Imagine being 13 years old, lying in bed staring at the ceiling and wondering what is wrong with you because you have an unexplainable, almost uncontrollable attraction to those of the same sex. Now imagine that you are staring at the ceiling feeling you were born the wrong sex. I won’t even pretend to think I know how that feels.
Trans women and trans men are well aware that discussions around transgender make many people feel uncomfortable. Hell, most of the time they feel uncomfortable, too. They’ve spent most of their lives wishing they lived on another planet, one populated with people who would accept them for who they are.
Here are some facts surrounding transgender health: In a 2010 survey of 7,000 members of the trans community by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force more than 40 percent of transgender people in the United States have tried to commit suicide. About 20 percent have been refused medical care, and one in 50 have been violently assaulted in a doctor’s office. Yes, you heard correctly, in a doctor’s office!
Because of the risks and fears associated with coming out as trans, it is difficult to target critical mental health, HIV and STD prevention messages to the trans community, and it’s even more difficult to reach those who don’t identify as a particular gender or sex.
During a White House symposium I attended last year, a couple of trans females said they know lots of trans people who intentionally become infected with HIV in order to obtain healthcare. Those remarks were met with a standing ovation because they spoke out publicly. That confirmed to me that much work needs to be done to assure the trans community feels supported and included in the AIDS and LGBTQ communities.
A couple of months ago I was at a large and busy healthcare center in Las Vegas where I noticed a woman standing between the men’s and the women’s restrooms. At first I thought perhaps she was waiting for her young son or daughter. But as I got closer, I realized the woman was a male-to-female trans person. I didn’t ask, but clearly she was debating which restroom to use. And she looked scared.
Trans people understand the issue is complicated for those who are cis gender. I’ll give you an example. My partner’s mother told him she was distraught to learn her nephew is transgender. I listened to him explain that a trans person believes and feels he or she was born the wrong sex. Some seek a sex change; others don’t. It’s a difficult decision. It’s also difficult to explain to someone who lives in a small town in the mountains of Nevada.
The conversation made me realize the challenges gay men and lesbians face when they try to explain same-sex attraction to straight people. Yet, trans people face even greater challenges.
I believe ignorance is self-imposed and, therefore, it can be changed. The way out is to educate yourself. Remember, all hairdressers and designers are not gay men, and not every lesbian knows how to use a hammer or change tires.
Education is a two-way street. We have a responsibility to learn more about the trans community and the trans community needs to educate the AIDS and LGBTQ community. All letters in the phrase “LGBTQ community” need to come together to discuss how we all can work together for the common good for our human and health rights. As the United States Declaration of Independence states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (add women, gay men, lesbians, trans persons, bisexual persons and those questioning) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Gay or transgender — the bottom line is we all just want to be happy.