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Angelina Jolie and Being Transgender: Why Your Body Does Not Define You

angelinaAngelina Jolie is one of the most famous women in the world. She’s an accomplished actress and producer, as well as a well-known philanthropist and a beauty icon. Along with news about her most recent film, she most recently graced the headlines of popular media due to her decision to undergo preventative surgery and have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. Especially given her decision to have a double mastectomy two years ago, the online community has been praising Jolie for her courage and focus on her health. In other recent news, March 31st, 2015 marked the Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of transgender individuals around the world. To say it’s not easy being trans is a massive understatement. Violence and discrimination towards the trans community is rampant, with a trans woman of color having a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered in the US. But anyone who believes Jolie identifies as a woman has every reason to also support trans rights, because Jolie demonstrates that your physical body does not determine your gender.

Jolie decided to undergo surgery after finding out she carried the BRCA1 gene, which greatly increases one’s risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer. 55 to 65% of women with the gene develop breast cancer, with 39% developing ovarian cancer. Considering Jolie’s family history, having both surgeries seemed like her best option, and America has been applauding her choice. “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity,” Jolie wrote of her surgery in a New York Times op-ed. No one would argue that it’s wrong for Jolie to identify as a woman, despite having her breasts and reproductive organs removed. America feels comfortable with Jolie’s identity not being tied to her body. Why is being trans so different?

Some might argue that since Jolie was born female and identified as a woman her whole life, there’s no reason why surgery should change anything. But the same is true for someone who’s trans; a recent study shows that trans children identify with their gender as much as cis children do, countering a common misconception that trans people are confused. Piers Morgan went under fire last year for claiming in an interview with activist Janet Mock that she was “once a boy,” as Mock has made clear that she has always identified as a woman. Trans people are not delusional, going through a phase, or trying to get attention. They are not sexual predators attempting to gain access to another sex’s bathrooms. They simply identify differently than with the sex they were assigned at birth. Though having breasts does not signify womanhood, Jolie decided to get implants after having her own removed. No one objected to the fact that she felt her body should align with how she feels and identifies. Trans people who dress according to mainstream conceptions of their gender or who decide to undergo surgery should also have the right to adjust their bodies to how they feel.

Jolie has proven to the world that your body parts do not define you. Though her case is obviously different than being trans, it is useful to juxtapose it with the fact that reproductive organs don’t determine one’s identity. Our conceptions of gender is are contested, confusing, and always changing, but the bottom line is that people are who they say they are and you should believe them. Angelina Jolie feels like a woman, just as any trans woman does, and there’s no reason why they can’t both live in peace.