gender issues

Caitlyn Jenner Takes a Brave Step for the Transgender Community

A photo I took at Piotr Uklanski's "Fatal Attraction" exhibit at the Met Museum; "Untitled". 

Caitlyn Jenner made her transition very public this week raising awareness of the “T” in the LGBTQ community.  

So what is it like to be a transgender person? I don’t know. And unless you are a transgender person, neither do you.

We can never truly know what another person is going through. We can try to understand through compassionate conversations and listening with open hearts.

I was talking with a friend about dating. He told me a story from when he was in college in the South. He was pretty certain a guy at the gym was interested in him. They would exchange glances and engage in flirty behavior. But my friend was concerned this guy might be straight, so approaching him could evoke a range of reactions from rejection to physical violence.  He never asked the guy out and found out later the guy was gay. He said he still regrets not approaching him.

But unless you are gay, you have probably never had this concern. I can’t imagine a straight girl would ever get beat up for asking a gay guy out on a date. In reality, the gay guy would probably go on the date, and they’d both have fun.

Isn’t it sad our culture can be so homophobic gay men are afraid to simply approach someone for fear of violent repercussion? I imagine this fear is especially magnified for a transgender person. In 2014, a report stated 226 transgender people were murdered in the US and Europe. I’m guessing the number is much higher.

People in the gay community often joke around saying, “Hey girl!” or “She’s looking like a hot ass mess today,” when referring to another guy. I certainly do. While this is a lighthearted joke between friends, it can quickly turn malicious. Gender identity is not something people take lightly.

As boys we are told, “Be strong. Be tough. Be a man.” This implies anyone who is not strong and tough is not a man.

I have been mocked and ridiculed for labeling myself a man. Even though, I am a man. I’ve even had a female friend state, “You’re not a man.” As though she had the authority to assign my gender identity. The gender we identify with goes down to our core sense of self. To take that lightly shows little respect.

As gay men, we are often seen as less male than our straight counterparts. I’ll compare myself to a “stereotypical” straight man. Let’s go with Derek Jeter, the former Yankees shortstop. Am I less of a man than him? Sure, he’s a much better athlete than me. He’s stronger, but does that mean he is more of a man? If you think he’s more of a man, is it because he trains more? Maybe his biological makeup gives him a more masculine build? Or maybe, he’s not more of a man than me. Maybe we are just different men.

I think the same logic can be applied to anyone who identifies with a gender to which they were not born. They are just different types of men or women.

I’m not asking everyone to feel they constantly need to censor themselves. I am suggesting you choose your words thoughtfully and approach everyone with compassion. Words have the power to hurt and also the power to heal. When you speak, you have a choice to make.

Ultimately, we will never totally understand another person’s experience. But it’s vital for us as humans to try to listen and be accepting as we can. So ask yourself, what is your gender identity based on? My answer is simply, that I am a man. 

"Not Gonna Be Friends" is a song about love, heartbreak and defying masculine gender roles. Buy it here: