Roan, of Maine Trans Net, lists several pressing needs for change. First, he says, there is still a great deal of teaching to be done in the health-care establishment. "A lot of trans people are afraid to seek medical care for something not trans related, because they're afraid they might get mistreated." He also notes that changing documentation for name and gender markers is still difficult. (For example: even though I have legally changed my name, am taking hormones, and am living full-time as a woman, in the eyes of the Social Security Administration I am still male because I haven't had sexual reassignment surgery. The SSA's determination of my gender determines my employer's, which in turn determines my health-insurance carrier's, which leaves me wondering if my recent mammogram will be covered by insurance. It's a mess.) And, Roan says, in our society as a whole, there is still a lot of pressure for everyone to conform to traditional gender roles. "I think that gender stereotypes are perpetuated even by well-intentioned people in faith communities, schools, families, and the media, and that needs to change."
Do we in fact find ourselves on the brink of a radical rethinking, not just of gender roles, but of gender itself? Holmes, at USM, speaks of the "endless possibilities of society and medical science . . . we can do whatever we want, really." With regard to possible gender identities people might adopt, she adds, "My feelings are getting more and more expansive and more and more in flux." My daughter Madeleine, asked for a better model of gender than a binary, or even a line with endpoints, pulls up on her laptop screen an artists' color wheel; and Scott, a 21-year-old USM senior who happened to be hanging out at the USM Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity the day I interviewed Holmes, offers a similar image: paint swatches. "Choose your color," he says.
A nuanced understanding of trans starts with a clear grasp of a handful of fundamental concepts. Here are a few of the most crucial:
TRANS PEOPLE ARE NOT MENTALLY ILL We have perfectly good brains; they just don't match our bodies.
IT'S NOT ABOUT SEX What makes you trans is your innate sense of your gender being out of synch with the physical body you were born with. It has nothing to do with who you think is hot.
THERE IS NO ONE TRUE TRANS PATH Some trans folk get surgery, some do not; some take hormones, some do not; some come out and live publicly, some do not. None of these choices is "more trans" than any other.
BEING TRANS IS HARD TO FIGURE OUT Many trans folk only start to articulate their gender truth later in life; and even those who are sure from an early age often still face years or even decades of confusion and struggle before finding their own way to express their gender truth.
Those pesky pronouns