Overcoming Challenges In Understanding Expression Of Transgender Experiences
Understanding the expression and experiences of transgender individuals can be challenging for many people. It is a complex topic that encompasses various dimensions of gender identity, societal norms, personal beliefs, and cultural contexts. Here, we will explore some of the reasons why it can be difficult to comprehend trans folks' expressions and experiences.
Lack of Familiarity
Transgender issues have gained more visibility in recent years, but they still remain unfamiliar to many individuals. Pushpa (name changed), a 28-year-old transwoman, said, how "humare zamaane me toh ye sab kuch nahi hota tha. (We didn’t have any of this back in our days)" trope is regularly used to invalidate trans individuals' experience of their own bodies. This lack of exposure and understanding can make it challenging to comprehend the intricacies of gender identity and the experiences faced by transgender people.
Binary Understanding of Gender
Society has traditionally recognised gender as a binary concept, with only two categories: man and woman. This binary perspective often fails to acknowledge the existence of non-binary and genderqueer individuals, leading to confusion and difficulty in understanding their experiences. “As a child, I grew up with only the binary understanding of gender, facing a lack of representation from the transgender community. Coming out and transitioning, I experienced the emotional toll of being misgendered and called by my dead name (my name before I transitioned). In the workplace, I faced judgment based on my appearance, [and] job opportunities were denied, and I was even denied access to basic facilities. Despite these challenges, the support of my allies has been crucial in promoting inclusivity and combating discrimination," said Nishtha Nishant (She/Her), a transgender rights activist.
Cultural and Religious Beliefs
Cultural and religious beliefs play a significant role in shaping our understanding of gender. Some cultural and religious frameworks may not acknowledge or accept transgender identities, leading to resistance or dismissal of trans folks' experiences. These deep-rooted beliefs can make it difficult to engage in open-minded discussions and empathise with transgender individuals. Nishtha says, “Even in places like temples, where I was revered as a goddess, I was not treated as a fellow human being. Relatives, friends, and society struggled to accept my transition, subjecting me to discrimination and hatred.”
Language and Terminology
The language surrounding transgender identities is continually evolving, and it can be challenging to keep up with the terminology. For someone unfamiliar with terms like cisgender, gender dysphoria, or gender-affirming healthcare, it can be daunting to understand the experiences and challenges faced by trans folks.
Transgender individuals often face prejudice, discrimination, and stigmatisation in society. This mistreatment can create barriers to open dialogue and understanding. Negative stereotypes and misconceptions can cloud people's perceptions and hinder their ability to empathise with trans folks' experiences. “I am sometimes dismissed even before I am done presenting my point of view at home or at work while others in the same position have a very different experience from me,” says Mohan, 31, a pre-transition transman.
Emotional and Psychological Challenges
Exploring transgender experiences can bring up emotional and psychological challenges for individuals trying to understand. It may challenge their preconceived notions of gender, identity, and societal norms. Dealing with these emotions and confronting one's own biases can be difficult and may require self-reflection and education. "'I will have to change almost everything I think about and know about sexuality if I have to make room for these new fangled ideas’ said my uncle to me when I came out as non-binary to him,” said Dex, 24, a non-binary individual.
Accessibility to information
While resources and information on transgender issues have improved in recent years, there is still a lack of comprehensive education available to the general public. Limited access to accurate information can hinder understanding and perpetuate misconceptions and ignorance. American Psychological Association is an excellent source for the information you seek.
Empathy and Perspective-Taking
Understanding transgender experiences requires empathy and the ability to step outside one's own perspective. It requires actively listening to the stories and experiences of trans folks, recognising their struggles, and acknowledging their identities and lived realities. “My parents put me in front of society, even when they did not understand me or my experience. I was one of the few lucky ones to have parents with empathy towards their child and not just their honour,” said Monika, a 23-year-old trans non-binary individual.
In conclusion, understanding transgender expression and experiences can be challenging due to a variety of factors, including lack of familiarity, binary understanding of gender, cultural and religious beliefs, language barriers, prejudice and discrimination, personal bias, intersectionality, emotional challenges, limited accessibility to information, and the need for empathy and perspective-taking. Overcoming these challenges requires education, open-mindedness, empathy, and a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue and learn from transgender individuals' experiences.
(Deepak Kashyap is a counselling therapist and a diversity & inclusion expert)