When I was told that November was Transgender Awareness Month, I was strangely caught unaware of that fact. I guess when you are transgender, every month is technically Transgender Awareness Month. The only way that it wouldn’t, would arguably be if you lacked any sense of self-awareness. This of course sets up far more jokes than could be covered in this column. The editors of The Gayly asked me to write something special about my experiences as a special feature for the paper, but I didn’t feel that would be right as I am an absolutely terrible role model. This is proven by the fact that I have an entire side business buying cigarettes for pre-teens. I guess instead for TAM, I should talk about things that affect all trans people, both trans-male and trans-female. There’s quite a few things that you should probably learn about trans people that would not only raise your awareness of issues facing people such as myself, but provide for you a whole new set of topics to talk about with strangers at a party when you have absolutely nothing in common with them to talk about. Hey, talking about transgender people is going to be more interesting trying to fake interest in talking about their job in accounting.
The number of people identifying as Transgender is estimated to be between .3 to 1% of the population. This means about 1 million Americans are transgender. And they all have OkCupid profiles.
The first gender reassignment surgery was performed in 1931 in Germany. The first person to have a surgery performed was named “Dora-R”, having surgery shortly before the famed Lili Elbe also had surgery performed in Germany the same year. So 1930’s Germany produced Nazis and Gender Reassignment Surgery. Why right-wing conservatives haven’t gone nuts over this fact is beyond me.
The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot predates Stonewall by three years. In the 1960’s, because transpeople were not welcome in gay bars in San Francisco, they would meet at Compton’s Cafeteria. Since cross-dressing was against the law, they were often harassed by the local police and not welcomed by the owners. One night in August 1966, when a police officer attempted to arrest one, she threw her coffee at him, setting off a riot which resulted in a trashed restaurant, police reinforcements, and the legitimate claim that trans-people are ‘straight outta Compton(‘s)’. A smaller riot occurred in 1959 in Los Angeles at a place called Cooper’s Donuts, but you can’t force a joke about Gangster Rap out of that.
One of the reasons the Stonewall Inn was raided was because it was one of the few bars that allowed transgender people in. Most bars during the time didn’t allow transpeople and drag queens in because cross-dressing was against the law in those days. A transvestite literally hit a cop over the head with her purse. Nothing I can say is funner than the image of a queen dressed like Marilyn Monroe smacking a cop with her purse yelling, “Pig.”
41% of all transgender people have reported attempting suicide at some point. This is not a funny statistic at all.
Transpeople are twice as unlikely to be unemployed. Again, this is not a very amusing statistic. At one point, I actually considered de-transitioning long enough to find a job at one point. Thank God I found a job that I have had plenty of support at.
Transpeople are four times more likely to be homeless than the general population. The majority of homeless transpeople have been harassed by shelter staff or denied access to shelters altogether. You have to be a special kind of ass to make a homeless persons life extra miserable just because they are trans.
19% of transpeople have been refused medical care for being trans. Remember that oath doctors take? “Do no harm?” That includes harm through neglect and refusal to help. You can’t swear to heal people unless you think they’re icky. One in five trans people don’t go to doctors because they have been harassed by medical providers. 29% have reported that they have had to teach their doctors about trans health issues. NEVER go to a doctor that you have to explain how to treat you. I don’t trust mechanics that I have to explain car repair to.
Half of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims are transgender. These are just the homicides committed that are clearly based about gender and sexuality. It’s sad to note that only 31 states have laws that cover sexual orientation in their hate crimes laws. Only 16 cover gender identity. Only 16 states are required to collect statistics based around sexual orientation hate crimes. This means that not only are a significant number of states not protecting LGBTQ people, most of them don’t even think it’s worth tracking.
Only 61% of all Fortune 500 businesses have a trans inclusive policy. 91% have a lesbian, bisexual, or gay inclusive policy. Only 28% of them actually pay for gender reassignment surgery in their insurance policies, while 67% offer same-sex partner benefits. I’m not pointing this out to make this a “LGB versus T” argument, but there is a clear gap in the level of benefits offered. To be fair, in the past four years, the number of major employers covering gender surgeries has grown from 49 to 340.
I try to maintain a light heart and a bit of wit about the issues that trans people face. I joke about everything from the issues of using public restrooms (“We just want to pee, we’re not scouting for a remodeling project.”), to dating (“Sex is easy, dating is hard. Sex is five minutes on Craigslist and someone who’s ashamed of themselves.”), to gender (“The hardest thing about becoming a woman is the 30% pay cut.”). Finding humor in these issues I find is a necessary thing. When you face a lifetime of abuse, discrimination, and marginalization, you have to be able to laugh at it or you will go insane. I’m not the type to rage and scream on the internet and find enemies everywhere I turn, though I do recognize that not just transgender but lesbian, gays, and bisexuals all face a constant uphill battle for equality. With transgender people starting to emerge publicly in positive roles, I find that it’s important that people look beyond the fights over words like “tranny” and “shemale”. It’s easy to get lost in the debates over if being attracted to a transwoman makes you less of a lesbian, or a if transman is just a butch lesbian who’s betrayed womynhood. Lecturing people about proper pronoun usage, or trying to convince them that we’re not some variation of drag king or queen, can be a distraction from some of the very real issues trans people face. That’s why Transgender Awareness Month is a thing that should exist. Even people in the LGBTQ community at large have so many misunderstandings about trans people, and don’t understand the issues unique to us.
I’m never going to ask for special treatment, to argue that I have it harder than anyone else; Hell, I’ve been relatively lucky compared to many LGBTQ people. However, as long as transmen and women face such disproportionate levels of discrimination that goes beyond pronouns and bathrooms, it’s going to keep coming up.
No one is equal til everyone is equal. And by equal, I mean we all get to be sassy, attractive black transwomen.
A version of this article originally appeared in the November 2014 edition of The Gayly