The Friend and the Controversy
In 2012, a good friend of mine, “Terri”, called me up one evening. At the time, they identified as female, but that night they felt compelled to come out to me as trans. By the end of summer in 2012, they had changed their name to Terry and identified as male. For an entire week that summer in Portland, Oregon, we both got drunk, stoned, and talked about our tales of dating crazy women, traveling, Northern Illinois University, and our respective military service.
“Terry” is a great guy, a close friend, and has been an LGTBQ activist since his college days. It took some time for me to adjust, but I respected my friend’s wishes and started to use the proper pronouns he wanted folks to use. Since then, many transgender people have come into the limelight. Many trans people in the public eye are rich and famous, like Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, and Caitlyn Jenner. Their experiences are far different than most trans people’s experiences in this country.
An issue that has directly impacted the trans community – and be the source of public outrage, fear-mongering, and nonsensical debate – has been restroom designation. Several states have passed or put into motion laws to restrict public restroom use based on a person’s biological gender at birth. The state that has been under the national microscope over the past few months is North Carolina. This state seems to be trying to make South Carolina look like sane Carolina again. In the next couple of years, I’m sure Mississippi and Missouri will create more social inequality and pass more tomfoolery to upend the Carolinas’ stranglehold on 21st-century idiocracy.
Propaganda and Transphobia
As a person who identifies as a cis-gender man, I can never fully understand the struggle my friend “Terry” faced when he made his transition from female to male. Since then, several colleagues and friends have made this same profoundly personal journey. I listened and spoke in detail with “Terry.” It would be great if other people did that too when faced with something they don’t fully or can never truly understand. I do know that trans people’s least worries are using a public restroom. In fact, this is a media fear tactic to split the public opinion during another contentious presidential election year.
Before the media and political firestorm, those identified as trans used whatever public restroom they identified with, and no one or few people batted an eye. It should’ve remained that way. Yet, according to some of my Facebook friends and others, fear-stricken Americans feel that these ‘evil trans perverts’ will be waiting in Wendy’s restroom to rape them. Newsflash to cisgender folks (a word I can never get accustomed to using): no trans person wants to rape you or screw you. They just want to use the restroom in peace.
Like many heterosexual men and women think all the lesbians and gay guys want to bang them, that same crowd is fearful of trans people for the same reasons. The idea is that some creeper will snatch their children from schoolhouse restrooms under the guise of trans identity. No, that’s not likely to happen. For some children, the most dangerous place for is their home, according to data on child abuse. If there’s a creeper, there’s a creeper, and laws won’t discourage real sexual perverts.
For the rest of this article, I will argue that trans people wanting to take a poop at work, school, or out on the town won’t destroy America’s ‘so-called’ moral fiber and unleash a rash of perverse rapists on an unsuspecting public. I contend that the trans community has several hurdles to overcome to reach equity with their cisgender peers. I will speak briefly about five of the biggest challenges trans people face today.
Real Issues Facing Trans People
In this society, secure and stable employment is slowly becoming a fading memory for many, since the height of the Great Recession. It has become an even more economically uneasy situation for those in the trans community.
“About 23 states and the District of Columbia ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, but only 16 of those states and D.C. protect their residents from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Job insecurity created by employment discrimination can lead to low income, inadequate housing, and sporadic health care.”
“Partly due to this discrimination, 14% of trans people are unemployed, compared to 7% of the general population, and 15% of trans people are living on less than $10,000 per year.”
If stable employment of transgender people is an obstacle today, then, of course, it will make stable housing an issue as well.
“19% of trans people have, at one time been homeless. Also, this horrific situation, shelters frequently refuse transgender people or force them to stay in facilities that do not match their gender.”
This country has never truly owned up to its legacy of racism and white supremacy. That legacy mixed in with transphobia creates an almost dire situation for trans people of color.
“According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the combination of anti-transgender bias with structural and individual racism means that transgender people of color experience particularly high levels of discrimination.”
“Black transgender people reported the highest level of discrimination among all transgender individuals of color.”
“31% of black transgender respondents report having no health insurance of any kind.”
“As has been widely publicized, trans women of color face high rates of violence and murder, and often receive little to no help from law enforcement.”
“The HIV infection rate amongst black transgender people is an astounding 4.4%.”
“The number of black, Latin, and indigenous trans people who are unemployed, homeless, or uninsured are all nearly double that of white trans people.”
49% of blacks and 47% of Latinos report attempting suicide, compared to 41% of transgender individuals of all races.
Healthcare and Mental Health:
The trans community faces many obstacles to getting appropriate medical care, health insurance, or access to healthcare for needed treatments for those transitioning. Also, trans men and women often suffer social isolation, discrimination, threats of violence, and economic instability. These factors impact trans people’s mental and physical health, destroying any chance for emotional well-being and the right to living a full, healthy life.
“19% (transgender people) report having no health insurance compared to 15% of the general population.”
“41% of transgender people reported postponing medical care when sick or injured because of an inability to pay.”
“Even for those who are insured, the fight to prove these procedures’ medically necessity is often long and difficult; many people are required to file disputes with their insurance companies.”
“The HIV infection rate for transgender individuals overall is 2.6%, two percent over the national average.”
“The number of transgender people who report being denied care because of their gender identity or expression is also unacceptably high (22% among MTF and 19% among FTM respondents).”
“A quarter of the trans people say they had been harassed or disrespected in hospitals or doctor’s offices.”
“62% of transgender people have experienced depression, and 41% admit to attempting suicide at some point in their lives.”
“26% (transgender people) report using drugs or alcohol, currently or in the past, to cope with discrimination.”
The data here is spotty due to differences in each states’ hate crime laws or hate crime reporting standards. But, the reality is clear: transgender people have to deal with the constant threat of violence against them daily.
“226 transgender people were murdered around the world. Most were trans women of color.”
“Victims are dragged behind a car, burned alive, stoned to death, skinned, or—far too often—beaten to death in the middle of a crowded street or party.”
“In a study that cross-analyzed reports of sexual assault and violence against transgender people, Rebecca Stotzer found that these attacks are believed to start as early as age 12, and one study found that the median age for first rapes of transgender individuals of color occurred at age 14 and 15.”
“In fact, when transgender women of color go to the police to report a violent attack, they are often themselves charged with a crime and jailed.”
“Transgender people of color have been found to experience higher rates of violence and intolerance than transgender whites. This disparity starts before age 12 and continues for life.”
“Very often, from the beginning of investigations into the deaths of trans women, there is a lot of transphobia coming in to play, and that translates into the alienation of community members who would otherwise be able to help,”
What Can We Do?
If you’re an ally or trans person, continue to support the trans community. Organizations like the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition and the Human Rights Campaign are great places to start and build a more significant movement. For my cis-gendered folks, it’s not our place to fully or completely understand people who identify as trans or who transition to a different gender. Trans people have been a part of the human experience far longer than you may think.
The third sex has been around since the days of the earliest and oldest human societies. “The anthropological studies include the Native American berdache, the Indian Hijras caste, hermaphrodites in Melanesia, third genders in Indonesia and the Balkans, and transgender in America.” So human sex and gender norms have always been very fluid and nuanced. And that’s a beautiful thing.
One can educate him or herself about issues impacting transgender people and what we can do to challenge discrimination and violence against the community. If you meet or know someone close to you who is trans, have a serious and respectful conversation with them.
The journey of every trans person is different, and they won’t represent all trans people. Some will identify as male, female, or non-binary. But getting to know a person who is a part of that community can give you a greater depth of understanding of what it means to be trans. For my trans peeps, embrace self-care and self-advocacy to challenge the status quo. There is a list of online resources like the Transgender Health Program to support the trans community.
As a social worker, I see my work as giving my clients and people I serve their own self-determination to decide what journey they’ll take towards self-empowerment. Just know you have allies and friends that love and support you out there.
In the end, who really gives a crap about what restroom a person takes a shit in? What matters is respecting transgender people as human beings deserving of basic dignity afforded to all people.