Why you should care

The Crying Game was just a movie for some, but for others, romance with a transgender person poses a real-life question

Transgender people and their politics have always occupied an uncomfortable place, even for those who are comfortable with the notion that gay people are born that way. Thirteen years ago, writing in the New York Law School Journal of Human Rights, Shannon Minter asked, “Do Transsexuals Dream of Gay Rights?” Gender identity versus sexual orientation was hotly debated, as was whether transgender people should be included in the gay rights movement at all.

TRANSGENDER

We use transgender as an umbrella term that includes people who are transsexual, cross-dressers or otherwise gender non-conforming.

Today transgender folks are included in so-called queer concerns and in the awareness of the general public. A recent survey found that not only could two-thirds of Americans correctly explain the meaning of transgender, but three-fourths of Americans backed legal protections and equal rights for trans people. Movie critics are praising Jared Leto’s portrayal of a transgender AIDS patient alongside Matthew McConaughey in The Dallas Buyers Club, which opens this week: Oscar buzz and the actors’ major weight loss will put the true story in front of mass audiences. All signs of progress — but how far have we come in making the political a little more personal?

By conservative estimates, approximately 500 people a year undergo sex reassignment surgery in the U.S. at a cost of up to $24,000 for male-to-female surgery and up to $50,000 for female-to-male surgery — creating a penis is difficult and costly, apparently. Add to this long-term hormone therapy, often a yearlong counseling mandate, and a battery of postsurgical follow-ups, and it’s clearly not a decision one would take lightly.

While these complex surgeries are becoming more sophisticated, not every trans person is interested in them. Whether or not someone elects to go under the knife, members of the trans community still wish to be recognized by their acquired gender, making the Social Security Administration’s decision to alter to official gender designation without proof of surgery a major victory this summer.

Transgender

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However transgender people express their true selves, seeing more of them on the public stage raises questions about the way we typically divide the sexes. The transgender male-to-female cage fighter Fallon Fox wants to fight against women, for instance. Potential Olympic athletes also want to compete in their reassigned genders, as do beauty pageant contestants. Not surprisingly, others are pushing back.

Finally, and to cut even deeper: How much does it matter in a romantic context? As the many shades of transgender experience become clearer, and with all the fluidity of gender and identity and changing mores, the question is: Would you date a transgender person? Would knowing your date had a “less typical gender than others” pose a problem, or could you, as Lana Wachowski put it, be drawn toward a transgender person “not in spite of their difference, but because of it”?

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