When I began the project for the Active Minds Emerging Scholar fellowship, a qualitative examination of the experiences of suicide in trans*-identified youth, I expected to learn a lot about the experience of being trans*. I expected to have some emotional reaction due to the heavy content of suicide and discussions of wanting to die. I did not expect to have such emotional responses because the experiences hit so close to home.
I’ve had a great deal of trouble writing this post that is becoming more and more needed. As I’ve struggled to write this I learned of the passing of Prince. Prince was one of the key influential artists for my adolescence. Like any kid in high school in the 90s, every party included 1999 on its playlist.
Prince, famously known for going by an unpronounceable glyph that had a striking resemblance to the symbols for both male and female genders, for dressing in women’s underwear and raincoats in high school, and for loving anything purple, was an example to me and the rest of the world that there is not one right way to be a man. This pressure to be the right kind of man or right kind of woman is something transyouth commonly identify as a reason for wanting to die.
I wish I could take these messages about what I know about being a man now, and the hope I have, and give them to the 15-year-old self I remember being bullied at high school because he wore a purple shirt and purple backpack (his favorite color) to high school. I wish could I tell him to be sure to stay because things can get better—as is being done in this great project. I wish I could tell my trans-brothers and -sisters to stay because things will get better—but sometimes I don’t know if they will. However, with your help I believe we can live through this and make life worth living.
Through this project I have found that the issues these transgender youth talked about are things I too have experienced. My next post will specifically address reasons of why and how I am able to reconcile my own beliefs to be a trans* ally—and how YOU CAN TOO!
Final thoughts, I’ll close with the answers to several Frequently Asked Questions:
Is transgender really a thing?
Yup. Totally a thing. The experts have lots of discussions about the prevalence rate that range from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 2,500.
What’s the difference between transsexual and transgender?
Transsexual has fallen out of favor with many because it has a diagnostic feel and because it specifically reference sex rather than gender. When embracing the concept that gender is socially constructed sex refers only to body parts (sex=body parts you have; gender=how you identify).
Transgender is an inclusive term that can also include transsexual, cross-dressers, drag queens/kings, and anyone else who fights against a strict socially constructed gender norm.
Transvestite: Technically synonym with crossdresser it’s largely considered pejorative.
Non-binary: Male and Female is the binary. Anything else would be non-binary. In our study, between 90 participants there were 24 unique sexual identities and 35 unique gender identities.
Gender-queer: Another umbrella term. Can refer to just about anyone that doesn’t fit strict boxes of male or female.
Intersex: A person that is born with some characteristics of both male and female, either organs, genitals, chromosomes, or hormones. Some estimate this prevalence almost as high as 2% of births.
Being transgender is so rare, why is it something I should care about?
While, yes, the occurrence of transgender is relatively small, the issues that face are likely not that different than issues that have bothered you or people close to you—they are, however, magnified in the trans* population. I’ll talk more about why you should care and how caring about transpeople being treated like humans should be part of your lifestyle too in my next post.
But saying they, their, or zer isn’t grammatically correct…
This is actually a great commentary about the power of social construction. Grammar is entirely socially constructed. So much so that people started writing books about what is the correct way to speak. Just like people have started writing books (and passing laws) about the right way to be a man or be a woman. While it may not feel grammatically correct to you, maybe you can think of a time that someone kept calling you by the wrong name. I bet it didn’t feel very good. It might have even felt dehumanizing. Remember that. What is more important? Grammar or validating someone’s experience as a human being?
I’m sticking with validating a person as a human being—despite my passionate love affair with grammar.
To learn more about trans* terms check out this wonder guide from Ohio University’s LGBT Center.