In the past year or so, transgender issues have made their way from obscure news websites and community groups to major headlines. While the exposure has been good for the transgender movement for equality, not all of the headlines have been positive.
Probably most notable of late was the appearance of Laverne Cox of Netflix’s hit, Orange is the New Black, appearing on Katie Couric’s talk show.
That show, titled “Transgender Trailblaizers,” was supposed to educate the audience about transgender activism, but Couric was too focused on the actress’s genitalia.
“The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people,” Cox responded when Couric asked her about her genitals. “And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.”
It’s not just pop culture that’s talking about transgender people and the issues they face. Issues of gender identity and expression are making headlines across the country. Politicians, the military, prisons, activists, parents, and schools debate everything from hate crimes to preferred pronouns and job discrimination to restroom accommodations and prison facilities to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and how the government designates gender on legal documents.
Kate Bornstein’s influential book Gender Outlaw and The Brandon Teena Story documentary have helped break into mainstream territory. But maybe not as much as Chaz Bono, who appeared on Dancing With The Stars, and supermodel Carmen Carrera, who could become Victoria Secret’s first transgender supermodel.
In 2013, US Army Soldier Chelsea Manning made headlines when she was imprisoned for releasing classified military documents to WikiLeaks. Chelsea, born male, announced her plans to transition while in prison, which raised questions as to what constitutes appropriate prison facilities for her.
Speaking of prisons, there was also the story of Cece McDonald, who was jailed in a men’s facility after she killed an attacker in self-defense. McDonald has since been released and is now living on house arrest.
Transgender issues have also made it into the sports pages. Several years ago, LA Times Sports Writer Mike Penner shared his story of transition to become Christine, and helped bring her story to avid readers of the male-dominated section of the newspaper. While Christine’s story ended well, not all do.
Golf club inventor Essay Anne Vanderbilt took her own life in January after sports writer Caleb Hannan outed her as transgender against her wishes. Those close to Vanderilt say she was already suicidal, but that the timing of the article may have pushed her to end her own life sooner than originally planned.
Even those organizations that are supposed to fight for equality for all people have made errors when it comes to transgender rights and issues.
Last summer, as the Supreme Court was about to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, paving the way for marriage equality, a Human Rights Campaign staffer allegedly censored transgender activists at a rally outside the court building. He argued that transgender rights and marriage equality rights were two separate issues and the trans-activists would have been distracting to the message of the day.
The transgender community is separate from the gay and lesbian community in many ways, but the two are joined in many other areas. Each year, on Nov. 20, LGBTs and allies gather on Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor the victims of transphobic violence around the world. And on March 31, International Transgender Day of Visibility will help combat that violence.
Obviously, the trans-lived experience is a part of the national conversation now more so than ever.