Gender Identity

Most of us have grown up with strong Western cultural notions about gender identity and expression. These expectations tell us that there are only two types of normal (i.e., acceptable) human beings: heterosexual females with typical “feminine” characteristics, and heterosexual males with typical “masculine” characteristics.

These ideas powerfully affect how we view ourselves and those around us but they are not the only paradigm for gender. Activist & poet Minnie Bruce Pratt writes, “We’re trained to see only male or female and to plot people into those categories when they actually don’t fit neatly at all…But if we pause, watch, and listen closely, we’ll see the multiplicity of ways in which people are sexed and gendered. There exists a range of personal identifications around woman, man, in-between–we don’t even have names or pronouns that reflect that in-between place, but people certainly live in it.”

The term “transgender” is used to describe people who cross or transcend culturally defined categories of gender (Bockting et al, 2004; Davis, 2008; Green, 2004). Many such individuals were assigned one biological sex at birth, but live their lives to varying degrees as the opposite sex. They may or may not choose to socially or medically transition.

Individuals of transgender experience who live in the “in-between places,” challenge our notions of gender normalcy and as a result, people who are gender different are stigmatized by the dominant culture. This marginalization has historically resulted in the silencing of transgender persons’ voices and the invisibility of their stories and lives. The binary gender assumption renders trans persons as “other” and “queer.” It defines them as gender transgressors and subjects them to shame, ostracism, objectification, hatred, verbal, physical and sexual assaults, and even murder.

Our transgender identity – pre, during, and post-transition – is continually negotiated and re-negotiated in the context of everyday life – in places like our job, at home, at school, in our neighborhoods, in twelve step meetings, in the restroom, and in medical settings. Identifying as transgender is not something that one can accomplish and be finished with it. Instead, transgender people (as do all people) “perform” their gender day in and day out in the varying relational contexts of their lives.

Two-thirds of my practice are transgender and/or gender queer children, adolescents, and adults. Some are exploring gender identity/expression; some have made decisions to begin transitioning; some are many years post-transition and making evolving decisions about careers, parenting, relationships, spirituality, and community engagement. I work extensively with these young people and adults and their families.

You’ll learn more about Gender Identity through my new book, Transgender Children and Youth: Cultivating Pride and Joy with Families in Transition (Norton) is now available for purchase through Amazon.