Issues faced by transgender community
Seeing as the True Colors annual conference was only a few weeks ago, and International Transgender Visibility Day was on March 31, I thought it would be appropriate to address the issues affecting transgender people in our community. I had assumed that the majority of my peers were up to date, or at least vaguely aware of transgender issues, but a lot of them didn't have a clue. This article is a primer of sorts for those who are unaware of these issues.
Matthew Brush, a second-semester freshman, defines transgender as having your biological sex differing from your gender identity. There are terms (such as "transsexual" and "transvestite") that others have frequently used interchangeably with transgender, but Brush sets the record straight with his succinct definitions. "A transsexual seeks operations and medical changes-not all transsexual people are transgender and vice versa," says Brush, adding that calling someone a transvestite is a slur, politically incorrect and closely related to fetishistic porn.
Brush stresses that you shouldn't ask a transgender person if they've gotten a sex change operation-like most things concerning sexuality and gender, it's no one's business but that person's. The transformation process is a very private and personal one; not all transgender people seek out hormonal treatment or surgery, although there are those who consider these options. There's also the case of pronouns, which often change once a person finds a gender identity that suits them. Pronouns can range from the usual "his or her," to the often-squabbled about "they/them/their," to the more ambiguous "xir/eir/zim/hir." Regardless of whatever pronoun is chosen, Brush stresses that "it's really important to learn and use them and to understand. Those few words really make a difference. It's more about making the other person comfortable."
Jason Baskette, a senior, says that they originally shied away from more obscure pronouns, despite wishing to be identified as "they/them/their." "I'm afraid people wouldn't take me seriously if I used "them," so I usually just use male pronouns," they admitted, explaining that not all trans men fall under the simple umbrella of identifying and presenting as traditionally male-there are, of course, those who identify as genderqueer, bigender, etc. "There's no such thing as being 'truly' trans, and it doesn't matter what your opinion of a trans person, if they identify as a certain way, then you need to respect that," Baskette says.
Brush, however, takes a more blunt approach to naysayers who refuse to use someone's requested pronouns: "It's not up to you to say 'I don't want to use your pronouns because I don't like it.' That's not an excuse." He stresses that it's less about being an ally, and more about "being a good person"-a lesson that all of us should constantly be aware of. There should be no pats on the back for common decency and making another person comfortable in their identity.
The situation of "passing" among trans people can be one that's fraught with trials. For those who don't pass all the time there can be dire consequences-they can be outed before they're ready, harassed or worse. For those who can pass, it's a bit less fearsome. However, Brush notes that there are certain elements that give him a certain privilege over other trans men. "I'm blessed that my voice is deep...I'm out to certain groups and people and groups. I'm a lot more stealth," Brush admits, but says that it's almost an adventure because, "you can see how people will treat you. Like, cis guys [men who identify with their biological sex] are a lot blunter; they talk about girls in a completely different ways. You have to pick up a whole new set of social cues from guys."
On the other hand, Baskette says that they aren't too concerned about consistently passing. "Me and passing, it's not a big deal," says Baskette, "I am who I am, no matter what people think."
Both, however, agree that there needs to be a steady increase in the visibility of trans people in the media. "We need more trans people to play trans people," says Brush firmly. "We need to prove we exist."
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