Transgender and non-binary folks in the USA are living in a time of great visibility, but also great vulnerability. Defining and defending our identities and communities can be exhausting when faced with an onslaught of invasive questions and incorrect presumptions, even from “well-meaning” people.
As part of a response to trans-antagonistic charges that we are deviant and dangerous, some folks in our community have countered that being transgender or non-binary is a normal state of being. In his TEDx Talk, “Ending Gender”, trans actor Scott Turner Schofield said that cisgender people — people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth — aren’t “normal”, just “common”.
Speaking as an agender trans male, my feeling is this: No, there is nothing wrong with being trans. Identifying with a gender or genders that differ from one’s sex assigned at birth is a valid part of the spectrum of gender, just as being gay or bisexual is a valid part of the spectrum of sexuality. This is true regardless of what medical or legal interventions one pursues to align their gender expression with their gender identity.
However, transgender and non-binary people — though we have always existed — will never be more than a small part of the human population. Being trans or non-binary is more than being gender non-conforming; it is a gut feeling that we are something different — or something more — than what is indicated on our birth certificates.
Not all trans or non-binary people experience physical dysphoria, which is discomfort with our sexed body parts. But I do feel that some kind of distress with being addressed as the wrong gender is one defining characteristic of being trans. Some cis people are misgendered occasionally, of course. But unlike trans people, they can often laugh it off as a mistake, expect a quick apology and move on with their day, unbothered. Whereas for many trans people, being misgendered, however innocently, can not only feel terrible, but actually threaten our safety or livelihoods.
In these respects, no, being trans is not “normal”. Nor is being trans or non-binary something to aspire to, not because there is anything wrong with it, but because it is not something that can be freely chosen. Assuming you have the access and safety to do so, you can choose whether or not to transition. You can choose what name, pronouns, and gender expression best fit your identity. But you cannot choose to be trans, nor can you “catch” transness from someone else, despite what trans-antagonists and concern-trolls might say.
Gender identity is innate, and while it might take some people a lifetime to discover their authentic selves, being trans is not a hobby or fashion to be tried and discarded. Refusing to conform to stereotypical gender norms is commendable, but that alone does not make one transgender. Being cisgender is normal, whereas being transgender is not.
But you know what another word for normal is? Ordinary. And we are anything but that. Trans people are extraordinary.
Being extraordinary doesn’t just mean being a celebrity actor, groundbreaking medical researcher, renowned author, or community leader. Trans and non-binary people are all of those, and more. But we are also your convenience store clerk, the homeless person you walked by on the street, your second grader’s classmate, and your next-door neighbor.
- We are extraordinary because we persist despite obstacles that prevent us from legally using our chosen names and true genders.
- We are extraordinary because we persist despite obstacles that prevent us from accessing transition-related medical care.
- We are extraordinary because we persist despite being mocked, ridiculed, rejected, and physically attacked.
- We are extraordinary because we persist in a society that doesn’t fully acknowledge or understand our existence.
Being normal isn’t everything. Trans people are extraordinary because we exist, period, and we’re not going anywhere.