I am a cisgender female. If you don’t know what that means here’s an explanation. When I was born the doctors looked at all my parts and told my parents: she’s a girl! Growing up, I thought of myself as a girl. Even though at times I was what we then called a “tom boy”— I was definitely okay with hanging out outside playing kick ball--but inside of myself, I identified as female. Therefore my gender assigned at birth matched my internal gender identity=cisgender.
Now imagine this scenario: you are born and the doctors look at all your parts and declare: It’s a girl! Except you grow up feeling this dissonance: why don’t I feel like a girl? Why does girl clothing bother me? Why do I feel more comfortable around boys? And as a teen, the feeling intensifies more: Is something is wrong with me? Why am I not okay with myself?
As a counselor who works with transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) adults, I sit in my therapist chair as ally and witness to their struggles. When I first started this work, I found myself struck by the amount of pain, self-hatred, anxiety and depression they felt. TGNC clients have told me they feel like “freaks,” that they don’t belong, that no one will love them, that their families don’t accept them, or they fear they’ll be disowned. They’ve told me they feel alone, isolated, scared. Often they have suicidal thoughts. A recent study states that 41% of transgender adolescents have attempted suicide!
But then after listening to many of their stories I began to understand their pain. Here’s why: not only do TGNC individuals have to struggle within themselves to figure out their true self-identities, they then may have to take steps to make very public changes to their identities.
They may have to come out to mom, dad, sister, brother AND perhaps ultra conservative Aunt Mae, and Grandpa stuck-in-time. They may have to tell their co-workers and boss that they want to be called a different name, use a different pronoun, or that they may be dressing, or presenting themselves differently. They may want to start hormone therapy to effect body changes that better align with their gender identity. Then they may need to change legal documents—driver’s license, credit cards, insurance etc. They may want to have expensive surgeries to have body parts that align with their gender identities.
They may have to come out in this current cultural stew of oppression, hatred, and misinformation. The TGNC community faces an atmosphere of open discrimination: where politicians use fear mongering about transgender persons to keep them from using the bathrooms that ally with their gender identity, when our president wants to ban them from the military, when only 20 states have statutes that protect sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Minnesota IS a state that offers protection. That means in 30 of our states in the great USA transgender persons have NO legal protections! Other depressing stats: 47% of TGNC community faced discrimination in hiring promotion or job retention, 78% have faced harassment or mistreatment at work based on gender identity.
Recent statistics: The Williams Institute in UCLA did a study and found that 0.6% of the population was transgender. A 2016 Minnesota survey found 3% of teens identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. TGNC, then is a small percentage of our overall population, a minority group. As a minority group they therefore will need support of the majority, cisgender people, to also advocate for their rights. A good society, I believe, is not just one where the majority groups advocate for themselves and reap all the benefits. A good society is one where minority groups—racial, religious, sexual orientation and YES gender identities—are allowed equal access, protections under the law. Transgender rights are human rights!
I think my transgender/gender nonconforming clients are some of the bravest people I know. Despite all the discrimination, hatred, non-acceptance by family members and society, many forge ahead anyway to express their true identities.
And so today, because it is needed in our current political environment, I come out not only as an ally, a support, to the TGNC community, but also as someone who admires their strength, applauds their courage, and appreciates the more difficult path they must take to honor their own truth.