Before I met my daughter, I did not know a transgender person. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Sally Jessy Raphael would flaunt her red glasses and Maury Povich would sensationalize people under the guise of an interview. In these seemingly polite, congenial conversations, transgender people who transitioned later in life, discussed their transition. In addition, family members, usually their children, would march on stage to answer questions about how the person’s “choices'' harmed them.
Now seeing through the eyes of a parent, I witness the shame and harm levied against the transgender community. In fact, on a recent Super Soul Podcast Oprah described feelings of remorse for her contribution to tabloid television and committed to never "demean, diminish embarass or dehumanize others." I appreciate Oprah's willingness to acknowledge the past and commitment to uplift my daughter and her peers. I too want to uplift our transgender community by highlighting three truths:
1) Transgender people are not a circus act. The majority of transgender people just want to feel comfortable in their own skin. Just like their cis counterparts, some transgender people choose to perform in the arts, on stage and in public. To stereotype transgender people as flamboyant or attention seeking is a generalized, oversimplified idea of a particular type of person. Simply put, it is irresponsible to further a narrative that dehumanizes any group of people and calls into question their value to society. Further, promoting this farce strips transgender people of their uniqueness and humanity and encourages violence.
2) Transgender people do not have a mental illness. It is a learned misconception that transgender people "choose" to be trans. It is a degradful, deleterious narrative to label transgender people as crazy or mentally ill. Labeling others in this manner cements the idea that a person's very existence is criminal and should have access to fewer rights and privileges. We see this harmful rhetoric play out time and again against marginalized communities.
3) Identifying as transgender is not rare: According to the Williams Institute, in 2016, approximately 0.6 percent of adults in the United States identified as transgender. This translates to just over 1.3 million adults. Centers for Disease Control data from 2019 reveal that 2% of students surveyed identify as transgender. These numbers are believed to be underreported for fear of reprisal due to transphobia and discrimination.
4) Shaming is harmful to everyone. Each of us has the power to listen instead of casting shame or judgment. To seek to understand those who are different from ourselves and relish in the beauty of diversity. It is time to acknowledge the enormous burden of manipulative and intentional shaming, even when it is subversive. To speak louder than those in power who use humiliation and the criminalization of the transgender community as a rally cry to their constituents.
As Oprah stated in her podcast, "what we dwell on is what we become." It would be difficult not to dwell on the overt discrimination, segregation, and criminalization being placed on transgender youth. Elected officials have the audacity to debate their right to play sports, use an affirming bathroom, right to medical access. It is killing our transgender community. Literally.
If you are looking for resources or book suggestions, please visit our website at Narwhal Magic Kindness or the Human Rights Campaign's guide to Supporting Your Gender Nonconforming Child. Please also feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.