Commentary

06.10.16

Transgender People Have Always Existed

By

Transgender Rights protest sign

The transgender community has been getting a lot of attention lately. Recently, the majority of this attention has centered on public accommodations and the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. All of this media attention leads many to believe that this new phenomenon of “being transgender” is a passing fad, that we’re giving too much attention to a new group of people that have just popped up.

The only problem with this thinking? Transgender people have been around throughout all of human history!

Hundreds of Cultures Honor, Celebrate Transgender People
Transgender people have existed for as long as humans have been around. In fact, throughout the majority of human history we have recognized (and even celebrated) more than two genders.

Take a look at this map, which documents hundreds of cultures that acknowledged and honored those who exist outside of the two gender binary of only male and female. Historically speaking, we’ve spent more of our time acknowledging the various expressions of the human condition through multiple gender identities than we’ve spent acknowledging only two options.

This makes a lot of sense. We know from lived experience that there are more than two ways to express your gender identity. In fact, science has proven there are at least 6 distinct biological sexes and limitless gender expressions.

Gender as Expression of Culture
Transgender people have always been visible, but thanks to new technologies, our stories are being shared with a much wider audience. Ground breaking television shows, a vibrant online community, and social media increase our visibility. This space in the public eye helps humanize transgender people and our stories. But this recent visibility is only telling a part of the story.

Check out this overview of the transgender community and the issues we face.

Before Europeans colonized the globe, thousands of indigenous peoples acknowledged and celebrated multiple gender identities as part of their culture. Part of the process of colonization includes redefining culture, customs, identities, values, and norms. The imposition of the European ideal of gender (man, woman) was a tool of the colonization process and became the standard for gender identity as we know it today. Before this colonization, hundreds of cultures acknowledged and honored gender diversity within the human experience.

US Transgender Community Organizes for Change
Transgender history has existed for as long as humans have existed. Unfortunately, transgender people have been pushed into the shadows and our histories have been silenced. In the United States, organized efforts to secure the rights of transgender people have been taking place since the 1950s. Much of this resistance has centered on the harsh brutality experienced by transgender people of color at the hands of police. From Coopers Donuts, to the riots at Compton’s Cafeteria, to the infamous Stonewall Riots, the transgender community has been fighting for those who are most disenfranchised within an oppressive system.

Moving Forward
In order to win this fight, we must remember our history. This history includes the marginalization of indigenous peoples as part of the violent process of colonization, which radically shifted the global understanding of gender identity and expression, for the purpose of European domination.

Thanks to recent technologies, our community and the struggles we face have been brought into the light. It’s now time to showcase the entire picture and remind ourselves that we’ve always existed, with reverence and respect, reflecting the diverse nature of human existence. We must reclaim our stories and share our histories as we move forward in securing rights for transgender people.

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