I do not care for politics. I deal with them since they're a part of every day life in this country. In all countries, actually. But something has been bothering me to the point I feel the need to talk about it. That is the way we look at the LGBT community, most specifically the B and the T part of that acronym.
We're going to start with the T today. For those that aren't aware, the T stands for transgender. The definition of transgender is “noting or relating to a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person's biological sex assigned at birth.”
I will say this upfront and right away: THIS IS NOT A CHOICE!!!!! This is a part of the person from the day they are born. It is not a chemical imbalance. It is not a psychological abnormality. It is who they are, just as being a gay or lesbian is a part of a person and not a choice.
There are several prominent transgender people in the public spotlight. I'm not going to talk about them specifically right now. I'm going to talk about the large number of men and women who aren't in the spotlight who suffer from abuse, violence, a lack of medical care, and are having to hide their real selves to avoid being killed. Even that isn't always enough protection.
A friend of mine has a sixteen year old trans daughter. She was assigned the male gender at birth, but has been questioning her sexuality a good chunk of her life. It's only been in the last six months that she's felt comfortable enough talking to her mother to express the fact that she is a young woman instead of a young man. My friend embraced her daughter's new identity whole heartedly and is doing what she can to make her transition a little easier.
There has been some talk about starting on hormones, but my friend isn't sure if their family doctor will do it. She's not even sure her doctor will continue seeing her daughter because of the fact that it's hard to find transgender friendly medical professionals, especially in conservative small towns like the one she's in. But she's determined to do what she can to help her daughter make the transition. If all parents could be as accepting as my friend and her husband, things would be a lot better for those who don't fit the gender binary. But they aren't. And many transgender youth and adults have paid the price for that by taking their own lives.
There have been a number of studies done on transgender lives. 41% of the transgender and gender non-conforming population in the US have attempted suicide. Compare that to the 4.6% of the regular population and between 10 and 20% of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community. Think about that for a moment. A transgender person is almost ten times as likely to attempt suicide as the rest of the straight population. This isn't primarily because of mental illness, as some people like to push. It's because they can't take the bullying, the pain of being ostracized, of being forced to live as something they're not, all in the name of just trying to be who they truly are.
Another problem transgender people face is increased violence and even death at the hands of strangers because of who they are. There have been at least 20 transgender women murdered this year alone. Nine of those investigations have led to murder charges. And this is just from what has been reported. There are a lot of murders that go unreported, or are pushed to the side because the transgender people in question are homeless or have taken to prostitution to survive. None of these people deserve the kind of violence being perpetrated against them, yet they are also powerless to stop it in a society that still despises them for being who they are.
There are agencies that are out there to support the LGBT community. There are some that focus solely on the transgender population. But they aren't enough. There are still a large percentage of transgender men, women, and youth who live on the streets because they have been evicted, kicked out by family, or have lost jobs simply on the basis of being transgender and can no longer afford to support themselves. Homeless shelters often force them to take beds in the areas that support their assigned gender instead of the gender they truly are, which can lead to fear and violence.
When dealing with someone who is transgender, keep these rules in mind. First, if they give their name as something that might not fit what you think you see, use the name they give. My friend's daughter came up with her name a few years ago, and has been using it online. She finally told her mother what she wanted to be called. Her mother is beginning to correct people now who use the wrong name and misgender her daughter.
Second, respect them in using the pronouns they prefer. Some prefer gender specific pronouns (he/she/his/hers). Others prefer gender neutral pronouns (they/them). There are even pronouns in use now (ze/hir) that they might want you to use. If you're not sure, ask. It doesn't hurt to ask, and many will be pleased that you're thinking of their needs.
Third, don't ask invasive questions such as “when are you having surgery” or “what's between your legs?” or “what do you do about sex?” All of those are rude, and you wouldn't ask them of a cisgender person, so don't ask them of a transgender person. It's personal to them and it's not your business.
If you know a transgender person, be supportive. It's hard to be who they are. Even with women like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner stepping into the light and bringing transgender issues into the mainstream, there is still so much bias and hate towards them that they need people to accept them for who they are.
If you know a transgender person, and are concerned that they might try to self-harm or even commit suicide, share with them the transgender suicide hotline number (US 877-565-8860 and Canada 877-330-6366). Let them know you're there for them. Let them know that there is someone on their side, who loves them unconditionally, and will continue loving them no matter what. Sometimes that one voice is what it will take to keep them from slipping over the edge.