Gwynn: Educate yourself on transgender issues


November is nearly over. To most people, this might mean a variety of things: finals are approaching, Stop Day is nearly here, winter is coming—but I can guess what isn’t on most of your minds.

“Aw, Transgender Awareness Month is coming to an end!”

November is officially Transgender Awareness Month, a time to bring attention to trans issues, needs and persons. And awareness is certainly needed, as most non-trans individuals have no idea what trans issues and needs are; hell, a lot of you might even be unsure what transgender actually means. Let’s do a little terminology breakdown.

Sex is the biological makeup of a person’s anatomy such as hormones, DNA, internal reproductive organs and genitalia. Gender is the social and cultural construction of identity a person chooses or has placed upon them, most typically distinguished as a masculine or feminine one.

So, for example: my sex is female, my gender is feminine, and society and I feel comfortable labeling me as a “woman.” Transgender is an umbrella term for anyone who’s gender expression varies outside of the female equals woman/male equals man system typically thought as “normal” by society.

But the fact of the matter is, a person’s gender is not equivalent to their genitalia. Just because you have a penis, doesn’t mean you are a dude, and just because you have a vagina, doesn’t mean you’re automatically a lady. A lot of people with vaginas do identify as women, just as many people with penises identify as men, but sex and gender is a not a Point A to Point B construction. Biology is fixed. Gender is not.

However, gender outside a strict binary makes the majority of people in our society uncomfortable. If we see someone who appears to be distinctly masculine wearing a dress, we question (or mock) it. If we see someone who seems distinctly feminine speaking with a deep voice, we scratch our heads (or try to figure what the “problem” is). And, for those individuals who have an androgynous gender, who we are unsure are male or female-bodied, we react as if we’re entitled to have an explanation (or, in some instances, that we’re entitled to act violently).

More people than ever are identifying as trans, and coming out as such at younger ages. This directly affects college campuses, where lots of young people, plus interacting with a greater diversity of people than ever, plus the unique opportunity to build a new identity, often equals the first instance that Trans youth feel they can begin to conceptualize the idea of being Trans and being out about it.

I can’t make a breakdown of all the issues, politics and changes that need to be done concerning trans individuals, as that would probably take up more than a week’s worth of the Kansan, and still would be insufficient. But, there are a few simple things you can do to prevent being an unintentional douchebag and help Trans people.

1. Don’t Act As if Someone’s Gender Identity is Your Business

If you see someone, and think they might be trans, or you’re unsure how they identify, guess what? Not your business. I don’t care if you’re about to pee with curiosity—just stop. If it happens that this is not just a stranger, but is someone you want/need to interact with, listen to see how they self-identify. If that doesn’t make it clear, you can politely ask “What gender pronouns do you prefer?” Then use those pronouns.

2. If Someone You Know is Transitioning, Acknowledge It

If someone you know starts to transition to a new gender identity, they might go through a whole slew of changes, in physical appearance, in pronouns, even in their name. And yeah, if you’ve known Natalie since kindergarten as Nathan, it might take a while to get used to. But just try. Validate their new identity. And if you mess up, and refer to them as their old name, or pronoun, just apologize and move on.

3. Educate Yourself

The internet is a beautiful place, and not just because it has a seemingly infinite amount of cat videos. There are tons of resources to learn more about trans people and issues, and all for the low, low price of free! is a great resource, including an online suggested reading/viewing book and film list, and lots of kits and fact sheets. also has a good section on their website devoted to some basic trans 101, as well as links to resources. Also, your lovely campus has a kick-ass Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department—why not take advantage, and take a class that has content relevant to Trans people?

So go out, and finish Transgender Awareness Month with a bang; you’ll be the coolest progressive kid on the block.

Gwynn is a sophomore majoring in English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality from Olathe. Follow her on twitter @AllidoisGwynn.

  • Updated Dec. 2, 2012 at 1:00 am
  • Marijke Geurts

    Thanks for this blog, it means a lot to see support like this!

  • Daniel Earwicker

    “Sex is the biological makeup of a person’s anatomy such as hormones, DNA, internal reproductive organs and genitalia. Gender is the social and cultural construction of identity a person chooses or has placed upon them”.

    To these we can add sexuality. But it is unusual for a gay (or for that matter, straight) person to report that they remember choosing their sexuality, and very often siblings growing up in identical social environments will turn out to have different sexual orientations. So it seems sexuality is likely to be biologically-determined, like anatomy, rather than a choice or social/cultural construct.

    Couldn’t the same also be true (at least for some people) in the case of gender? You say “biology is fixed, gender is not.” Could it be the case that all three components (body, gender, sexuality) are to some extend fixed by biology, and yet not be all aligned in the same directions?

    NB. Accepting this would change nothing in the gist of your article, which seems to me totally sensible and admirable in all other regards.

  • Cap_Jack

    You say “biology is fixed” but if someone chooses to pursue surgical transition procedures, thereby changing their outer-biology, there is the implication (I believe unintended on your part but no less present) that, for instance, a transgender woman is still a “man/male” even if she has chosen to have a vaginaplasty and/or breast implants.

    When one gets into the nitty gritty of sex, gender, identity, expression, sexuality, etcetera, the complexities of all these things come to light. “Male” and “female” assignments, based on supposed “biology” can be just as complex as how someone identifies. :)

    That written, I do love this article and the succinct ways you wrote everything up. Thanks for helping educate people about at large trans* issues.

  • Calvin O

    For almost two years we have heard all about the 99%. Well why is there so much concern over this 3%. You can have your club and you can have a secret handshake for all I care but there are so many things that are more important in the world.

    I also didn’t like the last accusatory line. If you don’t accept everything then you are not kool or progressive. I will not be part of that flock.