SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2015 Personal Memory Ethnographies
A (Trans)Gendered Account
A lot has happened in the transgender community throughout the years, but so little of it is known to people who aren’t transgender. So much of transgender history has been covered up or swept under the rug, but still it remains. Many people think that the existence of LGBT people is a more recent occurrence, but people who live outside of the gender and sexuality norms have existed throughout all of history. It used to be a lot more unsafe for LGBT people to “come out” than it is now—and even then, it is still very dangerous. In the 1990s, there were multiple brutal and violent murders of transgender people, including Rita Hester. The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) was created after these murders to honor victims of anti-transgender violence. The high suicide rates of transgender people and the alarming number of hate crimes committed against them just because they are different is downright scary. While it is still not uncommon for a transgender person to be the victim of murder, “corrective” rape, or suicide, there have arguably been more victories for transgender people in the past 10 years than in the past 100. There are more transgender people being represented in the popular media than ever before as of 2014, and in 2010, it became a federal offense to discriminate against transgender individuals seeking employment.
One thing about me that not a lot of people know, and that I usually don’t talk about with strangers, is the fact that I am transgender. It is something I have only fairly recently accepted and come to terms with. I have the full support of everyone I care about that I have ever chosen to “come out” to (my dearest friends, my mother, etc). I spend a lot of time on websites where I am surrounded by a very accepting, nonjudgmental community. I felt I was normal, because I was accepted for who I am by almost everyone I knew. I grew up in a relatively safe haven, and I am surrounded by supportive and open-minded people. However, this blessing can also be a blinding curse. At times, I forget that there are still people out there in the world that detest me on principle and are disgusted by me because of my mere existence—because I am “different.”
When I was a child, I remember being uncomfortable because I never fit in—I didn’t want to wear the dress to Christmas dinner. I didn’t want to change in the girls’ locker room with all the other girls. I didn’t care about the same things that my female peers did. On multiple occasions, I would go on shopping sprees and buy a multitude of “girly clothes,” despite the fact that they make me feel uncomfortable, in order to try to force myself into the female gender stereotype. It ended up being too much for me, and I’d throw the clothes in a bag, never to wear them again. But for so many years, I didn’t even know what being transgender was. For years, I never told anyone, let alone let myself dwell on it.
Feeling the way that I felt, it is hard to describe the amount of surprise, frustration, and depression I experienced when I saw so many people’s negative reactions to Caitlyn Jenner coming out as a transgender woman. Caitlyn Jenner’s brave spirit, accompanied by her beautiful and elegant dress on the cover of Vanity Fair when she first came out as transgender publically, is extremely important to me. It takes a lot of courage for someone whose identity is generally repressed by the norms of society to be their true selves out in the open, knowing that people will judge them. I find what Jenner did utterly inspiring, as someone who feels it is unsafe to come out of the closet in such a harsh world. Before this, I had started to feel as though hate for the LGBT community was a dying thing, the minority’s view in America. I was so wrong. I often forget that despite the fact that I may be surrounded by accepting and loving people, those who see me as the Other will always be there to disagree with me and force me to see things from their point of view.
Net Surfer: People are saying that something “big” has happened. I didn’t know what they were talking about, so I read an article online. It was about Bruce Jenner, the Olympic athlete. He said he is a “transgender woman.” I didn’t quite understand, so I kept reading. This means that he thinks he was born into the wrong body—that he should have been born a girl. Now he’s going to go through sex-changing surgery to become a woman. Unbelievable.
After Caitlyn Jenner came out, it was scary and exciting all at once. It was exciting because there were finally people like me who were famous and somehow validated my existence. It was scary because there was a rising wave of hostility from anti-LGBT folk who made me feel threatened. It’s a terrifying thing to come out to one person, let alone an entire nation (if not the world!) at once. I immediately respected Caitlyn’s pronoun and name changes, as the people I care about have done for me. And then I made a terrible mistake—I looked at comments on online articles about the recent events surrounding Caitlyn Jenner. There were hateful comments, disrespectful comments, and disgusting “memes” meant to be funny, such as pictures of a dog that were captioned “Bruce Jenner’s cat”.
Next I scroll down to the comments. Some are supportive, and some are not. I decide to write a comment of my own, to reflect my stance. This is what I write: “Bruce Jenner is not a woman. I’m not going to call him Caitlyn. He has lived his entire life as a man, and he has slept with women and has kids. Doesn’t this make him straight? I understand that maybe he wishes he were a woman sometimes, but there’s nothing he can do about that. You are what God made you. I’m sorry but a sex-changing surgery isn’t going to make a difference—he’s still going to be a man.”
How could so many people be so ignorant, so blind, and so repulsive? Unfortunately, many of the anti-Caitlyn comments were made by people whose religions preach love and acceptance of all people, religions that teach them to “hate the sin, not the sinner”. I found myself skimming these comments for hours, days, reading over and over how Caitlyn was disgusting, a boy playing dress-up, fake, and her gender identity laughable. They must think that I am disgusting, a girl playing dress up, fake, and see my gender identity as laughable. Everything that they said about Caitlyn, they were also saying about me—about all transgender people.
When people see my comment on Jenner, they explode with anger. They call me transphobic, and that lights me with fury. I’m not afraid of transgender people. I just think that they’re confused. We should help them. But it’s true, and I stand by what I said—he can’t be a woman. You just are what you’re born as. Why doesn’t anyone understand that? It’s so frustrating! He can put on a dress if he wants, but the fact doesn’t change that he was born with a penis and that makes him a man. I think he would be happier if he just accepted who he is, because I don’t think anyone is going to start thinking of him as a girl, especially this late into his life.
You just can’t be transgender. God picked your sex for a reason.
These comments deeply hurt me—they will always hurt me. After being made to feel like the majority would accept and love me, everything I thought that I had known was thrown out the window. It wasn’t true. The majority of people, it seemed, rejected me, hated me, and judged me because of something so trivial in the big picture, without ever even knowing me. I couldn’t, and still can’t, believe that people believe that what I feel and who I am is “fake”.
I recently saw another article depicting the newest Halloween costume fad, its popularity rising. It had overwhelming support and not nearly as much negative feedback. This costume is of “Bruce” Jenner, in the outfit “he” wore when “he” was on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, complete with a sash that reads, “Call me Caitlyn”. My gender identity, as well as the gender identity of all transgender people, is now a Halloween costume. And people laugh, and they buy it, and on Halloween, they will wear it, a symbol to humiliate and reject transgender people. Transgender people, to the majority of the public, are a joke. Ipso facto, I am a joke. What I feel is a joke. My life is a joke.
This is the series of events that have shocked me and opened my eyes to the harsh reality of the world, and have taught me that the only people I can ever count on to accept me and treat me like a normal person are the few friends and family members that I have come out to; that I am mocked because of something I can’t control, simply because other people do not want to understand.
This is a story about my gender. This is a story about me, and it will always be important to me. No longer will I lie to myself and live uncomfortably to try and fool myself and others of who I am. From the day Caitlyn Jenner came out and onwards, I knew this event was important to me because I was free.
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