It’s important that we learn about the transgendered community. Being part of the larger LGBT community, I think it is important to know the struggles and issues that affect the Ls, Bs, and Ts. When we understand and connect with the community as a whole we can work more effectively for more visibility and equality.
“When did you first realize that you were different or felt different?” If you’re gay you’ve probably heard that a lot and you get a little tired of the question. “I’m not different, I’m me,” you think or might state out loud. How funny it should be then when I had a chat with my good friend Damian, a transgendered person transitioning from female to male, that that would be my first question. You would think that as a gay man or anyone who has had his or her own internal struggle with identity, I would be a bit more sensitive. I surprise myself sometimes. Luckily, Damian is a class act through and through and really gave me a lesson on what it means to be transgendered.
To answer my first question, Damian said, “This happens to a majority of us. It’s not that you realize it; you realized you realized it. It’s always in hindsight.” How true! He went on to explain that looking back, he knew he felt different at a very young age.
This was a very similar experience to mine. As children, we don’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to put into words what we’re thinking and feeling. This is a very complex concept for a child to process but you know deep down inside that something is different about you and you’re not sure what to do with it or who to talk to about it.
Damian and I are just about the same age. We were both born in the early 80’s. We’re still young with a lot of living to do but we were born at a time when kids still didn’t talk to their parents about gender identity or sexuality. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come when you read stories about young kids talking to their parents about being gay but even today there’s a lack of talk about kids talking with their parents about gender identity.
Damian, in fact, didn’t have words to put to his feelings until he was an adult. He felt that he couldn’t identify with the term “trans” because to him trans meant “transsexual women prostituting themselves or transvestite men. That’s not who I am.” He didn’t know that trans also encompassed other things. He finally admitted it to himself when an ex-girlfriend forced the issue.
After Damian came to terms with who he actually was, he had a fear that he would lose his friends and family and that his life would be over. He was sure of that. In fact, he did lose some people in his life. Without knowing another trans person, he didn´t know where to turn. Luckily a friend of his introduced him to someone who was also trans. This was a big milestone in Damian´s life. It changed everything in his life. HE learned that being trans didn´t have to be a lonely sad life, just the opposite. Finding someone who accepts you for who you are can be so liberating.
Actually it was more than liberating; it was lifesaving. Damian had contemplated suicide but once he found someone who loved him, he chose life. Damian had met someone who was trying to overcome the same obstacles, someone who knew what it was like. To me, as a gay man, it can be all too lonely when you feel or sometimes are the only gay in the village. You think that no one understands what you´re going through. You may know that there are other people in the world who have similar experiences but until you make a connection with someone like you, it feels very theoretical.
I had asked Damian what one of the defining moments in his transition was. He told me that it was when his mentor gave him a bind. The bind is used to flatten out the chest and makes the breasts seem smaller. This was the start of feeling more like a man. He could dress the way he wanted to dress and not have to worry about the breasts getting in the way. He´d be able to pass more as a man and that gave him a lot of comfort. At this point in his transition he´s about half way through, he’s been on hormone therapy for a year now and you have to be on it for two years so you can complete the transition. He hasn´t set a date yet for the top surgery because he doesn´t want to be disappointed if he can´t save up the money in that time. The decision was made to only get the top surgery and not the bottom half because he didn´t want to lose any pleasure.
Still here? You’re a star and a king and/or queen among men and/or women. It’s funny that I started to talk about this because just after I began writing, an interview started popping up in my newsfeed this week and it is very much connected to transgendered issues.
It turns out that Katie Couric interviewed Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera on her show this week. Both women are some of the most visible transgendered role models today from either being on Orange Is The New Black, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, or being the first transgendered Victoria’s Secret model. Both women were asked about their transition by Katie. Both talk about their transition but both wanted to steer the conversation into another topic.
Carmen handled it head on first by shushing Katie and then stating that she felt that “other interviews with other trans people, they’ve always focused on either the transition or the genitalia… there’s more to trans people than just that.”
Laverne on the other hand had a more delicate and graceful approach to the question. First, she does not consider herself a role model, she considers herself a “possibility model.” Second, she states that “the obsession with transition objectifies trans people and we don’t get to deal with the real lived experiences.” She goes on to say that this takes away from some really big issues on the trans community, such as violence towards transgendered people and unemployment.
I’d like to touch upon the nature of the Katie’s questions because she really should have known better. Yes, transition is a major part of a transgendered person’s live but it is not the only part. Like Carmen said, “There’s life after transition.” There are careers and hopes and dreams to be achieved.
I feel like we’re at a point in the US where social issues are starting to move at a fast clip. Both homosexual men and women are gaining rights and more equal status faster than ever. Transgendered people are also becoming more and more visible. It’s time to start moving past the part about the penis and the vagina. We all have them! Get over it. Let’s start by refocusing our efforts and supporting legislation such as ENDA (The Employment Non-Discrimination Act) so LGBT citizens don’t have to worry about being fired because of their sexual orientation or being transgendered.
This is a step that will help make the US more inclusive and create opportunities for those that want to take them. Wasn’t that, after all, at the heart of the American dream?