people don’t.

    secondly on the role gender roles play in transsexuality – rates of occurrence for mtf and ftm stay remarkably consistent with mtf outnumbering ftm by a large factor, except when it comes to ftms and the middle east, one of the last places in the world where rigid female gender roles are still enforced. coincidence? i don’t think so.

    it’d be nice to think of transsexuality or transgenderism as some thing we inherit, but if that’s the case then why is there such an apparent difference in how mtfs and ftms come at it from? it certainly doesn’t suggest a common biologiical cause. we are all a product of our environment, but that doesn’t mean we can be changed or that you can socially engineer us out of existence.

    personally i believe we should be doing all we can to break down gender roles, i also believe that as that happens a greater number of tg people will be able to live happily in their surgically unaltered bodies – and that’s a very good thing.

    1. Yeah… um… I strongly disagree

      I’m pretty sure that trans women do NOT significantly outnumber trans men, and that at least in North America, the numbers are pretty even. And there doesn’t seem to be any particularly strong difference in how trans men and trans women approach it, at least not that can’t be explained by other things, and that a common causal factor is, as a theory, far more supported by the currently available evidence than a purely social-constructivist view.

      1. There are more trans people (both MTF and FTM) who never transition than the ones who do transition. So the actual numbers of MTF and FTM trans people is significantly higher than the ones we know as MTF and FTM.

        I think that while the number of FTM and MTF trans people may be pretty even (and this is my guess that it may be even), the number of FTM and MTF trans people who decide to socially transition will depend on the socio-economic environment in the respective country/society.

  20. I read this article and for the first time ever, I started to think about reassignment surgery. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but right now I see a future I never could have imagined. I’m very happy that people are able to talk about this.

  21. Great article, Natalie. Looking forward to reading the rest of it. I’m also eager to see Queereka come to life! Keep up the good work.

  22. The hardest thing for me to grok on this list is the difference between gender identity and expression. I’m a cis man, but I don’t know what it means to “feel” male. It seems to beg the question – what is maleness? You seem to be saying that maleness (or femaleness) is not a question of behavior/temperament, nor a question of physical characteristics. Do you think that one has to learn what a “male” or “female” is before forming a gender identity? Or is someone born innate knowledge of gender? Do we all “feel” what gender we are, but just not notice until there is a disconnect?

    I hope you don’t find these questions offensive or nitpicky. I have a genuine desire to understand, and your post was very thoughtful, and seemingly aimed at providing information for cisgendered people, so I thought you might be willing to expand a bit on what you mean by gender identity.

    Also, I’m new to Skepchick, so if you’ve written about this before (or know another person who’s written about it well), please point me in the right direction. Thanks!

    1. I experience gender as something external to myself. If I say to my world-model inside my head “I am male” then suddenly the world I see through my eyes is bleak and fractured. If I say “I am female” then… it’s normal. I don’t think this tallies with many other people’s experiences, and it doesn’t go anywhere towards an explanation – good questions are sometimes hard to answer.

    2. Hi wfenza, you ask a great question, and I think you also answer it when you say that you aren’t as aware your sense of male or female core identity unless there is a disconnect. I identify as a trans lesbian. This caused me no end of confusion before I realized what I was, because I felt innately female, but am exclusively attracted to women, so I thought I couldn’t be trans and was likely “just” a Cross Dresser (I don’t intend that to sound pejorative) which would be simpler. As I have explored this area of my psyche more, I think I have achieved a greater realization if my true self. It is complicated, and thanks for asking in such a respectful manner.

    3. @AstroCJ and Karac – Thank you for your answers. I realize this may be a really hard question to answer, but do you think your identity of male or female exists independent of society’s expectations of what a male or female is, and what a male or female body is “supposed” to look like?

      The OP seemed to be saying that gender identity has nothing to do with societally-enforced gender roles nor with discomfort about one’s physical body (both of which would be much easier for me to understand). Do you think someone who was raised in a magical genderless fantasy land would still have a gender identity, or does one need to learn what a “male” or “female” is first?

      1. @wfenza In a nutshell I think gender identity exists “independently” but gender expression is more, though by no means entirely, societal.

    4. Hmm… reading the OP again, I’m less clear on whether she’s saying that gender identity is related to physical characteristics. #5 seems to suggest that it is a more innate sense, but #6 seems to suggest that gender identity is mostly about the physical body that a person wants/is comfortable with. What do you think?

      1. A little of both. Gender identity is an innate sense that (people who identify as trans) leads to a body that leads to what one wants/is comfortable with. In the case of some people, their gender identities are different from the norm for their sexes, but not different enough that there’s a significant dysphoria. Most androgynes I’ve known have been fine with their bodies. In my case, my gender identity is mostly a physical/relationship thing. I like wearing “male” clothes and don’t have any interests that are heavily stigmatized, so my social role isn’t the cause of my dysphoria. On the other end of the scale, you see some transvestites* who are fine with their bodies but heavily dysphoric with regard to the social roles they were born into. Yeah, it’s complicated.

        * Transvestitism is a behavior which is engaged in by a lot of people for a lot of different reasons, but most of the people I’ve met who are okay with their bodies but not with their social roles do it. Also, this segment of people is about equal between males and females, but doesn’t look that way to casual observation, because women’s social roles have become vastly more flexible in the past few decades.

    5. “…Do we all “feel” what gender we are, but just not notice until there is a disconnect?”

      I think you hit the nail on the head right there. My personal experience of being trans is that, up until puberty, I didn’t put much thought into my gender identity, because until my body started changing, I didn’t feel uncomfortable with it. As puberty progressed and my body masculinized, the disconnect grew to the point that I could no longer ignore it, to the point that it was never not on my mind. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was a woman (however you wish to define woman), but I knew beyond a doubt that I was not a man.

      I don’t know if my gender identity is something I was born with or not, but however I came to it, it does seem innate. It just wasn’t something I was able to change – and not for lack of trying on my part. I knew about the possibility of transition, but having seen how trans women were portrayed by the Jerry Springer sweeps week specials, it was something I wanted to avoid if at all possible. So I tried to just ignore the disconnect and carry on as “just another guy”. That didn’t work, so I tried to live as a feminine man instead. That was a little better – I didn’t have to fake masculinity anymore, but it didn’t do much for how I felt about my body. I didn’t think I was a gay man, but I tried it out just in case. Finally, I gave in and started the transition process. It hasn’t been easy by any means, but it’s a lot easier than going through each day pretending to be something I knew I wasn’t.

      Anyway, I didn’t find your questions nitpicky or offensive. Welcome to Skepchick from another Skepchick newbie!

  23. I’ve seen this before but it’s important to reiterate that PFC Manning IS NOT a transsexual.

    This mistake has come from a complete lack of understand of military specific terms.

    The origin of this mistake came from the publishing of Manning’s AIM messages where he stated he was going to transition at the end of his military career.

    However, to transition is a military term that makes reference to transitioning from military to civilian life. I know this because I’m both a veteran and a transsexual

    Just look here for common use of the term transition:

    Or just type “army transition” into google and see all of the relevant links.

    As far as I can tell, the entire genesis of this myth that Manning is trans came from one article claiming he was accidentally outed by revealing the AIM message where he said he was transitioning in a military capacity, which is clearly understood from anyone with military experience.

    1. Actually, you’re quite mistaken. There is FAR more evidence than simply the AIM message about transition. There were many OTHER statements in the AIM logs. Manning had also been in talks with a gender councilor back home, had been chatting with Zinnia Jones, had begun presenting as female during shore leave, had sent letters to her superiors describing what could -ONLY- be GID and the GID has even been brought up in testimony in the trial. Please do more extensive research on the subject before correcting people. Even clicking the link I provided would have showed you some of the substantial evidence illuminating that Manning had indeed been struggling with gender and had intended to transition (to female) upon arrival home.

      1. Do you have any direct evidence to support this?
        According to this Gawker4 article, ZJ had stated:

        “He introduced himself as ‘Brad’ and male. I thought he was just a regular guy.”

        I already covered the transition term and the whole “as a boy” could easily be interpreted as just young pictures of him in training before he was assigned to a unit. I’ve heard phrases like that before.

        It seems like there’s more self-professed evidence he’s gay/maybe exploring gender issues but I’m not willing to believe it yet given that it can be interpreted different ways.

        Like I said, I’m both trans and a veteran of the army. I’ve spent many years of my life questioning my gender and my status in the military and from what I’m reading of his personal logs and attitudes it just doesn’t seem as clear cut given my perspective.

        You say he presented as female, all I can find is that he presented on leave in a way that made people think he was gay. So how exactly was he presenting? Can the average person distinguish between a gay man exercising their right to bend gender norms from a trans person?

        Who are these gender counselors “back home?” I can find no evidence of this. Where are these letters? You want me to find evidence but I have done my research and I can’t find any of this.

        I feel like I’m swimming through a lot of hyperbole as other people were just so positively certain that talking about transition MUST mean he’s trans, though overlooking the obvious use of the term as military lingo.

        I know I don’t need to quote Occam’s razor. I just need more evidence, I’m not a bigot or anything, I’m just not comfortable making definitive statements about someone yet.

        1. OK, this seems to be the bulk of the information I can find:

          However, I’m still cautious as to say that Manning must be trans and not gay. I know we don’t have the luxury of asking Manning directly, but given the scope of the things said I feel like it could go either way between being trans and not gay or gay and questioning but indecisive.

          I guess the bulk of my feeling comes from a friend I know who is gay and was questioning/seeking HRT but ultimately clarified their thoughts over time and stopped questioning or transitioning as they felt it didn’t seem to be the right course of option. Not the only example, but the most prominent.

          I guess I just feel uncomfortable with making any direct claims as of yet. However, I don’t disagree with your assessment that the media erases trans issues by describing individuals as gay rather than trans.

      2. I’d also like to mention, other than my personal take on the Manning issue I think this is a wonderful article, actually the finest I’ve read on trans issues and I want to personally thank you for your lucidity and excellent exposition on some tough points that others usually can’t explain in such an easy fashion.

        I just didn’t want you to think you were getting random internet hate or that your efforts fall on deaf ears. So I’m sorry if I made you upset or came off as being to blunt.

  24. Excellent article Natalie. Looking forward to seeing the other half.

    Here’s one of my favourite quotes that helped me through various points in my transition:

    “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” —William Gibson

  25. Just a confirmatory data point. Yes, this article is accurate, this is what it’s like, and I find it positively scary the number of people saying “I never knew…”

    It’s not their fault. We do have to do more education though. This article is an excellent resource there, thanks!

    OK, so technically I’m not Trans, I’m Intersex, but I used to look male, now look female, always had a female gender identity, so that’s close enough. The exact mechanism of body change is a minor detail – except that I was too scared to transition as a volitional act. I was just hoping for an early death instead.

    Cases like mine, of natural change, illustrate the difference between gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and sex. To some, the change is a “Get out of hell free” card. For others, a nightmare.

  26. Thanks for the amazing article. I would say, however, that focusing only on transwomen is contributing to the cultural erasure of transmen, no matter how much you state the contrary. Moreover, saying transperson and then using female pronouns to refer to said hypothetical transperson reinforces that cultural erasure. I understand that you don’t have the experience of a transman and thus can’t speak from that experience but some effort would have been appreciated. Not only that, your excuse of focusing on transwomen for clarity’s sake is the same excuse that Gay, Inc gives transpeople for exclusion.

    1. Would you prefer her to try to discuss being a transmen while having no experience of it? If she did then people would accuse her of erasing transmen by speaking for them. There’s no way for her to win in that situation. Instead we should encourage Skepchick to run a companion article by a transman talking about his experience and the misconceptions people have about transmen.

    2. Well, it’s sort of ironic though that you bring forth this criticism yet refer to trans people as transwomen/transmen.

      Are Italians italianmen or are blacks blackmen? Joining the word makes a new word that splits off ontologically from the idea of men and women as persons.

      Though there is no singular authority, the general consensus is that trans men and trans women should be labeled as such, the terms separated to highlight the fact that ultimately they’re people.

      Much in the same way you don’t refer to transgender individuals as “transgenders.”

      I can forgive this as I assume it’s just an innocent mistake, so do you think you could reciprocate?

      If writing a personal exposition about one’s own experiences and some general notions about trans women’s experience somehow erases trans men then you’re just as guilty of othering and objectifying.

    3. I wholeheartedly agree that the voices of trans men need to be heard. But do you not think that other people speaking on behalf of trans men also leads to “cultural erasure” as well?

      I’m sure someone else would have complained if Natalie spoke on behalf of trans men. Why do I think this? Because someone already complained that she used “we,” which the commenter above felt was silencing to other trans experiences.

      Kind of puts Natalie between a rock and a hard place, no?

  27. Great post – 2-13 were spot on. However, from the perspective of biological explanations for transgender identities, assuming one cause of that phenomenon (or ruling out other causes without evidence) is a bit simplistic. Its like saying Diabetes II is one condition with one cause. The problem is the manifestation may be similar the cause is legion. In the case of SOME transwomen the biological underpinning of their gender identity is the same as the cause of homosexuality in SOME gay men. That does not mean that this should be assumed for any individual. But to dismiss it as the cause in all transgender women is just as ludicrous as saying its the root cause of female gender ID in all transwomen. Just as there is not one gay gene, there is not one trans gene. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ANY gay or trans genes.

    1. To be fair, there is pretty substantial evidence contradicting the theory that either have a specifically genetic origin.

  28. I REALLY agree with number 7. I have screamed at somebody in response, “no, I am not brave. I am just scared shitless and do not have much for options.”

    On the term “Trap”, I mostly use it to mock the whole mind set, that if a woman cisgender or transgender is dressing nicely… its specifically to try to get laid by YOU. Because YOU are just that important that everybody does that.

    On the stuff given in point 3… the Internet has gotten a concept (the Internets being the scariest place to ever find oneself).. “as a woman gets more and more attractive, the chances of her having a penis increase greatly”… often tackled with the notion that having a penis makes a woman somehow more attractive. This is mostly because the Internet has noticed a lot of successful attempts to over compensate for that psychological stuff in point 3. People over compensate for the fear of not being accepted… and succeed. I know it is what happened with me… I hate to admit that (as it feels wrong). However that mental quagmire is why cisgender women tend to not be as attractive females as transgenders. They have different reasons to be scared as frak.

    The Internets is a freaky place, but the Internet helped me a LOT in transitioning. It was the first place I talked to a transgender person. I do not want statistics, I do not want numbers. I want someone to be a person–and that is what a lot of people really want at the end of the day. Nobody cares about statistics–they aren’t people, so screw them. Its why killing one person is worse than killing eighty.

    In fact, when Po-ju first showed up on the internet, he kind of was the first to depict a cute _girly_ transgendered concept, where as everything as the time was this crude over the top, stuff that was normal for transgendered porn at the time. Fans of Po-ju joke that “his boys are more female than most women”–but go back just ten years ago, transgender porn, was this thing, where seeing this F-cupped amazon, in a fishnet body stocking, wearing stilettos, using impossibly long (and frankly, ugly) nails to scoop up something from a recent bowel movement that she had been putting to her lips–was the normal for transgender porn. That does nothing good. Po-ju was the welcome change that helped transgendered depictions on the internet change greatly.

    The greatest support is from “trap fan (sub)communities” like those found in amongst Something Awful and 4chan (that should indicate how wrong the world is). Who use the term trap, as a term of endearment… indicating the idea that they’d be disappointed if an attractive woman WASN’T a trap (what? She is cisgender… WTF?! THAT’S BULLSHIT!)

    We live in a weird world.


    With the whole “rape” thing. In the case of men, they are easy to deal with. Some men are scared I’ll end up raping them (men can be raped too… most women seem to ignore this… men do get this… somewhat). I just reply, “well, I do have a penis, so its whole goal is to be stuck into any oriface out there. My life will not be complete, until every oriface has been visited by my penis at least five times. Of course you’d know to be scared: you also have a penis. You know all about how it turns you into a rape demon. Only eat Swiss Cheese at a woman’s house =D “–usually most men hear that, register the sarcasm… and become much more okay with it.

    In the case of women, I’m still having issues figuring out a way. Right now I’m working on pointing out that the notion having a penis makes me a rape demon (or something) makes about as much sense as her vagina just making her a needy girl who will stuff it with anything. Currently working on having point it out as kind of a silly counter gender idea–without it being quite as crude.

    The bad part, is I’ve had an angry mob of women, causing me to be in danger, saying “I’m trying to trick them into having sex with me”–and this mob of women are using stuff to justify their ridiculous idea that do not make sense outside of a 1960s rape court defence, that has long since out of favour. To have a large group of women stating stuff that sounds directly out of those defence cases is extremely surreal, to say the least.

    At least it is not some women, trying to seduce me “to fix me, and make me normal”–as honestly… I never got that memo that stated, “if somebody sees somebody naked, they are to fall in love”… I’ve never fallen in love because I’ve seen somebody naked, and I have enough pictures that tend to accumulate on my cell phone to support that. “Oh, hey… another… nude… with the txt, ‘hey, cheer u up babe?’ or ‘you fall in wuv yet?'”.

    Honestly, apparently I was never told of the rules of this game, where people take pictures of their genitals (and nothing important… like their face?) and send it to other people. I’d be more than willing to join in what appears to be a really popular game (and why women seem to feel constantly in danger, apparently)… but currently is like playing General Mao… but with people’s sensibilities and my genitals at stake. I’ll wait until somebody explains to me the rules better here.


    Some I would personally add:

    14: “You are trying to be a woman right?/You have to do this to be a woman/etc”

    My response to this is:

    “I’m not trying to be a woman. I’m trying to let YOU fuckers know a woman is present. You are kind of blind really, jerks.”

    As per “doing something to be a woman”… usually, I will point out, that I’d be the only woman in the room not wearing pants “if I wore a dress”… or “my goal is to not be Priscilla Queen of the Mother-F*ck*ng Dessert! Damned dessert… YOU HURT MUMMY! YOU B*ST*RD! Stupid Dessert >.>'”

    I justify my actions by well, I’m kind of a cartoonist. I have observed women. What is even more is that a lot of what women (cisgendered AND transgendered) tend to put my way are some rather unrealistic goals.

    I’ve been given those damned shopping market checkout aisle magazines quite often as “here are some ideas to improve”… resulting in me making noises similar to strangling a frog in my throat.

    Honestly, most of the completely ridiculous misogynist ideas for what I need to start doing have came from cisgendered women. When I reply, “you aren’t doing that”, the reply is often, “I’m actually a woman, I don’t have to.”

    I really do not have any kind of more classy response than just flipping them the bird at that point.

    15 “I’m open and an ally. I’m not transphobic at all. So don’t think that?” OR “YOU ARE GOING TO CLAIM TRANSPHOBIA AND PLAY THE TRANSGENDER CARD!”

    First off, I refer to it as the “trap card”… and I cannot do that. That requires me to be riding a motorcycle. CARD GAMES ON MOTORBIKES! Honestly, you are misusing “The Seven Tools of the Bandit” anyways >.>’

    Okay, I got that. You are talking in a reasonable tone, and you’ve yet to punch me in the head at all during this conversation. I’ve been hit on the head a lot–and you are not doing more of it. I’ve gotten that you are generally okay with my presence here. Please stop saying something that is like mentioning “water is wet”

    This part is a side effect of the Rainbow Alphabet Soup community itself. As I’ll maintain, one of its biggest enemies is now itself. There are all kinds of people out there these days, that the only reason they are homophobic or transphobic is because they have been told they are repetitively. People who are told they are a criminal, will become one, due to lack of any other options, really.

    Saying somebody is going to claim hate is ridiculous.

    During my early transition I made an ally by telling somebody I was honestly being a bit inappropriate towards, “no, I wouldn’t get hate crimes slapped on you, if you decked me. I went past one of your boundaries.”

    He was currently on probation, because that is what exactly happened. I talked to him over the next year. He’d deck anybody who’d approach him too closely. Guy, girl and what not. He really was not that overly hateful I found. Or maybe I just kind of impressed him that much about it.

    The thing is, there are members of the transgendered communities who do play the trap card often enough to have me face palming like mad. Those ones often tend to be the ones who talk like when they are female they will shit rainbows, pee sparkles and fart butterflies. Blaming any bad elements on “male them popping up”

    What that issue is, when somebody is forced to play an acting role–they can often end up hating the role they are playing. Even making that role a scape goat of all evil in their mind. Talk to theatrical guilds and companies for that phenomena.

    For women, there was no “male them”, for men, likewise, there was no “female them”–it was just a fictional character they were expected to LARP as 24/7. It is about as real as trying to “Cast Magic Missile AT The Darkness” (You totally did not cast “Odin’s Helpful Watch Dog”, you bought the components, but you never specifically cast it).

    If male me, was anything more than me wearing flannel shirts with shoulderpads, comfortable pants and sensible shoes, having the main motivation of “I punch stuff with my fists”, and that mullet (my mother voted down, because at least somewhere good taste prevailed), I’d probably yell, “MALE ME CASTS MAGIC MISSILE! PSSWWWOOOOOHHH!” when anybody says, “thats male you coming out.”

    Male Me’s character sheet was scrapped–the Dungeon Master of social situations personally thanked me. That is totally not a fictional entity I just made up here either. YOU ARE NOW A VAMPIRE! DRESS IN DARK CLOTHING! MALE ME BIT YOU!

    Honestly, why the heck people heckle those Vampire LARPers and not the men and women who insist someones LARP female/male counterpart is real, just seems contradictory, really.

    (Sorry, I can get silly at times. XE )

    Honestly, I know I will have some annoying and detestable elements as I assume more of my female identity. In fact, there are already plenty of reasons to hate me… transphobia does not pop up in the Top 50 reasons to hate my guts. I am not a goddess. I am not flowers and roses. I am quite flawed really… and for you to state as such would indicate transphobia is madness.

    16. “You are staring at the transgender… you must be crushing on her?”

    Maybe he just hasn’t seen too many transgenders before. Saying this to anybody is juvenile, and does more to hurt the transgenders out support (wordy words…)… and it hurts the person you are saying this too.

    Telling somebody they “totally are crushing on somebody”… NEVER helps them. Okay? If they’ve never seen a transgender–or even one that particularly passes quite well… they are going to stare. It does not imply anything other that… maybe they just crawled out of the bush.

    This only hurts anybody involved.

    17. “You are a man, because you have a penis!”

    I have a reply to this:

    “I have a rather stunning and alluring female body. The fact you seem only able to focus on my penis, is kind of gay/slutty. Really, why are you so obsessed with penises? Something is really wrong with you.”

    18. “If you want to be a woman, you have to look 100% all the time.”

    This one comes, because my facial hair only grows enough to be long enough for a razor to do anything apart from just look really silly, ever other day. So every other day, I am sporting an unshavable five o’clock shadow.

    Even worse, is if I have the flu, having a really BAD week, or what not–and have not shaved today, due to sheer rage, or being really poor.

    I usually just point out, that as a transgender, in order to be accepted, a lot of the times we cannot have days off. We have to give up days where we do not want to have anything hygiene done. Where we just sit around in pyjamas and a bathrobe and eat potato chips. Women do have hygiene days off… and threaten them with feeling how it would feel like to never ever get that again.

    Other items that work:
    * Point out any woman over thirty… or if it is a girl who is in her late teens, early twenties, point out she has facial hair… self esteem distraction works for a bit (it is not a nice solution… but not all transgenders are going to want to be nice)
    * The phrase, “the only place, this is an epic moustache, is at a middle school. To give this any cred or praise, I’d need to be hanging around a bunch of middle school students. If I am, I implore you to phone the police.”… it gives a bit of humour, and points out how silly their indication are. References to Napoleon Dynamite work much better “yeah, I was thinking with my epic bo staff skills and this awesome facial hair, I’ll get to be student president”… it usually snaps a part in most people’s brains to reconsider the situation present.

    While it cannot be shaved, I can cover it up with foundation and mineral powder. However, I do NOT want to have my gender identity expression “look like something from the streets of bangkok” (joking wording) and I really do not want to wear that much make up all the time. I hiss when I see eyeshadow in anything more that subtle amounts. I’ll spend 2hrs applying makeup to make it look like I’m naturally that nice looking, and not wearing makeup. I’m also kind of poor too >.>’ Well, most people use the term, “on a budget”–but I call it what it is, “I’m poor, not one of dem rich fancy upstanding folks wid all the whoositwats.”


    In case you haven’t gotten it… HRT has been turning me into one of those angry teenage girls who hates the entire world… because to be fair, the entire world hates me. And you suck–and stuff (honestly, some of the stuff that comes from my mouth, I get embarrassed over). Its not really so much being a tomboy… so much as estrogen fed anger. Which anger loves estrogen much more than testosterone, I’ve noticed.

    Those GIFS of that girl on Tumblr with the exchange:
    “Did you hear about that girl who didn’t take her bipolar medication, pulled a friend into the fountain at the mall, then popped out all like ‘rawr! I’m a cracken!'”
    “I heard that was you.”

    I feel like I should be owed royalties for somehow… >.>’. That looks like a much younger me, and sounds like the current me… I should figure out what that movie/tv-show is, so I can watch it.

    It has resulted in people just randomly handing me chocolate–this anger.

    The idea I could be a translesbian was something I’ve only recently been told since coming to Vancouver.

    Over the course of being in Edmonton, I was happy that it kind of moved away from:
    “You have to be a submissive little stepford wive–you cannot be dominant, as that is wrong. You might be attracted to women, but you’ll be into men, once you’ve had SRS.”


    Oh and there are rare cases where HRT increases sex drive, and improves male genitalia functionality. These happen almost never… but rest assuredly, they DO happen. I was kind of looking forward to having my sex drive drop… not increase and refine itself. The former would be much nicer. I’m use to being sexually frustrated–but this increase has presented problems to take into account over the course of HRT… mostly solved by me locking myself in my room for the day.

    It would be nice if these rare, almost never occurring cases were mentioned as very rare… rather than it to be expected as the case all the time the sex drive will drop. (It was surprising to have that increase… I was in the doctor’s office a week after to ask “WTF?”)

  29. I loved this article. My wife and I saw an episode of Bones that had the murder of a trans woman as a plotpoint. Dr. Brennan gave a brief, briefer than what was given here, description of the surgery. My wife, as a nurse, was fascinated with the subject, but I don’t know if she ever followed up on it.

    You can rest assured that I will point her this way so she can find out not only about the surgery, but a bit more of the personal aspect of it.

    Awesome post, and I’m going to add Queereka, and you, to my regular reading, Natalie.

  30. Hi Natalie,

    Great post, I kinda agree to all you said here and experienced as much.
    A friend took me apart when I came out at a sports club, your number one (Trans women are just really, really, REALLY gay.), was the subject of the question she asked. She had assumed I was gay, notwithstanding the fact that I had been happily married to a woman for more than 10 years.

    Your nr.2 (So you’re going to get your penis cut off?) was actually true for the woman I met when I went in for my SRS, she had actually cut hers off in an act of despair. They were doing a reconstruction on her, using skin from her leg, as the shaft of the penis had been to torn (years before) to actually repair the damage with an emergency SRS.

    Gods how nr. 3 (So you’ve chosen to get a sex change operation?) is lodged in many peoples minds. I have chosen to become me, to be more happy, not to have a sex change, how can you change something that you already are? Actually the government of the country I live in has signed an agreement which should make it possible to change your gender lagally, even without an operation. Alasm the law has not yet been changed (as it has in Spain) to reflect this agreement, meaning I had to go the long haul to get it legally done.

    In nr 4. (“It’s a trap” / Trans women are just gay guys trying to attract straight dudes)…I would want to mention that I don’t want a straight dude, unless he knew me completely, my motto is “Love has no Gender” and as such I still have not made a decision as to my sexual orientation. I would call myself Bi, yet my previous preference hasn’t changed.
    For those curious, the time when I was still pre-op, the time when I was gradually being changed by hormones and could be seen as “she-male” is the worst and most awkward time of my life. It was a time when I was becoming who I desired to be, who I had been inside, yet one part of that could not be changed by hormones. I understand people who decide not to change completely. Yet a “she-male” is only a she-male if he/she wants it to, the name only applies to those who decide to walk that edge. Those selling themselves as that…I have my own ideas about those, I guess they have their reasons.

    In the past I have pondered your nr 5. (Aren’t you sort of reinforcing stereotypical gender roles? Aren’t you just going along with the idea that having a feminine personality means you must be female? Doesn’t that perpetuate the idea that there are certain ways women and men are “supposed” to be like?) a lot. The book “If I pay thee not in gold”, by Mercedes Lackey features a race of people that have no gender. They are just one variant. Though I guess I would not have been transgender if I had been born into a race that had no gender, the fact remains that the human race does have gender, and as such there is the possibility of people like me.

    You’ve very accurately related my feelings about nr. 6. (If our culture didn’t have such strict gender roles, there would be no need for transition.)
    I never wanted to dress in drag before I decided to deal with my being transgender. Does that mean I am not transgender? Again a misconception, transvestites and transgenders are two different things. I was afraid to lose my marriage, most of all before I went to seek help. And effectively I have lost that. We decided mutually to divorce simply because she expressed to not being able to reconcile herself with a lesbian relationship, even if I could. I don’t want an unhappy marriage, I let go the one I loved the most, because I wanted her to be happy. We’re still very close friends.

    Yes, nr.7. You’re so brave!
    People at work come to me and tell me this all the time. Others express their admiration of my bravery as well. And even though there is a lot of bravery involved in making the decision to follow through with the path we have to follow in life, my decision was not so much IF, but WHEN I would follow this path.
    Please keep seeing is as brave…hell, it is true…Yet know, for me the bravery was born out of necessity. Is a soldier brave when he charges over the battlefield to meet the enemy, yes. But remember, if he doesn’t, he will die for sure. The bravery is more in going to that battlefield, knowing you have to face the enemy. As such, our brave soldiers are that, brave.
    For us, the path to becoming the gender we are and want our body to match, is our battle.

    (sorry for this long comment, you inspired me Natalie :) )

  31. One thing you mention I would like to stress, and that’s the role of transgenders in movies and tv-series.
    Apparently they’re to be pitied. Transgenders die a lot, and people seem to think that they deserve that as they could never be happy the way we are. I know there are movies or series that don’t, but the mainstream does not like to make them acceptable or their lives agreeable.
    Everyone knows Silence of the Lambs, and lets put that one behind us…the guy was a psychopath, he was nuts.
    Being transgender does not mean they’re nuts…(well some are bound to be nuts, they’re people, humans). But saying someone who’s transgender is nuts is like saying all humans are nuts, and in that case, I guess you’re right saying that.

  32. Number 7 is really, really hard for me to let go of, because I’ve been lucky enough to have worked and been friends with some very awesome trans men and women, and worked alongside a man as he came out to us and began the long transitioning process. To watch that from the outside really does seem brave to me, and again, my coworkers were just in general amazing people.

    But when I think about this, I know that the reasons why I think of my friends and colleagues as brave comes more from their qualities as people: they are outspoken, intelligent, compassionate, and courageous because that is who they are, not because of some horrible burden that they must bear.

    And it’s good to remember that there ARE scared, vulnerable, maybe-not-as-strong people out there who are going through the same things without the same advantages that my friends have, which makes it that much more important for posts like these to be widely read and for all of us to be more accepting and understanding, and to make an effort when faced with identities and concepts that are unfamiliar to us.

    1. Hi Marc,
      It’s fine to hold on to the fact that transitioning is a brave thing to do. To be honest, it is one of the nicest comments people gave me in the past and now. I also need to add that it does give a person strength to hear things like this, and well, we need it!

      Though what Natalie means and eloquently tells us, is that for us there is no option. It is something we have to do.

      Thanks for understanding

  33. Really interesting article Natalie.

    The whole gender expression vs gender identity element was great, really placed what it means in a way I apparently wasn’t even able to consider before. I never thought that a trans person was just really gay, but I definitely mixed up gender identity and gender expression.

  34. Natalie! You are amazing! I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed reading your writing here (although you can probably ask my husband, to whom I have rehashed it ad nauseum). Thank you so much for this! Exclamation points!!!

  35. I love this! The only thing I wanted to say is that not all of us feel like the following from #5:

    We are only seeking to get our bodies to conform to our sense of self so that we can feel that they are our own rather than a creepy gross alien thingy that happens to be attached to us.

    I for one don’t hate my male bits. They are part of who I am, part of my body, and I love my body as it’s served me well throughout my life. I have three lovely children due to this body and its associated parts. With that said, I am female, and as a female I would rather have a female body than a male one, so that’s what I’ll do.

    This is something I think is important to say, because every time in the past I tried to find out what was going on with these feelings of mine, I came across the typical narrative that you’re trans if you loathe and despise your given body, and have felt that way since earliest memories. That simply isn’t the case for me, and that little bit of misinformation caused me to not realize until a couple of years ago that yes, I too am actually transgendered even though I have never hated my penis, nor do I consider it a “creepy gross alien thingy”. I can’t wait to have a vagina though. ;)

  36. Wow, it’s been a long time since this article came out.

    Anyway, I don’t know how to get ahold of you more personally than this comment even as a sister site contributor. I just wanted to say that these two articles gave me a different way of thinking of trans people.

    Trans woman = woman. Trans man = man. I never thought of it that way before, and now it’s just a normal part of the way I think of and address trans individuals. Unless, of course, they specifically don’t want to be viewed that way.

    I just thought you’d like to know that you’ve successfully educated me and changed the way I think. Part of being a writer in a public forum is to do exactly that, so good job. :D

  37. This article is amazing :)This article makes me feel happy to see that it can really help cis* people to understand more clearly about trans* people.
    Is it okay you can answer this question?
    I noticed this site ListVerse is letting people to send submissions. Can this article be sent to ListVerse to get more people to undestand more about Trans* people?

  38. No description of what it’s like to be trans will ever be all-inclusive. We transition in different ways and with different priorities and sexualities and expectations and levels of support from the community around us. This is all and awfully good fit for me though. Most of the time I’ve given up on applying labels to myself when I’m exploring the ideas of my identity and my sexuality in the comfort of my own head. I am who and what I am and I’m attracted to the people to whom I’m attracted. When talking to others though, I’m comfy being a slightly butchish transdyke. I may throw in “bi” or “slightly genderqueer” as sprinkles when appropriate but those are qualifiers because nothing is absolute. I hang out with more transmen than transwomen these days and I don’t think that there’s a huge disparity in experience or motive for most of us. Every conversation I have with a transman is far more about what we have in common with our experience of transition, with dysphoria and even with what hormones do to us than what the differences are.

    I’m planning to throw this around a bit, I hope you don’t mind. Nicely done, you. :)

  39. I have an enormous amount of respect for anyone that has the courage to become what they believe they should be. Society can be cruel and obtrusive. I will most likely never have the funding to transition my own self to what I believe is who I should have been. . . although maybe I will have the honor of befriending such a person in the future.

    Such is life.

    And thank you for writing this article. It was exactly what I was looking for.

  40. The only reason why I have ever told a person who is going through the TG process that they have courage is because it can’t be easy on any front. Psychological level dealing with the transformation itself, and of course all of the bigotry that I have witnessed. Physical level, in that your body goes through many changes through the process, not all of them pleasant. To be able to not only put up with society and your ever changing body, that takes great courage. The best I can do is try to make the society one less bothersome by being an advocate and a friend to everyone whom the rest of society tries to spit upon.

    This is a wonderful article though, and really does nail all of the stereotypes very well. As I told my friends who happen to be TG, you are the gender what the genes in your head tell you, not what your body looks like, and definitely not what society says. If you are a woman, given what I said above, I will treat you that way. When I say that… I will just use different pronouns. Otherwise, I don’t treat my friends who are female anymore different than those that are male.

  41. I feel retrospectively embarrassed that I was not aware of “the existence of trans lesbians” for many, many years until it became apparent to me t(and my therapist) that I was one :-)
    For years, the stereotypical narrative went
    1) Knew I should have been “born a girl” from a very young age – [Check]
    2) Was very interested in girls and also identified with them – [Check]
    3) As a teenager I thought I was gay – [Scratchy vinyl noise – nope, I’ve always been attracted to females]
    4) I had GRS and now have a boyfriend [erm, not interested in getting a boyfriend]
    so OBVIOUSLY I wasn’t a transsexual. Right? Oh.
    I could have saved myself quite a lot of time and heartache if I’d known this a couple or three decades ago :-)

  42. Wait, while I understand the point of this article, you’re disclaimer at the bottom of it bothers me a tad bit. Trans Men are not apart of Cultural Erasure, simply because that’s when new generations are no longer interested older traditions. Also what about Trans Gay Men? I’m sure they’re having a tough time as well as Trans Lebsians are since both parties been hit with a double-minority. Why not just open people’s eyes to both Trans Men and Trans Women instead of having that once sentence at the bottom. Not all cispeople are going to actually make that connection. They may end up feeling that Trans Women are okay, but Trans Men aren’t similar to how Lesbians are more socially acceptable than Gay Men.

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