There has been a lot of misinformation concerning the debate over transgender students and bathrooms, not only in North Carolina but also in Horry County. As a professor of sociology and gender studies, I want to provide transgender issues in translation.
A transman friend put it best when he explained that sex is what's between your legs and gender is what's between your ears. In other words, sex is more about the parts. Gender is more about identity.
Many people have a hard time grasping transgender identity, especially because for the majority of people there is a 1:1 ratio of sex to gender. A person is born with a vagina and generally identifies as a woman. A person is born with a penis and generally identifies as a man. This is because we live in a culture in which the very biological fact of sex takes on great meaning and social significance.
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We see evidence of this even before children are born - at the trendy, new gender reveal parties, at baby showers, in how people decorate children's rooms, in the clothes and toys that are purchased, etc. Gendered expectations are loaded onto all of us immediately because gender is a primary means by which our lives are organized. And, before a child can even utter a word, people around him or her have formed attitudes and expectations about what is possible or not, in terms of life chances and choices.
However, when someone is born with a penis and later identifies as a girl or woman or is born with a vagina and later identifies as a boy or man, most people are puzzled because those constructs don't fit that 1:1 ratio they are used to.
What is crucial is understanding that when someone identifies as trans, it's because they feel trapped in the body they were born in; undergoing transition is a crucial step toward self-preservation and survival. When we can see it this way, we can develop a sense of compassion for this as the human rights issue that it is.
It's about changing and altering one's body so that it fits who the person is all along and so that in a world in which we have such rigid binaries, others can perceive the trans person the way she or he already sees himself or herself.
Any form of oppression, hostility, violence, and silence toward transmen and transwomen runs deep and has deleterious consequences in terms of safety, health, well-being and survival - and especially for the most basic of daily activities like using a public restroom.
The writer holds a Ph.D. and is assistant professor of sociology at University of South Carolina Beaufort.