Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Recognizing Transgender Persons

“A huge number of Americans now have gay family members, gay co-workers ... but most of them don't know a transgender person, and that means we're ripe for scapegoating. There are a lot of people in this country who just are ignorant about us. They hear people in authority demeaning and dehumanizing us, and they believe it. I think for the next few years, until transgender people are more visible, come out at work, we're still going to have a lot of ignorance out there.” (Dana Beyer, Executive Director, Gender Rights Maryland, “The Best Way to Change Minds: Come Out, Stay Out and Speak Out,” Huffington Post, September 2, 2014)

I have had a couple of transgender friends, but not many.  I wonder if this is because they are still quite scared about coming out (which this article suggests) or because I just didn’t notice.  A person is a person to me; I don’t try to figure out a person’s sex or age.   Not long ago, I attended a chess club meeting and started playing chess matches with a young woman, Dana De Young.  She beat me handily.  It was some months later, when I was a panelist at a high school presentation on GLBT awareness that I saw this young woman again.  Since she was also on the panel, I assumed that she was an expert in the field.   She said she was, in a way; she was transsexual.  I was surprised.  Here I had spent a lot of time losing to her in chess and I just never gave a thought to her gender identity or expression.  She says she doesn’t make a big deal about it most of the time; she just lives her life and most people don’t ask.  However, she does speak out across the Midwest on Transgender issues, and advocates for transgender rights.  And recently she wrote a Transgender science fiction novel called The Butterfly and the Flame, which, because there are not that many transsexual novels out there, is classified under Gay/Lesbian fiction.

I want to share the next of the penultimate paragraph of the book: “She wanted to run down to the store, buy a dress, and reclaim her identity … She’d still have to wait, but now she had hope for the future, hope that tomorrow would be a better day.  Tomorrow she’d buy that dress.  Tomorrow they’d find a home and make a future together.  Tomorrow they’d rebuild their lives … Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.”  At first glance, you might think this could be any novel.  You wouldn’t make the connection that this is a transgender novel.  But for me, this is even more poignant because it is a transgender novel.  The transgender people that I have known have, to a person, had to struggle to claim their identity.  It was not an easy process.  Family, friends, co-workers, someone (or everyone) in their lives made the transition to reclaim their identity difficult.  

A few years ago, I watched the documentary called “Southern Comfort”.  This movie follows some transgender person in the Deep South.  One of the biggest issues brought out in the film were the problems faced when a transgender persons wanted a gender reassignment operation.  Doctors resisted or botched the operation.  Patients were left mutilated and unable to be easily sexual with their partners.  I was surprised; I couldn’t believe that doctors would do this butchery on someone.  I was later surprised that some of the gay and lesbian friends I had are not supportive of transgender people.

I may seem all over the map in this post, but the point of it is that I am deeply concerned for our transgender brothers and sisters.  Their lives are incredibly difficult because they want to claim their identity.   I cannot change society, but I do want to walk with them as they struggle to get rights, to receive proper medical treatment, to become recognized for who they are, rather than for who other people want them to be.  Perhaps you are surprised as well that such discrimination and persecution and abuse still happens against transgender persons.  My hope is if you learn a friend or acquaintance of yours is transgender, please consider letting them know that they are loved just as they are, and that you will walk beside them as they struggle.   And perhaps not just walk beside them, but help them in their cause as well.


  1. How do you treat a transgendered person? Like a person.

  2. If you out in public and you can't figure out if the person is transgendered--don't worry about it. This is the best advice I ever received.

    Got it from the trans