We live in a cisnormative world where we’re told that our genitals define our identity. Most of us still hold the misconception that what’s between our legs is what our gender identity is, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Cis Engineering Dude-Bros would fight the notion of gender identity being different from whether one has a penis or a vagina. Gender is complicated, so much so that there’s a vast body of literature out there trying to theorize it and understand. And no, we’re past the “I identify as a helicopter” drama, cause if you do, good. But the bottom line still is that gender doesn’t exist in a binary. There are no hard lines that exist between where man-ness stops and woman-ness begins. One may argue that ways in which individuals express themselves through the manner of speaking or dressing could be that border, but they are all just products of unquestioned conditioning. Why must only a woman wear a saree, for example. These questions often bring us to the very unsatisfying “because social norms say so ” answer. Gender is, in a way, a reflection of ourselves. It is perceived and understood by an individual and expressed in ways that bring joy. Because there are no extrinsic “markers” for gender, nobody can DIAGNOSE anyone else of their gender. I, as a trans woman, understand that I am a woman, after negotiating this identity for myself. And my womanhood is unaffected by what sex organs I have. Sex isn’t coupled with gender. The fact that cisgender people exist is merely a correlation, the presence of those sex organs and their hormones do not cause gender.
Given how much genitalia are fetishised, individuals are assigned a “gender” at their birth based on their genitals. But, as we discussed above, that isn’t what gender is about. Gender is more intrinsic and self-defined. Folks who stray away from their “gender” assigned to them at birth are given the label of trans. It is quite important to understand that trans and enby people are not a glitch in the matrix but very much a part of the natural order of things. The fact that they are seen as invalid and wrong about their own gender identity is because we as a society fetishise the ability to tell someone’s gender by looking at features and sex organs. But again, sex isn’t gender. And one is free to express their gender identity as they please. Some cis women may prefer to wear clothing that is considered androgynous and some trans folk may want to wear clothes that are designated as feminine. Here too, this designation is social, and not “real”. But trans and non-binary folk are often forced to subvert to these social constructions and to the expectation of masculinity and femininity. One needs to realise that the expectations placed on people are irrational, not the desire to stray away from these social expectations. It is irrational to hold false constructs as supreme and declare anyone who doesn’t adhere to them as invalid.
Worse than invalid, trans folk, through history, have been deemed as mentally challenged. Till 2019 even the WHO saw transness as a mental illness. Even today trans folk in India have to go through an extremely humiliating process of having a psychiatrist diagnose them of their transness to even be able to transition, if they ever choose to transition. Many parts of the world have similar processes. Conversion therapy is also on the table for trans and enby folks in many countries, including India. Though a recent High Court Judgement may change the status of conversion “therapy” in India, it is yet to be seen how effective that is at preventing parents from subjecting their queer minors to a lifetime worth of trauma just to have them fit into socially designed boxes that they believe are real. “Progressive” Medicine too still looks at transness as a disease condition because even now, psychiatrists look for gender dysphoria rather than gender euphoria to identify transness, which disqualifies many trans folk who do not experience gender dysphoria from the label of trans. Medicine really needs to catch up with actual lived experiences of trans people, and then back off. Euphoria is what defines transness and that should be taken into account.
Most academic institutions in the country are also very trans exclusionary. Academia and Workplaces can be seen as the epitome of sex fetishisation, with dress codes designed differently for penis-bearers and vagina-havers. Restrooms are heavily gendered with no gender-neutral options or regulations that allow trans folk to use gender-affirming restrooms. The same is the case with hostels, which are segregated based on the presumed sex binary. That makes it very hard for trans and non-binary people to exist in academic institutions or work with firms. Many institutions and workplaces also force a sex-based dress code that affects trans people. But the talk of oppression from institutions would be valid only when trans people have the means to apply to these institutions and the ability to be accepted there, which is severely lacking. Many institutions reject applications from people with discrepancies in names which affects trans and enby folk who have changed their legal names. Getting identity markers changed is a herculean task which also leads to applications being rejected. Even if trans folk do manage to get jobs or admissions, many spaces are notorious for firing trans people for being who they are. Trans folk, especially trans women, are denied entry into “women only” spaces because of their perceived identity as “basically men” thanks to transphobia. All of these factors and many more contribute to trans folk getting socially and economically subjugated.
All in all, it is important to see how the expectation of presentation of gender is wrong, our ideas about gender are poorly informed, how trans and non-binary individuals bear the burden of cis-expectation and how the trans community faces marginalisation even today. It is important for us to learn and deconstruct the idea of gender existing as a binary, sex existing as a binary and the need to embrace trans folk. Pride month isn’t about just changing logos and profile pictures to rainbow colours, but also understanding the history of why pride exists and how much trans folk have contributed to the queer liberation movement. It is time cis people understand what they have taken from trans folk and give them back their fair share of everything. This pride, understand trans history and trans struggles and try doing your part, cis person, in making society more accessible to trans folks.