So this is my first official blog post for the New Year, yet before I dive into 2014 it’s worth taking a look back at 2013 and the many milestones that were achieved not just for me as a trans-woman but for our community as a whole.
I believe that 2013 will go down as an annus mirabilis for the Trans movement; a year in which the Trans community really started to make some major strides in gaining equality. Even though we know that trans-women have been part of the LGBT movement from the very beginning, including the now famous Stonewall Riots, which many credit as the beginning of the LGBT movement and eventually came to be the reason for our annual pride celebrations, we often are left behind and forgotten by the LGB community. We’ve been told, “We can’t include gender expression or gender identity right now, it just won’t pass.” We’ve been told that if we wait for people to accept the LGB we will be included the next time around and once the LGB get their rights we can get our rights later. In other words, we’ve been placed on the backburner.
While the LGB sect of our community has been able to move onto greater issues that for many in the trans community view as luxuries such as tax and social security benefits, many of us are still just trying to survive, contending with disproportionate amounts of violence and discrimination.
In 2013 various advances were made including the passage of (ENDA) a transgender inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate and hopefully soon, with enough pressure Speaker Boehner will be putting it up for a vote in the House. We saw a ground breaking anti-discrimination case with Macy vs. Holder (who is also a good friend of mine). We witnessed California affirm transgender students by allowing them public accommodations consistent with their gender identity, and more agencies dropping the surgical requirements to change one’s gender designation; more companies are offering trans-inclusive health insurance than ever before. However the most important stride that has been made this past year has been the increased visibility of transgender individuals.
From Laverne Cox’s amazing portrayal of Sophia Burset on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, to Janet Mock raising the conversation of the transgender experience here in America, to Carmen Carrera’s online petition to make her the first trans-Victoria’s Secret Angel and various other trail blazers like Coy Mathis who have been telling their stories and showcasing the daily struggles that transgender individuals face, the visibility of transgender people and the conversation surrounding our lives have been elevated far past the level of the modern day “freak shows” of the Jerry Springer and Maury Povich Shows of years past. And even though from time to time we still have to steer the conversation away from our bodies & trans 101 as Laverne so skillfully did just this week on the Katie Couric Show, we are finally arriving to the point where people view us as more than just a male/female version of a mythical centaur.
The visibility of trans people in recent years has helped humanize us to a population that seldom know of any open trans people, thus changing the misguided perception of trans people in our society and through this, garnering much needed support in our quest for equality.
Although, 2013 will probably go down as a tipping point in which our community really started to make major tangible achievements, there is still much more work to be done; Laverne said it best this week when she said unemployment in the trans community is twice the national average, if you are a trans woman of color its four times the national average, homelessness is still rampant and the lack of trans-sensitive shelters doesn’t help the situation.
Recently I’ve had conversations with cis-gender friends of mine who said, “If more trans people were to come out and live more publically it would continue to help the perception of trans people”.
Most people have a more realistic perception of LGB people due to personal interactions and relationships. Since many people haven’t had the same kind of experiences with trans people, their insight as to what it means to be transgender is very limited often resulting in an inaccurate perception of our community. Even though I agree wholeheartedly that increase visibility of transgender individuals would help us in our path to equality, the truth is and maybe the biggest concern facing transgender individuals is the real life dangers we face on a daily basis. Last year alone more than 200 transgender people were murdered worldwide and those are only the reported cases. So, although, many say why don’t more trans people come out, the fact is that we face real life consequences to our visibility; there are still people with whom our mere presence offends them, furthermore there is still a lot of hatred towards the trans community.
When I decided to launch FBTG my safety was something I had to consider. Once you place your picture on the internet and attach the label of transgender woman there is no going back and that amount of visibility is not just something I had to consider but also any relationship I had moving forward because by living openly as a trans-woman I’d not only be subjecting myself to all the repercussions that may result from it, but also the man that I am with would also have to deal with the stigma that comes with dating a trans woman and it takes a very strong and secure man to be able to take that on.
Most recently I’ve been going back to church with my boyfriend who is also partially employed through the church. We’ve sat down and discussed on when, if ever, to disclose that I’m trans to the pastor or parishioners. Although, I’ve been well received by the congregation and feel welcomed, I can’t help but feel as though I am hiding a part of who I am; “hiding in plain sight” is how he puts it. I find myself struggling to find the balance of living openly and not alienating those around me. I want to be able to change people’s perception of trans women but I want people to first get to know me for me.
At the end of the day I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation and no one has a “right” to know. Disclosure is a very personal decision that must be weighed by all parties involved. In my case it is something that I have been discussing with my boyfriend and if and when we decide to take that next step to living more visibly we would have to be ready to face the consequences, whether good or bad.
So, as we reflect upon our successes and as we begin 2014 looking forward to all the possibilities that a new year brings, let’s remember we still have more work to be done. There are still many people we need to educate, minds that we need to broaden, hearts that need to be opened, perceptions that need to be altered, and the more visible that we become the closer we will be to achieving our full equality.