Without categories the world would be a much more confusing place. Categories help us understand the world around us, such as plants and animals. If you know that the Red Fox is in the genus “vulpes”, then you know that it will share similar characteristics with all other foxes in that genus. Categories give us a place to start when looking for something in particular. Maybe you don’t remember the title of that movie, but know that it’s an action movie. So, if you’re looking for that movie on Netflix it would be a very good idea to start in the “action” category. I am very good at creating categories for photographs and putting photos into the categories that they belong; without categories I wouldn’t have a job. In a nutshell, categories help us understand.
When it comes to categorizing groups of people things get tricky. Often, people don’t agree with the category they were put into and sometimes they don’t think the person doing the grouping has a right to do so at all. Categorizing people often makes certain groups feel marginalized, misunderstood, and subjected. Transfolk in particular often feel that we are being put into the wrong groups. The classification of our gender choices as a mental disorder is of the utmost of our problems. We also have to deal with being called lesbians when we are really men, being called gay men when we are actually women, and being labeled as transvestites and cross-dressers. After we get labeled as “transgendered” then there are more problems: are we still transgendered after the transition is complete, are we now labeled as MtF or FtM when we are women and men like everyone else? And of course, there is the problem of “having” to be one gender or the other: what if you are neither, or both, or something different altogether?
We have to understand that sociologists, anthropologist, doctors, psychiatrists, and everyday people are just trying to understand us. If something has no tangible definition, no generally accepted consensus of what it is, then how can you work with it in any capacity? I think that when meeting someone new, most people notice if they are male or female and from that that basic starting point begin to construct a person. Without that fundamental category, where do you begin?
I will not categorize myself because I already know all about me; I have nothing to gain from a category. However, I understand if other people categorize me when trying to understand who I am (and what my gender is). But if they mistakenly put me in a category that fundamentally misrepresents who I am, then I will correct them. And if need be, I will educate them.
So many times transfolk seem to get angry at having to explain what “transgendered” is/means. It’s true, it may be easier to let people remain ignorant and avoid a potentially lengthy conversation, but what have you accomplished? Had you educated them, there would be one less person in the world that would ask you that question. Had you educated them, there would be one less person in the world that would ask me. Had you educated them, you would have made them see things in more than just pink and blue. If you have the opportunity to educate someone and refuse, you have no right complain about the ignorance people have towards being transgendered. And I don’t mean educate people every day, or do it when it puts your body in harm- just do it once when you don’t want to. Just do it once when it will be awkward. Just do it once when it won’t be easy. Just do it once when it seems like a lost cause.
If we don’t speak up for ourselves- let people know what we are all about- then we will continually be put into categories we don’t agree with. Don’t hate on labels and categories just because you don’t agree with them, that’s too easy! Fight to change them into something you can agree with, something I can agree with, and something transfolk everywhere can agree with. And of course, fight so that we can find action movies in the action section!