For centuries, several Native American tribes throughout the country have had terms to describe people who do not embody one gender, but rather two or more. Transgender people are all over the world and are not acting as part of a fad; it is who they are.
More than 35 people gathered at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Hall on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 26 for a community discussion sponsored by the church and SAFE San Juans, entitled “Transgender 101.”
“I was assigned female at birth. I was given a woman’s name and lived as a queer woman for most of my life. And when I moved here – to Orcas – I was still exploring what was going on for me. Moving to a whole new community, I thought this was my opportunity to change pronouns … at that time, I used he/him,” said panel speaker Rhys Hansen. “As I continued my journey of figuring out where on the gender galaxy spectrum that I am, I figured out the most comfortable place for me was not as either a man nor a woman but as something else.”
Hansen uses the pronouns them and they since as of right now there are no commonly accepted alternative pronouns for someone who is “genderfluid,” which means not identifying as a fixed gender.
“The words I would use to describe myself are a ‘non-binary transperson,’” said Hansen. “Passing as a man in this culture was not going to be any more comfortable for me than passing as a woman. I thought that was just exchanging one set of b.s. for a different set. So I ultimately decided that if I had to pick one or the other I was going to pick something that let me keep going to the Korean lady spa.”
Alongside Hansen was Lopezian Josephine Bates. She began her transition about a year ago and has yet to begin hormone replacement therapy, the first step in physically transitioning from one gender to another.
“For me, it was ignorance, that took me so long. I actually only figured this out about a year ago … I knew the word but I didn’t really know what the word meant. I didn’t understand everything involved,” said Bates, who is in her late 20s. “For me, it was like, ‘yeah, I’d prefer to have been born a woman, but doesn’t everybody?’ That’s what I wanted so badly.”
Both Hansen and Bates were beyond puberty when they came to the realization that they were transgender. Many audience members asked questions relating to when and how the two speakers came to the realization that they were not living as the gender they were inside. One person asked how they could do such “violence” to their bodies.
“I felt like a lot of violence was being done to my body by the people around me. My experience when people called me ‘young woman’ or would include me in groups of women, that to me was an act of violence,” said Hansen. “Not all transgender people want to take hormones and surgeries. It is really common, but often times it has to do with an idea of ‘passing’ and that you are physically safer and less likely to get harassed or attacked by people if you can pass as the gender that you identify with.”
Gender and biological sex are two concepts that western society has confused for one another over the years, but they are different. Biological sex pertains to the genitalia you are born with, while gender is a social construct which categorizes people based on their biological sex. It is the idea that you were born with male genitalia, therefore you must be a man and masculine. And vice versa. Essentially, biological sex is what is between your legs and gender is what is between your ears.
“I knew that I was not like the other little girls. I didn’t know if that’s because I liked other girls … I was always seen as kind of an outsider kid. I didn’t fit in no matter how hard I tried. But that’s not an unusual experience for any 10-year-old,” said Hansen. “I’m glad that I didn’t know that I was queer or that I was transgender until I was an adult when I had access to other people like me. I was already kind of a freak in my hometown; I didn’t need more levels of awareness.”
The gathering allowed members of the community to ask Hansen and Bates questions that they would otherwise feel uncomfortable asking in a public setting. Rev. Berto Gándara-Perea said that the Episcopal Church has been openly accepting of transgender people, but understands that many people still don’t understand, and wanted to provide a setting where they could interact with transgenders in our community and learn.
“We wanted to have a moment of dialogue, of hearing each other. It’s an opportunity to just listen and to hear and to see faces and to be able to ask questions,” said Gándara-Perea before the discussion began. “We want to be welcome to all of you here. Whatever your opinion and beliefs, they’re welcome here. The only thing we want to make clear is to treat each other with respect and with compassion. We might disagree, but the important thing is that we disagree with charity, with compassion to each other. To try to understand.”