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Gianna Israel Gender Library

Community and Interpersonal Differences

What is it about people's differences that make it difficult for crossdressers, transsexuals and even gays to understand each other? I put some thought into this question and laughed. Why? I did so because over the years I have noticed the preceding question about differences has repeatedly arisen in so many different ways.

One of the most common things I have heard when people wrestle with understanding differences goes as follows. Transsexuals will say that crossdressers just aren't seriously committed about having a transgender identity or being part of the community. On the other hand, crossdressers will say transsexuals are too serious and push the gender envelope too far. After all, who in their right mind would abandon all their security to change gender? And both groups, especially transsexuals, will sometimes say that for all their love and support that some gays just don't "get it." In other words, some gays just can't seem to see beyond labeling us as drag queens, which can be very distressing to a transsexual woman.

When observing differences in people and their reactions, do you sometimes find the subject confusing? After 11 years of practice I still find these dynamics mystifying and intriguing. What I found helped me understand this subject better was to learn about the word "perception."

Perception comes from the word "perceive," which means "to attain awareness or understanding." This primarily comes through one's personal senses. As a result, a person's perception of others' differences comes from his or her own observations, feelings, even intuitions, and particularly experiences. No wonder the world is such a complex place.

What all this means is that typically when a crossdresser sees a transsexual, or vice versus, the observing party is drawing conclusions about the other person based on his or her own perceptions. These perceptions most commonly consist of personal experiences. Over the years I've noticed some people are able to move beyond their perceptions while others don't seem capable of doing so.

If you want a person, particularly a friend, to understand you better, it can help tremendously to talk about differences. This means asking questions and sharing with each other about what makes you and your friend alike but also different. However, in the course of doing so, don't be surprised if even sometimes the most loving friend won't be able to understand you entirely.

It certainly is a beautiful thing when two people connect and come to understand each other's differences. However, it is also okay when two people don't understand each other on some points. After all, if people understood everything about each other they certainly would be less interesting. When people don't understand each other, nothing prevents them from keeping a friendship. After all, over the years I've developed really loving, close friendships with others who are very different than myself. I have found that it is those differences between us which add different perspectives, ideas and even dreams.

The most common concern people have when they are misunderstood is that they also are not being entirely accepted. Understandably, this is a valid concern. My suggestion, look for simplicity in answers pertaining to being accepted by others. Otherwise, you will end up creating unnecessary complications within your friendships and ultimately end up feeling less accepted by others. Acceptance is also a bizarre game we play in human relationships. I have often found that where a friend may not understand one particular facet of my life, he or she may prove to be my biggest supporter in other areas.

When pondering the subject of acceptance, be mindful that life can go pretty smoothly if you allow it. This is particularly so if you aren't being discriminated against or abuse, or if you can avoid discriminating against others who are different than you. Differences are, after all, what make us all the same because no one or very few people are exactly identical. Maybe you can accept big differences in character or identity, or maybe you can't. Perhaps others can in you, or maybe they are unwilling to learn what makes you special. I have found that people each have their own ability of trying to understand others and get along. I believe the preceding trait is what makes us most unique.

Notably, no essay on differences would be complete without mentioning the isolation that goes with feeling different from everybody else. Imagine being the only transgender person in a classroom filled with non-transgender persons. Or, imagine being the only transgender person in your neighborhood. That certainly could feel very lonely. However, this is a reality that we all must deal with, particularly if we hope to create a place for ourselves in the world. This is one primary reason I strongly suggest transgender persons socialize with other transgender individuals. Doing so provides an opportunity to hear about how others similar to you deal with these issues.


GENDER ARTICLES. This educational column authored by Gianna E. Israel is regularly featured on the 3rd Monday of each month in Tg-Forum, the Internet's most up-to-date, weekly Transgender Magazine <http://www.tgforum.com/>. Several weeks later each article is forwarded to Usenet and AOL <Keyword TCF>. Each column has been written to inspire contemplation and dialogue. Columns may be reprinted in any medium insofar as each article, its introduction, and the author's contact information remains unaltered.

GIANNA E. ISRAEL provides nationwide telephone consultation, individual & relationship counseling, evaluations and referrals. She is principal author of the Transgender Care (Temple University / in press 1997). She also writes Transgender Tapestry's "Ask Gianna" column; is an AEGIS board member and HBIGDA member.She can be contacted at (415) 558-8058, at P.O. Box 424447 San Francisco, CA 94142, or via e-mail at Gianna@counselsuite.com.


Copyright © 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.