In early November the third annual Transgender Spectrum Conference was held at Washington University in St. Louis. The conference was a gathering of gender diversity– cis and trans, non-binary, gender-queer, educators, health professionals, families and children. It was a celebration of our movement – the acceptance of transgender people and their allies and an uplifting show of awareness and support for transgender individuals of all ages.
Ten years ago, the struggle for transgender awareness and acceptance was a struggle largely unnoticed. I had just begun my own transition and could never have imagined how much society would transition with me. Transgender people were so far off the radar that it was actually legal for a transwoman to use the ladies restroom in North Carolina. Ten years have brought profound change in our struggle for equality – some beyond anything we thought possible, and some changes that have brought renewed hate and suspicion.
This past summer marked my ten-year anniversary as Laura. It was June 12, 2006 that I stepped out of a Pennsylvania courthouse with my legal name change document in my hand. That afternoon I went to the Social Security office to change my name and then to PennDot for my updated driver’s license – new name and new photo. (It would not be until a year later that I was permitted to change the “M” to “F” on my license.)
According to a 2015 Pew research poll, 88% of Americans say they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian. That’s really good news for the gay community and likely a major cause for the social gains made in the past several years. In contrast, only 16% know a transgender person (according to a report from GLAAD in 2015) – only 9% of Americans over 45 say the same. For transgender folks, although the number has doubled in the last eight years, the challenge is clear. We have a long way to go in making ourselves more familiar, especially on a personal level. It is up to us to change things – to allow people around us to know us and to better understand us. That can be a difficult task.
Being a child and also being transgender has never been easy. You know you are different. You know you are not like the other kids in your class. If people find out you hope they will still like you. You are forced to live with a secret so huge that it can be crushing. If your parents are supportive and help you to transition, you try to get by at school with no one else knowing. If your parents are not supportive, life is a living hell and your darkest thoughts haunt you daily.
REACHING OUT TO THE GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY?
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