Gender Spectrum: Reflections on Transgendered Women and Men in the Isles

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #104, Winter 2004.

This column was previously published in DaKine.

Making a Difference Against Prejudice

By Li Anne W. Taft

Transgendered men and women
can fight intolerance and injustice by helping others better understand TG-related issues and lifestyles.

My angry words flew out. ?Get out of here?just leave me alone!?

The panhandler jumped back in surprise. He had offended me by his rude question: ?What, you male or female?? My explosive reaction provoked another angry response. ?You f??- queer!? he threw back at me.

I gave him stink eye. As he shuffled away, I felt my anger subside and a feeling of disappointment snag me.

This guy had been confused by my transgender appearance, I reasoned, and my shouting had only increased his fears and squashed his desire to talk with me.
Days later, beside the ocean, I reflected on days when I had a higher tolerance for such negative responses to my unique gender expression. I felt a deep frustration at my lack of tolerance on that day. His minor intrusion hadn?t warranted my defensive reaction.

Nearing my canoe helau, I resolved to focus on more positive ways to help others deal with their apprehension about transgendered people and their issues and lifestyles. I would no longer make conflict worse by overreacting to the responses of others.

Prejudices against transgender individuals are deeply ingrained. ?People are afraid of what they don?t know,? transman Marcus Aran stated in a recent news story. Aran, co-chair of the San Francisco Task Force on Transgender Rights, further stated that transgendered people have been unrealistically represented in the media, encouraging the public?s fear. ?In ?Silence of the Lambs,? we were psycho killers,? he said. ?In ?The Crying Game,? we were pathetic, and nobody loved us.?

Thankfully, there is no shortage of transgendered men and women who fight prejudice and build supportive communities in the process. Reflecting on nationally known, dynamic people and on locals who practice transgender social activism, I realized that our collective dealings with injustice are helping to educate a nation. I believe that one day transgendered men and women will be treasured for the unique individuals we are.

Transgendered people who develop a plan for action can empower themselves to deal successfully with conflicts that arise from misunderstanding and fear. The following suggestions for positive, productive social action can help you make change and resolve problems:

- Bond With Others with similar lifestyles and beliefs. Form a quick response team to act against local and regional incidents of prejudice. After a known incident, reach out and help the victim overcome his/her feelings of vulnerability, fear and lonesomeness.

- Look Deeper Into Social Issues that divide local people, such as economic and gender inequality and same-sex unions, and plan ways to help deal best with transgender discrimination issues such as housing and employment. Examine your own prejudices and stereotypes.

- Speak Up and Tell Your Story as a transgendered individual. Be active as a speaker with your local support group or volunteer to talk to church, college and civic groups. Presentations to student groups and university classes can reach many people who may develop positive influence on society. Talk about transgender issues in small groups or one-on-one at informal social gatherings. Participate in con-ferences, debate forums, and group

- Help Educate the Media. Encourage balanced, in-depth trans-related news articles. Send reporters positive news stories and web links for reference, and provide editors with guidelines on transgender terminology. Write a letter to the editor, outlining needed corrections or acknowledging a well-written transgender story. Distribute posters
or ads with a striking educational

- Be Active and Visible in Helping Others. Perform community volunteer service?something uplifting to yourself and others. Bond with others and give back to your community by serving food at a shelter, help with ocean clean-up, visit the elderly, or volunteer at the local YMCA. The focus will then be off your gender difference and more on you as a normal person with concerns for other people.

- Join Others in Recreational Activities and team sports like volleyball, paddling, or sailing. Let people get to get to know you in familiar, fun settings. The fun and fellowship of the activity and appreciation of your individual effort will be all that matters here.

- Report Every Incident of prejudice and mistreatment to the proper authorities?the police, social services, courts?and seek out their assistance. Keep a journal and document what was said or done for future reference.

Doing nothing about transgender social injustice leads to apathy and disparity. Letting your emotions control your actions simply encourages others to continue the ridicule and abuse. Transgender social action directed at the roots of the prejudice?fear and the lack of understanding of transgender lifestyles?is the best approach. Doing positive things that educate others on transgenderism addresses the heart of prejudice and can encourage a better understanding and tolerance of the uniqueness of transgender individuals.