October is National Gay and Lesbian Month, and during this month we are all encouraged to get to know and understand gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are being highlighted in the classroom, workplace and the media. This month of acknowledgement and understanding is a wonderful thing, but one oversight is made all too frequently. Transgender people and issues are left out, overlooked, even excluded from most of the events, discussions, and media coverage that are billed under the GLBT catchall.
This oversight goes beyond National Gay and Lesbian Month. Transgender, transsexual and intersexed people are excluded from nearly every organization, government, business and educational institution. Even many GLBT groups fail to consider transgender people. The exclusion of transgender people is more than a series of oversights, it is outright discrimination, and is frequently accompanied by harassment and violence.
Transgender people routinely face employment discrimination, medical malpractice, police brutality, housing discrimination, domestic violence, and receive little or no protection under the law. Transgender, transsexual and intersexed people face ignorance and prejudice from almost everybody they encounter throughout their lives, and are often forced to hide or conform to outside pressures just to survive.
Unfortunately, this group of people in such great need of activism and support, receives very little attention. This is largely because of the many misconceptions about transgender people. Common misconceptions about transgender people are that they are sexual deviants, child molesters, and are psychologically disturbed. Other misconceptions are that transsexuals are just men in drag, effeminate gay men or very butch lesbians; that transgender people can be cured by psychotherapy; do it by choice and for kink; and that transsexual and intersexed people are extremely rare.
One way to promote understanding is to use appropriate language when referring to transgender people. Words such as he-she and she-he are offensive to transsexuals, and many intersexed people consider the word hermaphrodite derogatory. Transsexuals are not crossdressers, who only dress up occasionally and primarily for fetish. Transsexuals alter their body, hormone balance, and outward appearance to match their innate gender – and the process takes a lifetime to complete. Intersexed people are born physically and/or with chromosome arrangements neither completely male nor completely female. The term transgender can be used to describe anyone in the transgender spectrum, and can include transsexual and intersexed people. Every transgender person is different, and has their own unique gender.
The key to understanding transgenderism is to understand that gender is comprised of more than just genitals and chromosomes. Gender is comprised of a number of factors, including hormonal balance, and a persons’ psychological, spiritual and emotional makeup. Outward appearance and social conventions carry less importance to a person’s gender than most people believe. There is no rule in God’s or nature’s plan that says people must be one gender or another, or prohibits the existence of other genders. In fact, nobody is entirely one gender or another, since all people carry some aspects of both male and female genders. After breaking through the confines of gender, it is possible to start to understand what it means to simply be human.
One event that stood out as an exception to the negative treatment transgender people usually face is the recent Safe Space Coffee House held at Temple University. The event included personal stories told by two transgender people from Temple, interpretive dance performances based on the lives of the two people who told their life story, and a speech by Temple University President David Adamany that included transgender issues. Those that attended were exposed to the oppression and difficulties faced by transgender people in their daily life. More events such as this are needed, as well as understanding from people of all communities, not just the GLBT community, and not just during National Gay and Lesbian Month. Transgender, transsexual and intersexed people are human beings, and need to be treated as such.