I have been receiving several messages asking me to explain why Angelina Mead King still prefers women even though she transitioned into being a woman from living as a man. Some asks, if “Ian King” doesn’t prefer men, why does she need to transition into being a woman at all? The answer to those questions require you to understand your OWN gender story and realize that your story is not the only story there is.
In a nutshell, Angelina Mead King is gay if what you mean by gay is a woman who is erotically/romantically attracted to another woman; but she’s not gay if what you mean by gay is a man who prefers men. Angelina choosing to live her life as a woman doesn’t mean that she needs to sleep with a man, because, you know, not all women prefer men. Live with it.
To guide you in exploring your own gender story, here’s an excerpt from RESPECT, the brochure on supporting trans students that I made for Leiden University, my university (for the full brochure, please download it from http://bit.ly/1UmIu5J):
1. Key gender terms
Gender is a social classification system. As a legal classification system, in most countries, there are only two possible designations: male and female.
Our gender designation is declared by the doctor or whoever attended our birth. This declaration is based on the inspection of our external genitalia. The presence of a penis solicits a male gender assignment, while its absence solicits a female gender assignment. The gender declared by the doctor or midwife gets registered in our birth certificate, becomes our legal gender, and subsequently we are raised and socialized according to the norms culturally associated with that gender assignment.
As we continue to grow, our gender identity develops. Gender identity refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender. If gender assignment is what the doctor (or midwife) declared, then gender identity is what you realized your gender to be.
If gender identity is our internal experience of gender, then gender expression is our externalization of that experience. Gender expression is how we present our gender identity to ourselves and to the world. This presentation includes clothing, physical appearance, body decorations, body language, manner of speaking, tone of voice, etc. Gender expression is often referred to as feminine, masculine, or androgynous (both feminine and masculine).
Lastly, the gender of the people to whom we are mostly erotically/romantically attracted helps define our sexual orientation. Sexual orientation refers to our capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender. We are commonly referred to as heterosexual if we are erotically/romantically attracted to people whose gender is different from ours; homosexual if their gender is the same as ours; and bisexual if we are attracted to both genders. Some people describe themselves as pansexual, which means that they are gender-blind when it comes to their erotic/romantic attraction. Others are asexual, erotically/romantically attracted to no one.
2. Diversity of gender experience
Every one of us has a gender assignment, a gender identity, a gender expression, and a sexual orientation. However, we are mostly familiar with these two patterns:
a) Someone who was born with a penis will be assigned as male at birth, will grow up identifying as male (gender identity), will present himself as mostly masculine (gender expression), and will be heterosexual, i.e. erotically/romantically attracted to females/girls/women (sexual orientation).
b) Someone who was born with a vagina will be assigned as female at birth, will grow up identifying as female (gender identity), will present herself as mostly feminine (gender expression), and will be heterosexual, i.e. erotically/romantically attracted to males/boys/men (sexual orientation).
They are just two of the myriad possibilities of experiencing gender. The are many more ways of experiencing gender. Moreover, the different aspects of gender don’t always stay the same throughout a person’s life. Try connecting the different gender variables in different ways and you’ll have a glimpse of the different possibilities. It may look like the attached photo…
UNDERSTANDING THE TRANS EXPERIENCE
Trans is used to describe individuals whose gender identity and/or gender expression do not conform to the gender identity and/or gender expression traditionally associated with their gender assignment.
Another definition that elegantly captures the trans experience is the one offered by Susan Stryker in her book Transgender History. She defines trans ‘as the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting point.’
The ‘unchosen starting point’ is the gender assignment at birth. The conventional expectations associated with one’s gender assignment are the ‘socially imposed boundary’. And we see that the ‘movements across these socially imposed boundaries’ occur on the level of gender identity and/or gender expression.
Some trans people identify as transsexual. Transsexualism is the condition of having a gender identity that is ‘opposite’ to one’s gender assignment at birth. The most common way of expressing this condition is ‘being born in the wrong body’.
Oftentimes, transsexual people take drastic steps to transform their bodies through hormone replacement therapy and surgeries, such as sex reassignment surgery. However, not all transsexual people experience their bodies as ‘being wrong’. Not all transsexual people undergo hormone replacement therapy or surgeries. To these people, they are just people who have a female gender identity which just happened to have a body traditionally called male (transsexual women/ transgender women/trans women) or people who have a male gender identity which just happened to have a body traditionally called female (transsexual men/transgender men/trans men).
Being a transsexual person is just one of the ways of being trans. Another one is having a gender expression that is not traditionally associated with one’s gender assignment at birth and/or with one’s gender identity. For example, crossdressers wear clothes not traditionally associated with their gender assignment and gender identity.
There are also people who do not identity as either male or female, and their gender expression varies. Some of these individuals use genderqueer to refer to themselves.
These identities are not exhaustive of all the identities and experiences associated with being trans. As mentioned in the preceding chapter, there are many ways in which gender can be experienced. Fluidity and diversity characterize gender’s reality; the sheer complexity of diverse experience cannot be captured by labels.