Trans Acceptance in America

Hello again!  I missed you!  It’s really hard to keep on top of all things internet when I can only use my phone and my office computer and I apologize.  Also, if you are reading this in Boston or have loved ones there, stay strong.  The hearts of the whole world are with you right now.

Earlier this month, we heard many arguments against marriage equality.  Primarily these arguments break down into three major categories:  the Bible says it’s wrong (which only matters in a theocracy), what about the children (they seem fine), and “it’s a slippery slope to bestiality and pedophilia.”  Many have pointed out that these are the exact same arguments used in the 1960s against interracial marriage.  Now, hardly anyone would say that interracial marriage is immoral and harmful.  How did that change come about?  Did people suddenly open their eyes and realize that racism is wrong?  No.  The older generation died out and the younger generations had a very different mindset.

Many people in my generation have resigned themselves to the idea that sweeping change will not happen for marriage equality in this country until the current older generation is no more.  Now, instead of focusing on wanting our parents and grandparents to die out (because I think that very few of us are actually looking forward to that), I have started looking to the future.  What will be the battle of our children and grandchildren?  What will the college students of 2050 protest for or against?  It didn’t take too long to find the answer.  Trans rights.  The right to publicly be who they are.  The right to exist without fear.

For the bulk of my early life, my entire knowledge of trans people came from sitcoms.  “Haha, my childhood best friend is now a GIRL!  And she’s HOT!  What to do?” (Cue canned “oooOOOOoooo!”).   I thought that being a transvestite was a predecessor to being transsexual.  That transsexual meant post-op and transvestite was pre-op.  That drag queens were transvestites who got paid, and transgender wasn’t even on my radar.  Gender as a construct wasn’t even a thought that entered my head until high school when I discovered psychology, sociology, and Eddie Izzard.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I met and befriended several trans people, some interested in transitioning and others already happy being as they were.  I remember several of my Christian friends being outraged that a trans male was allowed to live on the men’s floor in the dorm (“She has a vagina!  She can’t walk around in a towel!”) but by and large, most of the dorm bathrooms at Oberlin were gender neutral anyway.  As someone who grew up hating to wait in line for the women’s room and generally would walk right into the men’s room at Barnes & Noble, I immediately decided mentally that all bathrooms everywhere should be gender neutralized.  Because really, who cares who is in the stall next to you?  Unless of course, you are in that bathroom for reasons that involve a foot and knock code.  Then you probably care.

My sophomore year of college, Oberlin took the next step toward all-gender acceptance and created a gender-neutral dorm.  For the first time, gender had no impact on who you could live with.  While my female and gay male friends were simply thrilled that we could finally all be roommates, the policy was actually to make trans and intersex students feel that they had a place to belong.  Shortly afterwards, I read petitions to make additions to the usual M/F classifications on legal forms.  They worked in Australia and Canada is currently debating it, so there is hope for the US sometime in the future.

This past year, we have had an uproar over gender neutral bathrooms in schools and public places.  Once again, I do not understand this fight.  I do not understand how your faith has any bearing on where someone pees and I certainly don’t see how it should naturally lead to their arrest.  As silly as it may seem to many, this fight is of the utmost importance.  In America, trans people are prime victims for sexual assault and violence, and a great deal of that happens in bathrooms.  When a woman seen as “other” or even nonhuman is forced to enter a bathroom alone, surrounded by men who hate her, it’s obvious that violence can erupt.  This is an issue of safety, and had the extreme religious right not hi-jacked the word “morality,” I would say it was a moral issue as well.  We have a moral and legal imperative to promote the safety and welfare of our children and fellow citizens.  Removing the extreme likelihood of bathroom assault and rape is an easy first step.

A frequently stated idea is that trans people are promiscuous, as evinced by their high rate of HIV and AIDS.  However, this completely ignores the horrifically high instances of trans rape victims.  Marcela Romero, a trans activist, put it best: “I am not a ‘high-risk’ person; I am a member of a community that is put at high risk.”  If being a cis-gendered woman means that you are constantly on guard against rapists, I cannot even imagine what it must be like to live as a transgendered woman.  This becomes especially pertinent when society mocks you for your rape, saying that since you’re actually a man, you should be able to fight off your attackers.  However, a genetic male undergoing hormone therapy for over a year becomes nearly identical in terms of muscle mass to that of a cis-gendered female.  For some reason, this scientific fact is frequently ignored.  Just ask Fallon Fox.

In most of the country, it is legal to fire someone for being trans.  This is horrifying, but also unsurprising considering how many states still have homosexuality as legal grounds for dismissal.  One place that seems to be making progress faster than the rest of the world is, shockingly enough, the fashion industry.  An industry notorious for avoiding models of color (“Sorry, we already have one black model for this show”) while putting white models in blackface has embraced androgyny for years.  Andrej Pejić is one of the most in-demand supermodels in the world.  Isis King brought the daily struggles of trans women to the mainstream, appearing on two separate seasons of America’s Next Top Model.  While she may have been cast merely to “spice up the season,” she acquitted herself nicely and acquired a fairly large fan-base.   Jenna Talackova recently beat Donald Trump in both the courts of law and opinion when she was allowed to compete in 2012’s Miss Universe pageant after being disqualified for the M on her birth certificate.  Eventually, the F on her passport won out and she finished in the top twelve.

Right now, the biggest struggle facing trans-Americans is that of understanding and awareness.  The more they are in the national focus, the better.  Change happens when the “other” becomes commonplace.  Trans people are not a punchline.  They cannot simply “act like a man/woman.”  This is not something you grow out of.  It is who you are.  The louder that message, the better it will stick.  In the meantime, let’s remember to see bigotry as an educational opportunity.  Remember that fear is rooted in ignorance and the cure is knowledge and understanding.  To any trans people reading this, you are not alone.  Your numbers may be small, but your fight is our fight.  Change is coming.

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