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The Transgender Community™

November 17, 2013

I never quite know how to answer questions about “the transgender community.” To me, the Transgender Community™ is a product of the greater LGBT-industrial complex, just s neat way to classify those of us on the island of misfit toys. Trans individuals are just as diverse and complex as any other grouping of people.

Liberal, conservative; affluent, poor; we’re all individuals. While we may have a common interest, a common goal policy-wise… Actually, that’s not even true. I recently wrote a post about the need for public accommodation protections for trans individuals. To my surprise, a trans person used the comments section of my piece to advocate against these types of protections. Even common threads, similarities — these in themselves do not a community make.

I don’t feel a part of any sort of community. I don’t feel as though I belong to anything. I feel just as lost as anyone else, and I don’t know that it’s fair to pretend there’s this “community,” this bond that connects us. I don’t feel this bond. I wish I did. I wish I did feel the existence of a true community, but I don’t. Or, at very least, I don’t feel one that I’m a part of or welcome in.

I recently read about Alissah Brooks, a transgender woman from Atlanta, Georgia, and her recent run-in with a bouncer who denied her entry to a club on the basis of her gender identity. For those who haven’t yet read this story, after attending a GLAAD event in Atlanta, Brooks and a few friends stopped at Don Pollo Bar & Grill. Brooks was denied entry to the bar after a bouncer asked to see her ID. Her friends then explained Brooks’ transgender status to an employee of the club, saying they believed Brooks was denied entry on account of her status as a trans woman. The employee’s response?  “What’s wrong with that? We can do that — we have the right to be selective. We can do that. We’re a private property.”

Actually, they can’t. This would appear to violate a city ordinance put in place to protect LGBT individuals.

I wish I could say this was the first time something like this has happened to a transgender woman, but that would be a lie. In fact, it was only a few months ago that one of my friends and I were denied entry to a bar in Chicago. On July 19th, after going to a concert on Chicago’s north side, my friend and I decided to end the night by stopping at a bar for a drink. As most bars were jam-packed, we kept walking until we found one with a little more breathing room. That’s when we stumbled upon Big City Tap, a bar that lives up to its nickname of “Big Shitty Tap.”

We approached the door. The bouncer eyed us suspiciously. He held up his hand as if to say, “IDs, please,” and we went ahead, giving him our drivers licenses. He looks at mine, then up at my face; back down at the card, up at my face. He hands me my license, waving me into the nearly-empty bar. My friend, wearing a cute dress that went down to her knees, covered her shoulders, and showed minimal cleavage, handed her license to the bouncer. Immediately, he calls for me to come back out of the bar. I heard the tail end of the conversation between my friend and the bouncer. “Wait, what?” she asked, confused by the situation. “Dress code. That’s all I’m saying,” he replied, waving us away.

We walked away from the bar, not necessarily in the mood to get into an argument over the right to purchase an overpriced beer and sit in a bar blasting shitty music. Still, though, it stung. I felt like a freak; I felt subhuman. There was no way to interpret “dress code” as anything other than another way of saying, “stay out, tr*nnies.” After all, it wasn’t until the bouncer saw that my friend’s drivers license didn’t match his own initial read of her gender that he shooed us away. Had this legitimately been about some sort of dress code, why did he look at the license in the first place? The people who were in the bar? Girls in low-cut shirts that bared their midriffs, guys in t-shirts and jeans, a man in cargo shorts with flip flops, a girl in a short skirt who wasn’t wearing shoes at this point in the evening. Clearly, there was no dress code in place.

We made our way to a different bar, had a drink, and called it a night. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened at Big City Tap. It seemed as though, from an attire-based point of view, anyone could enter the bar so long as the sex listed on their drivers license matched their outward gender presentation.

In what other circumstance would it be okay to discriminate against someone like this? To deny someone access to public accommodations? “No blacks allowed.” “Men only.” “Must have blue eyes and blond hair to enter.” “Must be taller than 6’ to drink here.” “No disabled welcome.” In each of these situations, there’d be a thunderous outcry against the business. This isn’t to say that there aren’t places that do discriminate against people on the basis of race, sex, appearance, and so on; but rather that it’s seen as less culturally acceptable. For transgender people, this kind of treatment is almost expected.

One of my greatest fears is that I’ll find myself in the hospital for some reason, and just left to die. Or that I’ll be in a car crash and upon realizing I’m transgender, being left on the side of the road by paramedics. You might think I’m being paranoid, but these fears are more rational than one would think.

In 2010, Erin Vaught, a transgender woman, checked into a Muncie, Indiana Emergency Room after she started coughing up blood. In spite of her ID, which listed her as female, she was entered into the hospital system as a male (this part has actually already happened to me). She was then sent to an exam room where she was referred to as a “he-she,” “transvestite,” and an “it” by hospital staff. There she waited for two hours without treatment until a doctor showed up, only to tell her that they would not be treating her on account of her “condition.” She was then sent home.

To be clear, by “condition,” these doctors were not referring to whatever it was that led to her coughing up blood. Rather, they were stating that they would not treat her on account of her transgender status. Even though the two issues were entirely separate, the doctor refused her service on account of her gender identity.

Along with examples of discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing, and public accommodations, it’s become the norm to expect the worst and hope for the best. It’s not right, though. It’s not right at all. We shouldn’t have to.

This is why I cringe anytime I hear someone say that adding legal protections for transgender individuals is giving us a “special right” or a “special treatment.” There’s nothing special about wanting to be treated with dignity and respect, whether it’s stopping at a bar for a drink or seeking medical treatment.

So, before anyone jumps in and says “why don’t you just go to a different bar?” I want to make one thing clear: this isn’t about the bar. This isn’t about a single event. This is about the world piling on us until we can’t take it anymore.

I really don’t know what it is to “be a guy.” Sure, I lived as one for the majority of my life, but when people ask what it’s like to be able to “see both sides,” I don’t really have an answer. I could very easily give you a comparison of what it’s like to feel intense dysphoria with myself versus not feeling dysphoric, but my experience as “a guy” is so epically different from that of your average cisgender man that a true comparison cannot be made. I could give you a breakdown of the difference in how society treats someone they read as a man in comparison to someone they read as a woman, but that’s not the same as being able to verbalize what it’s like to actually be a guy.

beamanOne of my friends tweeted that asking a trans woman what it’s like to be a man is like asking Jane Goodall what it was like being a chimpanzee. That analogy really hit home. My experience as a guy was more one of careful observation, of imitation, not am authentic representation of the actual experience as a man.

Though, thinking about it, I don’t know if any of us could accurately explain what it’s like to be anything. There is no such thing as shared experience when it comes to life, and to argue that there is, as some trans exclusionary radical feminists assert (stating that there is a “shared experience” among women), is to completely ignore the impact class, race, disability, and health has on our everyday lives. They use this reasoning to back up their belief that trans women are really just men. I’ve written about this topic, and I’ve refuted every one of their arguments, but I can tell you one thing for sure: I am not a man, and if there’s supposedly universal experience men have, it remains as much a mystery to me as it does to any other woman.

The question of whether or not I have benefited from “male privilege” is more easily answered: yes, I have benefited from male privilege in my life. For the first 26 years of my life, the world treated me as they would any other male infant, boy, and man. Sadly, in society as it currently exists, this is a distinct advantage in the world. I understand this, as I have realized what it’s like to lose said male privilege.

As I began presenting myself as a woman to the public, I was amazed at how different things can be. Co-workers talked over me, I got skipped over for promotions, strangers felt that they had the right to harass me on the street by commenting on my appearance or telling me to smile. The world’s sexism hit me in such an obvious, intense, disgusting way. If we are to change that, we need to attack the source of the problem: the sexism, itself, rather than lashing out at one another. Male privilege exists because sexism exists. Sexism exists because the world operates by patriarchy. Arguing over “shared experiences” and authenticity is only a distraction from the true problem: the fact that society looks down on feminine behavior, whether from a cisgender or transgender woman. Masculine behaviors are considered superior in almost every way.

What’s it like being a man? Hell if I know. The better question is why men are treated so much better than women (there are historical and sociological answers to this, but the entire concept is bullshit).

A friend once brought up an interesting point:

The way you know that “tranny” is a slur is by doing 3 different Google Image searches.

1.) Search “trans woman” and “transgender woman”

Image

Image

2.) Search “tranny”

Image

Do you see the difference (I had to turn Google’s SafeSearch feature on for that 2nd search as the results were a bit on the raunchy side)? Do you see how when you call me (or any of my other trans friends) a “tranny,” what you’re saying I am? The top images are made up of confident trans women (yes, there are a few misguided entries, but hey, it’s Google, it’s not perfect). The bottom image is mostly comprised of bearded men in drag, photos that demean the people in them, jokes, pornography (take the SafeSearch off and you’ll see).

Next time someone claims “tranny” isn’t a slur, pull out your phone and do these quick searches, asking them if they can see the difference, if they can see why it might not be the most polite thing to call trans women.

On several occasions, I’ve been asked why I’m so open about the fact that I am a transgender woman. No, I’m not walking down the street with a sign on my back that tells people that I lived the first 26 years of my life publicly identifying as a male, but I am very open about who I am in conversation, on the internet and in my personal life. The question tends to be phrased in the following way:

“If things are so bad for trans people, if it’s still legal to be fired for being openly trans, if you know how society feels about trans people, why would you willingly let someone know that you’re trans?”

Exactly, things are bad for trans people. However, I’m fortunate and privileged in a lot of ways. I was fortunate enough to be born into a white, middle-class family who accept me for me. I live in a fairly liberal city in a fairly liberal state. I had the benefit of hormone replacement therapy being effective to the point of not immediately “outing” myself to complete strangers.

For those reasons, I feel a sense of responsibility to try to humanize the public’s perception of transgender individuals. As I’ve written about in the past, too often the only exposure to trans people the public comes across are wildly distorted caricatures found in movies and TV programs like Ace Ventura and Nip/Tuck, among dozens of examples.

As a higher percentage of the general public became acquainted with a gay or lesbian friend or relative, support for LGB issues began to rise. A 2009 Gallup poll uncovered an important trend: knowing someone who identifies as gay or lesbian more than doubles the likelihood that an individual will support LGB initiatives (in the case of this poll, marriage equality).

So, I do this in hopes that trans people can benefit from a similar trend. Perhaps knowing a trans person will benefit us, leading to more support.

So, fellow user of the internet. I’m Parker, and now you know me. Seriously, write me an e-mail: WriteToParker@gmail.com. We can chat. I’m a pretty cool gal. Really, I am.

That aside, I am open about my trans status because I know that there are others out there who don’t have the ability to evangelize on our behalf. I am open about my trans status because a good portion of the world still fails to see us as legitimate members of society. I am open about my trans status because I believe the words Harvey Milk used regarding gay and lesbian individuals apply here:

“You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.”

So, for those with the ability, like Harvey Milk, I ask that you come out, come out, wherever you are.

Earlier this week, California governor Jerry Brown signed the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB1266), a bill designed to protect the rights and well being of transgender students in the state of California, into law. The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, co-authored by Senators Mark Leno and Ricardo Lara.  Only 392 words long, this new law amends the state Education Code to ensure trans students are given the same opportunities their cis counterparts have.

The bill ensures that transgender students don’t have to opt out of playing sports, and won’t have to face some of the stresses that go along with transition (in an already stressful time of anyone’s life). Really, though, this bill does one very important thing: it lets trans and gender nonconforming students know that they’re normal, that they don’t have to feel like freaks, that they can be themselves.  41% of trans individuals have attempted suicide at some point in their life, compared to the general population at 1.6%. There is no doubt in my mind that the feelings of shame and hopelessness many young trans people live with factor into the obscenely high rate of transgender suicide attempts.

As someone who hid who she was throughout grade school, high school and even college, I know how hard it can be to concentrate on anything other than surviving from day to day, worrying that something was horribly and irreparably wrong with you. I hated every minute of high school, but not for the typical “I hate high school reasons.” I hated high school because I needed to go through it as someone I knew I wasn’t. When people would say, “these are the best days of your life,” I’d ask myself, “whose life?”

I felt wrong changing for gym in the boys’ locker room. I’d hide behind a locker, change as fast as possible, then get out of there. I just knew I didn’t belong there. There were bullies who physically assaulted me at the first instance of showing anything less than a super masculine personality. Additionally, members of the school football team once urinated on some food I was going to eat, and they would yell things like “field fairy” and “field f*ggot” at me.

I was dead inside. Any picture of me from high school or college will show the same thing: deadness in the eyes. I was rotting, decaying away. Based on how I was treated as a “boy,” I couldn’t imagine how bad it would be if any of my classmates knew that mentally and in my heart, I was a girl.

Every night I would pray to be “cured” of these feelings. I’d pray to be magically transformed into a girl. I’d pray to find harmony as a boy. I’d pray to die and never wake up in the morning. I just wanted anything but what was. Point being: I did not choose this. I did not choose my gender any more than you did.

I didn’t have the courage to tell anyone of my transness. I couldn’t. I was afraid of what the reactions might bring. Would I be locked away? Would I be treated like someone who was mentally ill? Would I face physical violence?

It wasn’t until I was 26 years old that I truly accepted who I was and began taking the steps necessary to be myself.

What this law does is let K-12 children know that being trans is not a sign of being “broken,” that it’s not something you need to lose your life for. These kids can lead a happy and normal life, just like any other student. Knowing that the adults in your life support who you are, knowing that they will accommodate you, that’s such an unbelievably powerful thing.

I didn’t know if the adults (teachers, parents, etc.) would support me or accommodate me. For that reason, I stayed so extremely closeted that I actually believed that was who I was.

Had I known that being transgender was an actual thing, that it was just another way some of us are, maybe I wouldn’t have put off transition so long. Maybe it wouldn’t take crushing depression to get to the point of transition. I might have had the courage to transition at a younger age, experience a happier and healthier childhood, experience better results from hormone replacement therapy.

And maybe, for some other students facing this sort of conflict with their gender identity, maybe they could have been saved from bullying, assault or suicide. This is why the conservative outrage to this new law makes me angry.

Don’t these people, these grown adults, realize that their words come with a body count? Don’t they realize this is a genuine issue that thousands of kids deal with? Don’t they care?

Apparently, it’s more important to keep “traditional” values in place, which seemingly include the “traditional” trans suicide rate of 41%.  Apparently, what used to be called, “providing basic human decency,” is now, “political correctness run amok!” Apparently, it’s more important to indulge ridiculous hypotheticals like, “what if a boy just says he’s a girl one day so he can go in the girl’s bathroom?!” Really, what cisgender boy is going to go through the trouble of getting clinically diagnosed as trans, face the ridicule that being trans brings just to go into a bathroom or a locker room?

Claims and concerns brought on by conservative talking heads are not based in fact. Sadly, though, the trans suicide rate remains all too real.

Thank you, Governor Jerry Brown and the California legislature. You have, without a doubt, saved lives.