The Lives of Transgender People
Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin
Transgender 101: a simple guide to a complex issue
Nicholas M. Teich
Columbia University Press
Recently, I heard two transgendered seven year olds talking on the radio. They had met at a conference their parents took them to. One commented how important it was to her to have a friend to confide in. She mentioned that she didn’t tell most people because they wouldn’t understand.
This is a feeling I have lived with for almost my entire adult life -- since I came out actually. I do end up telling most people, if not everyone, that I’m a lesbian—but still the feeling is there.
Certainly I have been aware of transgender politics in the gay and lesbian community and have individual friends who are transgendered. However, I gleaned further insights by reading two books published by Columbia University Press: The Lives of Transgendered People by Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin and Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue by Nicholas M. Teich.
The Lives of Transgendered People, based on an academic study, credits the internet with bringing people who were once isolated together. Writing in the Foreword, Shannon Minter shares his own experience:
“As a FTM who struggled to live as a lesbian for many years before coming out as transsexual, I am fascinated by the stories of younger transsexual men who are able to bypass those years of internal struggle and find their path more directly. It is intriguing and even a little poignant, to imagine a future where most transsexual men will no longer have the experience of identifying as lesbians for any significant period. But it is also exciting to realize that we are on the brink of a world in which transgender children and youth can be embraced and supported for who they are.”
Both books substantiate what I have always heard expressed as the experience of feeling “trapped in the wrong body.” The Lives of Transgendered People reveals study findings that the majority of trans people began to feel uncertain about the gender they were born into before the age of thirteen. The study also found that female to male transgendered individuals only began to be represented in the past 10 to 15 years. As a result, female to male transgendered individuals were more isolated. But that didn’t stop people from claiming their true identities. “My masculinity was so tested by being born female,” states one study participant. Like many others, he defines his gender as “how he feels about himself, rather than how he grew up or how he might physically compare to other men.”
Transgender 101: A simple Guide to a Complex Issue , includes a brief history of transgenderism (including the Native American concept of Two Spirit people who have been traditionally awarded a special position in tribal life); surgical procedures and legal proceedings (some jurisdictions required people undergoing legal name changes to notify their local newspapers). The book also expands on terminology, including the identity of “gender queer” – which is growing in popularity and refers to people who feel they are in between male and female and identify with neither.
The book also poses the definition s of long-term relationships changing (for example, from lesbian to heterosexual) when the relationships themselves don’t change. It explores what the gender change means for those in the relationships and the world around them.
Transgender 101 also examines the fact that when their children come out a transgendered, many parents will wonder what they’ve done wrong. Sound familiar? The book also addresses the issue of sexism (many men who become women suddenly experience discrimination and many women who become men are truly amazed at how they have suddenly gained respect and stature). But the authors’ point out that the process of changing one’s sexual identity comes at great cost, including the expense of surgery and the risk of losing the support of family and friends.
Transgendered people’s views on coming out vary widely. Perhaps offering the greatest insight into the process, is the example given in Transgender 101 of how children choose to come out.
“Statistics on trans children are few and far between. We do not know how children fare when their parents do not acknowledge their severe distress, but one can only imagine that the child will continue to spiral downward. Some trans children are very open about their identities, but some want very much to blend in, understandably. So when they begin living as their “correct” gender, they may stop coming out. For example, if Michael transitions to Michelle and goes to a new school where no one knows her, she may not want anyone to know that she was labeled male at birth. She may want to be stealth, to fit in with other girls her age, and may even resent anyone that does know her secret. These feelings may or may not change as she gets older.”
Resolution by lethal injection?
The murder of first known anti-gay hate crime murder victim Anthony Milano
I am a lesbian who grew up in Levittown, PA, and moved to Philadelphia several years before gay artist Anthony Milano, 26, was brutally murdered in 1987. The case was the first known anti-gay hate crime murder trial in this country, ten years before the murder of Matthew Shephard, the gay college student who was murdered near Laramie, Wyoming.
The governor signed the death warrant for one of the murderers, Richard Laird, scheduled to die by lethal injection this past May 12th. A stay of execution has since been granted. Laird was convicted twice for the same crime and given two death sentences. A second man was also convicted of the slashing murder of Anthony Milano but a federal judge set aside his death sentence.
I came out soon after leaving Levittown. I still remember the look on my mother’s face when she handed me the local newspaper article about Anthony’s murder. “Now I understand why you had to move away,” she said. Moving away was something I probably would have done regardless of my sexual orientation. But I remained a dutiful daughter. When my mother was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer in 1995 I returned to help my father care for her.
In Tea Leaves, my just-published memoir (Bella Books), I focus on my relationship with my mother (who had a wicked sense of humor) and not on growing up gay in the 1970s in Levittown. But I do write about the fact that I was bullied. In elementary school, I was the taller than everyone and I was a bookworm, an only child with no older brothers to defend me. All made me fair game for being “picked on” – including getting beat up and pushed down the steep hill behind my elementary school by a pack of boys who were having some fun.
I didn’t know Anthony personally – but his murder had a profound effect on me. Years later, I met a man who went to art school with Anthony and a friend’s father who came to this country from Italy knew Anthony’s father, also an Italian immigrant.
Vito Milano, now 83 and still working as a barber, was quoted in the local newspaper, saying that he thinks about the murder of his son every day and that he believes that Richard Laird deserves to die.
I do have some reservations about the death penalty. But this case has none of the red flags. For one thing, there is no racial bias (everyone involved was white) and no one has challenged the fact that a murderer has sat on death row for 25 years. And even if the execution by lethal injection is eventually carried out, this is hardly an “eye for an eye.” The crime was extremely violent and grisly, even by the norms of murder.
I hope that Anthony’s father lives long enough to see the day when American justice is served.