Late in 2010, I wrote an article called an Open Letter to my Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Siblings. The letter has been well received and has been published repeatedly for the past year and a half. In that letter, I asked that you stand by the side of those who have different gender identities than you yourself may have, and that you come to a greater education and understanding of our community. There’s another part of that letter that speaks to the suffering that most of the transgender community suffers when we come out and transition. Most of you I would believe have suffered the fear and indignation that society places on us when we become authentic when coming out. For many of us, it truly is a terrifying experience.
Over the past month, I’ve had several friends come to me and talk to me about their fears of transitioning to their gender identity. They were terrified to tell their friends, go to interviews, and change their gender expression. The fear of being harmed, ostracized, humiliated and rejected was palpable in each of the conversations. What will I say to my friend who; fill in the blank. How do people react to gender identity transition? They’ve each watched as they struggle day in and day out with depression, fear, loneliness, suicidal ideation and worse wondering how to be authentic, and not lose everything and everyone they know.
As a person who has gone through the painful experience of transition and the severe rejection of those I thought were my friends and family, I can fully appreciate the trauma that my friends would like to avoid and transition to who they are. In my case, my friends were conservatives and my family was fundamentalists Christians. I had no hope of the experience being positive, nor did I have any doubts that might life would be altered forever. It was horrifying and I can remember being suicidal and severely depressed over the thought that everyone I knew was going to reject me and shun me. It was a very difficult time to say the least. Luckily, I had two friends who did not reject me and instead stood by me and helped me along a most difficult path to my true authentic self.
I’m sorry to say though, that the individuals who want to transition aren’t fearful of Focus on the Family, or NOM, or for that matter, the local conservative hate groups. They are terrified of the treatment they will receive from their gay and lesbian colleagues and friends. They have listened to the back room talk from gay men about “trannies” and from the lesbian women chattering about “men in dresses” or “butch wanna be’s”. Gender stereotypes by our communities have forced each of these individuals deeper into their fear, and instead of being embraced for coming to their true and authentic selves, they feel ridiculed and shamed. “I can’t cut my hair because I was told my long hair looks so cute on me.” “I can’t come out in a skirt, the guys in the advocacy group would be laughing and I wouldn’t be invited anymore into meetings or taken seriously in the advocacy world.” Now, I want to say something here, these individuals who are looking at transition are leaders within their communities, and some are national leaders within our movement. They are people who are very involved in the civil rights of the sexual orientation and gender identity movement and have made great sacrifices for equality for all of us. Yet they are terrified at the societal consequences that they see that are inflicted by the sexual orientation movement based on fear and gender stereotypes.
Often times, it’s the very movement itself that oppresses, stereotypes and bullies the sub-minorities within their very own core. There becomes a culture of oppression based on the fear that they will lose power, status, or abilities if a person transitions. So they make crude remarks behind the scenes, intimidate those in the group who may be considering transition, or they disparage those who have transitioned all the while thinking they are superior and encouraged by the core group.
I can understand where gay men might be terrified of going through a surgery where their penis is surgically removed. For most, it would feel as if the most important symbol of their manhood was removed and there would be unending shame involved. I can understand where lesbian women would be horrified at the thought of someone cutting into their breasts for a mastectomy. Breasts are such an important symbol of womanhood in our society that the greatest fear I know of for women is breast cancer and mastectomies. The outward appearance of womanhood being stripped away is horrifying. The very thought I’m sure sends many individuals into a complete panic and cold chills run through the veins.
The symbols of the penis and breasts are incredibly powerful in our society and at the same time, physical reminders of an assumed societal identity based on genitals. I can understand your fears. However, I can assure you, it’s not a decision reached at lightly, or without serious long term considerations for those of us who go through with gender reassignment surgery. For us, it’s a relief from years of pain that has been endured to make others comfortable while we personally suffer, often in silence and fear.
It’s time to stop the oppression and fear within our community. When we are damaging our own leaders and community members, and we are creating fear and oppression within our own community, then we are serving as agents of NOM, Focus on the Family and all the hate groups out there that wear their hatred on their sleeves.
It’s okay to have fear. It’s okay to recognize that you don’t want to be something your not. It’s an entirely different matter however to become an agent of those who hate us and oppress us.
Today I would like to ask you – will you put aside your fears to allow others to be genuinely who they are? Will you begin the process of caring about another person, their struggles and needs beyond what you are comfortable with?
Let’s make our community what we all want – genuinely accepting and loving towards all.
By Allison Woolbert
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