When your gender identity and assigned sex at birth match, it can be hard to understand what it feels like when they don’t.

First, a couple of definitions for the new kids in class:

transgender: adj., when one’s assigned sex at birth does not match their internal, immutable gender identity.

cisgender: adj., when one’s assigned sex at birth does match their internal, immutable gender identity; non-transgender.

Hardwired, But Invisible

Photo credit: A Health Blog via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

I get that, if you aren’t transgender, it can be hard to conceptualize. When everything fits together and always has, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like when it doesn’t.

There’s no way to prove to another person what your gender identity is. It’s just something that you know. And when it doesn’t match the sex you were assigned at birth and your outward social gender role, it is a persistent, insistent, consistent conflict that gnaws at your soul. This conflict is called gender dysphoria.

Diabolical Difference

Photo credit: Ryan Vaarsi via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

But gender identity isn’t the only invisible hardwired characteristic we possess. There is also sexual orientation and handedness.

When my brother was in grade school, teachers forced him to use his right hand to write and do other tasks. Problem was, he was left-handed. He was born that way. Hardwired that way. But he couldn’t prove this to his teachers, who, for whatever nonsensical reasons, felt that being left-handed was WRONG!

Left-handedness was long considered evil and unnatural, which is why it is associated with words like sinister, perverse, and diabolical.

I saw what my brother went through when they tried to force him to be right-handed when he wasn’t. He was frustrated and angry and confused. He’d cry when they put the pencil in his right hand. Why couldn’t they just let him be as he was? And it wasn’t like he could prove he was left-handed.

We Are Who We Say We Are

Transgender people are who we say we are. Yes, I was assigned male at birth. Yes, I was born with a penis.

But somewhere in my prenatal development some wires got crossed.

My gender identity was female. I’ve known this since I was a small child. I just couldn’t prove it to people who wouldn’t listen.

Yes, I had to undergo hormone replacement therapy, countless hours of tortuous electrolysis, and a very expensive surgery. But for me, being a woman feels like the most natural thing in the world. Nothing diabolical. Just me being me.


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1 thought on “Explaining Being Transgender to Cisgender People”

  1. Now more than ever I feel you are rendering a service to the ignorant.

    Your analogy with left hand right hand may be of value to many not willing or unable to understand genetics, biology or neurosciences.


    My husband was a lefty. Irish catholic believed the left hand was the devil’s hand. Beatings by ‘compassionate’ nuns forced him to use his right hand. Though throughout his life he wrote with his right hand he did everything else as a left handed person. Simple things like losing keys could ‘always’ be found on the left side of him.

    Let’s hope as we slowly evolve as a species, we will evolve in acceptance of the things we may not have the capacity to understand.

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