Reasons Trans Is Now

During a conversation about what I do yesterday I mentioned how intense a change – for the better – it has been in the decade I’ve been doing work as a trans advocate. The VPUSA, after all, said trans rights was “the civil rights issue of our time”.

Later, I was thinking about why this is the case. Culture, politics, policy, law? Art, media, literature? What are the things that you think have contributed most significantly to why “transgender” is now a household world and why trans issues and politics are now gaining ground and visibility. If 1993 was the beginning of the modern trans movement, then what has happened in those two decades, from 1993 – 2003 and then again from 2003 until now? Is there a difference in the kinds of things that happened in those decades?

I’ve got my own list, not quite fully formed, but would love to hear from others about it.

And hey, if you post yours on Facebook, come back here and let me know what they are! Or email them to helenboyd(at)myhusbandbetty(dot)com. I’ll compile them along with my own and I’ll post that list another day.


27 Replies to “Reasons Trans Is Now”

  1. I blame Kate Bornstein 🙂

    Seriously, pre-Gender Outlaw (1995), the prevailing wisdom for transitioners (affirmed and promoted by the gatekeeper psychs) was to change your name, pack your bags, move across the country, and dive for the anonymity of deep stealth. Kate’s book (and others that followed, such as Riki Wilchins’ Read My Lips) provided for a different path. Perhaps it was because I was figuring out the trans at that time these books were published, but Kate and Riki made it safe for me to consider transition (or being out as trans without transitioning) without having to abandon friends, family, career, community.

    And for each of us who made that sort of choice, a small circle of friends, family, professional peers got to know a transperson up close and personal – taking us out of the “wacky celebrity” category and into the “person up the block or down the hallway”. Call it the slow erosion of resistance, one coming out at a time.

  2. I agree with Jude. I transitioned in place with 120 people at work, then their families, my friends, my daily business contacts, my bagel shop folks, the neighbors, the checker at the market… I have to figure that I am out up close and personal to at least 220 people. So there you have 220 more people who know that trans people are not just OK but nice and positive! And it went great because of the people who went before. I read the phrase, “widening the footprints of those who went before.” The Kates and the Rikis and the Emilies and the tons of other folks made the footprints and each of us widen them a bit.

  3. This will probably seem totally out of line, but I absolutely think that you, Ms. Helen Boyd, have also played a significant role in this. I firmly believe that you widened the conversation by including yourself as both an ally and a wife.

    That’s not nothing.

    And yes, I know: bias. I don’t care. I’ve seen the impact your work has had up close and you should absolutely be included on the list of why “trans is now.”

    So there.

  4. from a reader:

    I think the gay rights movement’s gains have helped. I think the slow trickle of trans people coming out is building momentum for acceptance. I expect technology and proliferation of lower cost surgery options has also helped. Demographics probably helped too – Boomers have definitely gotten into the age range where all of a sudden midlife and two thirds life crises have made people face up to things. The new MRI and posthumous brain research pointing to differences in brain structures give us a biological basis and confidence to tell people its not all in our heads. I think people who are trans entering into professional roles as decision makers and medical practitioners has also helped. And recently there’s been fairly high profile celebs further pushing the envelope of acceptance.

  5. I of course have been transsexual my entire life, and forever, it seems, watched the media for ANYTHING on what transsexuality was and what I could do about it. But I could find very little, until the internet came out and was readily available. I credit information on my condition as the main influence on my decision to face my demon.

  6. To answer the first part of the question, yes, the early biographies and autobiographies (Chris Jorgensen, Renee’ Richards, jan Morrison, Tula) helped make the Transgender Phenomenon (if I can use those words) known to the world, and especially to we who were questioning (gender dysphoric to the point of being suicidal). But the public looked at being transgender as a sort of homosexuality, or extreme crossdressing fetish, and at best a type of mental disorder.

  7. The ‘surgical’ aspects of ibeing transsexual seem to be people’s major concern, in those early days. “When did you have your ‘sex change operation’- the principal question transpeople seemed to be asked? This was true even in through middle 1990s, this obsession with ‘sex change’. It scared me terribly! Freak shows like Jerry Springer and the like kept my need to transition at bay.

  8. But I finally did get suicidal, and in 2008 I resolved “Better to be a freak, rather than to be dead.”

    The second part of the question. What was happening to change peoples minds about transsexuality at about that time? I could use “transsexal” about myself because it became more apparent of what the word meant and how it was becoming a recognized phenomenon.

    Internet sites evolved:

    (1) Support groups for the transgender community such as Susan’s Laura’s Playground, and Beginning Life became available.

    (2) Those not terribly graphic pornography sites about transsexuals – such as Fictionmania, Rebecca’s World and cute Manga transgender sites.

    Surely if I was accepting myself, others were out there accepting us?

  9. Political Activism:

    LGBT Pride
    LGBTQ face-to-face social groups.

    Then transgender “body switch” movies like SWITCH, and the cross dressing TOOTSIE began to appear (Movies go back to SOME LIKE IT HOT and earlier, but usually played transgender people for comic effect). And of course we now have seriously themed TS movies like BOYS DON’T CRY and TRANSAMERICA. There is a whole listing of these now.

  10. National television? more and more shows are turning to ‘transgender’ stories.

    Oprah’s interviews, finally presenting us as human beings, is a keystone.. Others started to see we were just people after all, just having a gender dysphoria that made us terribly difficult to understand. There were many interviews of transgender before Oprah, and many interviews after, but her’s are the ones people saw and remember.

    And then, my goodness, CABLE and Satellite channels began to have specials. The BBC and National Geographic and the Health Channel – all presenting real transpeople, young and old, all types of ways of identifing.

    Then the focus has radically shifted on television now, the purely mainstream entertainment has transgender characters, reality shows have transsexual participants.

  11. So from 2008 I saw the United State (and much of the world) change because I was directly affected from then on, totally out of the closet (I don’t particularly like that term). What happened in those five years?

    Activism continued, became better organized and more able to promote awareness – which might the biggest cause for the immediate changes we see, especially that ‘awareness’ part. We trans are now DEMANDING EQUALITY, not just asking for it

    Transgender became a political issue OUTSIDE of the LGB-Q. “The civiil rights issue of our time”

    Transgender books – biographies and ‘ guides (such as significant others, friends and providers), and even transgender fiction has become readily available because the computer revolution allowing more books to be written. Amazon, Books a Million, Barnes and Nobles – all can sell on-line. We are awaiting to see what E-books might bring.

    And care providers are becoming aware of gender dysphoria and searching out how to treat it. The DSM IV and DSM 5 began to have a rational definition of what we are.

    Here are more contributions.

    Don’t discount the organized religions. Many began the discussion on the ‘ethics’ of either rejecting or welcoming the disenfranchised (read that as LGBTQ – especially the T) – many decided to be welcoming, but many stayed with their unfortunate bigotry. But the point is the transgender population is being discussed openly for the first time.

    And don’t discount sites like this (plus your activism and of course your wonderful books that opened the doors!)

    And finally? What has changed people’s opinions the most? We have accepted ourselves. We have learned to love ourselves. People see that and want to be around us. We are more likely to be seen as just like them, except we carry with us this one “leeeetle thing” we have had since birth.

    Gone is the day of the obnoxious, overtly flamboyant MTF transsexual, standing in heels and fishnet stockings, in a loud colored mini -skirt and low cut 40’a era blouse, with way too much make-up on, and dyed pink hair – and yelling “FUCK YOU – accept me as I am or die!”

    Well – hummm – there is less and less of that! GRIN

    Elizabeth Jenkins

  12. I definitely think we’ve ridden the wave of LGB rights. Gay and bi people built up a swell of support and believing in gay rights is rather mainstream. Now people who want to be supportive of the movement at more than a pedestrian, mainstream level need someplace to direct their unspent activist energies. Standing up for trans people is a way to get on the leading edge of the movement for justice, show that you’re not just riding along with society, but you’re willing to push it.

    I know we gripe sometimes about “the silent T”, and sometimes there’s cause for the griping, but I”m convinced we are getting a big boost from being the next field of queer rights and we shouldn’t forget that.

  13. There’s a long and interesting history in this, but like several others, I credit Kate as much as I do you, Ms. Helen Boyd! Seriously, writing about it as both of you did made for several watershed moments. I know it change me deeply.

  14. I think that it’s a combination of a lot of things. The Internet put us in contact with each other so we could support each other in our real identities. The LG movement made enough progress, especially in recent years, that there became room for the B and T parts of the community. And as we started transitioning in place, more people have had to realize that transgender people are not that weird. There’s another thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve transitioned. While I’ve been surprised at how well older people have accepted me, maybe because I’m a pretty binary person, gender variance seems to be even less of an issue among younger people (unless they’re our kids, and eventually they may come around as my daughter recently has).

  15. In addition to all the above, there is also this:
    laser hair removal. At least for those of us fortunate to have dark hair & light skin. Do not discount the impression of credibility made on others that NOT having a shadow makes. ESPECIALLY if one is not stealth.

  16. Everyone who is trans and is OUT for the past forty years has contributed. YOU have contributed. I came out at age 19 in 1990. I came out to family and friends; I went out into the world as a transwoman, and yes, it was courageous. It still is. Everyone here has made a difference; we are all human; we all are all special, and everyone has made the difference….;)

  17. Michfest radicalized many, especially young trans people, and camp trans served to network and inspire many.

    HIV. Many social service and public health agencies identified a problem in their local communities (SF) and started to provide services for trans people (specifically trans women) who then employed many trans women who themselves organized to provide more attention and services for trans people with HIV.

    Transsexual menace/genderPAC. For good and bad these provided activities for organizing on a national level and bringing more attention to trans experiences of discrimination and violence. Then there was the conflicts between various activists that inspired different viewpoints and other groups.

    FtM’s and Transmen. Many brought skills and knowledge developed in lesbian/queer organizations to trans organizing.

  18. Last night when I read this I thought wow, your timing for this subject is right on. Like you’ve been reading my mind. Two Saturdays ago right now I was sitting at our TransKentucky table at LexPrideFest. A few people told us about Kristin’s Warrior Princess book that had rushed out right before then. One was a young man not long out of the military, and he came up and talked to me like I’m a regular person. He was pretty impressed with the Princess story, and then he explained how another soldier came out to him as gay and it wasn’t a problem, plus his grandfather was a gay man. On top of the rest of the festival events, this gave me the sense that this is our time. America is ready to hear our stories.

    Also ringing quite true is the Lizzy statement that we’re comfortable with ourselves. It took me a good while to get there, but I’m there now, baby. Even though I can’t tell you how I broke through the feeling of being a space alien to human being. Like one of the spouses here says, ‘They’re just people.’

    Your She’s Not book was quite powerful for me as well as those by Serano and Califia, for different reasons. And Wilchins. And Boylan, esp the Russo afterword.


  19. from another reader:

    Sorry I didn’t get to send this yesterday. I think about that question a lot and am glad you posed it. I think it’s indicative of the tide turning in the world in general, and specifically for the United States in this case. More people are coming to understand what it means to listen to one’s “true self,” and then to actually do something about it. So more people are teaching this to their kids, and we see it more in the media, and people are encouraging friends and family to do the same. Although this is something I believe is happening in regards to many areas of life, gender issues seems to be one of the biggest hurdles for our country to still conquer. Which means those who are trans are, even unintentionally, some of the final trailblazers in our society, when it comes to that which we are “afraid” of (i.e. challenging gender norms).

  20. & from my friend Natasha:

    The only reason teh trans is in ascendency since 1993 is the Internet. Prior to the net, there was a high bar to get over to even find a sympathetic doctor to prescribe mones. You basically had to be in contact with people in the club scene, where such stuff was shared. So basically teh trans was confined to the ghetto.

    Now you just get online and read.

    The arrival of the net created a step-change in the number of people transitioning. Because the bar was lowered, more visibly trans people who wouldn’t have been brave enough to go out without the cheer leading are out and visible. Finally the ease with which people could anonymously contribute without outting themselves means trans people are more out there than ever before.

  21. I think it’s all a matter of the democratization of information & communication technologies. I think there have big jumps whenever there was/is a jump in communication.

    I believe there was a similar jump with the advent of desktop publishing, which significantly lowered the bar for publishing, providing a more abundant medium for the communication of news, meetings. ‘services’, etc., than was accessible with the old photomechanical publishing & printing era.

    Can you imagine the additional work mHB would have required had you had to use a typewriter, & carbon paper? Never mind longhand.

    So yes, absolutely, the http://www., and before that your relatively basic Aol, have caused teh tranz to reach the tipping point, but there has been an increasing acceleration of tranz knowledge & community going on for decades.

  22. I agree that the Internet was far and away the biggest factor. I can certainly say that it was for me. Even living in New York City, it’s difficult for me to imagine how I would have transitioned without it. Between 1977 or so (when I last went to the Barnum Room), and my first having Internet access in 1997, I not only had no opportunities to meet or talk to other trans people, but had little or nothing available to me that I could read about transness. Since I was far too fearful to buy any of the few books that were published on the subject, or do anything more than surreptitiously look at them in libraries once in a while. That changed almost immediately when I began to realize what was out there online, even by the late 1990’s.

  23. The Internet definitely changed things, and quickly; AOL at the start was actually a powerful social media source where we all began to experiment with an online identity that eventually became physical reality for us. Humble chat rooms like “The Gazebo”(thank you Gwen) meant a lot to us.

    I also think that the social upheaval of the seventies and financial boom/upheaval of the eighties drove more and more people to question the seemingly rock solid social order that we had been brainwashed with.

    I wouldn’t underestimate David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Wendy County, Sylvester and all the other brave genderbenders out there.

    Interesting how even in this conversation the topic of “trans” skews to transitioners and less to the booming population of genderqueer, genderfluid and more open crossdresser/middle pathers.

    and yes, God Bless Kate Bornstein. I also agree with Betty; Helen, you’re really the fiercest advocate we have.

  24. I’ll append, that yes, the Internet was pretty darn important. I go back a bit further – to Compu$erve where the HSX-200 forum included a trans subgroup, and the CB chat area had rooms dedicated to trans. Chatters appended an indentifier or or (and I think it was there that I saw for the first time) and the lesbian boards did VV (voice verification, a phone call offline) to keep those icky men off. And even before that, there were individual BBS boards that I’d dial into – placing that long distance call at 300 baud to find a snippet of evidence that I was not alone. For me, that was the late 80’s, before your 1993 milepost. But for most, AOL was the biggie…. and yeah, the early 90’s was the time.

  25. The Internet definitely got a snow ball rolling; which started gathering more and more information on the larger community (forums, blogs, books), activism and case laws into a common area.

    The media then began paying more attention, and things expanded past the virtual world and into the ‘real’ world (Barbara Walters and trans kids instead of Jerry Springer).

    The fight over ENDA to the need for GENDA and back to an inclusive ENDA.

    More people willing to go to court to fight for their rights, and winning.

    Newer generations growing to an age where they can make a difference and keep advancing civil rights.

  26. A bit of an international perspective: as most of you well know, the US lags behind many other countries on trans-issues, among others. But the current administration is catching up. The recent news about US passports reflecting one’s target gender [our “visible” selves] is a case in point. What I mean is that more enlightened views in other parts of the world have also been a factor in this “trans is now” thing here. And a tip of the cyber _/^\_ to NCTE and Helen and Betty too.

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