Often reduced to a binary and inaccurately used interchangeably with the term “sex”, gender refers to the social construction of behaviors and roles encompassing a range of identities that do not always correspond to the traditional roles of male and female. Transgender denotes the identification of a gender that is different than the assigned sex at birth. Gender nonconforming and genderqueer identities fall under the transgender umbrella (WHO). It is important to note that the gender binary that has perpetuated these societal expectations of gender is a byproduct of heteropatriarchal colonialism and its suppression of the indigenous diversity in gender identities (Morgensen 2012:4). Because of this gender colonialism, pervasive understandings of what gender should be, influence how people may be seen by others or how they even see themselves.
Perceived gender expectations may occur as early as toddlerhood which what Karin A. Martin terms the development of gendered bodies (Martin 1998:494). Besides the at-home influences of gender roles, school settings may also impact a person’s understanding of gender. This is not only due to the influences of the adults, but that of the other children as well. Martin observes this when a young girl pulled down another’s dress after her back had been exposed (Martin 1998:498.). There is apparently knowledge as to what is considered appropriate for their gender. It can be assumed that the pressure of social conformity would encourage the children to adopt the mannerisms of their peers just as the former girl had potentially done in the presence of family members who wear dresses.
This can also be applied to racial perceptions of gender. In a household where AFAB (assigned female at birth) individuals are conditioned to be maternal, timid, and take care of the needs of the AMAB (assigned male at birth) individuals who are conditioned to be tough, reserved, and physically resilient, it is difficult to come to terms with a varied sense of gender identity. W.E.B. Du Bois speaks of a similar idea, specifically on the role of “The Black Mother” in his 1912 publication. He states that the appreciation of the “Black Mother” derives from the mother’s care towards other children rather than her own. Here she is defined by her attentiveness to the needs of others (Du Bois 2004:145). Gendered and racialized, society presents their expectations of the Black mother and shows appreciation for what they expect of her.
These societal pressures may contribute to a double consciousness (Itzigsohn and Brown 2020:27). Struggles of transgender POC have been undermined and even worsened by the white mainstream visions of gender and racial relations. Under the persistence of cisnormativity and the gender binary, transPOC face internal conflict. Du Bois was committed to undoing the color line and I believe his idea of closing the cultural gap can also be applied here (Itzigsohn and Brown 2020:23). TransPOC, especially Black trans people, have challenged adhering to gender roles – including the idea that androgyny must be achieved to be considered truly non-binary – to prove their gender identity and in the process, liberating many people of their self-rejection and perceived need to compete with their white counterparts.
Kimberlé Crenshaw discusses this overlapping of identities and the resulting systems of disadvantages documented by Du Bois through the phenomenon of intersectionality (Coaston 2019). She elaborates on the complexity of identity, highlighting that “Black women are both black and women, but because they are black women, they endure specific forms of discrimination that black men, or white women, might not.” Whereas transPNOC (trans people not of color) deal with transphobia, TransPOC are likely to be both misgendered and racialized. Crenshaw observes that by acknowledging the complexities of privilege and disadvantages, the power dynamics involved – in this case, the colonialization of gender in a racialized body – would be opposed.
Failure of achieving larger recognition of the struggles of transPOC reflects itself in their withdrawal from groups they are close to but are hurt by. In a fashion like Georg Simmel’s “The Stranger,” the dissonance that may occur from a lack of support systems would leave them remaining distant, even if they remain in near contact. As will later be discussed, family interactions could well contribute to this feeling of loneliness and distance. It is also possible that the internalization of gender roles and denial of gender identity may lead to a withdrawn state.
Inherently, to avoid this victimization, denial of one’s identity, and guarantee security of expression, we must begin by decolonizing our understanding of gender. In the process, we employ the sociological imagination (Mills 2000). The shift in perspective through the undoing of our limited perceptions of gender and framing our understanding with an impact of larger society can help us become greater allies to transgender people of color and dismantle the oppressive states that prevent them from being able to be themselves.