Blank Faces in a Crowd: A Look at Transgender Invisibility

 

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Toni Anne Ball, Contributing Writer, Sociology, ’18

June 26, 2015 is a date that I will remember as the day for a significant accomplishment for the United States government. If you are not familiar with this day, it is the day that same sex marriage became legal in all fifty states. I am sure that a majority of Generation Y is familiar with the grand celebration. It was a day that will live on in the hearts of all Americans no matter what side of the debate you were on.

Since then, many companies and television programs have shown full support for the gay and lesbian community, another beautiful thing. However, the Transgender community was left behind in the movement. According to LaGrange College Student Breckin McCoy, the gay and lesbian community gaining is more attention for one simple reason: “Visibility.” He says, “Gay people have taken their spot in society. LGB people have utilized visibility and time to generate the courage it takes to live their truths out loud.  The ‘T’ in ‘LGBT’ is just getting started.”

It is now time to give the transgender community the spotlight that it needs.

When I was a kid, I had a best friend named May. May was a little shy and always dressed in baggy clothes to hide the body inside it, and May never really liked to talk much. As we got older, May started to shy away even more and became so detached that I was scared to ask what’s wrong until May said, “I am transitioning, female to male.”

This was in 2013, at graduation.  May officially changed his name to Christopher William in October of 2014. “It was the greatest damn day of my life,” he states. “Well, maybe second, the first was when I started hormone blockers and testosterone.” His deeper voice, defined jawline, and new name are medals to accompany his newfound freedom.

His proud parents stand by his side, tears streaming down both of their faces. “I hope now he can be proud to be himself; that is all we ever wanted for him,” says his mother. Sounds like the perfect ending to a beautiful story of acceptance and strength, and it was.

Sadly, this is not the case for many other transgender individuals. But, how do you expect people to respect you and accept you when there are politicians who are trying to segregate you from the cisgender community andurn you into a pariah?  

Breckin had to say this about the recent bill passed on transgender bathroom use in North Carolina: “Those of us in the ‘T’ are going to demand respect as well. I think it is safe to say that Americans have learned the hard way. When you restrict entire groups, categorically, from completing and engaging tasks that are very much considered ‘every day’ -history is not on your side.”

I know what you are thinking. Toni, it is just a bathroom; aren’t there bigger things to worry about? And, to take a quote from my interview with the wonderful Venus Simone, [whom I don’t know and we should get a bit more information here],“They’re bathrooms, no one actually cares. These transphobes are just trying to scare people into believing that we all must conform to standards and never change. But we always do. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a long, long time.”

Granted, this isn’t the only problem that is damaging the transgender community. In 2015, twenty-one transgender women alone were murdered. Another forty-eight killed in Brazil this past January.

Many skeptics will say that the trans community is everywhere with shows like Orange is the New Black, Transparent, and I am Cait. Sadly, in my opinion, only Orange is the New Black  gives us a “non-glamorized” portrayal of a trans person played by actress Laverne Cox, who is also transgender and a trans activist.  The problems are just adding up.

Where can we start to make solutions? Venus responds, “I would like to see people with privileges, whether that be classrooms, auditoriums, an audience/following or money. To give space to trans people. Have real trans people from the street on a panel at your school, listen to trans folk who don’t fit in the binary. Let us tell our own stories and stop trying to force us to your gender standards. I guess I’d just like to see people that could help, actually help. Whether that’s celebrities, professors at schools or even students. Talk about us, spread the word. And listen when we tell you what we need.”

Breckin also added, “The first step in giving respect and support is understanding what the struggle is and understanding that my struggle is no different than yours; it is just a different type of battle.” There is no denying that the country is slowly moving to change; however much work needs to be done in order to reach full equality. There is also no information on how long that will take. Nevertheless, I believe that the first step in support and understanding, in order to make change happen is to do your research on the community and the problems that they face.

So, how can someone who has no access to information of the transgender community find information?  Breckin stated, “Susansplace.org and the Human Rights Campaign website are great basic places to start. When we learn about anything new we are all guilty of picking up the cell phone and doing basic searches. You will be surprised what you have at your fingertips in the way of information.

Here on campus, we have a Gay-Straight Alliance group that is ready to provide a safe place for anyone who may need to talk. That means that anything you say will not be judged or repeated. Whatsoever.” I am the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance and though I am personally not transgender nor have I had any gender identity issues it is a safe place to come ask questions.

If you personally have had your own questions on gender identity or you are wondering if you are transgender yourself, Breckin has offered to help in any way. “I am willing to be public with my story and struggles and will answer any questions (even if they seem silly or sensitive) because I firmly believe that the difference maker for the ‘T’ is visibility. I am just like you and I am here.”

Venus also states, “Network! YouTube, tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, snapchat! Also look up local PFLAGS or GSA’s in your area! Also if you want to learn more, go online, use Wikipedia, or buy books written by trans folks. I would highly recommend redefining realness. Lastly if you know someone who is queer/trans or whatever, ask them politely if they’d mind helping you understand more about it.  Just keep in mind that all of our trans experiences are different; some people don’t feel comfortable talking about their transness, others (like myself) never shut up about it! Just be polite and also do your own research. We are people just like everyone else.”

For further questions or concerns, email Breckin at brmccoy@student.lagrange.edu. And of course, I am always available for questions at taball@student.lagrange.edu.  

Author’s Note: I would like to personally thank Breckin and Venus for agreeing to do this interview; I greatly appreciate you for all your help. Also, thank you to Breckin, Venus and Christopher William for allowing me to share their stories, I cannot say how grateful I am to you all.  Finally, a Thank you to The Hilltop News for allowing me to have a platform to get the information out, no matter how brief. Every little bit of acknowledgment helps.

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