In learning about transgenderism, we are moving from bullying towards acceptance. Like other marginalized youth, transgender and/or gender nonconforming students suffer bullying and harassment at levels higher than their peers. Recent studies highlighted in the article “Peer Violence and Bullying Against Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth” (2011) from the National Center for Transgender Equality note data that includes the following:
- 82% of transgender youth reported that they felt unsafe at school.
- 90% report harassment from peers.
- 44% report being punched, kicked or injured with a weapon.
- 62% report cyber bullying.
Transgenderism as a Mainstream Topic
Although only .05% of the U.S. population identifies as transgender, incidences of bullying beyond childhood and into adulthood makes it imperative to address the conditions for transgender youth and their families in school and community settings. In 2015, there were many instances that have raised the topic of transgenderism to the forefront in media and social networks:
- In June, four transgender women of color were murdered in four separate incidences in our country. These women are included among 100 trans people who have been murdered worldwide in 2014.
- Advocate Magazine revealed a situation about a Hobby Lobby transgender employee of 16 years who is now the subject of disdainful practices from her employer and co-workers.
- TV host John Oliver interviewed LGBT activist Pepe Julian Onziema regarding transgender suppression in Uganda on his June 29 edition of “Last Week Tonight” on HBO.
- The cover story of Time magazine for May 29, “The Transgender Tipping Point” featured an interview with transgender actress Laverne Cox, one of the stars of the Netflix drama “Orange is the New Black”
- The television show “America’s Got Talent” broadcast on July 1, 2014 received immediate rebuttal against a performer who sang a song deemed derogatory and hostile to transgender people. His singing was not interrupted or stopped. The host or judges did not address his content. However, the online response to have his performance removed has grown to thousands of replies.
All of these events represent the inequality and violence experienced by the transgender population. Stories such as these support the reasons that transgender people are more likely to be suicidal, unemployed, homeless, and subjected to arrest or prison terms. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality, the suicide attempt rate of 41% for transgender people exceeds the 4.6 % of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime suicide attempts. The figure for transgenders is also higher than the 10-20 % of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults who report ever attempting suicide.
Taking a look at the differences between sex and gender lends understanding to transgenderism. Sex is biological and determined at birth. Gender is a set of behaviors learned through an individual’s interpretation of who they are in relationship to their interactions. This learning and interpretation extends from family and peer relationships to the broader world beyond family and friends.
Transgenderism is viewed as an umbrella term that includes similar definitions for topics related to the topic of gender identity. Some of those terms include:
- Transsexual ~ refers to someone who identifies as the opposite of the sex with which he or she was born.
- Gender nonconforming~ Those who choose to dress in manner more associated with the gender not assigned to them at birth.
- Transvestite ~ a person, who derives pleasure from dressing in clothes appropriate to the opposite sex.
- Trans ~ across, beyond, crossing, on the other side.
- T ~ as in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender).
The medical and psychological professions have been accepting of transgenderism for more that 30 years. In 1980, the term “transsexual” was accepted and added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. There have been changes in terminology since that time. Currently, the association uses the term gender dysphoria. This latest revision further removes the imprint or indication of disorder or something wrong. Gender dysphoria is a condition treated with less judgment than in previous decades. It is not a mental illness. It is not an identity that is wrong. It is an identity, which for lack of better definition, just “IS”.
Jamison Green, president of the World Association for Transgender Health, defines gender dysphoria as “discomfort with the gender a person is living in, a sensation that much of the population will never feel. “ Most people determine their gender by ages 3-5. A recent news story highlights one family’s situation:
Ryland Whittington, born a female, started expressing “I am a boy” to his parents when he first learned to speak. His parents continued to listen to Ryland and consulted with doctors and psychologists. By allowing her to dress as a boy, adapt her looks with shorter style haircuts, referring to her as “he” and involving her in activities more to her liking (stereotypically boyish activities), the Whittingtons continued to accept their son Ryland into their family. The Harvey Milk Foundation recently presented the family and Ryland with the Inspiration Award. In his acceptance speech, Ryland stated that he is the happiest he has been in his whole life.
Many trans youth and adults tell of knowing they could not relate to the body or the expectations assigned to them at birth. Some, like Ryland, have a strong family foundation on which to base their lives. Others are in families, schools and communities that are not accepting. These are the situations where bullying and harassment are most prevalent.
Positive Action for Transgender Youth
In light of statistics that highlight harassment and abuse from peers and adults in their school settings, some transgender youth have been supported through the efforts of school districts, communities and families.
Broward County Schools (FL), the 6th largest district in the nation, includes transgender policy in their schools and continues to provide training to staff in regards to creating safe and healthy school settings for transgender youth. Other school districts and cities around the country are taking on similar measures. Recently, the Orlando city council considered whether to outlaw discrimination against transgender people. Some of these policy changes and legislation have resulted in cities allowing people to use an identification card that matches the gender they identify as and not their birth-assigned gender.
Groups such as Equality Florida work with municipalities and their departments to encourage and promote non-discriminatory policy for LGBT people. Their work is becoming more and more successful.
Sources are readily available via online, print and conference sessions that offer help to parents and educators to find ideas to improve the situations of transgender youth. These ideas include:
- Work with districts to learn about policies from other districts regarding transgender youth. Although gay and lesbian students are included more and more in policy statements, transgender students are not as often included.
- Provide training and information for school staff that lets employees know of the importance of supporting transgender youth
- Work with students at all grade levels to help them learn about transgender issues. There are a number of literature resources available through Lambda Literary. An upcoming publication designed for elementary youth is “I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. There are similar resources for middle and high school students.
- The National Center for Transgender Equality encourages parents to develop safety strategies for their child. These include discussing now to respond to teasing. They can also advocate at their schools for staff development in areas about transgender bullying and harassment.
- Become more proactive in support of transgender youth. Organizations that focus on this work include Trans Youth Support Network, Jazz: A Corner for Transgender Kids and the website Transpurplekidsrainbow.org.
More and more youth are identifying as transgender. They are part of our families and school communities. As we learn more about transgenderism, proactivism is increasingly vital. In conclusion, the National Center for Transgender Equality provides a statement with which to close:
“Transgender and gender nonconforming students are among the most vulnerable to peer violence and bullying. Mounting research shows that the targeting of these students is pervasive and affects their health, school attendance and performance, and success in adulthood. Moreover, research shows that teachers and school staff are frequently indifferent to, or even complicit in, victimization of these youth. Many educators and other adults do care deeply about these youth, however. Communities around the country are beginning to take action to support them. The pace of change must accelerate greatly if transgender and gender nonconforming youth are to have an equal chance to succeed, and all levels of government have an important role to play.”