There are people who feel a deep affinity with the opposite gender, or a mixture of feminine and masculine; some feel natural and honest not conforming to gender-type; some feel a complete mismatch between their body and their right gender.
Gender-variant, gender queer and transgender are umbrella terms giving a cumbersome name to a wide range of deep personal experience. All of these people strive to understand the contradictions between their physicality, their sense-of-self and culturally-expected behaviour. The realisation and acceptance of their true personal identity is essentially deep and private, often secret and closeted. It is not to do with sexual orientation, which may be understood and constant. Like everyone, their self-knowledge is key to their outlook, relationships and spiritual life.
Expressing one’s true gender identity is a difficult personal journey for all gender variant people. It causes misunderstanding, ridicule and discrimination; it disturbs family relationships and challenges social norms, which reinforce a chalk and cheese definition of male and female. Some transgender people grow to find some peace through counselling, prayer, meditation, behaviour changes and compromise.
Some of these men and women are absolutely certain about their gender difference and deeply unhappy about their born physicality. They are definite about their true gender and want to change their name, body and appearance to be personally, publicly and legally themselves. Some are able to undergo this transition. They may sacrifice family and friends to be true; they are courageous and, especially while making the transition, they are highly vulnerable to discrimination. The law and medicine has made significant steps in recognising true gender; society is taking longer, but there is an increasingly sensitive media representation in this country.
Many others are unable to contemplate a change in name and appearance and remain desperately unsettled. Such transgender people carry their self knowledge, their deep desire for change, or their ambiguous identity quietly, secretly. Some of these people would love to transition but can’t. Others are comfortable crossing gender boundaries, in occasional or day-to-day life, but don’t feel the imperative to permanently change their name and appearance. These people can avoid discrimination, but take great risks with close relationships.
Those who do not feel compelled to change their born gender have a mixture of masculine and feminine sensibilities, feeling somewhere between the binary of male and female. Cross-dressing to look and behave like the ‘felt’ gender addresses a longing to be themselves. It provides equilibrium, acts as a grounding, a therapy, even a healing force – a joyful way of directly addressing an elusive inner sense of identity. Realising this gender-rich nature goes deep and is enlightening. But the impulse to express this sense is delicate, frustrating to comprehend, and difficult to manage in limited private opportunities.
Is it a gift or an affliction? How can it be expressed simply and honestly? Despite numerous popular exotic films and shows with cross dressing as a theme, being transgender is a social anathema and is not understood. Coming out often alienates family, friends and worship group. This creates a need for a network of support and there are many good support and social groups enabling a community of shared experience and support. The challenge is to increase acceptance and support within faith groups.