The Diversity of the Transgender Experiences

In the introduction of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, Jennifer Boylan notes how diverse the transgender community is: “If I’ve met over 5,000 transgender people, I’ve probably heard 5,000 different explanations of what it means to be trans, and what our defining experiences are.” [1] However, there are common challenges that transgender individuals face.  Advocates such as Michael Hughes and Laverne Cox speak out to empower transgender youth to be themselves and highlight the challenges transgender people face.

The word transgender represents an umbrella term for people who express their gender differently than the one they were assigned at birth. Their gender expression does not match their gender identity. As Boylan mentioned, there are many reasons why a person might identify as transgender. Some do not feel at home with their body and they want to feel comfortable thus they use medical intervention to feel the way they want to feel.  The important thing is to remember that transgender identity and trans experience are works in progress.[2]  Many individuals will go through medical transition via hormones and surgeries; while others won’t.  After transition, some people reject their transgender identity and just live as the gender they want to live as.  They are going “stealth’—living as the gender as they perceive themselves as. The transgender experience is different for each person and the way they experience it is their own.  It’s up to them how they identify—just like everyone else.

Differences among transgender individuals highlight the intersectionality of identities with the trans experience. Economic issues remain prevalent. Some people cannot transition due to the high cost of medical procedures and drugs. Health insurance does not always cover hormones and individuals must often pay for surgeries out of pocket.  Trans people face high rates of unemployment due to only eighteen states protecting gender identity and expression. This creates a large portion of transgender people who are unable to access medical treatment. In addition, social pressures and religious preferences influence individuals’ freedom to transition.   Race is an additional factor in the treatment of transgender women of color. Monica Jones was jailed for prostitution due to law enforcement believing the common stereotype that all transgender women, particularly women of color, are sex workers. [4]

Despite the differences in individual identifications of gender, some common issues exist among the trans community. The transgender community suffers the highest rate of violence [of any subaltern group?]. Over 65% of transgender people report harassment in public accommodations. [5] Lawsuits have recently been filed concerning unjust firing practices. For example, Tristan Broussard was fired from his job shortly after starting because his license still stated that he was female.  [6] There is an increased amount of concern especially with public accommodations such as the restroom. One of the most common issues transgender people face concerns passing as their chosen gender and being able to use the restroom.  Transphobic legislators have sought to make it difficult for those who do not identify with their assigned gender. In Minnesota, a social movement was sparked due to this situation.

#WeJustNeedToPee came out of the transphobic thought that boys would dress up as girls to use the women’s restroom. Michael Hughes, a trans man, took a selfie in the bathroom of his assigned gender. Up until the selfie, Hughes was in stealth. When the legislation gained momentum, Hughes stated that ”I decided right away to control the situation as much as possible — I didn’t want to encounter women who didn’t know me, and make anyone feel vulnerable. I was acutely aware of that.” [7] His selfie generated buzz and while voting will happen soon, it’s unclear whether it will pass. President Obama has signed an executive order banning gender discrimination among federal contractors and opened gender neutral bathrooms in the White House. [8]

In the end, it is important to remember everyone is different. Despite these differences, one thing should be remembered. As Boylan started her own transition, she would struggle with her ability to pass as female. After one harsh outing, a young girl was confused about Boylan’s appearance. The young girl asked her mother who Boylan was. Her mother responded “That honey,…that was a human being.” [9] Each human being deserves respect on their identities and to have their identities affirmed.


[1] Jennifer Finney  Boylan, “Throwing Our Voices An Introduction,” ed Laura Erickson-Scroth (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2014) xvi.

[2] Boylan xvii

[3] GLAAD, “GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Transgender Issues,”  Accessed 4/17/2015.

[4] Movement Advancement Project et all, “Understand Issues Facing Transgender Americans,”  Last modified 2015, 6-7, 10.

[5] Movement Advancement Project 2

[6] Mitch Kelley, “Fired for Refusing to Wear “Women’s Clothes’ Louisiana Trans Man Files Suit,” Advocate.  Last accessed 4/17/2015.

[7] Claire-Renee Kohner, “Trans Man Behind #WeJustNeedtoPee Isn’t Selfie-Center,” Advocate. accessed 4/17/2015.

[8] Dave Boyer, ”Obama Goes All-In on Gay Rights as his Legacy,” The Washington Time. Last accessed 4/17/2015.

[9] Boylan xviii



14 thoughts on “The Diversity of the Transgender Experiences

  1. Matt, thanks for noting that a transgender individual is not necessarily someone who goes through a medical procedure to change genders. I think that is something that is often overlooked, and it really isn’t something I considered until recently. We need to create an environment where transgendered individuals feel comortable telling their personal stories, as we know that they are all different and cannot represent all transgender individuals.

  2. Matt, I really liked that you mentioned how at risk the Trans community is to violence. It is simply staggering that 65% of trans people have been the victims of violence for transcending rigid gender lines. I think that this is an area where our society needs help learning how best to create understanding and acceptance. Matt I love that you included the conversation between the mother and daughter in your post, because it is so true. We are all human beings first and foremost and must be treated as such.

    1. Matt, great post! I really liked what you said, Caitlin. I was shocked at the statistic of 65% as well. It’s so heartbreaking to know this is going on so often. There is such a fear of the unknown in this country. People have a really hard time accepting what they don’t understand. It is so important for us as museum professionals to bring these issues to the forefront and create dialogue so that we can move past this fear and create a society based on acceptance.

  3. Matt, you do a good job highlighting the diversity of the transgender experience and I think it is essential knowledge for anyone going forth in the world. Probably my biggest revelation about what it means to be transgender occurred while reading Boylan’s “Throwing Our Voices” when she discusses the different ways there are of being trans. I understood it best as the first way she describes (the medical way) because that is what is most talked about in the media. Having diversity highlighted in media representation would probably help everyone who is not in the trans community better provide support and compassion.

    Side note: have you guys seen the TV show “Transparent”? It’s really good and it is on Amazon Prime. The show discusses one woman’s experience with transitioning from male to female and how it affects her family (Granted, like most of Hollywood it still depicts the troubles of upper-middle class white people).

    1. Carly, I thought of that show too! I think it’s really interesting and compelling. I know it’s been under some scrutiny because the main actor is not trans. Hiring cis actors to play trans characters (e.g. Jared Leto, Hilary Swank, Felicity Huffman), no matter how good they are, cuts out an important opportunity to hire underrepresented trans actors to portray their own stories. That’s one reason seeing Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black is so great, besides the fact that she’s an amazing actress.

  4. I think that Boylan did a great job at stressing how many different ways there are to be trans and emphasizes that one person cannot speak for the whole – something we’re repeatedly reminded of in class! I really enjoyed her writing and want to read more of her story; I think narratives make it easier for people in general to connect to a topic they may not know that much about.

    1. Meghan, that was my biggest take away from this week’s readings as well. Transgender, like so many other groups we talk and read about in this class, is an umbrella term: necessary for discussion, but not nearly descriptive enough for the amount of people it is meant to embody. Thanks Matt for a great post!

    2. I also thought that was the strongest part of the reading. One doesn’t realize how different people see the world, and their own identity so lumping trans people into one category is truly unfair. There is a diversity of experiences in the trans community and the LGBTQ community as a whole.

      Thank you, Matt for a great post.

  5. I think the diversity of experiences is an important aspect to consider. Every person has a deifferent story, and no one should generalize about someone else based on a group they appear to belong to. I really appreciated Boylan’s thoughts on how each transgender person has a different experience, and there are many different ways of being. It’s an important thought to keep in mind when talking about any group.

    Oh a related note, I simply don’t understand the fear of transgender people using public restrooms. It doesn’t matter how someone identifies or what genitalia they have, everyone has the same basic needs and they should be respected. (And hey, look at how often we CGP students use both the men’s and women’s restrooms, and we’ve never had any problems!)

  6. Matt, I also think it is critical to talk about the issues of diversity and raising public awareness of the violence towards trans people. What I found really fought provoking is what Boylan said about the different narratives and how they are perceived by society and even in the LGBTQ community. All people need to feel loved and accepted as human beings and not about how they identify whether it is race, socioeconomics, religion or sexual orientation. What can museums do to help create safe spaces for the LGBTQ community and individuals feel like they can talk about their experiences or just feel more accepted is something I am interested in talking more about.

  7. Great job, Matt! I spent a good amount of time in college taking classes on body, sexuality, and gender and I thought you brought up a lot of good food for thought. I have several friends who started out one gender at the beginning of college and transitioned to another–or to an in between–by graduation. It was really heartwarming to me to see how the campus ultimately embraced them, more clubs were forms raising awareness, and many bathrooms became gender neutral. People are people are people, and we need learn how to accept everyone regardless of how they chose to express their identity.

  8. Thanks Matt for a great discussion on the diversity of experiences within the transgender community. I found that to be such an interesting point from the all the reading. I like how you begin to bring policies and the legal element into the discussion. Embracing the diversity of experiences is important and great, however it can be difficult when fighting for policy and advocating for change. As we read, there are so many factions and facets that it almost seems like is no such thing as a unifying “LBGTQ issue”. In college many of my friends were black and also identified as gay or trans, but refused to attend many events run by the college LBGTQ organization because they felt as if they weren’t being represented. Many of my friends took issue with the spotlight on gay marriage because they felt that it was a “white gay men” issue, which ignored many of the struggles faced by people of color. So, I completely agree with your emphasis on intersectionality.

  9. Thank you, Matt for discussing the transgender story! This is a hot topic and an important one that I believe museums should be seeking out. As more and more transgender, people share their stories, the public’s understanding of gender identity and expression builds. There is a great exhibition that does just this, allowed transgender invidious to tell their own.

    The statistics are real, and transgender and gender nonconforming man, and women face many challenges today, such as workplace discrimination, to securing identity documents, to finding culturally competent health care, to family and parenting issues, to combating violence and advocating for full inclusion and equality.

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