March 31st is the Transgender Day of Visibility. It was created to help raise awareness of the different variations on gender which many people throughout the world experience, to highlight the struggles so many of us face, and to humanize an otherwise still very marginalized group of people. Here is part one of my contribution to this understanding.
First, the basics, for those who do not already know.
Being transgender is not a choice. It is not a sign of insanity. It does not make us more inclined to be criminal or violent or child molesters. We are not assaulting people or peeking on them in bathrooms. These accusations are still made, quite publicly, by a lot of people with more power, influence and voice than those being oppressed. Perhaps your opinion is that these things are true. That may be your opinion, but it isn’t equal to an opinion, based on, oh, let’s say facts or lived experience.
I don’t even know how the idea that this is just some kind of random choice or vague feeling came around. I suppose it becomes a bit easier to condemn us and put us down if we are viewed as social deviants, trying to destroy all that is good and proper in the world, than if we are simply one more variant of being human. Seven billion people, and growing. What are the odds that we are all going to be the same?
I literally – literally – spent a lifetime trying to choose not to be transgender. Not only did my gender dysphoria not go away, it persisted and got worse. Yes, for the record, I tried to ‘pray away the gay.’ Back in the 1970s, when I was just figuring myself out, one did not speak of such things, especially in a nice, Catholic family in a somewhat conservative town. How I even discovered the word transsexual at such a young age is still beyond me, but the urges were strong. Being a good Catholic, and knowing, somehow, the life of pain and conflict that would come of feeling like a girl yet looking like a boy, I did what any rational actor would do. I prayed. Every night, I asked God to take this away from me. I went to sleep pleading to God for years. It didn’t work.
I tried to deny myself through other means, as well. I worked myself to death, or constantly kept myself busy in other manic ways, just so I wouldn’t have time to think about it. I deadened myself with drugs and alcohol, just to make life manageable. I danced with suicide and depression my whole life. Many times, many, many times, death seemed much easier than trying to cope with the coming storm. In many ways, death might well have BEEN easier. I got married, had kids. It didn’t work.
All the while as I struggled with denial, a part of me knew what was there, and knew it wasn’t going away. Really, I knew. I just couldn’t face the inevitable scorn from society, the loss of friends and family, the diminished career prospects and other forms of bigotry that make living in the U.S. such a charm. And so, always, I would keep something. I grew my hair long (I’m a hippy, no really!). I grew my nails. I shaved my legs. I got my ears pierced. Never all at once – one thing at a time, skirting the edge of deniability. It didn’t work.
Finally, way too late in life, I made the transition. I got on hormones, I made the social transitions, I even got the surgery. Since then, even as much better as it has gotten, I have faced the inevitable scorn of society. I have lost friends and family, I have lost all prospects of a reasonable career, I have faced many other forms of ugliness and bigotry, up front and personal. Despite all this loss, my biggest regret about transitioning is that I was not able to do it sooner. It worked. I never, ever, had a choice about whether or not I was trans*. I only had the choice to embrace it or deny it.
Please, any lovely cis people (just means not trans…) out there, try to imagine choosing to be trans*. Choosing to live as a member of the ‘opposite’ gender. Think about all the ways this would change your life. Can you really choose that? I don’t even see how this is possible.
Well, then, there you are! Anyone who would make such a stupid choice MUST be crazy, right? Practically by definition! Well…yes and no. Full disclosure – I struggle with depression, anxiety and ptsd. So, technically, I AM crazy. As with most trans* people, however, this insanity is not what drives us to live authentically, it comes from dealing with everyone else’s stupid when we do. Minority stress is a real thing.
Studies have shown that transgender people have brains which are more similar, though not identical, to the brains of the gender we profess to be than the external anatomy would indicate. Comparisons of transsexuals to a person ‘feeling like a giraffe’ are fatuous, deceptive, dishonest and harmful. There is no biological mechanism for having a giraffe’s brain developing within a human. Regardless, people will happily believe a lie that allows them to feel good about their bigotry.
No, allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice will NOT lead to men dressing as women so that they can assault the innocent as they pee. Seriously. “Oh, yes, I’d like to molest women and children in the bathroom, but maybe if I pretend to be a member of the world’s most despised minority (other than those who claim to enjoy haggis, of course), then I might get away with it.” Makes perfect sense. You might have better luck with the haggis, come to think of it.
The reality is that transgender people are more likely to be the victims of assault in bathrooms than perpetrators. Most of us are scared enough that we quickly do our business and scuttle out. I’m pretty big on hand-washing, myself, and keeping the seat dry, both of which are far bigger bathroom issues in my own experience.
Is ever once in history a trans* person a child molester? Do transsexuals ever commit crimes? Why, yes, I’m afraid it happens. One of the joys of living as a marked minority, however, is what I call differentiated judgement. If ever a transsexual acts less than perfect, the entire community is condemned. If ever one is less than perfect in presentation, manners, or taking the tsunami of abuse with grace, we are condemned to purgatory forever, and all the hateful things people say about us is completely justified. We are held to impossible standards which no-one else is realistically expected to maintain.
I don’t see the same outrage against, oh, say, Catholic priests as a category. I could go on.
Let’s face it. Bigots lie. They lie to themselves, so they can believe they are still wonderful people, despite their hate. They lie to everyone else, because, in their hate and ignorance, it feels like the truth. Given the flood of negative images and jokes about trans* people in the media, and the dearth of humanizing stories, it probably DOES feel natural to make fun of freaks. None of that makes the hateful claims against us one bit true.
The same sort of people lied about blacks and the dangers of integration and equality, and continue to do so. They continue to lie about women’s fitness for power. They lie about Muslims and immigrants. They lie about themselves most of all. The intensity and perceived validity of their worldview is so encompassing, I don’t see any way to shake them out of it. Besides, too many are profiting too much from these inequities to WANT to give it up. They are not looking for answers, for truth, for a better future, they are looking for dominance.
Therefore, I am asking all good, kind, rational people to ignore it all. Question the worldview that pits one group against another. Question any statement, ever, which diminishes the humanity of any person, of any group. And sincerely try to move through the world with kindness, rationality and civility.
We may have lost an election. Let’s not lose the culture war.