Among the many stories to be told when the pandemic of 2020 eventually subsides will be the stories from those who are transgender. Being trans in the best of times is a challenge, especially for young people and those in the midst of transition. During these dark days of social distancing, quarantines, and shelter-in-place directives, trans individuals find themselves at a particular loss.
Consider the children and young people still yet to come out to their families, who could only express themselves in front of mirrors at home when no one else was there. Now, everyone is home – always! And if they have recently come out to family, any lack of support is magnified by the stay-at-home orders. Research supports the realities that transgender children with little if any family support are especially vulnerable. (Family Acceptance Project, San Francisco State University, 2009)
Think about older trans folks who have begun their transition and are now stuck somewhere in the middle, trapped at home. Receiving medical treatments such as hormones, counseling, electrolysis, etc. has become far more difficult, if available at all. Legal proceedings to arrange name changes, gender marker updates, and birth certificate revisions have been placed on hold. Indeed, while home is surely the safest place to be, it is the getting out and socializing that helps build confidence and assurance that one can actually make it as their newly evolving self. The days of isolation and diminishing confidence will take their toll. (The level of homelessness among transgender individuals during this time is a matter of concern to be explored in a later article.)
Organizers of the Keystone Conference in Harrisburg, PA announced on March 8 that the 2020 conference was being cancelled. This was heartbreaking news for the many who live for the annual conference – eagerly awaiting a time when they can get away and live as their true selves for one short week. Having the opportunity to freely and safely express one’s inner gender can truly be life sustaining. Sadly, there have been numerous other conferences cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Local transgender organizations are finding ways to support their members through technology, but as we are learning, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.
There are those individuals who were scheduled for surgery during these months and have had their procedures put on hold. After years of saving money, making plans, and finally having a scheduled surgery date with the anticipation of counting down the days, it is a crushing blow to have the procedure suddenly postponed. Transgender patients are being reassured by their surgeons that they will not be placed at the back of the line when surgeries resume (for some, the queue can be up to a year). As essential as gender affirming surgeries actually are, there are the immediate life and death demands the pandemic has placed upon our health care systems.
Compounding the difficulties, the Trump administration announced this past November the removal of civil rights rules prohibiting recipients of Health and Human Services (HHS) grants from discriminatory practices. The newly implemented rules allow “anti-transgender discrimination in HIV and STI prevention programs, opioid programs, youth homelessness services, health professional training, substance use recovery programs, and many other life-saving services addressing crises with a disparate impact on transgender people in the US,” according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Said Mara Keisling, executive director of NCTE, “enabling providers of life-saving services to worsen these crises by rejecting transgender people is a moral crime and a severe abdication of HHS’s mission to preserve public health” (NCTE, Nov 2019). These newly instituted draconian measures only add to the marginalization of transgender communities during this pandemic.
Yet, one shining star emerging from these difficult times is the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health. Dr. Rachel Levine has kept Pennsylvanians informed with her level, consistent leadership through her daily televised updates with Gov. Tom Wolfe. Her expertise and confidence has been an important part of the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Dr. Levine is a transgender woman proudly serving her community.
As these days stretch on toward an unsure future, the effects on the transgender community will be significant. Already, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transgender people are three times as likely to be living with HIV (CDC Issue Brief, 2019), while transgender youth are six times as likely to experience a suicide attempt and at least twice as likely to use illicit substances such as heroin and opioids (NCTE, Nov 2019). According to the 2015 Transgender Survey conducted by NCTE, transgender adults are nine times as likely to experience a suicide attempt in their lifetime as their non-transgender peers. The effects of this pandemic will only worsen these numbers.
Throughout these difficult times, the transgender community is far from alone. The COVID-19 pandemic will go on affecting every marginalized group and, indeed, each and every one of us. We are all in this together. May we emerge on the other side with a greater sense of acceptance and compassion for one another.
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you are a young LGBTQ person and need to talk to someone, call The Trevor Project’s 24-hour crisis hotline for youth at 1-866-488-7386.
If you are a transgender person of any age, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
Laura Anderson is an educator, author, researcher, parent, and granddad. Her years teaching in public school classrooms as male provided the foundation for her more recent role educating future teachers. Living female for the past decade, she has come to appreciate the privileges she once held – both male and cisgender – privileges now replaced with the fulfillment of living as her true self.
- Laura Anderson is an educator, author, researcher, parent, and granddad. Her years teaching in public school classrooms as male provided the foundation for her more recent role educating future teachers. Living female for the past decade, she has come to appreciate the privileges she once held – both male and cisgender – privileges now replaced with the fulfillment of living as her true self.