Caste – The System That Divides The Trans Community


Today, I’m writing about something disturbing that many of us see regularly within the transgender community but no one seems to know how to fix. In order to fix it, we first need to identify what it is. After a series of lengthy dialog sessions with my beloved wife, we talked through my many experiences as a trans individual, and together we came to a rather obvious conclusion – there is in fact a caste system currently in place and at work in our community.

The caste system is defined as a social system that establishes a hierarchy based on assigned statuses applied to a population. Various examples of these statuses include race, gender, nationality, body type, and age. It’s seen in pop culture via the faction system presented in the novel and resultant film Divergent.

A caste system ranks people rigidly, so changing from one caste to another can often be difficult, if not impossible, due to non-acceptance from within the specific caste an individual is trying to assimilate into. This non-acceptance stems from the desire from those who already exist within a specific caste to prevent its pollution and to maintain its purity, as those two concepts are considered to be paramount in the preservation of the system.

Caste is, by definition, systemic bigotry.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of my spare time frequenting the various transgender and crossdressing forums online. I once found these digital spaces to be inspiring in terms of my own writing projects highlighting trans issues. In that time spent I’ve discovered that it has always been nearly impossible to establish and maintain a simultaneous dialog with the various “groups” found within those online trans communities. In addition, it’s been a rarity to see members communicate freely and openly with others outside of their own chosen group.

But why?

Often times, trans-related online spaces are set up to purposefully separate each element of the trans community into tidy groups so everyone “knows their place” and is forced to stay in the group they are “supposed to be in.” No self-identifying crossdressers are permitted to be in the transsexual forums as those are password protected. After all, you do have to keep out the riff-raff…

These online spaces that are touted as safe-havens from the oppressive and judgmental outside world have never once allowed me access to both cross-dressing forums and transsexual forums no matter what the reason for my request. I instead always have to declare my allegiance to my own group based on questions regarding how I self-identify, and once I choose a “faction”, I am indeed stuck there forever.

In all of this self-segregation I’ve witnessed, it has become quite obvious to me that transgender individuals, like many other groups within our society, choose to self-segregate. The dividing line, unfortunately, always seems to be based on where we feel that we land in the “transgender spectrum”, or what we feel our goals with regard to our gender presentation are.

The transgender spectrum is an easy concept to grasp. It’s very much like a timeline, but without the time-elapsed factor. In place of that, you have a large group’s varying gender identity and outward gender presentation. On one end of the transgender spectrum you might have the closeted cross dresser – a part-time indulger in clothing and tangible accessories that are considered to be pretty and feminine. On the opposite end you may have the transsexual – fully transitioned and living full time as the gender that is considered to be opposite the one they were born. In between those two, you would have a lot of gray area where folks who identify as gender-queer, bi-gender, genderless and gender-fluid exist, just to name a few.

In short, that is how I, and many others I’ve had conversations with, see the gender spectrum for the most part.

Let me explain a little of what I see happening…

In my observations of self-segregation within the trans community over the years, I’ve noticed that those who feel they identify as cross dressers usually socialize mainly, or sometimes even exclusively, with others who also identify as cross dressers. Still others who identify as transsexual mainly gravitate towards others who also identify this way. Those who are intersexed often gravitate toward other intersexed individuals (if they are able to locate any), or exclusively toward those from the one binary gender that has belittled them the least.

It’s true it should be stated that we as human beings often find comfort in keeping company with those who understand first-hand our experiences and points-of-view. Bearing this in mind, it shouldn’t surprise us that we as trans individuals would group off and socialize a bit with others who understand us the best, based on comparable life experiences and similar points of view. But, why is there anger, resentment, judgement and loathing coming from within the community toward other members?

The problem I see is that there are individuals within the transgender umbrella who do not see the reality that all of us as transgender individuals will benefit from coming together. They don’t see the need to unify and fight for our rights to exist in society, to express ourselves as however we see fit, and to secure a place to do so without all the degradation and harassment from the haters. It’s probably something they would like, but they will not unify and tackle these challenges together.

Instead, many trans people find their niche in terms of their preferred way of thinking and presenting, they go find like-minded friends, and then gather to stand in judgement of other trans folk who do not think or present similarly. It’s a very selfish way to exist, because it equates to actively discarding the good that could be accomplished for the greater community by showing some solidarity, in favor of the comfort in branching off into a clique so opinions and ideas are not challenged. If this sounds like you then congratulations! You’re now living in a bubble.

I’ve seen transsexuals mock those who identify as cross dressers for not being willing or able to pass as cis-women. I’ve heard it said that crossdressing males are easier to clock than transsexuals, and this preconceived idea somehow invalidates every transsexual who has gone the extra mile to “transition fully” and live as a woman full time. So, transsexuals shouldn’t go out in public and be seen with cross dressers.

Wouldn’t this be an example of keeping the “transsexual caste” pure and unpolluted?

I’ve seen some who identify as crossdressers mock transsexuals for going “way overboard”, and that gender non-conformity should just be a “hobby” to be indulged in “from time to time”.

Wouldn’t this be an example of keeping the “crossdressing caste” pure and unpolluted?

I’ve once was told by an intersexed individual that my friendship was not wanted because I was born male, and all males ever did was hurt this person time and time again. Because of what others did to this person, I was judged as unworthy of friendship on any level.

Wouldn’t this be keeping the “intersexed caste” pure and unpolluted?

Most recently, we’ve all seen the story of Caitlyn Jenner. A self-made celebrity multimillionaire who recently came out as trans in a very public way and has steadily been put through the wringer for “being too privileged to be able to understand the challenges that average transgender folks face in today’s society.”

Wouldn’t this be keeping the “poor trans people” caste pure and unpolluted?

So, how do we fix this?

We need to stop this internal dysfunction and start pulling together as a community of diverse people. The public needs to see this so we don’t appear to them as a divided community. We need to be willing to open up the dialog within our own ranks and set aside the jealousy and pettiness. We need to stop socially separating ourselves from one another so we only hear the version of the truth we want to. Each one of us needs to make a bold move and befriend someone from the trans community who is not like our self. We each need to start a dialog with a trans person whose opinions do not mirror ours. We need to encourage others to do all of these things every single day starting now.

If we continue to self-segregate, we’re destined to become a community consisting of rag-tag bands of clueless enablers – justifying some pretty absurd notions of who we are as individuals, where we are going as a community, and what we are actually accomplishing in our gender non-conformity.

When there are no more opposing opinions in our little world, we at that point, are living in a bubble.

Look at history, folks. Bubbles burst.


12 thoughts on “Caste – The System That Divides The Trans Community

  1. >Wouldn’t this be keeping the “poor trans people” caste pure and unpolluted?

    By refusing to provide support so the “poor trans people” can have access to things like hormones and surgery, like the kind the Jim Collins Foundation could provide in spades were it not limited to 3 or 4 surgery awards a year, and saying things “Well, I fought and won, if you can’t do as I did you get nothing, and expect nothing substantial from me” I would say that the “post-op trans people” are trying to keep their caste pure and unpolluted.

  2. I am a lesbian but very curious to learn about the trasgenderd world. I have always felt I guess you’d say, gender fluid…no one seems to want to bother to talk to me about it…how can I learn if no one talks?

  3. There is a paradigm difference between those that identify as TS and the vast majority of the community that identify as other than. My experience, having met thousands of all identifications is that most of the elitism comes from a very few who identify as TS, less than 20% of the community and mostly from the 4% of the community that are post-op.
    I find a spectrum too limiting in visualizing the community of which I am part, which is why I chose a tree with its almost infinite branchings.

  4. Well said. I only belong to one forum, the one run by Helen Boyd. Helen and Betty have set the site up so that *anyone* who ID’s as, or is even questioning whether they are trans is welcome, as well as partners(gasp) the invisible unspoken fellow travelers of transition.

    The only “segregation” as it were is a publicly viewed thread for partners to post in only.

    We have crossdressers, middle-pathers and transsexuals galore, and we often fight like cats and dogs, and at the end of the day, love one another.

    Thanks for doing this, and you are gorgeous, btw 🙂


    Helen’s website/forum is myhusbandbetty dot com., fyi

  5. What you just described is the basis of most social structures divided in to groups most commonly designated by economics. Those that can afford to look better do, because they can afford it. A study was done on the “Vanity Club” ( a couple of years ago and the results were similar to any exclusive country club, if you can afford to look good, you were in. Which means looks had more to do with membership then the person. Not surprising, 80% of the members considered themselves cross dressers, 10% truly trasgender male to female and 10% not sure.Still many members were in the closet hiding from friends and family. The average age of members is over 50. An age were finances are more available for cross dressing or transitioning.
    As more and more younger trans people are coming out, positive things will change for all of us, but the economics of social groupings, for most will still be there. By the way, I was a Vanity Club member, I quit for the same reasons I am not a country club member, I just didn’t fit in simply because I do not let economics define who I am, and I hang out with others like myself.

  6. Hi Erica. A friend passed this column to me for discussion on my Yahoo group, the TG Woman. At first I wondered where is this woman coming from, and then I remembered that I’d been run out of a FB trans group discussing the problems of transitioning because I was just a crossdresser. My experience is that the TS gals are more often likely to be prejudicial towards CD than the other way around. Of course then I remembered Tri-Ess who limits their membership to CDs and discourages all TS women from becoming involved. In fact there is antipathy towards TS woman because heaven knows we don’t want the wives to all that. transitioning is the next step in our evolution.

    It is indeed a sad story that there are a few that can not see the greater good. And sure Caitlyn may not relate well to the less wealthy girl with fewer privileges, but she’s treying and has highlighted many of the issues we all face

    I’m fortunate to have girls from the deep closet to girls that transitioned years ago in my Yahoo group and all get along just fine, but then we tend to be a bit more mature than some groups.

    Unfortunately I don’t see any easy fixes either as it requires the leader of any group to be willing to be inclusive and some are not. They need to be called out for what they are but then this will start some wars too. Here’s hoping that the community leaders will continue to call for all to work together


  7. I agree with much of what you’ve said, but there’s a lesson here. If we can’t deal with our own in-house discrimination, why are we so ready to hurl these types of accusations against others in the gender-conforming community?

  8. Keep investigating. Oppression operates differently based on class, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc., and it’s important to analyze and understand the ways oppression affects each of these intersecting segments of society. A rich white crossdresser who just dresses for fun is going to experience the world differently than a trans woman who’s economically disenfranchised. Cait Jenner is going to experience oppression differently than a working class black trans woman. So it’s important to understand these differences, and it’s alright if trans women create spaces where we can talk about the issues specifically facing us. It’s alright if black trans men want to create an exclusive space discussing the issues affecting them. These are good things, and they help us heal and grow, and analyze the issues facing us based on our varying social positions. As trans people, we have an umbrella: the trans community. There’s all sorts of online communities that cater to ALL trans identities, where we all come together and discuss the issues affecting all of us as a community. As far as trans women who ridicule crossdressers, etc. These are just misguided people. Find better people. Trans 101: anyone who genuinely identifies as trans is trans. Most people are aware of this, in my experience.

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment.we do segregate ourselves and don’t want to talk with others who are not like us or wanting to achieve the same goals. It is not right but true. So very sad that we exclude since most trans people are very lonely

  10. Interesting post. I identify as transgender, but not to the degree of dysphoria that requires transition. I participate on a forum that is primarily set up for crossdressers, but there a significant space given to transsexuals.

    People on that site have said specifically that they distance themselves from the trans community because they see it as a hindrance to becoming fully accepted as female (M2F transition). My response to this was one of surprise and I stated that I couldn’t see how that would be useful for moving the community forward. It also means that that part of the knowledge base goes with those who distance themselves and becomes lost to those who come later. The result was that I was told what I said was insulting and that I should apologize! Further, I should leave them alone and mind my own business.

    I was completely blown away by this; completely. It shows a total lack of understanding as to how movements and constituencies go forward and make collective progress. My basis for saying this is based on ~20 years involvement with employee resource groups and diversity work. I’ve been involved in our LGBT ERG for 12 years and we have put a lot of effort into getting our company to support transgender health benefits as part of the helath care plan. Ultimately the company did this and actually increased the coverage this year. The thing is, we all worked towards this goal even though NONE of the current membership will ever use the benefit. It feels like we’ve been supporting a very ungrateful community. When I raised this point on the forum, there was silence. The fact of the matter is that the trans community, by itself, is very small (maybe .3% of the US population?). I would have thought that all help would have been cheerfully accepts, but evidently not.

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