A Question for the Community

JustAnotherName's picture

 I've written this a thousand times, at least, it feels as though it's been written a thousand times.

I had sent most of this in a private email and was encouraged to post it here, publicly to share and get a wider range of feedback and information.  I had the post complete when my internet browser shut down, my entire post lost.

I've tried to re-create it for the last hour with no luck.  It turns out that you can't re-create those emotions in that way, so now I am trying again by re-reading the email that I originally sent and a little cutting and pasting and remembering why I came here in the first place.

I'd like to preface this by thanking people in advance for their help.  I know it makes it sound as if this is a big deal for me, and in reality I am on the outside looking in, but the idea that there is a place like this that I can come and ask questions about gender is really a wonderful thing.

I'm new to all these things.  Growing up in a very sheltered life, and not having any kind of crisis over my own identity swept a lot of things in the world under the rug.

I'm not sure that if I had these gender questions that I would have been able to go anywhere for answers.

I hope that my ignorance on the subject doesn't come across as offensive.  I'm not here as merely a curiosity, but in an effort to help a friend in need, although in the reading it seems as though he's all right and it's others who are in need.

I'm trying to respect my friend's boundaries, and this actually does feel as though I'm going behind his back, but I'm not sure that I can ask these things of him right now.

I have a very close friend.  Recently, people have questioned his gender.  He says that he's a cismale, although I believe him to be transgendered.  Now, this doesn't actually matter to me, but there's been some issues for him publicly where others are stating "what he is" and that he's really a woman pretending to be a man (there are other issues that I don't want to get into because they're private for him and unrelated to gender) and they say that he's not actually identifying as a man, which is why they feel the need to continually say "she" and insist that he's a woman.

I don't know if they're actually transphobic or if they are just trying to make this one individual's life difficult since they can't get to him the way they'd like and think that they're hurting him by doing this.  I don't know if they are, in fact, hurting him because he and I haven't spoken about this.

I've always known him as a man, and it truly doesn't matter to me whether he was born male or transitioned male.

My real question is, for transgendered people, is there a point where they are just male or female or is their entire life spent explaining, "I'm a man, but I was born a woman," and why should they have to explain that?  It almost sounds apologetic, and why should he have to explain any of this?

Is it dishonest for him to say (to complete strangers) that he was born male when he wasn't?

I personally don't think that it's dishonest, but I was wondering what the community at large felt about this issue or if it depended on the relationship he has - are co-workers different from friends different from significant others?

Does he have some kind of responsibility to inform people of his past?

Are these people making such a big deal about it because it is such a big deal or because they just don't like him for other reasons?

I want to know how I should be helping him through this difficult time and because of the other circumstances, I really have no one to ask since I feel that just my hinting that he may be transmale is a betrayal of him and what he says and has already told other people.

I also hope that I've said things in a way that doesn't offend anyone because that is definitely not my intent.  I just want to be a good friend to him.  I'd also like to tell these other people off.

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JustAnotherName's picture

thank you so much for asking

arvan's picture

I am certain that you are not the only person in the world that bears witness to gender identity based harassment.  I also thank you for reaching out with your letter and that goes double for posting it here.  There are millions of people every day being harassed because of their gender / sex / body identity.  When you or I or anyone else witnesses such attacks, we can either speak up or be silent.  I am a firm believer that silence gives permission to abusers to continue their attacks.

There is intimidation and fear involved in dealing with bullies, such as the ones you describe.  I have certainly felt that when I was targeted by bullies and when I observed bullying.

Now, as far as how you interact with your friend.  I will share my perspective but first let me say a couple things. 

First - there is no one single, correct way to deal with gender identity.  Everyone is different.  Different values in the terms they use to identify themselves and different values in how they choose to communicate. 

Second - honor your friend on his terms.  He has chosen and stated his identity.  He has laid out plainly how he identifies.  Honor that.

Third - your discomfort with all of this is your discomfort.  Not his and not his resposibility to manage.  He may (and very likely does) not like being harassed.  However, he doesn't need to do anything or say anything on top of all that, just so you or anyone else will feel better about all this.

Fourth - my advice is truly that: advice from my perspective, based on my experiences and how I would do things.  It is most assuredly not backed up by any research or to be taken as canon.

So, if I were in your shoes...

The first thing is to address that the bullies here are responsible for this problem.  Not your friend nor his gender definition.  Too many times we skip over that in our society. 

Your desire to help your friend is great.  But, it's not you or your friend that is creating this abuse.  If this occurs at work, I would contact your company HR department immediately and report the abuse.  They are bound by law to act.  These bullies can learn very quickly how much they have to lose when their jobs are at stake.  I don't think they want to try to explain losing their income to their spouses and children because they wanted to pick on someone.

I would ask my friend if we could talk in a private setting.  I would share my discomfort at witnessing the harassment.  I would tell my friend how much he means to me.  I would ask how he feels and if he wants or needs anything around this issue.  Then, I would listen for his response.  See where the conversation goes from there.

I would NOT share my opinion of his gender.  My opinion of his gender is irrelevent.  He has already given out a gender definition.  The greatest gift you can give him there is to accept him on his terms - especially if you do not understand or agree.  Because when it comes to someone else's sex / gender / body identity, your opinion - my opinion - anybody else's opinion just don't matter.

Like this site motto says:

I define my sex, gender, body.  You define yours.

Accepting that and giving that acceptance to your friend is a very simple and priceless gift.

- arvan

Whether or not he's a CisMale....

Lance A Worth's picture

is immaterial. If he's a man, he was born a man. He might have been female-assigned for awhile, but that's because we have weird attachments to an equation between sex and gender around here.

The Community has no right to say anything concerning his identity or possible history. Nothing. None. 

Additionally, no one but him may determine to whom he discloses this possible history. I can't imagine staying stealth personally but if someone chooses to, they've got that right. I personally don't wanna know if someone had a hernia or heart murmur as a kid--so long as they're healthy now, you know what I mean?

Like Arvan said, the Bullies are the problem, not your friend/coworker. If this was at work, I would highly recommend offering to stand as witness in the HR office--but leave the Power around that in his hands, since others are trying to take it from him already....

I am happy to hear your thoughts on this, Lance

arvan's picture

I was going to send this post to you, specifically because I wanted to know what you think.


I think this is a good

Lance A Worth's picture

I think this is a good hearted person who's on a learning curve, headed in the right direction. :)

Thank You

JustAnotherName's picture

 I know I'm very late in returning here, but I wanted to thank you both.  You really have no idea how your words have affected me, and changed what I may have done or said that would have been inappropriate if well-meaning.

It let me be able to separate what I thought I *needed* to know from what I needed to *do*, and your words helped me be a better friend without making someone I love think he 'owed' me something (like explanations) or think that he wasn't safe with me.

And Lance, I need to say, and I apologize if it sounds a bit awkward, but what you said in your first comment about his being born a man despite being female assigned, simply explained something that I couldn't reconcile in my head until you said the words.  My entire outlook changed the day I read this, and it didn't only make me a better friend, it made me a better person.

Thank you.

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