2015 Trans Year in Review — The Downside / A Long Time Comin’

It’s been a long time comin’


It’s goin’ to be a long time gone


It’s common for those who leave destitution, poverty and discrimination behind to forget their past and their roots. “Movin’ on up” helps the mind recast reality with a glossy sheen, and it’s easy to forget life is still miserable for those who haven’t broken free. Ignorance and its children, fear and hatred, still pervade this society. Freedom and equality for the trans community is still a long time coming. While 2015 was a banner year, as I discussed in the first part of this column, we gain little if we forget many who are still left behind and have yet to benefit from the increased exposure and legal and medical victories. We have many struggling just to get by who are left on the sidelines helplessly hoping to become a part of society.


The economy is not healthy for those without college or graduate degrees; being trans just adds to the challenge. For every case won in court or accepted by the EEOC there are dozens if not hundreds that are rejected or go unreported. Some are not strong cases due to lack of evidence or adequate record keeping; some are related to the employee or employer’s character that have little to do with gender. Some people don’t have the confidence to stand up to an employer or prospective employer, and others that do don’t know how best to do so. Way too many still believe they are without recourse because they have no law to protect them, because the national LGBT community has done too little to inform them. That sad fact has changed very little over the past four years.


Racial, gender and ethnic biases play a huge role. It’s harder being a woman in this society, and it’s even harder being African-American or Latina. The National Center for Transgender Equality has documented these disparities, and is currently working to upgrade the statistics for 2016. People live with these biases on a daily basis, generally far from mainstream and social media. While organizations do exist to provide support, they are too few, though the commitment from the Arcus and NoVo foundations to fund trans support to the tune of $20 million is very welcome and, I hope, the beginning of a trend.


When it comes to health care, progress is being made, but is still sketchy across the country. Kaiser keeps working on its countrywide roll-out of fully trans-supportive services, and all the other major insurers know they are legally required not to discriminate, but often those directives haven’t filtered down and require legal action or the threat of such to provoke action. While Caitlyn Jenner’s recent awkward comment about “men in dresses” caused a firestorm within the community, the fact remains that our society is still imprisoned by its limited notions of gender expression, and while we can fight that system, the daily reality of many is heavily influenced by those expectations. The full course of medical and surgical services is often needed for adult women to be able to move comfortably through society, and the inability to do so leads to significant discrimination. Getting all those services paid for by insurance is still a long way from fruition.


A real-life example of a trans woman dealing with all the challenges of living as trans today with few resources is Kricket Nimmons, written up in The New York Times recently. This story weaves together the issues I’ve laid out, and adds in the severe difficulties trans women have in prison and being infected with HIV. She’s one of the fortunate ones, and we all hope the beginning of a trend.


The tribulations of African-American trans women are highlighted by the electoral debacle in Houston in November, when the city voted to rescind its anti-discrimination law. The campaign against the law used the “trans women as male sexual predators in bathrooms” meme to great effect, and the supporters’ campaign, though well funded, failed to challenge the fear-mongering. There were few trans persons of color senior staff on the campaign, and little outreach to the African-American and Hispanic communities, which make up 2/3 of the Democratic primary electorate. It’s shameful that the LGBT community still distances itself from dealing with the bathroom attacks head-on, even while knowing that those are the only effective tool for the haters, and that bathrooms have always been ground zero for civil rights in this country. While we won a much bigger victory in California on their bathroom referendum signature collection effort a few weeks ago, this problem is not going away, and running from it is not the answer.


While all trans women, and some trans men, are targeted by the right wing attacks, those most at risk remain women of color. The endemic murder of black trans women, at 20+ annually now for decades, is finally being acknowledged, as far up the food chain as the White House. Congress has taken note, and the #SayHerName campaign is embracing trans women and having an impact. Some black activists are beginning to recognize that black trans women will not be safe until black men step up and play a positive role on behalf of their sisters. Community activity is increasing to help that trend along.


While media portrayals have improved considerably and the health care providers are more supportive than ever, not everyone has access to proper treatment. You either need the financial wherewithal to move forward on your own, or a family willing to help. Children and adolescents are dependent on the kindness of their families, which is not always forthcoming, and the suicide rate is indicative of the risks any given trans person may have. The success we’ve had in moving the civil rights ball downfield may be having a perverse impact on some youth who take their gender transition for granted, when personal circumstances dictate they should wait. I believe as a rule it’s always better to transition early rather than late, and that is the growing trend, but each individual must decide for herself how to proceed. Delay may very well be prudent for some, particularly considering the pace of social and legal change.


Finally, the hostility of many women, particularly lesbian feminists, needs to end. Neither side benefits from this forty year old division. Those gay leaders, who promised they’d come back for the trans community after getting their rights, need to step up and put some of their political capital at risk to make it happen. Even though the Equality Act has no chance in the near term, the educational groundwork needs to be done, and there is no better time than the present. Lip service just won’t cut it anymore.


The balance is tilting more towards justice and dignity, thanks to the work of many dedicated people who put in a great deal of time for little recompense. We need to build on our successes in 2016 to ensure that more people live through the year in peace and happiness.


But you know


The darkest hour


Is always, always just before the dawn

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