Over the past few months, I've begun to think about the question, "In the predominant culture (the United States, my culture) today, what is the image of being transgendered today?" I'm not sure that this is as easy a question to answer as it would appear on the surface.
This is something I've been thinking about since my adoptive niece Erica, made a comment about the featured speakers and content of the conference workshops at Trans Philadelphia Health Conference. Over the past few years, the content of workshops and speakers reflect a trend towards those who identify as "gender queers", particularly in the Northeast and West Coast.
According to the National Transgender Discrimination survey approximately 13% of people who were included in the survey identified as gender queer. Those who identify as gender queer are much younger than the general population obtained in the survey. 67% identified within the gender binary of male or female. Another 20% identified themselves as sometimes living as male and sometimes female, but still clearly identified with the gender binary concept to a large degree. 71% were under the age of 44 years, so the study does not accurately reflect the age distribution of transgendered people. 20% were in school at the time of this survey. It was also limited to those with internet access, so there are some confounding variables to this survey. In other words, the results cannot be considered statistically valid or reliable.
However, it remains the most important study on discrimination transgendered people face in the United States conducted to date. In my opinion, despite the limitations of the survey, it is the most accurate reflection of the life experiences of transgendered people in the US today.
Individuals who identify as gender queer appear to be heavily influenced by an extreme left feminist ideology that is fashionable in academia at colleges and universities. It is known as third wave feminism. They advocate the ideological belief that individuals who identify with the gender binary schema are hurt by it as their lives are limited and scripted by having to conform to either a male or female identity. Instead, they argue, we must create a genderless society.
In October 2012, a Gallup Poll reported that a survey conducted from June 1, 2012 through September 30, 2012 found that approximately 3.4% of Americans identified as being transgendered. These are very similar results as reported in several other surveys since 2006 and can be considered a good estimate of the general population of the U.S. These surveys have a much higher degree of internal validity and reliability of the findings.
It is a more difficult task to ascertain how the culture perceives transgendered people. There are several ways of coming up with a general idea. One can look at how transgendered people are portrayed in the media such as in movies and television. Another way is to look at how transgendered people are portrayed in news sources. A third is to look at the programming presented at transgender conferences.
Curious to me, is the image that Jerry Springer provides on his television show. I'm also surprised that someone as strongly identified with liberal politics gets away with the way transgendered people are portrayed on his show and that he is so revered by the left. He regularly brings on the worst examples of transgendered people in our society. If one watches his show, one would draw the conclusion that transgendered people are promiscuous, adulterous, drug addicted and essentially shiftless people who engage in outrageous low life behavior. I do not dismiss the thought that at least some of what he portrays is staged, but I also think that some of the people he has on the show are real people. How Springer gets a pass on this from the transgender community is beyond me, but I see more far more attacks on conservatives who make negative comments about transgendered people and I can't ever recall anyone complaining about Springer. Yet he damages the image of transgendered people tremendously. Why is that? I wonder...
Another problem I see is very complicated and is a conundrum with no easy solution. We have a very high rate of suicide attempts, unemployment, addiction and alcoholism. Those of us who have been disenfranchised by lacking an education because of dropping out of school are also often marginalized and often end up working in the sex trades. I was very fortunate that despite being physically and emotionally abused in school for a significant portion of my high school years that I was able to endure that and later a brief period of homelessness (directly related to being who I am) and manage to overcome those experiences. I was fortunate to have overcome these experiences and I know that it was only by the grace of God that this happened. The majority of transgendered people are also people of color and in addition to the burden of institutionalized racism, bear the stigma of being transgendered.
Having said this, I clearly want to say this is not an attempt to "blame the victim". People do what they do to cope with being stigmatized. Transgendered people don’t have the same access to the opportunities that people who are not transgendered have and they experience a much higher rate of being victimized physically, emotionally and sexually.
Remember, when you were in grade school on "career day" and the teacher asked the classroom "What do you want to be when you grow up? No one is raising their hands and waving them wildly exclaiming" I want to be an alcoholic and addict when I grow up!!" or "I want to prostitute myself when I grow up!!!!!"
But we do have a responsibility to overcome the illness of addiction with treatment and 12 step programs, seek help for mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. We do not have the luxury of just rolling over and giving up, as tempting as that may seem at times.
I looked at the content of workshops offered in recent years at transgender conferences as a way to understand how we are portraying ourselves to the public. I'm not sure that this is a way of discovering what the public's perceptions are, but based on the percentage of workshop programming devoted to gender queers. I do know that they are a very vocal and public image of the "transgender community", much as drag queens and kings" draw a lot of attention and possibly could be a strong influence on the perceived image we have by the predominant culture.
Another element that influences the public image of transgendered people is something that I have seen decried frequently in our community. That is the tendency for transsexuals who have successfully transitioned to end their involvement in the transgendered community. Their attachment to the broader transgender community is often more tenuous than other transgendered people. They are often criticized harshly for not "giving back" to other transgendered people who are coming along and finding their own way on the long and winding road of successfully transitioning. Because they "disappear" into the predominant culture, the public has little context for these individuals in our society and this further skews the public perception of transsexuals (as opposed to transgendered individuals not including transsexuals). While this is ultimately the goal of most transsexuals, it is not necessarily what is desired by other transgendered people who have a strong attachment to the transgender culture.
My interpretation of what this represents is that the majority of transsexuals do not identify with other people considered to be transgendered and they do not share the same sense of community with drag kings and queens, cross dressers, gender queers, and other diverse identities that consider themselves members of the transgendered community.
In my opinion, a transsexual who has managed to transition and does not wish to continue being involved in the community has every right to do so. She does not owe the community or others coming behind her anything. Her sole responsibility is to herself. In the words of Oprah Winfrey “… to live your best life...”
Because of my profession and my experiences as a transsexual, I will remain active in the transgendered community to a large degree to help individuals with their transition and in overcoming addictions and mental health issues that we all too frequently have. This is a choice I make voluntarily as a professional, not a personal responsibility. This necessarily means that I will have less privacy about my identity than I desire, but because of my special set of skills I will continue to make my skills available to the transgender community.
These are just my observations. What do you think is the image of the transgendered community and what are the reasons for this? I'm very interested in your opinions and I hope you will share them!