Oped: The world is evolving, but some are getting left behind
Dr. Lisa Griffin is a licensed clinical psychologist working here in Richmond. She writes Queer Advice – an advice and support column for us here at GayRVA. The following is her proper introduction to you all – we can’t keep her column up without questions from you, the readers, so please send any questions you have to firstname.lastname@example.org. All names and personal information will be kept anonymous.
Sara, a competitive pool player for years when she was living as a man, has recently come out as transgender and has begun presenting part-time in the female gender role. She was terrified to show her true self in the macho pool world, which thrives in dark, noisy bars populated by characters many would avoid in daylight. Unable to bear losing such an important part of her life, with trepidation, she began carefully selecting and coming out to long-time acquaintances in the scene. Before long, she was appearing as her true self (with new name and pronouns) to everyone on her team and at all league events. Some avoided her, but she experienced no overt hostility. One night, a visibly drunk guy came into the pool hall where the team was playing. Sizing Sara up, he loudly proclaimed, “It must be tranny night!” Within seconds and with no discussion, several guys on Sara’s team grabbed the guy and hauled him out of the bar. A couple of the men who had been avoiding Sara came up to her afterward and assured her they had her back.
Ashley, a precocious nine-year old ballet enthusiast, was brought to me by her parents. Ashley had been assigned male at birth, but as soon as she could talk, she made it clear that she was a girl and resisted wearing boy clothes. Though her parents indulged her at home, they required Ashley to continue wearing boy clothes outside the home until they finally relented because of how upset it made her. For five years now, Ashley has been happily living as a girl, and in fact, her friends do not know about her interesting history. The parents are only bringing her in to see me now because they know that soon Ashley will begin to show signs of puberty, and they want to be ready for the medical intervention that will require.
When I came on the scene as a young psychologist more than twenty years ago, gay marriage was inconceivable, few people knew what “transgender” meant, and many thought of homosexuals only in the context of the AIDS epidemic that ravaged the gay male community starting in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s, I knew no other “out” parents, and I worked hard in my practice to encourage people to live openly and avoid the anxiety of a double life.
While there’s no question that we still have a long way to go, I marvel at how quickly the national consciousness has changed. Everyone knows what “gay” means, it is no longer necessary to clarify what the letters LGBT stand for (though LGBTQIAA may still be unfamiliar), gay marriage is something virtually every American has had to think about, and anti-bullying efforts have centered around our community. Just the other day, our president made history by not only mentioning the word “gay” for the first time in an inaugural address, but by going further to state, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” He also elevated the gay rights movement to the same stature as the women’s and civil rights movements when he mentioned Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall together, citing these as examples of the pursuit of the “most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal.” Later in the ceremonies, the words that brought tears to my eyes were written and uttered by the first openly gay (and Latino) inaugural poet in history.
So what problems remain? Despite the amazing firsts during the inauguration, silence still prevailed on transgender concerns. Ignorance of transgender issues can still be evident in the lesbian and gay community. The same is true for bisexual, pansexual, and queer issues. In fact, the whole alphabet of LGBTQIAA is (rightfully) under attack for its adherence to categorical definitions.
Beyond all that, there’s a lack of sensitivity to how people from different ethnic, racial, and geographical backgrounds experience their sexual and gender identities differently. Middle schools are still often extremely hostile and scary environments for kids who are different. Children still suffer from the loss of parents through custody battles centered on bad information about our ability to be competent parents. Kids still get beat up. People’s lives—particularly those of transgender women of color—are still at risk from heinous hate crimes. In most states, same-sex marriage is still illegal.
However, I’m an optimist at heart. Given the remarkable changes we’ve witnessed in our world in recent years, I face the future with a belief that the world our children and grandchildren inherit will be a kinder one. I beseech you to do your part by participating in a protest, voting, writing a congressperson, sharing opportunities for activism on Facebook, or simply getting to know someone in our minority community who is different from you. Support Sara. Nurture Ashley. You will benefit, and so will the rest of us.
Lisa Griffin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of North Carolina. With nearly 30 years of clinical experience, Dr. Griffin specializes in gender identity and sexual orientation issues, working primarily with gender-variant, transgender, and queer people (children, adolescents, and adults) and their families.
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