On the Q 'T'

Long before she began her current job as a Twin Cities social worker, MJ Gilbert lived a life as a boy. For years, however, the boy was the target of ridicule. "Femme" was the label hurled at him by girls and boys alike.

Finally, at age 10, the boy surrendered to the expectations of his classmates and teachers and joined a baseball team. "I decided to play the game," Gilbert recalls, "both literally and figuratively."

The "game," of course, was adherence to gender-role assumptions--a game none of us is unfamiliar with. In a world where boys play sports while girls play house, Gilbert had clearly violated the rules. Once he'd joined "the team," however, the "game" could go on.

By extension, the modern-day "game" continues to include assumptions about sexual behavior. Males and females are expected to abide by a principal rule: Opposites attract. But those who flaunt the gender rules--fey boys, tomboy girls--are presumed capable of transgressing the "opposites attract" rule almost immediately. Even gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, all of whom should know better, are quick to suggest that their effeminate nephews are gay, or that those aggressive women down the street must be lesbian. In language and in thinking, gender and sexual preference have long been lumped together in one all-encompassing term: sexuality.

For gay men and lesbians, however, coming out as homosexual often means untangling and, in some form, rejecting the rules of the gender-sexuality game. When our romantic longings run counter to the accepted norms for our gender, we can be thrown into chaos about our own gender: If I'm a woman attracted to another woman, does that mean I'm a man? Eventually, each of us decides to what degree we subscribe to beliefs about gender roles: Consciously or not, we assess our so-called feminine and masculine characteristics and, in the best of scenarios, allow ourselves to move beyond the bounds of the rules.

Deciding to accept or reject such notions about gender is, of course, at the core of coming out for transgender individuals. And the stakes are high: Those who question the gender rules often encounter open hostility, whereas the response to those who break the rules of sexuality has improved greatly in recent years. Emerging into society as a transgender person requires significant stamina: Fourteen years ago, when Gilbert took the first steps toward becoming a transgender woman, she still faced tests, counseling sessions, and years of drug regimens.

Gilbert also faced the hostility of a world intent on playing the same ol' "game." Coming out may be quite different for transgender folks and homosexuals--just as it differs among gay men and lesbians--but the misunderstanding and discrimination that both groups face in society are obviously linked. Like it or not, the wider world makes few distinctions when it comes to gay men, lesbians, transgender folks, and bisexuals.

We as a society have yet to untangle the knot of sexuality and gender. And as a queer community, we have yet to win the battle against discrimination. In both endeavors, we do well to join forces with our allies who understand the problems--female, male, gay, transgender, lesbian, bisexual, and even straight.

With such sentiments in mind, this magazine last month changed its cover design: The banner, which once read "The Publication for Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals," now includes the T for transgender. In the months and years ahead, Q's coverage will expand to include stories on matters, debates, and individuals of significance within transgender circles. The additions, we hope, will prove insightful and provocative. As Gilbert says: "I think trans folks have something really vital in perspective to contribute in terms of the goals we share as a community."

We agree.

 
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