Inspired by the life of Lana Wachowski:

Gender is defined as a set of characteristics – masculine, feminine or neuter, while Gender Identity is a person’s sense of and private experience of their own gender.
Transgender suggests that the state of one’s gender identity does not match one’s assigned sexual gender, usually based on physical characteristics – anatomy.

Our society delineates gender as a sexual binary system. You are either male or female. And we have assigned a set of characteristics to these two genders – masculine and feminine characteristics that have altered somewhat over the past century but still look similar to those characteristics that have existed for hundreds of years. Transgender identity is considered an outlier – an extreme condition that society still does not fully understand or accept. Actual gender transition via surgery is rare. However transgender transition is not the end of the story. The spectrum of gender identification – the subtleties of transgender identity - are much more complex, nuanced and widespread than we as a society have been able to acknowledge and tolerate.

Let’s start with children. We acknowledge that not all little girls are “girly” and not all little boys are the rough and tumble types. Names have been assigned to those who fall outside the norm – tomboy or sporty for a girl, sensitive or shy for a boy.
Little children may not discriminate, but their own parents oftentimes do. How many of you have encountered an exasperated father whose boy didn’t participate in sports or act like “the son I always wanted” and therefore dad emotionally punishes him? I worked with one father – a thoughtful man, who while not abusive, was distraught because his four-year-old boy preferred pushing a vacuum around the house rather than play ball outside. None of these kinds of preferences, by the way, is indicative of impending homosexuality. But is that the reason that these men are so threatened by their sons’ behaviors?

In adolescence, being different becomes more difficult and painful. Even today, taunting and bullying accompanied by slurs and innuendos are still prevalent. Girls begin to feel pressure to look a certain way that is in line with current beauty trends, and boys are pressured to behave a certain way – bigger versions of those sons that those distraught fathers wanted. New labels emerge for the boys who don’t fit in – nerds, geeks, fags or weirdos. Eating Disorders, depression, self-mutilation, sexual acting out, drinking and drugs are common coping methods for many of these kids who don’t fit in. While we as a society have predominantly focused on bad parenting, physical deficiencies, I.Q., and homosexuality as some of the causes, we have not paid enough attention to the gender spectrum and how more subtle differences in gender identity can play a part as well.

We live in a society that celebrates individuality without really allowing people to be truly individual. If we look at gender as a spectrum starting with feminine at one point and concluding with masculine at the other end, and we assigned 50 people places on that spectrum, we would see that most everyone of those people would fall on their own particular spot with hardly any of them falling on exactly the same spot. These differences are partially chemical (estrogen, androgen, testosterone, white matter ratios, etc.), partially temperament (behavioral characteristics that are gender identified), and partly socialization (childhood experiences). Whatever the particular formula, people are not simply reflections of their anatomical parts. And Transgenders are not just individuals who want to transition to the opposite sex or want to be in a radically different sexual role.

The time has come to be more aware and accepting of the way that people feel inside - how they identify themselves on the gender spectrum - rather than simply labeling them by how they look or who they want to have sex with.

Roni Weisberg-Ross LMFT

Author's Bio: 

West Los Angeles based psychotherapist specialized in treating sexual abuse, emotional trauma, severe depression, and relationship issues.