‘Society’ Archive

Transgender stories matter

This story series began, like most ideas, with a confluence of inspiration.

Char-DemTownHall-DetroitWith transgender people increasingly in the spotlight, their lives have become more visible — but not entirely visible. Many Americans only see what the public eye will allow. Celebrities like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner may help raise awareness, but they certainly don’t tell the whole story of the transgender community. I don’t pretend that my new series can tell the whole story, either, but it will look at the real lives of transgender people living in our communities instead of in the glare of the media.

The first inspiration for this series came from conversations with people I know. Although they fully embrace LGBT equality, they expressed a sincere desire to know what being transgender means. “I’m completely supportive,” one friend told me. “I just wish I understood it.” To be honest, I felt the same way a year ago. I am always learning from my transgender friends, and I have learned a great deal more by working on this series.

The second inspiration was the ACLU of Michigan’s Transgender Advocacy Project, spearheaded by the amazing activist and transgender woman Amy Hunter. Here’s what motivated me, in Hunter’s own words:

The transgender community will be pivotal in the [LGBT community’s] continued fight for social, economic and cultural equality.

Transgender people here in Michigan and other states are inarguably among the most at-risk segments of our society. According to the report “Injustice at Every Turn,” transgender Americans—particularly transgender women of color—face rates of violence, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and suicide that are unthinkable for most Americans. If we are to stem the staggering tide of discrimination and violence my community faces, transgender people too must win the hearts and minds of the American public. We must amplify the cries of a community that has struggled to be heard.

And that’s why the Transgender Advocacy Project was conceived—to lift up the voices of everyday transgender Michiganders. …

They need to be heard by our friends and our co-workers, by the media and our policymakers.

The Transgender Advocacy Project is designed to help Michigan’s transgender residents utilize their experiences to educate the rest of our state about who they are and why their lives matter and to advocate both for themselves and for their community.

When I learned about this storytelling aspect of the Transgender Advocacy Project, I wanted to help. And Eclectablog provides a platform to help elevate the voices of transgender people.

Transgender_symbolFor this series, I’ve spent hours interviewing members of the transgender community and their allies, all participants in the Transgender Advocacy Project, who graciously and fearlessly shared their personal stories with me. I say “fearlessly” because it takes a great deal of courage to live openly as a transgender person, knowing that you could be fired, denied housing — or worse — because Michigan does not have any protections for LGBT people in its Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). As I write this, new legislation is being proposed in the Michigan Legislature that would allow blatant discrimination against transgender people, Michigan’s own “bathroom bill.”

The rash of “bathroom bills” being introduced across the country count on misinformation and a lack of understanding. The supporters of these discriminatory bills rely on people believing the lie that transgender people are predators or deviants, which is absolutely untrue. A transgender person is much more likely to be the victim of violence in a public bathroom and not the perpetrator. I’ve shared a public bathroom with transgender women and didn’t give it a second thought. We stood at the mirror together touching up our makeup, and it was no different than any other experience I’ve ever had in a women’s bathroom.

I share Hunter’s belief that personal stories can dispel stereotypes and discriminatory beliefs, and increase understanding and empathy. So in this series, I’ll be helping transgender people and their allies tell their own stories so readers can get to know them. The fact is, you probably already know someone who is transgender and don’t even realize it. That has been true for me. And the more we learn about our transgender friends and neighbors, the more we can remove any perceived barriers that create divisions of “us” and “them.”

Their stories will demonstrate the significant challenges transgender people face in a society where they are still woefully misunderstood — and often vilified as a result. But they will also reveal what is clear from every conversation I’ve ever had with transgender people: They are people, first and foremost.

Transgender people have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. They want nothing more than to be loved for who they are — who they really are, which they have sometimes kept hidden for decades. They want to have fulfilling careers and loving relationships. They want to live their lives out in the open, without fear of discrimination or worse.

Every one of the people I interviewed is unique, just like every other human being. The only thing they have in common is being transgender — and feeling like the gender they were assigned at birth doesn’t match who they are inside and how they long to present themselves to the world. It’s something each of them knew from an early age, even if they didn’t quite understand what it meant. However long they tried to hide it — from the world that might judge them or even from themselves — eventually they all recognized that they would never be happy until they could live authentically.

There’s actually a clinical definition for the emotional and psychological burden of being assigned a gender at birth that’s incompatible with the gender you identify with: gender dysphoria. Medical societies recognize that gender dysphoria isn’t treated by forcing someone to conform to the gender they were assigned at birth, but by addressing these conflicted feelings. Most transgender people turn to counseling, and many others also choose to transition physically using hormones and, perhaps, sex reassignment surgery. The choice is as unique as each individual, but the ultimate goal is to express the gender they identify with in their heart and soul, not by biological assignment.

The remedy for gender dysphoria is to live authentically.

That’s the other thing the people I interviewed have in common: They have the courage to live authentically. Even for those of us who don’t grapple with our gender identity, living authentically is one of the hardest things any of us will ever do. The transgender people and allies I interviewed are doing that, in the most remarkable of ways given how transgender people are often still perceived and treated by society.

It’s my hope to help change that. Transgender people are people, they are our fellow human beings. By recognizing that, and understanding who they are, we can foster acceptance and empathy.

Everyone involved in this project has my utmost respect and gratitude. I look forward to sharing their powerful stories.

You’ll find all of the stories HERE.

This post originally appeared at Eclectablog, where the story series will be hosted.

[Top photo courtesy of Char Davenport].

Love knows no bounds, even gender identity

When you see real love, you know it. And I recently had the honor of telling the story of two women whose love is so powerful, it transcends gender identity.

IMG_0594Amy and Cindy Hunter are two of the couples I profiled as part of promoting The Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo hosted by Between The Lines, Michigan’s weekly LGBT newspaper.

Although the expo is in its sixth year, this is the first following the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The expo recognizes all the celebrations in the lives of LGBT people and their allies, including anniversaries, baby showers, adoptions, graduations and more.

As part of promoting the event, I had the pleasure of interviewing a number of couples who shared their stories of longtime commitments and what marriage equality means to them. But Amy and Cindy’s story is unique. They were married in 2003, when Amy was still living uncomfortably as the male she’d been assigned at birth. Three years later, her love for Cindy finally gave her the courage to say what she’d known in her heart all along: she knew herself to be a woman.

Their story not only demonstrates the depth of true love, it sheds light on the lives of transgender people — who are gaining greater visibility, but not always in a positive way. Transgender people face significant discrimination, largely because others simply don’t understand who they are deep inside.

Even with marriage equality, LGBT people — especially transgender people — still don’t have full equality in America, so the work continues. Part of that work means educating the public on what gender identity is. So it is my hope that while celebrating love, I can help reveal the truth that transgender people want the same things as everyone else: love and acceptance.

Read the full story here as it appeared in the special wedding edition of Between The Lines.

[Photo courtesy of Amy and Cindy Hunter.]

Supporting equality for all

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….”

Statue-LibertyBWThe world knows these words from the U.S. Declaration of Independence well. It’s a foundation of our country’s vision of a land where everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In the years since those words were written, America’s leaders have amended our laws to make it clear that every citizen is entitled to the same rights, regardless of their gender, skin color or other characteristics. That work isn’t finished yet, though, because the LGBT community still faces discrimination in the workplace and in their personal lives.

Legislation like the “religious freedom” bill recently passed in Indiana is a giant step backward in the march for equality. Other “religious freedom” legislation already exists in some states, and is pending in others. Although I fully support laws that protect an individual’s right to practice his or her faith (or not to practice any faith) without government interference, I do not believe in laws that allow discrimination against anyone, for any reason.

So it does my heart good to see an outpouring of support for LGBT equality in the wake of the Indiana bill being signed into law. Across the country, people are standing up and being heard.

The most notable example is the “Open for Service” campaign. Here’s how the campaign website describes Open for Service:

We are a non-partisan, nonjudgmental group looking to provide a grassroots network for people to support businesses that open their doors for everyone – Black, White, Gay, Straight, Christian, Atheist, Disabled . . . well, you get our drift.

OpenForBusinessOpen for Service’s mission is simple: to celebrate businesses that oppose discrimination of every type. For a $10 contribution, businesses can be added to the Open for Service roster and receive a window sticker to show their customers that they believe everyone is equal — and will serve everyone accordingly.

As a small-business owner, I’m proud to sign on to Open for Service. I may not have a shop window to display my sticker in, but I gladly join businesses across the country in saying I would never turn away a customer because of who they are, what they believe, or who they love. Open for Service also sends a positive message of unity and lets those who may fear discrimination know they are welcome.

I believe in equality, and I believe in the collective power of people to drive positive change. Together, we can make sure America remains a country that upholds the principle that all men and women are, indeed, created equal — and makes sure everyone is treated that way.

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