Old post: Transgender - socially acceptable or hijacked by the media?
Not everyone had the guts to stand up against the predominantly homophobic patriarchal society and legislation, join some civil rights movements or pressure groups. Most of us just wanted to be allowed to be ourselves and to be left in peace. However, things have moved on and it seems the rights activists' efforts weren't in vain. Many of us felt that it was safe to come out of the closets only recently when the law, at least on the paper, started granting us some formal recognition, respect to our conditions and needs, promising us equal rights with the rest of the public and legally enforceable protection from the abuse and maltreatment.
We find increasingly more understanding and acceptance with our families, neighbours and colleagues. We see a greater representation of the transgender people in the society and the media, and hear practically daily new stories of someone's coming out or transition. We have the celebrity packed annual ceremonies like Attitude or LGBT+ Awards ("Gay Mafia, Patsy?") and every major TV channel is announcing with pride nowadays a transgender actor playing in one of its productions...
And yet... for many of us there's a degree of disbelief - are all these changes honest and 'for real'? Are we finally socially acceptable and equal or just commercially repackaged by the media?
All what my generation of transgender people wanted in our not so distant deprived past was to be allowed to be and to be equal, to blend in with the gender we felt we belonged to and to carry on with our normal lives.
What we witness today, however, is too often a media promotion of the so called transgender identity, transgender community, transgender values, transgender culture...
Most of these definitions would be meaningless to my trans generation - we are well aware of how different we, our backgrounds and transition stories are, how little we may have in common apart from the realisation that transition was our only option. So most of us would reject the very idea of such a thing as common to all 'transgender identity'. Our values do not differ much from those of the genetic males and females (labelled today as 'cis-men' and 'cis-women') and there is no specific 'transgender culture' apart from that created and promoted by either the people obsessed and fascinated with the whole idea of gender transition or those whose personal goals may benefit if such a culture was real.
So, the recent changes around us are evident of two things: attempts by some to achieve own political and social goals purporting to represent the interests of an artificially created 'transgender community' and similarly unethical attempts to define that community as a new consumer group which may be sold all things transgender. Out of the unwanted outcasts we are quickly turning into a trendy alternative lifestyle.
I have no doubts of the genuine and heartfelt coming out of Caitlyn Jenner. Despite all the criticism (albeit, justified) she's received from some of the transgender people saying that with her means she could afford not just a 'Vanity Fair' cover story but a whole new gender of her own if she'd wanted which our money-driven society would equally accept and promote. It might have been easier for her than many others. There might have been an element of a business plan behind it all which already started paying off. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that her coming out made a great deal of good for the transgender people worldwide.
However, her transition story has generated in the media a much circulated opinion that 'transgender is the new gay' - i.e. similar to the gay community gaining gradually social equality in the 1980s-1990s, the 'transgender community' is becoming acceptable now. To the trans people of my generation such a view is open to scrutiny on a few levels, the main of which remains the questionable existence of that very 'transgender community'.
Trans people have started sharing the umbrella term 'LGBT' along with the gays, lesbians and bisexuals not that long ago, allegedly, in the early 1990s, prior to which they were often included in the gay community. While historically this may be justified by the frequent interaction of the trans people with the gay community, especially, in the times of the Stonewall Riots, essentially, the social acceptance of one's gender self-identification has very little in common with one's sexual lifestyle preferences. The misleading catch-all term 'LGBT' has created a great deal of confusion and carries on doing so by attaching additional letters to the original acronym (presently, LGBTQIA+), allegedly, symbolising new forms of gender identification, expression, etc., all of which, perhaps, are ought to be studied and classified separately.
The media idea that 'transgender is the new gay' roots in that very confusion. But while the gay community has always existed as a very well defined social and cultural group, 'transgender community' is destined to be a temporary phenomenon at any given time by its very definition. Unlike the gays, transgender people are transitioning between the genders - moving from their maleness to their femaleness or the other way around. The sooner they transition - the sooner they may adapt to their new gender role and succeed in the society as ordinary men and women. Even though everyone transitions at their own pace, for the majority of us - transition is a temporary state of being, a phase, nothing more. Those of us who identify themselves as trans women have more in common with the women's rights activists, while the trans men often share hobbies and interests of the genetic males.
There is by all means 'LGBT community' - an award for the services to which we have recently witnessed being presented to Dame April Ashley, an icon for many trans women worldwide. But what is that exclusive 'transgender community'? Does it consist of those who are hopelessly stuck in their gender transition or choose to live permanently in such a semi-transitioned state? These groups are usually full of all kinds of activists and coaches fighting for various noble causes and trying to define, regulate and lead the 'transgender community'. But unlike those who have won us the legal recognition and freedoms of today, these groups often appear descending deeper into a social niche of the always misunderstood opposition, challenging the entire world.
Despite the temporary nature of all those transitioning, the artificial 'transgender community' is not short of the new recruits - the much publicised coming out of Caitlyn Jenner had an unfortunate side effect of opening the floodgates of the so called 'coming out culture' - which encompasses more than just someone's gender self-identification - apparently, it is now a popular modern form of a teenage protest to come out as something new at school. Being a parent, I hear these stories on a daily basis. However, those coming out as a transgender, frequently get caught up in the nets of the transgender community gurus teaching them how to be 'a proper transgender'!..
I know what it's like to go through the puberty with a gender dysphoria on top of it. I would never want my children to experience anything like that. I would never want any children to go through that if it is possible to avoid it. If not, I'd always gladly offer my support and experience and a shoulder to cry on. I believe that those suffering from gender dysphoria should always be able to find the information about their condition and an understanding professional to talk to. But at the same time I would consider any media influence wrong if it leads anyone to start a transition just because it is trendy, cool, looks good on the telly. I have known some young people who went through a full gender reassignment surgery and deeply regretted it later. They were going under the knife just being impressed by the photographs of the transgender models, some of whom have never had any operations. I also remember far too many who died during their operations as this was happening too often in the 1980s-1990s... After all, this is still a much more serious operation than some celebrity cosmetic surgery. And even after a successful surgery, in our society - much more liberal than 20 years ago - there are many hard times in life of any transgender person - something often left out from the positive and encouraging TV programmes. Are all those who recently came out as transgender ready for such a life?
But if all these people form today 'the transgender community' does it mean that those of us who have successfully transitioned years ago and live in our new gender - are no longer transgender? Are we now just men and women? After all, that was the ultimate goal of the transsexuals of the 1960s - at the end of their journey they were becoming just that...
Whatever we are and whatever is the transgender in its modern definition, our true social acceptance and equality will become real only when we will no longer be treated as something extraordinary or unusual, when the transgender actors, soldiers, politicians and everyone else will be valued for their personal and professional achievements and won't need their gender history to be highlighted by the media as some sort of 'a gender bending phenomenon' to sell the news to the closeted sex maniacs; when our marital, family and other human rights will be the same as those of the genetically heterosexual couples, without a need for a separate legislation; when the gender dysphoria will no longer be filed under the mental disorder F64 in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and when not just the laws but the hearts of the people we live among will accept us as equal human beings - no matter how well or poorly we may fit their expectations of a particular gender.