Trans* Life

BY: ROCIO BRENA

As a child, Yuliana used to play with the neighborhood kids. She remembers distinctly this little boy that all the girls liked: he had the bike and the cool stuff, so he was the coolest kid. When they played house, he would always want to be the dad and he would always want Yuliana to be the mom. But as they grew older, he started distancing himself from her. Why was he not coming out to play as he used to? Something clicked in her mind. Yuliana knew her friend liked cisgender girls. “Oh, ok,” she thought. “This is what it means to be a boy. This feels weird.” Yuliana was born with a male body. She dressed up in shorts and boy shirts, and her family treated her like a boy, but being feminine was natural to her. Like many others, Yuliana didn’t come across the term “transgender” until later on in her life, and she identified as such in her sophomore year in high school. She was lucky to have a smooth transition and always have the support of her grandmother. However, this is not the case for all trans* individuals.

For a long time, trans* men and women like Yuliana have been marginalized. Fortunately, 2014 marked a difference in the trans* community’s visibility and recognition. And although some achievements have been made, there are still a lot of challenges to overcome in the coming years.

The road so far

Trans* characters have shown up in our screens more often than ever this year. Television shows like Orange is the New Black or Transparent have depicted transgender characters, without falling into the classic clichés.

“I’m excited and happy that they are beginning to show us as who we are,” said Yuliana.

Transgender teenagers have gained a valuable role model in Jazz Jennings. The 14-year-old has been in the spotlight since her family appeared on 20/20 and The Rosie Show speaking about their transgender child when she was six. The fact that trans* youth have someone to look up to is key, but it hasn’t always been like this.

“Trans youth have a variety of struggles to work through and first is self-acceptance,” said Joel Gemino, Youth Services Manager at the LGBT Center of Long Beach, who works as a counselor in several trans* youth groups. “For many, it’s very difficult to fully accept and love who they are. Much of this stems from discrimination and oppression they experience in their communities.”

Perhaps even more important was the passing of several laws that grant transgender individuals long-awaited rights. The California School Success and Opportunity Act (AB1266) “gave trans students the right to access facilities and activities that match their gender identity,” explained Gemino.

In other states and countries, however, the law continues to prohibit transgender people to use the bathrooms they feel comfortable in. In March 2015, the ban provoked a viral social media campaign called #wejustneedtopee and the demand for what were popularly known as “Bathroom Laws”.

Other major legal progress includes the U.S. Department of Education announcing that Title IX applies to gender identity, and the Affordable Care Act, which gives transgender individuals access to medication to complete their transitioning.

The striving ahead

The trans* community has hit important milestones in 2014, though there is still a lot to do. And rest assured, the community is determined to make the most out of this momentum.

One of the major struggles trans* individuals face is popular misconceptions. There is a huge gap in knowledge dividing outsiders and the trans* community itself. Gender and sexual orientation are frequently confused, almost as often as trans* people are mistaken for drag queen performers.

“People think transgender individuals are just men in dresses,” said Yuliana. “They think we’re confused or that we’re gay men who got out of control.”

Both Yuliana and Gemino agree that the community needs more protection from discrimination in housing, employment, and education on a national level. Even though many states already have laws that prevent discrimination on a gender basis, there is no way to guarantee they are being enforced. Other states are less lucky, and haven’t even contemplated legislating in favor of transgender people.

Therapy and medical access are also main concerns.

“I think the main reason why all states don’t have hormone treatments covered is for moral or personal beliefs,” Yuliana explained. “And it’s really frustrating, because they are imposing those beliefs onto thousands of trans people whose lives depend on this. Some people really want this, to the point where they commit suicide for not looking a certain way.”

So what can I do?

When Yuliana decided to come out to her mother, she wrote a letter. She felt that if she said it out loud, her voice would crack, she would start crying, and she wouldn’t be able to get her point across. They both sat in the dining room of their home while her mother read it. When she put the paper down, there was a tense silence.

“That’s scary,” her mother said.

Yuliana’s heart broke a little.

“Huh?”

“That’s scary. You want to call yourself transgender? Do you know what transgender people go through? I don’t want that for you.” But eventually, she concluded: “You’re my child and I will love you no matter what.”

As for the rest of us, take this suggestion from Joel Gemino: “Educate yourselves! Make sure your workplaces have protections for trans individuals. Educate others. Do not be passive in your support, but active and visible. And mostly, the crux of a good ally is to listen!”