Beyond the statistics: What it means to be transgender

On March 30, protesters in Boston met a large orange bus displaying anti-transgender messages and #FreeSpeechBus, according to NBC News. The bus, which was organized in part by CitizenGO, was traveling along the East Coast, spreading what supporters say is the “biological reality” of the gender binary. According to the BBC, in the wake of these protests, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh raised the transgender flag over city hall and said that it’s important to support the trans community and not be intimidated by discrimination.

This isn’t the first time the rights of the transgender community have been brought to the political forefront. Earlier this year, the president rescinded protections for transgender students in public schools. Although the topic seems to  routinely come up in the news and in political realms, traditional news coverage can sometimes neglect what the term “transgender” means and the issues that transgender communities face.

Breaking the binary

Transgender, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is an umbrella term used to “describe the full range of people whose gender identity and/or gender role do not conform to what is typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.”

“Transgender refers to people who don’t identify with society’s binary male/female model,” said Chris Vila, associate lecturer in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science. “It’s something that’s inherent. It doesn’t need to be thought out or explained [for them].”

Vila said that these labels and the construction of the binary stem from a human desire to understand the ambiguity of life.  

“Part of what’s going on with discrimination and hate crimes, from a psychological perspective, is an anxiety against what’s unknown,” said Vila. “The truth is that there is so much going on and we have little control of much of it and that’s why people try to compartmentalize. And that’s true in terms of gender, race, ethnicity [and] socioeconomic status.”

According to Vila, there aren’t any federal laws protecting the trans community from discrimination. States vary in the level of protection they provide for the transgender community and some have tight restrictions on major transitioning steps, such as changing names or genders on birth certificates.

Vila stated that part of the reason there is a lack of education on the subject has to do with a psychological theory known as the social contact theory.

“When we know someone, we know who they are as a person, it’s easy for us to identify with them as a person,” said Vila.

For that reason, Vila said it’s important to raise awareness about the transgender community by reading articles, taking volunteering opportunities and sharing experiences.  

Breanne Taylor’s story

“It was early elementary school. I knew that I was different from everyone, I just didn’t know what was going on,” said Breanne Taylor, a graduate student pursuing a specialist degree in school psychology.

transgender

Taylor is a transgender woman who grew up in Michigan. Although Taylor said she always felt like something was going on, by the time she entered middle school she tried to solve the problem by participating in more masculine activities.

“I had this feeling inside of me, like if you go to class and you forgot something and you get this feeling in the pit of your stomach, and I had this feeling every day and I could never get rid of it,” said Taylor. “I tried to join the football team and wrestling team and at the end of each season the feeling just got stronger.”

At 22, Taylor joined the Air Force, still trying to fill a masculine role. She thought, “If that can’t help me, nothing will.”  

After serving, Taylor moved to Orlando, where she worked at Disney and began dating a girl, which she says was another attempt to fill a masculine role. Eventually, however, the couple broke up when Taylor’s girlfriend discovered the clothes Taylor was using to dress as a woman at the time.

“At that point, I kind of had a good idea of what was going on but I just needed confirmation, so I went to see a psychologist,” said Taylor.

At age 27, Taylor started medication and the transition process of becoming a woman. The process of transitioning contains multiple steps and can often take years because of expenses and restrictive laws.

“Transitioning is one of the hardest things that you will ever go through. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy because it’s a living hell,” she said.

In Taylor’s case, she said it cost almost $800 to change her name and gender on her driver’s license alone. Taylor, who is still transitioning, said that the complete process will cost about $150,000 out-of-pocket because many insurance companies do not cover the surgeries required to complete transition. Despite this, Taylor said that the transition process, particularly her facial reconstruction surgery, has helped her overall happiness.

Unfortunately, Taylor said that she often lacked a support system after coming out to her family and beginning her transition.

“When I first told them, my parents basically said, ‘It would have been a whole lot easier if you were gay,’” she said.

After that, Taylor said she barely spoke to her parents for five or six years, receiving calls once or twice a year. Her relationship improved after they agreed to see a gender therapist in their area. Taylor said she hasn’t spoken to her brother or sister since she came out to them nearly 10 years ago.

She said that she did find some comfort from those who were willing to listen and speak with her, like her roommates or her psychology professor at Broward College.  

“It’s kind of one of those things where you can’t grasp or begin to understand what we’re going through if you haven’t been through it yourself,” said Taylor.

For that reason, Taylor emphasized how important it is to listen, even when you might not understand what a trans person is going through. She cited her professor as the reason why she graduated with her associates from Broward College and even why she’s alive today. Taylor said that her first two years in South Florida were extremely challenging as she faced discrimination, unemployment and even suicidal thoughts.

“I came down here with 14 years of experience serving, I put in 600 applications in those 2 years, I went to 100 face-to-face interviews in those two years. Almost all of them would laugh at me, mock me and ask questions that I never heard of before in serving. Some of them would even look at me through the camera and call the hostess station and say, ‘Tell him to come back tomorrow.’ It was always ‘tomorrow,’ ‘tomorrow,’ ‘tomorrow’ until I finally gave up and took the hint,” she said, describing her search for work.

Taylor said that when an employer in Deerfield Beach took a chance and hired her, it gave her the confidence she needed to help turn things around. Today, along with going to school, Taylor works full-time and tutors part-time on the side. She also regularly volunteers with the YES Institute, a Miami-based nonprofit that works to educate on gender and orientation.

Taylor accompanies presentations given by YES in schools and shares her experiences with the youth. She said that those who may know people who are trans should be willing to listen to them. She also said it’s important to ask the questions you don’t know the answers to and that asking how someone identifies or what they prefer to be called can mean the world to someone.

“We just want to be normal people,” she said. “We have thoughts and feelings and goals and dreams just like everybody else.”

 

Photo:

Printed with permission from: B. Taylor

Caption: Breanne Taylor, 36, is a transgender woman pursuing a specialist degree in school psychology. She often volunteers with the YES Institute to share her story.

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