Every few years a major transgender person catches our attention and dominates headlines for a few weeks or months. I was listening to an old time radio program broadcast and noticed a couple of jokes about a person having sex reassignment; it was the Jack Benny Christmas Special from 1953. This subject has been around a very long time. The Christine Jorgensen story was popular while I was in eighth grade (1967). A teacher tried to explain to our class that sex reassignment as a means of coping with homosexuality, and then tried to explain homosexuality. Myra Breckinridge was popular while I was in high school; neither the book nor movie presented an accurate description of the experience. Sadly transgender folks are still dealing with those types of misperceptions.

There are people who want to see the world in a binary, black and/or white form; they often claim that gender is determined only by the sexual designation assigned based on observation at the time of birth. Firstly, genital sex organs are only one variable in establishing gender. Even the most casual look across history and any society will find a rainbow of gender presentations not assigned to genital determined sex. A transgender person is often considered gender variant. However, if we are honest with ourselves we realize that all of us are on a continuum of gender. We use numerous biological and social criteria to establish what we call gender. They include sex assigned at birth, secondary sex characteristics, perception of our own gender and gender projection or expression.

At one time women wearing slacks was considered gender deviant and a football player who loved to knit was condemned as a traitor to his sex. Within the general population gender identity is most often perceived as somehow connected to sexuality; within that mindset variant gender expression is linked to homosexuality. In reality the traits of gender and sexuality are not correlated any more than gender and a preference for Italian food. There are many tracks of sexual attraction and satisfaction, some of them are gender specific, and many others are not. Separately there is a plethora of gender expression options.

There are hundreds of books and academic studies concerning and explaining transgender behavior and feelings; anyone can become an expert in a relatively short period of time, though few people outside of the experience have the time or desire to do that research.

What I suggest is simply taking time to listen as people share their experiences. Do not project any form of sexuality or sexual behavior on to the experience; that is completely separate. Then take a few minutes to note your own small ways of pushing formerly established gender definitions or boundaries; we all have a few. From there it is easy to see that a transgender person is just a bit further down that sliding scale. From that vantage it is easy to see transgender people are not much different than anyone else.

Author’s Note: My own transgender experience is detailed in the book Saddling Dragons which is available at most online book stores in trade paperback and e-book formats.

Chrystine Julian