Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #101, Spring 2003.

from GENDER.ORG, Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc.

A Multipurpose Gender Educational Tool developed by Jessica Xavier

Why Use This Model?

Transgendered people are the most stigmatized and misunderstood of the larger sexual minorities (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender). Since gender follows physical sex for most people, transgenderism and even transsexualism are almost impossible to understand by those who are not transgendered themselves. Thus, one of the primary challenges facing gender educators is to place transgendered experience into a context by which it can be readily understood. While transgendered people are most familiar with gender-variant expressions and cross-gender identities, there are many other forms of gender-variance exhibited by all kinds of people?regardless of their social or gender identities. Revealing these other forms of gender-variance will show an audience how common it really is?and thus provide the all-important context for them to understand transgendered people.

The Staple Concepts

The single most important concept that an audience must grasp in order to be able to understand transgendered people is the distinction between sex and gender?two terms that are commonly used interchangeably. Thus:

-Sex is the physical anatomy and biology that determines whether someone is male, female, or intersexed (formerly called hermaphroditic) while

-Gender is a psychosocial construct used to classify a person as male, female, both, or neither. Gender encompasses all of human behavior, including sexuality.

--The second most important concept for an audience is that neither sex nor gender are binary, static states, but dynamic continuums. Gender, like sexuality, is fluid and can vary across time in individuals and in human society. Although sex is not as fluid as gender, it can be changed through surgical procedures.

-Gender Identity is someone?s sense of their own gender, which is communicated to others by their Gender Expression.

Since most people conform to societal gender norms, they have a Gender Identity congruent with their Gender Expression and physical sex.

--Those people who cannot or choose not to conform to societal gender norms associated with their physical sex are Gender Variant. It is very important to stress that many people choose to be gender variant in some form and do not consider themselves ?born that way.?

-Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe visibly gender-variant people who have gender identities, gender expressions or gendered behaviors not traditionally associated with their birth sex. Transgender can also mean anyone who transcends the conventional definitions of ?man? and ?woman,? and who use a wide variety of terms to self-identify.

Transgendered people are usually categorized by their Gender Vector, which describes the direction of the gender change. The two gender vectors are Male-to-Female (MTF), or Female-to-Male (FTM).

It?s important to clarify two common misconceptions about transgenderism:

1. Transgender is not a sexual orientation. However, it is a sexual identity that has become politicized, and so it is now commonly added to the list of other sexual minorities, which are sexual orientations?as in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender.

2. Transgender is often mistakenly understood to mean Transsexual. Transsexual people, who have undergone or seek to undergo sex reassignment, comprise a minority within the transgender population. Most transgendered people do not wish to change their sexual anatomy.

Explaining the Gender Variance Model

There are actually many ways to be gender variant. Some people seem to be ?born that way? but many others make conscious choices not to conform to rigid cultural gender ?norms? traditionally related to their physical sex. The model shows the range of ways to be gender variant across social identities. The arrow coming from the right side of the model represents Gender-based Oppression, which attempts to force all forms of gender variance back to the baseline bar of Gender Norms at the left side of the model. Note that Gender-based Oppression adversely affects women and the sexual minorities overtly, but also straight men covertly. All of the forms of gender variance along the Spectrum line in the middle of the model apply to the Spectrum of Social Identities along the bottom.

The Categories of Gender Variance

-REPRODUCTION and MARRIAGE: Due to the women?s movement of the seventies, it?s common today for
many women to choose not to get married, nor to have children. However, in some geographical areas and within some traditionally conservative cultural groups, making these choices is clearly going against gender norms?and thus gender-variant.

-WORKING IN STEREOTYPICAL GENDERED OCCUPATIONS: Men who are nurses or flight attendants,
and women who are construction workers or police officers.

-GROOMING: Men with long hair or earrings, and women with short hair, facial hair or tattoos.

-MANNERISMS: Feminine mannerisms in men (such as high pitched voices) or masculine mannerisms in women (like assertive attitudes).

Note: Be sure to mention that none of the above forms of gender variance necessarily makes anyone transgendered ? or for that matter, gay or lesbian.

-SEXUALITY: Since gender includes the entire spectrum of human behaviors, it must also include sexuality. Thus, even though most of them don?t realize it, gay, lesbian and bisexual people also are gender-variant, because they are defying cultural gender norms for their sexualities by having same-gender sexual relationships.

-IDENTITY: This is the transgender section of the gender variance spectrum. It includes both part-time (crossdressing) and full-time (gender transition) cross-gender identity shifts.

Note: While discussing the above categories of gender variance, be sure to show how common they are to all the social identities that appear on the bottom of the model.

Covert and Overt Forms of Gender Variance

Obviously, some forms of gender variance have become more accepted than others, through a variety of social forces including the women?s liberation and gay liberation movements. However, gender-variant sexualities and identities continue to bear a social stigma. When discussing the differences between the sexual minorities, it?s useful to distinguish between the overt and covert forms of gender variance. Unlike overt gender variance, which is clearly visible to any observer, covert gender variance is hidden from public view and does not subject the gender-variant person to the judgments of others.

Passing Privilege is passing as a member of the majority?white, straight, non-transgendered, or temporarily-abled. Because passing privilege explains the power imbalances created by the overt and covert forms of gender variance amongst the sexual minorities, it becomes equally relevant to gay, lesbian and bisexual people as well as to transgendered people. Members of sexual minorities with passing privilege can choose to conceal the stigma associated with their gender variance and thus escape its deleterious consequences. However, many are choosing to reveal their gender variance?to be out about it?usually selectively, but sometimes completely. Same gender sexual and romantic relationships are the most
common form of gender variance amongst the sexual minorities, but it is a covert form, since it takes place mostly in private spaces. What anyone does in their bedroom is usually not public knowledge, if they are fortunate to have passing privilege and choose not to out their sexuality.

Although the majority of gay and lesbian people have passing privilege, a sizeable number do not?they are not ?straight- acting? or ?straight-appearing.? Some gay men are feminine (?nelly queens?) and many lesbians are masculine (?butches?). Since their gender-variant mannerisms are overt, they lack passing privilege. But most MTF crossdressers, who choose not to be out about their gender variance, do have passing privilege?they pass for the majority of their lives as ordinary heterosexual men.

Most FTMs who gender transition (begin living full-time in a gender opposite their physical sex) quickly gain passing privilege and look like other men. However, most MTFs who gender transition lack passing privilege and thus must suffer the consequences of being visibly gender variant?or visibly ?queer.? Due to trans-ignorance, transgendered people are commonly misperceived to be gay or lesbian because of their appearance, which is often that of a masculine woman or a feminine man?the cultural, gendered arch-stereotypes of lesbians and gay men.

Unlike most other forms of privilege, passing privilege can be gained by some but not all transitioning transgendered people through accessing the medical technologies of Transgender Care. However, it can take years to affect the physiological changes, as well as to adapt to new social roles. It also can be quite difficult to access Transgender Care, due to the lack of willing providers, the lack of health insurance coverage, and its expense. Lack of passing privilege explains why transgendered people are particularly subject to a disproportionate amount of homophobic violence, harassment and discrimination, which many of them call transphobia.

? 2003, Gender Education and Advocacy, Inc.

GEA is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives

of all gender-variant people regardless of their social identities.