I’m a cisgender man. The pronouns I want people to use when referring to me are he, him, and his. Why does this matter, and what does it even mean? Being cisgender means that I identify with the gender I was “assigned at birth.” In blunt terms, it means that the genitals with which I was born match my gender identity: I’m a man who has always been a man, has always felt like a man, and whom other people have also always thought of as a man. And that’s why it matters—there are men whom other people haven’t always thought of as men; women whom other people don’t think of as women.
Calling myself cisgender is an acknowledgement that although most of humanity shares my experience, there are people whose gender doesn’t match the biology with which they were born. Saying I’m cisgender tells transgender people that I see their experience, their personhood, and their reality as valid as those of the majority. By stating my preferred pronouns I’m admitting that even though the way I look matches who I really am, there are people whose inner self doesn’t match what their culture would expect them to look like—and that it’s therefore not always safe to make assumptions based on appearance.
Writing this might give you the impression that I’m comfortably progressive. The truth is that it has taken me years to wrap my head around all this. And I must confess that I haven’t always been kind to trans people. I haven’t always taken them seriously. I am guilty of otherizing them, of dehumanizing them. For this, I must ask forgiveness. I may not have sinned against my trans brothers and sisters in deed, but I have sinned against them in my thoughts, in my words, and in what I have failed to do. May the Lord who made them with as much love as He made me, forgive me. And I hope they forgive me too.
Transphobia has long been prevalent in the gay community—especially in the gay male community. The uncomfortable truth is that most cisgender gay men are at least at some level insecure in their masculinity. I don’t mean in the sense that we ourselves doubt it, but in the sense that we have grown up hearing from others that being attracted to the same sex makes you less of a man. For those of us who don’t feel any kind of particular attachment to the feminine, being thought of as less masculine is frustrating. It makes us defensive. And true to one of the ugliest traits of human nature, we seek to make ourselves feel better by pointing at a scapegoat even more “other” than we are.
Gay men fetishize and idealize masculinity. I don’t have scientific data on this, but based on my own experience when I was single, I’ll say that “masc only” is one of the most common requirements found on online dating profiles. Guys who consider themselves masculine—who have never desired to be women or to even just wear women’s clothes—want nothing to do with guys who are effeminate. It’s no surprise, then, that trans women make us so uncomfortable. Their existence threatens our own masculinity because people who don’t understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation see trans women and think they’re just gay guys in dresses; they think they are, in a sense, what all gay men want to be—the gayest of the gays. So we lash out. Instead of calmly explaining to those who are misguided that “gay” and “transgender” are not points on a spectrum, we establish the difference between the two by saying that one is acceptable, but the other isn't.
And that’s really messed up. It hints even of misogyny. It is, truly, sin—it is rooted in the denial that we are all made in God’s own image. Ironically, perhaps, it has been my conversion to Christ’s Way what has softened my heart and shed light on my error. Faith—the realization that there is an intellect far greater than mine, a loving Creator whose mind I can never fully comprehend—has humbled me and has made me more willing to listen to other people’s stories.
Perhaps because as a man I find it easier to relate to fellow men, it is by hearing the stories of trans men that I have finally come to empathize with their need for proper pronouns. I never liked the gay subculture that uses female pronouns for men. I’ve never liked being called a “queen”—not even by gay friends. If something as innocuous as that annoys me, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have complete strangers call me ma’am; I can’t imagine feeling as if my own body were declaring me something I’m not. And this newfound empathy has made me regret the times when I’ve been unkind, in thought or speech, to trans women—I have a better understanding now of where they are coming from.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge that there are also people who don’t fully fit within the confines of “male” and “female”—just like there are people who aren’t 100% gay or 100% straight. This is even harder to grasp. We humans like our labels, our boxes, and our categories. The good news is that God didn’t bid us understand each other—“For each will have to bear his own load.” My job as a human being is not to categorize and classify others. It is especially not up to me to establish any sort of hierarchy. My job, as I see it, is simply to love—to work with God and my fellow humans to make this world a more peaceful place.
Photo by torbakhopper, used with permission through Flickr Creative Commons.
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