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  • Cynthia Fortlage

Acceptance without Understanding(TM) - Gender is not Genitalia

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

I felt it was worthy to resurrect this post in light of recent media reports coming from various regions around the world, and for those that continue to stay connected as friends and ally's, or for those wishing to learn. It's time for me to start educating you on what I had to learn to accept without understanding this life journey that I have been on.


Remember, as you embark on this journey it will challenge you, I caution you to avoid reverting to an "I must understand you in order to accept you" mindset, that is the thinking that shows your true colours as a friend, ally, or acquaintance.


This is not an esoteric discussion on theory, this is my life we are discussing, this is the life of millions of people worldwide. The outcome of not accepting for many is death in the hands of others as demonstrated by lists maintained and memorialized annually at the Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR) events held around the world each November 20th. (See the TDOR List)


These lists do not include the many, many lives lost due to taking one's own life due to the many vectors of attack and oppression (physical, psychological, societal, systemic) we suffer just because we are seen for our differences. In my age bracket (50+) the rate of suicide and attempted suicide is about 50% (+/- 4%).


Let me also share with you this is not some tidal wave of popularity, it is rather you are hearing about it more because of media's ability to broadcast more widely, a change in laws in some countries that makes it safer for folks to make it known they are transgender, societal acceptance in some locations that makes it safer to be transgender, and in my case, I had to address what I had otherwise hidden from you and myself for 41 years. In the end, we are talking about 0.4% of the general population, surely we are not that much of a threat to warrant being attacked in the public court of opinion out of existence, which will never happen as we have been around thousands of years in human history. That figure of population representation has been static, you just hear about it more because the channels of communication make it possible.


You also don't just self declare you are transgender, you may feel that you are, but for clinical and medical treatment the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has established standards of care. Each country can adapt and adjust according to their specific country needs, in my case we had Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH) that dictated the medical journey I had to travel and continue to do so. Through every process I have undergone I have had the review of a Psychologist, Medical Doctor & team specializing in Transgender Medicine, my Family Doctor, my therapist, and for each surgery, the Surgeon did their own review. This is not something you just decide to do, many medical professionals review your file before you receive treatment.


So onto the discussion of Gender is not Genitalia. The picture of the Genderbread Person is a simplistic model designed to help you visualize this discussion. As human beings, we are way more complicated than 4 variables that define us.


*EDIT* A signed letter by over 1600 scientists supporting this idea that we are more complex and not simple male/female binary definitions.



I will use this model to describe what I had to learn to accept.


Our Gender Identity exists in our brain. As is widely known we all start out as female and during the gestation process, our bodies develop. The brain developing at a different time than our genitalia based upon the chemicals introduced at that stage. There have been attempts by pseudoscience to reprogram the brain with serious even fatal results, now widely recognized as not working. This therapy known as conversion or reparative therapy has proven that the brain can not be reprogrammed, therefore the traits are inherent at birth, IE: I was born this way. If your questioning this like I did, I wasn't always like this, rather I was in denial as I was a crossdresser for 41 years which was a repressed way for me to deal with these traits that differed from the way that I was being socialized. It took me a while to ultimately get and accept this fact, I am transgender because that is the way I was born. Fun Fact to consider, if motherly instinct has any bearing in accepting this, my mother said she thought I would be a girl based upon the way her pregnancy went, that's why she had picked out what is my middle name now, Alison, as that was to be my given name.


Attraction or who we love is also a part of who we are which is part of the way I was born. Societal pressure to act or be like something else can be very strong as even I lived that life for 30+ years. What is most important is to note that it is separate and distinct from my gender identity. The two are not linked or related, as there are as many different ways to define whom you love regardless if your straight or transgender.


The question of sex or genitalia has nothing to do with gender. The terms sex and gender are mixed in use in the English language. So when I was born the doctor took a look at my sex and said male, that was not my gender as they can't see inside my brain until I started to develop with the ability to speak and be self-aware. Of important note here, while gender identity can not be changed, through modern medical surgery my genitalia can be. If we all start as female then all the surgeon is doing is to reverse the misfired chemical reaction that caused male genitalia to be female to match my gender. Just as I wouldn't ask you about your genitalia, we won't go any further discussing mine.


The final of these 4 traits is appearance, or how I dress or present myself. Anyone who has seen or met me knows I am very feminine in appearance.


So 3 of the 4 traits I meet a definition of female, and the final trait was corrected through surgery. You may be part of the majority that all 4 of your traits align with your genitalia. If all 4 don't align with a binary definition that doesn't invalidate us, it just makes us different than you on that trait. The issue at hand is if differences are allowed, the intent appears to be that we choose to be different rather than we were born this way. I didn't choose to be this way, I finally faced the way I was born. Facing that level of societal change is courageous, accepting that change is equally courageous.


The courage we need goes beyond my example which can be considered an inversion of the binary from who you knew me as to who I am today. In each of those 4 traits, there is a sliding scale meaning that each one has many variations as to how folks define themselves, this spectrum of identity is what we need to be courageous about accepting without understanding, trusting in the approved medical professionals to do their job and let all human beings follow their life journey, even if it is different than yours.

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