Last Saturday I went to a transgender event at our local Unitarian Church and came away with the view that the rights of this marginalized community need even more support.
As a cis gender male (yes a new new term to me for my “tribe”), I was amazed at my lack of knowledge of transgendered Americans often regarded as deviants and a disgrace for families. Shunned by relatives and reviled by fellow workers. For most, transitioning on the job was tantamount to career suicide. Coming out meant going through life as a freak!
Luckily, more Americans who have wrestled with gender identity are transitioning openly, propelling a civil rights movement that has struggled even as gays and lesbians have reached irreversible momentum in their fight for equality. This was evident in the speakers at my forum who included the star of the hit series “Transparent“
The transgender movement has been part of the broader quest for equality for sexual minorities, but while gays and lesbians have achieved far-reaching legal and political victories in recent years, transgender people, who may be gay or straight, remain among the nation’s most marginalized citizens. They face distinct challenges, including access to transition-related medical care, which have not always been a focus of the broader struggle for gay rights. Gays and lesbians are visible in all walks of life today, and many are celebrities and role models. Transgender Americans, meanwhile, remained largely unseen until fairly recently.
At my forum, it was noted that one challenge lies in semantics,
Below I list a short summary of the terms:
Social assigned term, usually based on the appearance of external anatomy. better, a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.
One’s internal, deeply held sense of one’s gender, not visible to others.
External manifestations of gender, expressed through one’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics.
Describes an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities.. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.
Transgender man (trans man, FTM)
People who were assigned female at birth but identify and live as a man may use this term to describe themselves. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.
Transgender woman (trans women, MTF)
People who were assigned male at birth but identify and live as a woman may use this term to describe themselves. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.
Typically used to refer to heterosexual men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup, and accessories culturally associated with women. This activity is a form of gender expression, and not done for entertainment purposes. Cross-dressers do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women. Replaces the term “transvestite.”
Be aware of the differences between transgender women, cross-dressers, and drag queens. Use the term preferred by the individual. Do not use the word “transvestite.”
Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS)
Doctor-supervised surgical interventions, and is only one small part of transition (see transition above). Avoid the phrase “sex change operation.
Recently, some employers in the public and private sectors have begun to openly support people making the transition. At the Central Intelligence Agency, a young analyst who transitioned on the job in 2013 worried that coming out would end her career. She realized that fear was unfounded when colleagues got her a gift certificate to Ann Taylor after she transitioned at work and senior agency officials made it their mission to ensure she could continue to thrive at her job. Yet at the same time, thousands of American troops who are transgender serve in anguish because the military bans openly transgender people from joining the service. Those who take steps to transition can be discharged under the current rules.
In several states, transgender people are courageously battling efforts to bar them from using public restrooms. In West Virginia, transgender women have been at war with the Division of Motor Vehicles because officials are refusing to give them new licenses unless they stop “misrepresenting” their gender when they have their photo taken. A recent federal government survey found that one in five transgender people reported having been denied care by a health care provider as a result of their gender.
Expanded formal recognition is a fundamental first step. The size of the transgender community in America has always been unclear, since many people wrestle with gender dysphoria in silence. The most widely-cited figure, 700,000, comes from a 2011 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. The United States Census Bureau should give transgender Americans the chance to be formally recognized as such on forms, if they choose to.
Having more detailed information about the demographics of the population is crucial to the evolution of stronger legal protections and expanded access to health care. There has been significant progress on both fronts. Last year, Medicare, which has a big influence on the industry standard for insurance coverage, lifted its ban on covering gender reassignment surgery. More states and insurance providers are following that lead, heeding the call of medical experts who say transgender-related care must be viewed as “medically necessary,” rather than elective.
There have been hard-won victories on the employment front, too. The Department of Justice last year began taking the position that discrimination on the basis of gender identity, including transgender status, constitutes sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. Yet, many jurisdictions lack local laws that protect transgender people and discrimination remains commonplace even in places that do.
This generation should be the one that stopped thinking that being transgender is something to fear or shun.
Sources: The New York Times, GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Transgender Issues