Sunday, March 16, 2008
Transgender people have existed for at least as long as there is written history, but the term “transgender” is relatively new, coined in the 1990s.
It broadly encompasses a number of ways a person’s biological sex can differ from their gender identity — the sense of who they are, the things they’re drawn to and the way they prefer to appear.
But many people are still uncertain exactly what it means to be transgender — and that sometimes even includes those who are.
“Dayton is still very deeply closeted,” said Jenny Caden, a transsexual who recently started living full-time as a woman. “A lot of transgender people are simply too scared to go out, for fear of losing their job or their families, or of being ridiculed. Progress is being made, but it’s painfully slow. I wonder sometimes how much I’ll see in my lifetime.”
“Gender identity” and “transgender” are terms largely puzzling to the general public, partly because of the secrecy surrounding transgender expression.
Transgender is often spoken in the same breath as gay, lesbian and bisexual, adding to the confusion — since those are terms related to sexual orientation. A person can be transgender and of any sexual orientation, although the largest group within the transgender community — cross-dressers — are primarily heterosexual men.
“Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to, gender identity is who you are in your head,” said Bo Shuff, director of education and public policy at Equality Ohio, a statewide educational and political action coalition advocating equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
A transgender person’s gender identity fluctuates, conflicts with, or varies from expected norms for their biological sex, or in some rare cases, the one they were assigned at birth.