5

I completely respect and support transgender rights from a rational perspective. I can see that it is something that 1) doesn't significantly affect other people so other people shouldn't be able to restrict your gender expression and 2) clearly is harmful to individuals psychologically is they are forced to present a gender they don't identify with. However, I have trouble connecting with what it means to be transgender emotionally which I feel inhibits my ability to truly empathize with people in this position.

I am a cis gendered female and for me, my primary experience of my gender is through the social experience of it. The primary way I feel I identify with my "femaleness" is because of the way others interact with me because their perception of my gender. This can be positive things like the way women are able to casually hug friends or negative things like frequently being interrupted in meetings. Without these social or on occasion physical feedbacks and responses, I'm not sure I would have an strong identity as a woman. Maybe this is because I am cis gendered so I just don't notice all the ways my gender identity is affirmed but from my current perspective my gender identity is the way society perceives me as a woman. For me it is similar to race; the reason I identify as I do is because of the way society treats me.

I want to have more emotional empathy transgender people because I know I am missing something here. Rationally I can say, no one would go through what transgender people go through if there was not something more to gender than the social experience I identify with. I don't have close transgendered friends and clearly it is inappropriate to approach transgender acquaintances with these types of questions. I tried visiting some transgender advocacy websites for information, but I was unsatisfied withe the answers. For example transequality.org states

It can be difficult for people who are not transgender to imagine what being transgender feels like. Imagine what it would be like if everyone told you that the gender that you’ve always known yourself to be was wrong. What would you feel like if you woke up one day with a body that’s associated with a different gender? What would you do if everyone else—your doctors, your friends, your family—believed you’re a man and expected you to act like a man when you’re actually a woman, or believed you’re a woman even though you’ve always known you’re a man?

But my response to their thought exercise is "If I had lived that way my whole life, then I would probably consider myself a man". All this said, my question is this:

  1. Ideally: How do I experience or identify with my gender that aren't tied to the social experience or my physical body that will help me better understand the transgender experience?
  2. Alternatively: How can I get my questions on this topic answered without invading the privacy of transgender people?

I understand if this isn't the right forum for this question. I looked around for a while trying to find a stack exchange site that was appropriate, and this was the best I could come up with. Recommendations are welcome.

5
  • 2
    Hi there user, welcome to IPS! Unfortunately, I don't think that your first question is a good fit for IPS since it's not about communicating with other people. As for your second question, it would need more details. Who are you gonna ask about this? What is your relationship with them? What have you consider asking excactly ? – Ael Sep 14 '20 at 8:29
  • 1
    Hi there! Welcome to IPS. I second what Ael said, i.e. the first question of your post is off topic for this site. Also, we usually prefer posts to focus on one question at a time. Your second question might be answered but it'll need more details before we can do so, as Ael explained in their comment. I'm going to close this post for now so that you have all the time you need to remove the first question and add these details. Feel free to ping me in comments once you're done so that I reopen your post. I'm here in you have any questions. Have a great time around! – avazula Sep 14 '20 at 11:27
  • @Ael That is kind of the crux of the question. Who would be an appropriate person to ask and in what context? The only transgender people I know are acquaintances (e.g. a woman I used to frequently ride the train with pre-pandemic) so it would be an inappropriate question to ask her. What is the socially appropriate context to ask this question if I don't have trans people in my life? – user30436 Sep 14 '20 at 14:04
  • An outside the box sugguestion, but if you are on facebook, there is a group called "Sounds like you need to be educated on transgender individuals but ok" that is aimed at providing a safe and appropriate place to ask transgender volunteers exactly this type of question. Despite the cheeky name, the people there are very kind and happy to answer well meaning questions that are too invasive to ask your transgender acquaintances. – Meg Sep 17 '20 at 21:31
  • You won't ever be able to find out how a person of the opposite sex really feels. You'd have to be that person, and you can't. To get a tiny little bit close: Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning in a body of the opposite gender, say in a female instead of a male body. And it turns out that everyone around you has always known you as a girl or woman, so you can talk to your family, friends, colleagues, neighbours like you always did. Except inside you are a man. So how would you feel about that? – gnasher729 Sep 30 '20 at 17:32
4

The very good answer by Arthur Hv answers mainly your first question. This will be about your second question: "How can I get my questions on this topic answered without invading the privacy of transgender people?" The following is guided by how I approached that subject myself.

Generally, you can't.

That said, if you had a very good friend who happened to be trans and were kind enough to share some of their thoughts and experiences with you, this could work in real life. But many trans people are tired of society's expectation to be there to teach everyone, and it's their right to be that.

But there are trans advocates, who chose to be teachers. There are books by trans people, blogs, Youtube-vlogs, twitter accounts ... Some trans people may have an occasional "ask me anything" on twitter.

Everyone is different, so is every trans person. But by using these resources to reading about the experiences and struggles of a number of trans people, your can try to come closer to understanding.

So basically: The only way to not invade the privacy is by not invading it, but using sources, that are readily available.

But, in the end and to come back to your first question: Since your gender identity, your gender expression, your gender roles and your gender assigned at birth seem all to match, I don't think that it's possible to not only understand, but really experience where one ends and the other one starts, even if all your questions are answered.

4

While I think this question could be more fully addressed by someone transgender having experienced gender dysphoria, I have experience interacting with them online and asking this very question, so I am going to try the risky exercise of answering this, with the hope it's going to be helpful and not too clumsy.

It's tempting to believe gender is a purely social construct, and that you would be considering yourself a man if you were socially identified so, but there have been scientific evidences showing it's more complicated, involving brain structure and genetics, as shown on the studies of twins. There is also an historical example of a boy with a surgical accident born without genitalia and raised as a girl (as advised by the doctors back then) who experienced gender dysphoria, who would contradict this idea.

The reason one identify their gender is partially innate too, which is why gender dysphoria exists.

The answer I got from interacting with someone transgender also reflects this. The person I annoyed with my questions answered me she felt deep down what was her true gender, and that the social construct was off. How would you behave if you couldn't help but seeing yourself a man in the mirror, and everybody considered it different? Being able to truly imagine yourself in that situation is as close as you can get from empathizing with their situation.

No real experience can really reflect this feeling, as any kind of experience would have a set time you could "pretend" to be.

Note that transgender people have a whole spectrum of identification some of which don't involve dysphoria (source). Transgenderism is in the broad sense "people [that] have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their sex assigned at birth" (Wikipedia).

But even if you don't completely understand, at least now, there is a lot to empathize with their situation that doesn't need full understanding of the gender dysphoria. You probably already know that:

  • They are heavily discriminated against, to the point they usually hide their transgender identity, and usually prefer it not disclosed
  • Some prefer going through a heavy medical process than staying in their socially associated gender, which gives a glimpse at how important the question is for them and how painful that might be

It's also worth noting that even if you don't manage to understand, and while it's truly showing good will to try, most transgender people don't ask for you to empathize fully, but at least to consider them being equal, consider their gender to be real, consider their anonymity to be respected, something very little to accommodate for in a day-to-day life.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.