What does it mean to be transgender? We’ve heard it described a few different ways but one description rings in our heads the most: like being born in a bad costume that you can never, ever take off without undergoing intense pain. You know that if someone describes being transgender like that it’s time to pay attention. Unfortunately, we’re not paying attention. Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual has its share of challenges, and we’ve talked about them endlessly in the past. But what does it mean to be transgender, and why are we ignoring the problem?
We think that the conversation on transgender youth needs to definitely be out there. It’s okay to be LGBT, and that definitely includes transgender. But when you have no articles discussing your lifestyle, it’s hard to feel included at the table. We’ve read some reader feedback about this, and felt it was time to correct the situation. Since we’re not transgender, we apologize for any hurt feelings that the lack of inclusion may have caused.
Being transgender means a complex series of decisions. Do you consider yourself a male or a female? Do you want to look at gender reassignment surgery? Do you want to dress as a woman, but keep the genitals of a man? There’s no easy answer here, and there’s no wrong answer either.
As a society, we need to allow the discussion to take on more than just genitals and dresses. We also need to highlight transgendered people in the media. Laverne Cox is speaking out about transgender issues. She is an MTF transgender activist and actress who wants the world to accept transgendered people as who they are, rather than as whom the world thinks they should pretend to be. Media representation is the fastest way to increase people’s view of transgender issues, but it’s also a way that criticism creeps in. People tend to reject what they don’t understand. Unfortunately, gay and lesbian people tend to also be in that category. We have to embrace transgender people as allies, not as enemies. We’re all in the same battle. Don’t you want them to have the same freedoms that you enjoy? The “gay agenda” has enjoyed a long time in the sun, but there’s room in the sun for everyone’s issues. We don’t have to pick and choose, though it can feel that way at times. Throw in subjects of race, class, and disability, and the conversation gets even more complicated.
What we can do as true LGBT activists is to show transgendered youth that we hear them. Support them on the issues that matter to them. If someone is giving them a hard time, stick with them. Don’t steer the conversation into the obvious issues of genitals and reassignment surgeries. If they’re ready to make the transition, they will. It has to be something that they decide to do. The last thing that we want to do is pressure people into making a decision they’re not fully ready to embrace.
You also may see transgender youth pushed out of their own mini community by friends and family that don’t understand. If you want to know where to begin, approach your friend and just ask. If they are biologically female but want to use a male name, go with what they want. If they feel comfortable with sharing more details about their life, show them that you’re there to listen. But don’t press them on things that they’re not ready to discuss. Being a great friend to a transgendered person is just like being a good friend to anyone else. Sensitivity and tact rule the day, always!