As transgender people feel more and more empowered to come out of the shadows to take their rightful place as contributing and accepted members of society, incidents against us based on discrimination, hatred, and ignorance are on the rise. These incidents range from the relatively minor indignities that we often come to quietly accept as simply part of the journey, to brutal, life-threatening physical attacks.
Whether it's the horrible video in Knoxville where police verbally and physically assaulted a trans-woman earlier this year or the brutal murder of Angie Zapata in Greeley, Colorado where her murderer referred to his victim as an "it" - the assaults many of us face on a daily basis are part of a constant de-humanizing assault on our personal dignity and sense of self-worth. Although we can sugar coat it with statistics of growing acceptance and protections for transgender people in workplaces, cities, counties, and states across this country, the soul-sucking reality that many of us face on a personal level can easily become overwhelming.
Being transgender is a difficult life. There are no two ways about it. To hide it is to struggle with the life-long conundrum of knowing that you're living a lie, a constant battle with the fear and shame of being discovered. To acknowledge it is to submit to the discomforts and ignorance of others, and to risk everything you know and love. For what? For the simple peace that comes with being authentic about who you know yourself to be. Unfortunately, many of us will never know that peace no matter which direction we choose.
The most recent incident to catch my attention was a situation in Jacksonville, FL earlier this week where police confronted a transitioning Male-to-Female transsexual who was simply using the women's bathroom in a bus station there. They asked to see this person's ID.
The Driver's License is the document that is most commonly used to define a person's "legal" gender. Different states have different rules for changing the gender marker on your Driver's License - something that is particularly pertinent for transsexuals who are transitioning and who are following the standard protocol of treatment known as the "Standards of Care". I live in Arizona, where the process was very straightforward and relatively easy. However, some states will not allow transitioning transsexuals to change the gender marker on their driver's license until after they have had sex reassignment surgery. As a result, for those who have not yet had surgery or who will never have surgery (for any number of reasons) their Gender Marker is dangerously incongruent with every other aspect of their lives.
Florida is one of those states. So, this person has obviously been transitioning for a while and is obviously not using the woman's bathroom as some sort of voyeur or pervert. However, that doesn't change the fact that this police officer confronted her as she came out of the bathroom and her driver's license identified her as "Male".
If you watch the TV news report you'll see first-hand some of the indignities that were forced upon her. First, she has to deal with ignorant people - like that smug police officer - who still want to classify her as a "man". They disrespect her by using male pronouns. And they seem totally oblivious to the fact that this person had every right to be in that bathroom - no wonder she became "beligerent" and caused a "scene". I would too.
Reporter: "JTA [Jacksonville Transit Authority] tells us when they removed Jordan from the restroom the 22-year old became beligerent and they had to call in JSO [Jacksonville Sheriff's Office]."
Police Officer: "Because of the commotion and the scene that he made they issued him a trespass warning, warning him not to come back on that property because of the scene that he was making. But as a result of that he was told never to come back to use either bathroom"
Can you imagine being confronted similarly coming out of the bathroom, being forced to "prove" your gender? Can you imagine what would have happened if this person had used the men's bathroom, as this police officer somehow suggests based on her gender marker? It would have been dangerous, and at the very least police would have been called and she would have been told not to use that bathroom, either.
In 2007, a "manly lesbian" was similarly confronted coming out of a woman's bathroom at a restaurant in NY City (details here). She subsequently sued for "embarrassment, humiliation, and emotional distress." Similarly, a 70 year old transitioning MTF transsexual was arrested for using the women's bathroom at Grand Central Station. During the arrest one MTA officer called her "a freak, a weirdo and the ugliest woman in the world." She sued, too. The result? The NYC Transit Authority announced a ground-breaking policy opening all restrooms to transgender people.
Transgender people now have the right to use any restroom they choose in New York City's public transit system under an unprecedented deal revealed Tuesday. According to the New York Daily News, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has agreed to allow riders to use MTA rest rooms "consistent with their gender expression," the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced yesterday.
Still, the bathroom has become the main battleground used by others in an effort de-humanize us and deny transgender people simple, basic rights. Scare tactics of "men" as sexual predators and pedophiles in Women's bathrooms are constantly used to inflame others, despite the fact that not a single documented incident of such behavior exists. Those of us who are transgender and who are forced to see this kind of sensational misrepresentation often experience it is as a direct personal assault on us and people like us. The current effort in Montgomery County, MD is the perfect example of this inexcusable attack on decent, innocent people just trying to live. It has implications far beyond that one single county.
This kind of behavior towards transgender people is part of a continuum of empowered disrespect. It starts with refusing to acknowledge that gender is more than simply a marker on a driver's license, of using improper pronouns and names. It moves through harassment and legalized discrimination in housing, at school, at work, and in other aspects of our lives. It involves being demeaned by people who somehow feel empowered to assault our dignity, our rights, and our very existence. And, in some cases, it ends with tragically brutal physical acts of violence.
An article in Pasadena Weekly this week, titled Hate by Numbers, analyzes hate crimes statistics recently released in the annual report by the country Commission on Human Relations:
Crimes motivated by gender more than doubled from seven to 15, all but one of them based on gender identity. Most targeted male-to-female transgender women, according to the report, and all the crimes targeting transgender victims were violent.
This is the harsh reality for many of us. That's not to say that things aren't changing for the better. There was a time not all that long ago that these things happened in silence, that it wasn't "news". But the more progress we make the harder those who oppose us push back and try to take that progress away. It starts with seemingly minor assaults on personal dignity. Where does it end? The numbers don't lie.
I learned a long time ago that Dignity was one of those non-negotiable cornerstones of life. It became apparent to me that others couldn't take it from me unless I gave it away. Still, it's difficult to hold onto it during constant onslaughts of indiginities and disrespect. We have a word in our language for those who exhibit uncommon courage and resliliency in the face of daunting, often staggering opposition.
That word is "Hero".