BY ZOE AMOS
The Transgender Day of Empowerment is an extraordinary day, one in which we acknowledge the strengths and contributions from a segment of our community that until recently has seen little in the way of recognition. April 26 marks the eleventh year of San Diego’s celebration, as it brings together the LGBT community and its allies. Not long ago, I was neither aware of nor recognized this special day. Now, I understand and I will be celebrating, too.
Here is how it started for me. Back in the 1990s, a relative confided in me that there had been a mistake. I looked into the brown eyes of the teen before me; his hair long, his body tall, thin and gangly; his movements awkward from a recent growth spurt as if he hadn’t gotten used to the length of his arms. I was familiar with his sincere, quiet nature and the seriousness of his voice clued me in to an upcoming shared confidence. Yes, there had been a mistake. Fifteen years ago “he” was born into the wrong body. “He” was supposed to be a she.
She was sad because she would never have a period or bear children. She thought I would understand her predicament because I was female and gay. I listened intently with great curiosity. I admitted my confusion. I hadn’t had much experience around 15-year-old boys, and hadn’t a clue about what might transpire in their sexual development. She was not close to either parent, and though I wouldn’t tell them, I didn’t know what to do with the information. I was unfamiliar with the term transgender. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t a fascination with the female body, or a mistake on “his” part, or the truth; that despite outward appearances, “he” was a she.
Today, this relative is a beautiful woman exalting in herself and the newness of what it feels like to live as you are without being tied to the stated gender on your birth certificate or driver’s license. Actually, there was a mistake, and those documents have been changed. It took many years before she was able to start transitioning and later still to tell her parents. Part of her change and acceptance came about because what it means to be transgender is no longer foreign to us.
As a lesbian, I have experienced various challenges of being outside the majority. I understand discrimination and selective use of pronouns. I acknowledge the decisions of others not to be out. I can only imagine how hard it must be to transition, yet I feel hope and encouragement when I see how this family member has embraced her femininity. She asked for my support and I was happy to give it.
Coincidentally, during the time I witnessed her transition from afar, I also met a handful of transgendered individuals where I live and became friends with several. These relationships helped me understand the obstacles they faced by being born in the wrong body and the courage it took to make things right.
The term transsexual or transgender (some prefer one over the other, while others use it interchangeably) has come into the forefront of our modern conversation. As people are exposed to transmen and transwomen, there is productive discussion, misinformation, opinions favored over fact, hostility, indifference, tolerance, acceptance and love; and the distinction among knowledgeable persons between gender assignment and sexual orientation.
As individuals we make our contributions to society, we fall in love, pay taxes, raise children, travel, invent, consume, give and receive. All individuals count, yet all do not get a fair shake because prejudice and fear are strong. Ignorance and ego can trump common sense and love for our fellow neighbor, whoever they may be. The transgender community is small, but as they gain presence, they gain strength, confidence and the ability to educate others.
The Transgender Day of Empowerment helps promote awareness. It is a reminder that we can thrive in a positive environment and, by allowing and promoting individuals to become the best they can be, society as a whole benefits.
With more years of high profile exposure behind them, lesbians and gays have traveled further down this road. They know it can be not only rough, but life threatening. So it is with our brothers and sisters in the transgender community. Gays and lesbians have their pride celebrations, in part because it brings community presence, acknowledgement and acceptance. It is heartbreaking to honor those lost during the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Transgender Day of Empowerment exists to empower us all and it’s an honor to share in it. If your community doesn’t have a celebration, start planning now and join us next year.
Zoe Amos brings her lesbian point of view to articles and stories on diverse topics. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Read her stories on Kindle and Nook. Check out her other life at JanetFWilliams.com