Why is my Family Member Transgender?

Something I’ve seen people ask when they have a trans/nonbinary kid is “why.”  As in, why are they trans?  How did they end up that way?  It makes sense: a lot of people don’t really know what it means to be trans beyond a very basic definition, and once you learn more, you realize how much trans/enby folks have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, so why would anyone take that path?

I’ve been thinking about this, and my personal response is that that’s not the real question.  The real question is “why didn’t anyone prepare me to have transgender family members?”  One could get into stuff like “is being trans a ‘choice’,” potential biological or neurological underpinnings of gender, etc., but on one level that’s not really what matters.  On a tangible, everyday level for the average person, what matters is simply that someone’s relative, friend, whatever, is trans, and how they respond to that.

I don’t think being not-cis – cis meaning your gender matches what you were assigned at birth if that’s unclear (cisn’t is one fun way to say something’s different about your gender without specifying trans people) – is inherently weirder, cooler, worse, or otherwise more or less remarkable than being cis.  The problem is that cis is presented as the unspoken default, and people aren’t proactively informed of the other possibilities.

And that’s why it seems so shocking when someone comes out, and why we want to know why.  Because it rocks our not-entirely-conscious expectations about what to expect from people and the world socially.  It’s not actually remarkable for your kid to be trans; it’s just remarkable to you…and “you” refers to large numbers of people.  The problem is that education is failing people in this area and not telling us this stuff until someone we know comes out, and then we have to figure it out from somewhere near the beginning while questioning what we thought we knew about how things work.  Something something comprehensive sex ed… 

Regarding the actual answer, I’m not sure that one exists in a tidy way.  No one reason is going to be universal for cisn’t (I love that word) people if someone has an answer to that question for themselves.  Probably a lot of us couldn’t come up with any reason as individuals if asked; I couldn’t give you much more than a shrug, personally.  There’s the whole autism-trans correlation, which may provide one explanation, but not all trans people are autistic, and if it’s the case that that shows up because being autistic makes it easier for people to reject arbitrary social rules and do their own thing, that more so explains why people are out of the closet rather than why they’re trans to begin with.

On an everyday level, it’s just something that is, and we’re just not used to it yet and some politicians like to make a huge deal out of it; that’s all.  I mean, if you’re cis even though you could have been / could be something else, why is that?  Like for real, why?

(That last question is supposed to be more thought-provoking than serious, before anyone feels obligated to write a personal essay in the comments, but do feel free to leave a comment if you have thoughts :).)

3 thoughts on “Why is my Family Member Transgender?”

  1. “I mean, if you’re cis even though you could have been / could be something else, why is that? Like for real, why?”

    This is a question I can’t answer, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that it assumes the listener is cisgender. What about people who don’t identify with gender at all, such as cis-genderless people? I guess they may be only a small part of the population but… well, no one’s actually collecting stats on them, so we don’t really know. And, unfortunately, most discussions of gender issues seem to either ignore them entirely (which is erasure) or implicitly lump them in with cisgendered people (which is misgendering).

    A genderless person might also ask why someone would be transgender, but, for them, the question would be less, “Why do you identify with a different gender from the one people expect you to?” and more “Why would you identify with a gender at all?” I guess the answer might be a similar “*shrug*”, but I do wonder if you’d have anything different to say to a genderless person.

    1. Hmm, that’s a good point. (Would mention something about Canton Winer and gender detachment but I’m pretty sure you were part of that journal club discussion, lol.)
      I guess what I was going for was “If you’re someone who fits social norms, flip the script to ask about your own gender, and then it might make more sense why it’s not really necessary to ask that question too seriously.” Now that I think about it more, I’m not sure that comes across as clearly for gender though as it does, like, talking about neurotypical social norms the same way they talk about autistic ones to make a point about pathologizing people.

      1. Heh, yeah, I wasn’t part of the discussion group, but I did read the article on gender detachment – thanks to you! 🙂

        I think “cis-genderless”, “cis by default”, and “gender detachment” are all getting at similar ideas: that not everyone has or identifies according to gender. And for them “flipping the script” would have to look a bit different. I mean, do they even fit social norms?

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