Transgender 101

This speech was given by Anthony Cotton on January 5, 2011. It has been reprinted with his permission.

Before I actually met and spoke with transgender people, my understanding of the phenomenon was very abstract.  I wanted to be supportive, as I knew that transgender people face great social and legal discrimination, but I had to educate myself first.  It is a fascinating topic, and I am going to share the definitions, data, and facts that I learned, mostly from the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Let’s start with definitions.  Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to transsexuals (people who alter or wish to alter their bodies through hormones or surgery in order to make it match their gender identity), cross-dressers (people who sometimes dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender), and other gender non-conforming people.  Gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of being male or female – it is completely distinct from sexual orientation, which means that transgender people can be straight, bisexual, or gay. Transwomen are genetically male yet present to society as female, while transmen are genetically female yet present to society as male.  Finally, the term cisgender refers to those whose gender identity is aligned with their assigned sex at birth – this is the opposite of transgender and represents the vast majority of society.

Society is only slowly beginning to understand the transgender phenomenon, and there is very limited data available on the subject.  For example, there is no consensus regarding how many people in the world are transgender.  Estimates range from 1 in 400 to 1 in 30,000 – clearly this is a major discrepancy.  Similarly, it is unclear what causes a person to be transgender.  Biologists believe there may be differences in the chromosomal structure between transgender and cisgender people.  There is also a theory that hormonal imbalances in utero impact the brain structure of transgender people.  The medical field does not consider being transgender to be a mental illness that can be cured with treatment.  Instead, mental health professionals consider it to be a psychological condition called “Gender Identity Disorder,” which can be resolved through aligning one’s gender identity and gender expression, in some cases through altering one’s physical body.
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Challenging Language Choices

The following post was adapted from a speech given by Anthony Cotton, a member of Talk for Change since January 2010.

Think of a time when you heard an offensive comment.  Perhaps a family member said something racist.  Maybe you overheard a stranger say, “That’s so gay.”  Did a co-worker or friend make a slur about women, a religious group, or people with mental retardation?  How did you react?  Did you let the moment pass uncomfortably?  Did you get angry and yell?  What was the outcome?  Chances are, afterward, you asked yourself if you could have handled the situation better.

I believe that each time we encounter offensive language, whether it is hateful, ignorant, or simply thoughtless, we have a social and moral obligation to challenge it.  But we all know that that is easier said than done – and that these issues are complicated.  If you mumble an incomplete response like, “well that’s real nice,” you won’t have any impact.  If you let your voice rise and start attacking one’s character saying, “you’re such a bigot,” you will have the wrong impact.

Here are some tips and examples to consider when you encounter offensive comments.  Keep in mind that every situation is different and, therefore, your response to each comment might be different based on circumstances.

  1. Be prepared and committed.  We all have an idea of when we may hear an offensive comment – for example, when we interact with extended family during the holidays.  Especially during these times, remind yourself of your commitment to interrupt prejudice.
  2. Ask an open ended question.  For example, upon hearing an offensive comment, ask, “Why do you say that?”  This tactic has two benefits – it is not accusatory, and also allows the person to think critically about what he or she has said and verbalize why.
  3. Explain the impact.  When people try to explain their offensive word choices, they often say, “I didn’t mean anything by it.”  At that time, it’s valuable to explain the difference between intent and impact.  The impact may be personal – in which case you can say, “when you use that word, it hits me like a ton of bricks,” or it may be more general, such as “that word has been used to oppress people in the past, so we have to proactively stop its use.” Continue reading “Challenging Language Choices”

Getting Rid of Filler Words: Introducing the TFC Challenge

According to Lisa B. Marshall, 20% of our daily conversations are filled with “Ums,” “Ah’s” and other filler words, called “disfluencies.”  Check out this executive she cites:

“I, like, work for a big bank, like, Citibank. I work, um, in technology, and head-up a group of like, 500 people, right. I do, like, technology risk assessment, right, and create, um, processes, to, like, reduce risk, right.”

Poor guy.  He uses disfluencies and has people citing him over the internet.

So why do we use filler words, and how do we get rid of them?

Break up those sentences!

Paul Rigney tells us that people finish one sentence, say um, and then go onto the next one.  Or, they will finish a clause or thought, say um, and go on to another.  The ums exist because people keep trying to cram two sentences or thoughts into one, instead of keeping them separate as they would be on paper.

Fortunately, you can kick the habit with a bit of practice and a bunch of pauses:

  • When speaking, finish your sentence (or thought), and then pause.
  • During the pause, close your mouth.
  • Then go on to the next sentence.

Pauses are more than just ok.  They give your audience time to think about what you just said, rather than having to listen to ums or ahs in between sentences.  Pauses also help you maintain an even pace and give you time to breathe, making your speech more effective and your voice smoother. Continue reading “Getting Rid of Filler Words: Introducing the TFC Challenge”

Toastmasters: Have it your way

We are in good company. Actually, we’re in GREAT company, but you probably already knew that. Besides being in Talk for Change Toastmasters with some incredible people, we’re part of Toastmasters International, and the club has some pretty interesting alumni. Did you know Tim Allen from Home Improvement was a Toastmaster? Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell may have learned to speak under pressure when he was a member of Toastmasters. And Spock, also known as Leonard Nimoy, has most likely done table topics, because he was more than just half human and half Vulcan – he was a Toastmaster. Continue reading “Toastmasters: Have it your way”

Rhetoric in Speech & Presentation

Rahul Singh, one of the Members of the Talk for Change Toastmasters Club was invited to deliver a presentation at The Washington Center, to a group of interns who are about to travel abroad, to work for organizations in London and Sydney. Over the course of approximately two hours, Rahul walked the students through the three elements of Rhetoric outlined by Aristotle thousands of years … Continue reading Rhetoric in Speech & Presentation

The Year Ahead: Growth, Quality, Innovation

A recurring theme in all Toastmasters clubs, trainings, and meetings is that of members.  Members create the club, determine its direction, and provide the effort behind progress.  So when the time came to embark on a brand new year of Talk for Change, we started with the goals and concerns of its members.

When polling our fellow toastmasters, we discovered that their wishes for the year fell into three broad categories: growth, quality, and innovation.  For the next ten months, Anna, Adrienne, Rahul, Dianne and I will strive to guide Talk for Change toward progress in these areas.

Into the Sunrise


The first of these areas, growth, includes higher membership and expanded visibility.  Both stem naturally from our mission and our desire to improve the world around us.  As a niche club created to support positive change, it is in our interest to provide the public and nonprofit sectors with as many talented speakers and leaders as possible.  This means recruiting more members, and helping them to become inspiring and effective communicators.  It also means building up a brand and reputation that people will trust and approach for their speaking needs.

Growth is also necessary to keep Talk for Change healthy.  We need people to time and evaluate speeches, run meetings, and compensate for member turnover.  Since members are the reason our club exists, retaining a well-rounded group remains a priority.

In order to achieve growth, we will continue the workshops that brought many of us here, and offer them to other organizations as well.  We will pursue partnerships with local nonprofit networks with the aim of becoming their go-to for speech training.  Finally, we are making a strong commitment to retaining new members, characterized by increased attention to the needs, concerns, and goals of beginners. Continue reading “The Year Ahead: Growth, Quality, Innovation”

Analyzing a Speech: “I have a dream.”

Last Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and those of us in the profession or oratory or the pursuit of oratorical perfection know by no stretch of an imagination that the Reverend had a voice of a Prophet and an eloquence that words cannot describe. The icon of Dr. King is one of a powerful speaker that changed the shape of history in his leadership of … Continue reading Analyzing a Speech: “I have a dream.”

Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th Century

One of the Master Orators of the 20th Century
One of the Master Orators of the 20th Century

One of our members Kyle remarked on his last speech to the Talk for Change Toastmasters that the best way to learn is to learn from the Masters. There have been master orators of their time who brought to this country the change they wanted through their voice.

Here’s a link which has a listing of the “Top 100 America Speeches of the 20th Century”.If the link is unavailable, click “read more”. We have excerpted the site.

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