Trans-formed: A new Spirit of Relationship
Landmark Trans Education Campaign Launched
The transgender community has long suffered from an image problem. We've found ourselves trapped by outdated notions of who and what we are - victims of rejection, discrimination and violence based on prejudices that have little or nothing to do with reality. Each of us individually struggles to free ourselves from these shackles of misinformation. For most of us, this is not new news.
This is not an easy battle. In fact, some would say that it's an impossible one. There's too much institutionalized discomfort when it comes to sex, or gender. There's too much insecurity in our world. There are too many people who have a vested interest in keeping us down, putting us away, and keeping that door closed. Some of us invariably throw our hands in the air and give up - choosing instead to do whatever we can to mold ourselves into society's image of male and female, to fade into society in the hope of losing our transgender roots somewhere along the way. I think the thing many of us fail to understand is that somehow, when that happens, we forfeit an important piece of ourselves.
We have always been easy targets. It's easy to poke fun at feminine men, or masculine women. It's not difficult to reduce us to ridiculous caricatures that are easy to laugh at. We occupy the caste near the very bottom of the food chain in our society - undeservedly so, I might add - and unless you're a cannibal or a pedophile you'll have to look down to see us. Perhaps worst of all, we haven't had many friends willing to come and stick up for us so, like the scrawny kid on the playground, we get the crap beaten out of us time and again. As the runt of the litter we have a hard time getting our position at the food bowl so all we get is the leftovers, or what others are willing to give us. We haven't had people willing to overcome their own discomfort to realize that our fight is their fight. But, that's changing. And, it's changing in a big way.
Recent years have demonstrated tremendous growth and maturity of the transgender community as a community. From a rag-tag collection of disaffected individuals a collective identity has developed. And, what was once something that people spent their lifetimes disassociating themselves from with has somehow become something where even those who had successfully faded away long ago are stepping forward and saying, "Me too." This is an incredible time to be trans.
As gender refugees, far too long relegated to a ghetto of not really male but not really female either we're on the move to reclaim our rightful place in society as contributing men and women. We may or may not always look the part, we may or may not always fit in exactly so, we may not always be what society has come to expect from masculine and feminine, but those shortcomings (which are no fault of our own) in no way diminish our right to belong. Our unique perspectives have value, and that value is finally being recognized.
Why are things changing? At a time when our government's main tool for control is fear, how then are we gaining traction? That's a good question, and I think if you ask any number of us you'll get equally as many answers. In my own mind, though, all the reasons boil down to a single word. They boil down to a word that has come to the forefront, and has proven to be our best defense against those who would tell us who and what to be. That word is Education. Education has been going on for quite a while now and I think what we're beginning to see is the fruit of our labors.
True knowledge is real power. There is value to put a face to a situation, to humanize ourselves to a world that had only been exposed to those of us who fit the ongoing stereotypes. More and more of us have been coming forward to correct this, to replace misinformation with real information, to demonstrate that we're hard working, intelligent, articulate, passionate people. We're not inherently broken, defective, sick, delusional, immoral, or any of the other common labels so often attributed to those who are different - simply because we're transgender. We're not psuedo men and women - something less, something other.
Individually and collectively we have been stepping forward in our own efforts to educate those around us. In our workplaces. In our neighborhoods. In our places of worship. We realize that the only way to gain acceptance as transgender people is to highlight who and what we really are, that we're more like you than different from you, and that we belong. Those who overcome their own fears to share of themselves for the larger good are pioneers whose courage, authenticity, and spirit need to know that their risks are paying off, that their efforts are making a difference. Each is a true hero in a world where real heroes are hard to find.
Even so, the path ahead has always seemed so daunting. Those who claim to be our friends turn out to be friends of convenience, finding ways to leave us behind when the relationship is tested or questioned. It seems that we spend more time trying to explain why we matter, why we belong, than actively involved in productive work that would move us ahead. Being a refugee is difficult.
All of this sets the stage for the news that a landmark transgender education effort was launched on November 3 jointly by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in Washington, DC. Details are available in this Press Release from HRC, or this Press Release from NCTE. It represents the first coordinated wide-scale publicity effort to change perception. It is meant to educate. It is meant to replace outdated stereotypes with real faces and voices. And, it represents a new age of collaboration and visibility.
As we face the possibility for specifically trans inclusive Federal Legislation on Hate Crimes and Discrimination, these ads are specifically targeting those on Capitol Hill who can make these dreams a reality. A print ad featuring a transgender person who has faced discrimination is appearing in the Daily Roll Call, a magazine read each day on Capitol Hill by senators, congressmen, lobbyists, staffers, and those who make national policy decisions. A 49-page booklet highlighting our stories is being distributed to each member of Congress. HRC has dedicated a new area of its website specifically to transgender education. See it here - it's beautiful. And, 40+ local and national organizations recently signed a letter to Senator Kennedy's office imploring him to ensure that his Hate Crimes bill is explicitly trans inclusive.
These political efforts are coupled with unprecedented gains in the workplace, where more and more companies are bringing transgender policy to the forefront. Based on the most recent Corporate Equality Index data over 70 Fortune 500 companies explicitly include "gender identity and expression" in their discrimination policies - up from just 2 in 2000. I recently received a call from a friend at Microsoft who indicates that the company recently announced that it had updated its benefits plans and would cover 80% of the costs for Sex Reassignment Surgery (up to $15,000) for employees. Other companies, including IBM, are already offering similar benefits. How many of us would have imagined that even 5 years ago?
The key take-away isn't simply that companies are covering these surgeries. It's far deeper than that. It's that companies are finally recognizing that these surgeries are NOT simply elective plastic surgery. These policies validate the importance of what these surgeries represent and, in turn, it helps to validate each and every one of us as our authentic selves. The importance of what this means for us cannot be overemphasized. It is changing our world.
As with any minority, especially refugee minorities, we're slowly integrating into society. You can find us anywhere and everywhere. We're in management at huge corporations. We're pilots, doctors, teachers, engineers, entertainers, politicians, athletes - whoever and wherever you are we're just like you in many, many ways. Sometimes you'll know that we're different. Sometimes, you won't. Either way, our right to live our lives, to contribute, to be appreciated, and to feel good about ourselves is being recognized in unprecedented ways. The key question, though, is when will these "success stories" become the norm instead of the exception?
The world is changing, my friends. In the Storming-Norming-Forming model of team building I'm not sure that we're not out of the Storming stage yet - either as a trans community or as an overall GLBT community. But we're close. We're still learning about each other, and whereas distrust often permeated the relationship in the past a new sense of collaboration is taking hold. We're on new ground where we've never been before. We're finally gaining visibility and credibility the right way - as real people facing real-life problems - in the halls of Congress instead of on Jerry Springer.
One especially vocal opponent of trans-inclusion has complained that Federal GLBT Legislation has been "Trans-jacked". I prefer to think that this new relationship has been "Trans-formed". A new relationship that is not as fragile as some think has been forged. A new understanding of the value of the dignity and equality we all deserve has bubbled to the surface. A new commitment to the non-negotiable value of "community" is taking hold. And, although I certainly expect that there will be bumpy roads ahead, many of us are finally seeing a glimmer of hope for the very first time. Actions truly do speak louder than words, and the fact that this is coming to pass in a very visible way speaks volumes.
On the other side of the coin, I specifically know of one "trans-activist" who is angry about this news (I'm sure there are more than one, but I know of one in particular). Like a one-trick pony, this person is angry at everyone and everything supportive of the Human Rights Campaign. Certainly, there has been blame and distrust there for any number of reasons and I'm confident that there will be more opportunity for that in the future (that's the realist in my talking), but when the right thing happens the correct response is appreciation and support, not more anger. If you like what you see here I encourage you to write to both HRC (Executive Director Joe Solmonese email@example.com and/or Jay Smith Brown firstname.lastname@example.org) and NCTE (Executive Director Mara Keisling email@example.com and/or Chrystopher Soto firstname.lastname@example.org) to tell them so.
Sadly, this person and people like her remind me of my ex-wife; mis-directing all their anger and disappointment outwardly to one specific target. If they want to be an effective voice for change they need to move past it; otherwise, they become irrelevant.. On the positive side of the coin, it's people like her that helped me to become an activist (I still hate that word) in the first place. These people don't speak for me. Their anger is not my anger. Their outdated style of in-your-face, flame-throwing, loudmouth activism is not my style (see The Ugly Activist). In my opinion they do more damage than good and are proof that the notion of any activism is better than NO activism is not true. The fact that much of this positive movement is happening isn't because of their efforts, it's despite them.
November 20 is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Each year, this event is held to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Vigils are planned in cities all across the country. I encourage each and every one of us - no matter who we are, trans or non-trans - who can possibly attend one of these vigils to make every effort to be there. Bring a friend. Bring a neighbor. Bring a co-worker. Trans or non-trans, gay or straight, these are opportunities to bring new friends into the fold. The experience will change them. It will hit home how something so seemingly simple as being a man or a woman can become something so hateful and tragic. And, perhaps next year each of them will bring a friend so that they can be changed, too. That's how it starts....
Education. That's the key. It has always been the key. The enemy here isn't me, or people like me. The enemy here is ignorance. It is people who choose to turn their back on their humanity. But, times are a-changing. I, for one, and more and more people like me refuse to sit back down. If Rosa Parks taught us anything, it's that there's no more room at the back of the bus.
Note: The Arizona Day of Remembrance Vigil (more information here) will be held on the state capitol grounds in Phoenix on Sunday, November 20, 2005 beginning at 5:30pm. For those wishing to socialize, there will be a reception at the Fez on Central Avenue afterwards. I will be there, along with Dr. Becky Allison, Margaux, and several other active valley supporters. Please be there if at all possible, and if we haven't met before please step up to introduce yourself. We'd like to thank you for being there in person.