Although by now most everyone knows what LGBT stands for (and many even know the expanded LGBTQQIA), it is clear that the transgender community has not reached anywhere near the levels of acceptance that the gay and lesbian (or even bisexual) community has. They still face all manner of serious discrimination, apart from the other complications of living in a society that is not being prepared to deal with this issue.
Part of the reason may be that for many people it is a new phenomenon that they have not quite been able to come to terms with. In my own case, growing up I knew that there were gay and lesbian people but transgender was completely outside my experience and I did not know that the category was even possible let alone existed. My first experience with it was only about a decade ago when a colleague told me that his son was changing genders. He was having a hard time dealing with it initially but he fully accepted his (now) daughter and supported and helped her through the transition.
Since then I have got to know about a half dozen people both inside and outside the university who are either transitioning or have made the change. Thanks to enlightened leadership right from the top, our university has made great strides in trying to create an environment where we hope everyone feels welcome and not so hesitant to reveal themselves, though we are by no means completely there yet.
But for most members of the transgender community, life is very hard since often they lose their family, friends, and jobs when they start making the transition, and many of them become homeless and destitute. NPR had a program today that provided some poignant stories. One of them was of Kimberley McKenzie.
McKenzie lost her job, along with many friends. Family members just didn’t understand.
As for society, “I was humiliated. I lost, like, my dignity,” she says. “It’s like you’re an alien; it’s like you’re not even real. People stare at you, and they don’t realize that they’re staring at you. But you take it all in. You take the whole world in.”
Yes, she still encounters the whispers and stares. But every once in a while, McKenzie says, “people just look at me and smile.” That, she says, gives her hope for the future.
I hope that greater awareness of the difficulties faced by them speeds up the process by which transgender people become accepted fully into our society as equals.