Recently, a Transgender Woman received a hateful letter from a DMV employee in San Francisco. The story quickly went viral, presumably because of shock and outrage, but also as an example of the discrimination, prejudice and transphobia some Transgender Women experience on a daily basis.
I’m writing about this tonight because in the three days since the incident, I have seen the link posted on Twitter at least a dozen times an hour. I am not exaggerating, at least not by much. Every LGBT-rights organization has picked up the story, again and again and again, and my daily Google alert on “transgender issues” lists it as one of the top new links to look at.
So now I’m writing about it too, because I’m fed up with hearing about it all. the. damn. time.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s horrible that this happened. The young woman in question shouldn’t have had her business at the DMV co-opted by someone’s bigoted religious beliefs any more than Gavi and I should have had our concert experience ruined by a bigot running her mouth last month. And certainly the idea of DMV employees, or anyone really, looking up people’s addresses to harass them is kind of…chilling, to say the least.
Constantly seeing this story on social media sites, news sites and elsewhere makes it look like the problem is way more widespread than it is.
Ever since Gavi started living openly as a Woman, we’ve both noticed something: there is a HUGE culture of fear in the Transgender community, especially among Transgender Women. Some of our friends think Gavi is too open because she doesn’t hide who she is, online or off. They seem to think she’s setting herself up to get hurt both physically and emotionally. We’ve both heard over and over that she’s crazy to want to date because no-one dates “trannies” or if they do, they are just looking to use them to satisfy a sexual fetish, that she’s lucky she works from home because nobody hires openly Transgender Women and that she should be more careful about talking about being Transgender in public in case people are listening.
I really think the media sensationalism around stories like the DMV incident helps encourage that culture of fear. I mean, some people turn to the Internet for help when they are confused about their gender identity and need support. And if all they get, or the top hits for their search anyway, are stories about how Transgender people are attacked, abused and humiliated, they might decide they’d better not explore their identity anymore because it’s too “dangerous”.
I’m really hesitant to post this blog because I already know that someone, somewhere is going to say that Transgender issues are real and that I am hurting the Transgender community by claiming that Transgender people aren’t as unsafe as everyone believes. But I’m going to post it anyway, and here’s why:
41% of Transgender youth attempt suicide. That is higher even than the rate for non-heterosexuals. The number is unacceptably high, and while I don’t know the full story behind every, or even most of the suicides, I do know that when people feel isolated, alone and like it is impossible for them to be themselves, they are more likely to become depressed and/or suicidal. Transgender youth need hope just as much as everyone else, yet there are very few positive stories out there, and the ones that exist don’t get shared nearly as often as the negative stuff.
I also think that to some extent, being afraid becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do Transgender Women “bring it on themselves”, or deserve to be attacked or humiliated? Of course not. I’m not saying anything like that, but all this fear does create a cycle of more fear. If a person is afraid that others might know s/he is Transgender, that person tends to focus too much on it, giving off a vibe that s/he is hiding something. People in turn become suspicious of, and avoid, that person. The person then feels isolated and blames it on the fact that s/he is Transgender, which makes hir more convinced that others must not know.
This cycle is devastating to self-esteem as well as leading to the depression I talked about a little while ago.
So please… if you know someone who is openly Transgender and living happily, someone who is self-confident and encourages others to be as well… if you know someone whose main frustrations come from not being able to put hir gender on medical or legal documents and not from fear of violence… someone who some may consider “lucky” because s/he is Transgender without experiencing a ton of discrimination…
Please, please please repost their story as often as you can. Let our positive voices be just as loud as the negative voices that share all the ways that being Transgender can be difficult.
Let’s not paint a picture of a world that is hopeless, where being Transgender means being doomed to Hell, forever.
“The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the only thing is to never be afraid.” – Rabbi Nachman of Braslov