By Jill Bajorek, LCSW
When you hear the terms “trans” and “non-binary” do you find yourself confused? We want to clear some of that up to create a more inclusive environment all around! Full disclosure—this is being written by a cisgender woman, but I feel it is part of my job in my field and as a human to open these discussions to the best of my abilities, to take some of the pressure off those who might be exhausted from explaining these topics. I also want to recognize as much as I stay aware of these ideas, this is always an area for more learning and discussing. I want to give you the space right now to understand and accept where you are, even if you feel scared or lacking in knowledge, and take the time to open your mind to learning a little bit more.
A common misconception is that gender and sex are the same thing. According to the AMA Journal of Ethics*- “Sex refers to the biological differences between males and females. Gender refers to the continuum of complex psychosocial self-perceptions, attitudes, and expectations people have about members of both sexes.” It’s important to better understand those concepts, and hope that can be a personal research opportunity for anyone reading this. This discussion, however, is to address the psychological piece for people who are cisgender (whose identity and gender match your physical sex assigned at birth).
We hear a lot these days about being inclusive and how we can accept people for who they are. Hearing that sometimes feels scary, especially if you thought you knew enough about human existence already. A lot of people wonder why we need these terms for gender identity and if it’s even real if they don’t relate. It is a good idea to know that we as a society will continue to evolve with new terms and definitions over time. The reason we know this is it has been happening already. Think back some decades to some of the outdated ideas of the past. It’s so important to understand why changing and adding terms is necessary, and we can be part of that evolutionary process. It may be overwhelming, but the benefit is having our friends/colleagues/people we don’t even know feel more comfortable and accepted in their lives.
When it comes to doubting terms because we cannot relate, this is an important time to wonder if it is hard for us to trust others’ experiences, and if so why. If something we hear feels foreign to us, psychologically it makes sense to pause and wonder. This is a typical reaction, but ideally we can keep this as an individual process to internally discuss what feels weird about what we heard. At that point, we can engage in learning more to make that knowledge LESS foreign to us. We also have more and more context of hearing stories from our trans and non-binary friends of how important it is for everyone to take this knowledge seriously.
A lot of times, when we feel upset at a group of people or a person different than us, we might not actually be upset at them at all. Referring back to taking time for internal processing and learning more, sometimes people skip that step because they feel anxious. Instead, sometimes the reaction is an angry one because it feels like what we knew before is wrong. Consciously and unconsciously, we get afraid when we are wrong. This goes back to the idea of accepting that things will change in our lifetimes, but if that feels scary, someone might be more prone to responding in an angry way. We can psychologically grow in those moments by challenging ourselves to not get angry at someone else and instead face our own fears and emotions. Chances are, they are part of a broader spectrum of feelings inside us that’s good to know about anyway. By the way, therapy is a great place to start with that!