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It might seem that the 21st century promoting political correctness and tolerance must eliminate prejudice against those who suffer from being different from the rest of us. Yet, transgender people, who are no strangers to society and do not belong to different species, continue to be discriminated daily. Their major fault, according to those who treat them as non-human and alien, is that they do not feel comfortable in their birth-assigned body and simply try to give way to their nature.
Even among those who are not explicitly adverse to transgender people, there is a common belief that they are mentally sick and should be treated by a psychiatrist. Yet, it is a proven fact that any identity, however deviating it may seem, is not a mental disease that can be cured even if addressed in due time. This means that the difference these people feel is genuine and the rejection that they receive instead of support and understanding is truly distressing for them (the USA, National Center for Transgender Equality 2). This leads to numerous psychological disorders, which are not the root of transgender identity but rather the effect of our negligence, intolerance, and hostility. Treating these people as inferior, weird, and sick, we impose the sentence upon them that allows no appeal.
Differentiation of Terms
It comes as no surprise that society can be cruel. However, it is ridiculous that most of those who behave aggressively towards transgender people do not even understand what they are mocking at. They are often mixed up with transsexuals, who undergo operations to change their biological sex, and transvestites, who simply dress up like representatives of the opposite gender. Many people believe that being transgender always implies changing physical sex, while the term is referred to as those whose behavior does not align with accepted norms of gender. Thus, we come to understand that gender, as a conceptual category assigned by culture, is confused with sex, signifying biological characteristics. Transgender status has nothing to do with the sexual preferences of a person, who can with an equal chance be heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, or anything he/she likes. If we analyze this from the perceptional point of view, we will see that some cultures single out up to six genders that do not correspond to only two possible biological sexes (the USA, National Center for Transgender Equality 1).
This means that transgender people are despised and humiliated for having a gender identity that does not align with their sex, which is labeled abnormal. But what is the norm? Different cultures have their ideas of masculine and feminine, which means that there is no universal model that should be followed to be perceived as normal. But even if there was, is there anything that makes so-called normal people better than those who were less lucky to be born in the wrong body?
Transgender Status in the US
Since the situation with transgender people is highly tense, many of them tend to conceal their true identities. This accounts for the fact that we still do not know how many American citizens classify themselves as transgender. According to the estimation of Gary Gates, an LGBT demographer at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute, there are about 700,000 people of age (0.3% of the US adult population) that can be referred to this category. The statistics are impressive and, no matter how unpleasant it is to some of us, we have to face the reality that quite a large number of people in our society can be classified as neither male nor female. Despite this evident fact, the US Census still allows for only two traditionally accepted responses, which means that discrimination starts at the government level. Some may think this is no more than the question of principle but it is highly important to collect data on LGBT community representatives. The crucial point is that they experience problems with health care and accommodation access, so the government needs to have documented statistics to address them (Paquette).
Discrimination does not stop at this level. It would be naïve to expect that with such treatment on behalf of the state, transgender people can find a different attitude from members of the society, in which their existence is officially ignored. For their natural desire to feel comfortable with their body, they are subjected to bias, bullying, and harassment in school, workplace, and even at home. According to the recent study, 29 percent have to deal with verbal abuse at work, 27 percent are treated differently from other employees, 7 percent regularly receive threats, whereas 4 percent suffered physical abuse (Whittle 39). The broader picture is even worse than this: 19 percent were driven from their home, 53 percent were harassed in public, and 19 percent were refused access to health care (Pappas).
You may say that many people suffer from being different: some are obese or disabled, others come from minority groups. Should we then be always on the alert not to accidentally offend anyone? After all, even the most ‘normal’ of us were bullied at school because children are usually relentless to anyone who seems to be even a little bit non-conforming. However, here comes striking statistics that leave no doubt how exceptionally grave the situation with transgender people is: 46 percent of trans men and 42 percent of trans women attempted to commit suicide because of regular verbal and physical attacks they have to experience. Compare this number to 1.6 percent of the general population to see the difference. Lifetime suicide attempts were reported by transgender people belonging to all demographic groups. This vulnerability to suicidal behavior comes as a result of psychological trauma they receive because of societal rejection (USA, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 2). Does this not mean that we kill those people for the sake of having fun at their identity? Should we feel responsible for what seems to be innocent jokes? The answer is definitely yes, we should.
If we look closer at the position, in which the American society puts transgender people, we will see that their rights are violated in every aspect of life including family, accommodation, employment, health care, education, and many others. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender bias is stronger than ever since no steps are taken to improve the situation. The survey found out that (Grant et al. 3-8):
- transgender people live in extreme poverty with an annual income rarely exceeding $10,000;
- 55 percent were fired, 51 percent were bullied at school, 61 percent were physically assaulted, 64 percent experienced sexual molestation;
- 78 percent of those who discovered their identity in grades K-12 were regularly harassed, 35 percent were physically assaulted, 12 percent were sexually molested, and 15 percent have to quit education;
- all abused transgender people have poor health in comparison to other population groups;
- the unemployment rate among transgender people is twice as high;
- 90 percent have to encounter discrimination at work;
- 47 percent were denied promotion;
- 11 percent were evicted from their family house;
- 19 percent experienced being homeless for a different period while 2 percent are still homeless;
- 55 percent were treated violently in homeless shelters;
- 29 percent were abused by the police;
- 12 percent were harassed in court;
- only 21 percent of those who have transitioned gender were able to get new documents;
- 48 percent could not afford health care and 19 percent were denied medical assistance.
All the enumerated injustices persist mainly because the government does not take any steps to stop them. The problem is not merely ignored but rather aggravated in the media spreading images of transgender people and commenting them with slurs and rude jokes. Unless these people integrate into society and learn to be ‘acceptable’, they are treated like trash even by those who are capable of changing the public attitude. To fit in, they have to refuse their identity and expose themselves to psychological and physical consequences. No one is in power to place them in such a dilemma.
Steps to Achieve Acceptance
To make the position of transgender people more tolerable, we need to take certain steps that would allow them to feel full members of society. First of all, it is necessary to prohibit conversion therapy. Parents who discovered that their children are transgender should not be forced to bring them to doctors if they are unwilling to go. Such conversion practices should be denounced and outlawed under the legislation since they violate human rights and ethical principles.
Families imposing strict gender rules on their children must be controlled to make sure that they do not do any psychological or physical harm to their transgender children in their attempts to make them ‘normal’. No family violence should be allowed to take place regardless of their intentions.
Schools and universities must not turn the blind eye to the problem. To prevent bullying and physical assaults, it is necessary to educate children with the idea that every one of them is a unique person, who has the right to be different from the others. It would be a great help for transgender people if they are rendered psychological support at school. Professionals need to explain to them how to accept their bodies and mind and lead a normal life.
Of course, it is easy to say that discrimination at school, at work, and in public institutions must be severely punished. Although this statement is true, we should not forget that such an attitude does not appear out of the blue. People behave aggressively when they know that those who surround them support their position. Feeling social acceptance and encouragement, they continue bullying those who are deprived of any kind of support. This means that until we learn to understand and truly accept transgender people, no punishments of their offenders can secure their position. Human beings should remember that the major thing differing from animals is reasoning. The current situation, however, raises doubt that the majority of people can cope with this task.
Grant, Jaime M., et al. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey 2011. National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2016.
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Pappas, Stephanie. “Transgender Stereotypes Could Explain Discrimination.” LiveScience, 2014. Web.
Paquette, Danielle. “8 Critical Facts about the State of Transgender America.” Washington Post, 2015. Web.
USA, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults. Williams Institute, 2014.
USA, National Center for Transgender Equality. Understanding Transgender: Frequently Asked Questions about Transgender People. NCTE, 2009.
Whittle, Stephen. Reclaiming genders: Transsexual Grammars at the Fin de Siècle. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.