On The Bravery Of Trans People
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Leelah Alcorn’s death. But this post isn’t really about Leelah. It’s more about the people who slog through the life that would have been too painful for Leelah to bear.
Being gay I can relate to trans people in that we’re both somewhat outsiders, but I am really lucky in that I am living through a shift in public opinion on gay people in the US. But trans people are not gaining support that quickly. In some cases trans people struggle to find acceptance from their peers in the LGBT community.
Let’s imagine you’re trans in a best case scenario. You realize at a very early age (like, before kindergarten) Your family is supportive and well-informed. They let you have a gender-matching name. They use the correct pronouns when identifying you. You go to school as the correct gender and everyone accepts you as such. Before puberty you’ll take hormone blockers to prevent the wrong puberty from happening, and in your teens you’ll start to transition, taking hormones to trigger your body to develop as the correct gender for you (but not without seeing a psychologist who will provide the diagnosis to establish that you do indeed need to transition). Because you skipped the wrong puberty, you’ll look very passable. You’ll still need sexual reassignment surgery but you can’t do that until you’re older. If transitioning to female, SRS works well; you’ll have a vagina and you’ll be able to have a healthy sex life. If you’re a trans male, you can get SRS, but the penis you end up with will be pretty crude and won’t function as you would expect (as the saying goes, “it’s easier to dig a hole than to make a pole”).
I can’t emphasize enough how much of a best case scenario that is. It’s rare (recently Brad and Angelina’s son John is a recent example). Most trans people don’t realize that they are trans until they are older, and usually well after puberty has set in. By this point, a trans person has lived their entire life as the incorrect gender. They need to decide whether they should dismantle their entire life and identity in order to feel at home in their own skin.
Transitioning is a huge life-changing alteration and is difficult even with lots of support. It takes years. The therapists, hormone therapy and surgeries are expensive. And when you decide to live full time as your new gender, you have to come out. But it’s not like coming out as gay, where you can gradually tell people as you feel comfortable When you’re going full time you have to tell everyone you interact with on a daily basis, including your coworkers and your boss. When Coraline Ehmke went full time, she went from being a highly respected software engineer in her company to being pushed out of her job (she talked about it at the Keep Ruby Weird conference). I wasn’t lying when I mentioned dismantling your life.
Perhaps the biggest struggle is the struggle to find acceptance. HRC polled people in the US on trans issues and the results left a lot to be desired but it appears to be improving. Still, though, trans people face a lack of acceptance in greater culture, which plays a big role in mainstream public acceptance. Trans people are especially prone to being the butt of a joke; in particular, women with penises. And the joke is always the trans woman’s mere existence. You’ve never seen, say, a clip in a movie where a guy is happily with a woman with a penis and, for instance, there’s a scene where they’re both aroused about something and it’s clear they both have boners. The joke is never something relatively accepting like that. The joke is always the irony of a woman with a penis.
Dating is complicated when you’re trans. You’re expected to disclose your situation to anyone you get involved with. People expect you to disclose that pretty much right away, beacuse to not be upfront with that would imply that you’re deceitful (see the “woman with penis” trope). Heaven forbid if you could just meet someone new and casually get to know them like cis people do. Being trans, the world expects you to both anticipate and not be surprised when your date runs out on you when you disclose your gender identity. Of course, when your date tells their friends what happened, those friends will be totally understanding and they probably won’t give a thought to how it made you feel to have been rejected.
Transgender people are the most likely of any group of people to commit suicide (and it is incredibly likely; 41% of trans people in the US have attempted suicide). A trans person is murdered roughly once every three days. Substance abuse, depression and other mental issues are very high (about 25% of polled trans people engage in substance abuse).
Despite all these obstacles, trans people press on, because for them, it’s completely worth it.
We have to do a better job of making the world a better place for trans people. It starts with empathy. Appreciate their bravery and the work they put into just existing every day. Visit /r/transpassing some time to see what I mean by that. Understand which gender pronouns a person prefers. If you ever are writing about a trans person, follow GLAAD’s excellent media reference guide. Don’t be okay with transphobia, even if it’s subtle.
Being trans is inherently hard, and that may never change. But there’s plenty people can do to make it easier.