When I was 13 years old at secondary school in Barbados, my teacher asked us to write a letter from the future. Having the kind of imagination I do, I let it run wild and wrote that I had just returned from visiting my husband in the hospital who had given birth to our twins. This was the late 80s, so you can imagine how my English teacher railed. I was brought up to the front of the class, shamed and castigated before my peers and called all manner of pervert. It was the absolute last time that I ever dared to be creative in an English class! Strange how that memory has resurfaced now that I attempt to write on Transgenderism…
With the dust having settled on the last furor around having a transgender individual in our schools, let’s all take a d-e-e-p… breath. Is the occurrence of Transgenderism really so odd? Studies of its prevalence show that it is found among a small 2 per cent in any population. On a scale of human expression, it proffers an amazing glimpse into the uniqueness and diversity that exists among us. Among the Native Americans they are considered Two-spirit persons – enlightened beings who can see the world in both directions (as a man and a woman) and therefore understand the world in a more holistic way. In Indian culture it is believed that maleness and femaleness are simply mirror images of each other, and that gender is an illusion that one uses to dress the soul. The Hijra of Bombay belong to a third gender- neither male nor female.
Other cultures have also recognized the existence of more than two genders: the Zulu of South Africa, Bantu of Angola, the Fanti of Ghana and the Maori of New Zealand, among others. In fact, in some African tribes “Female-husbands” can become men, carry out all the economic duties and receive the privileges of men by paying the dowry for a woman, marrying her and becoming the legal and social father to her children. If gender is really performative and a matter of perspective, then why do we choose to inflict so much of our own bigotry on others?
Rita, a transgendered woman, shares her story in the book, “Transgender Emergence”. She reflects on the anger she began to feel at her body – which disgusted her – and that looking back, she can see how her carelessness was a form of rage at herself. She became jealous of her teenage daughter blossoming into a woman and sexually dysfunctional with her wife. She recalls just roaming the streets at night thinking of ways to end her life.
In the early stages of Transgender awareness insomnia, isolation, distancing from family and friends, weight loss/ gain as well as difficulties at school or work, self-harm and suicidality are common. It is not only a distressing process for the individual but also for their family and loved ones. The loneliness and isolation are frequently hard to put into language.
Ricki Wilchins in his book,“Read my lips,” speaks to this desolation by saying: “Loneliness and the inability to find partners is one of the best-kept secrets in the trans community… Transbodies are the cracks in the gender sidewalk.”
Further to this is the suffering at the hands of family who are quite often unwilling participants in the journey. They usually express resistance, avoidance and denial at the beginning of the process, not to mention untold shame due to the social stigma. In our heterosexist, homophobic and transphobic environments, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are the most at risk for discrimination, substance abuse, victimization and high-risk behaviours. Discrimination takes its toll in the constant stream of microaggressions like: “That’s so gay” or being told that they’re going straight to hell, or that they are paedophiles, sexual deviants or perverts. Worst still, our Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) does not even give voice to differing sexual identity, leaving LGBT individuals on the margins of heteronormative tyranny.
This article has not attempted to define Transgenderism, intersex or cis-gendered persons, but to raise awareness of the challenges faced by persons who represent a non-normative gender. In 2016, ministers from all over the world launched a call to action against transphobia in educational contexts. Simply put, humanity means diversity. Youth raised in homes which embrace uniqueness, especially in gender expression, are able to construct a functional gender identity with grace and dignity, thus eliminating the need for self-harm and self-hatred imposed by our oppressive society.
Clinical Mental Health Counsellor & Expressive Arts therapist
Gaia Creative Arts Counselling