Naturally Transgender

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In Monterey Bay lives the California sheephead fish.

All sheephead are born female and can transform into being male at various stages in their lifecycle, when the need arises. Each group of sheephead has one male for breeding and when it dies, a female transforms to take his place. The transformed male is more gorgeous than the females -- big, black and white, with a brilliant orange middle - fiercely beautiful.

While scientists have a different nomenclature for the sheephead, I see the sheephead as a gender transforming fish. Nature, instigated by God if you believe in God, created this transgender fish. If you are born a sheephead, you are born female, but nature will change you into a male if it needs to.

The sheephead fish helped me accept a person's decision to change their gender. Becoming transgender was a foreign concept to me, as I have always loved being female, although I have not always loved how others treat me as a female. The Christian tradition I was born into teaches me, as many religions do, to treat others how I want them to treat me. So I had to imagine: If I was born male and felt imprisoned by my body, how would I want the world to treat me? Would I want the world to give me the choice to transform?

The sheephead reminds me that nature creates transgender existence. While nature alone did not create it in humans, it created humans to make choices and discoveries. Our discoveries have given us the power to allow someone who feels imprisoned by gender to change it, as nature has created the sheephead to change its gender. Why would we hate a person for doing that? Perhaps human gender transformation has an environmental purpose we do not yet fully comprehend.


As a career counselor, working with gender transforming clients was hard for me at first because it was so foreign, so very different. Then, one day, I remembered the sheephead, and it became easier, and more natural.

With a Perspective, I'm Louise Francis.

Louise Francis is a career development coach at the UC Hastings School of Law. She lives in the East Bay.