Someone reached out to me a few weeks ago asking me to contribute my story to Joe Biden’s new campaign “As You Are” to raise visibility of the young Trans community and curb the disproportionate suicide rates among trans youth.
There is no question that this is a deeply important program; One which I have no doubt will save many lives. It’s also vital for young trans identifying people across the spectrum to hear and share their stories with the rest of the world. Beyond that, during these times wherein trans people are trying to thrive in an increasingly hostile political climate, it is critical that we hear from someone, like Biden, in a position of power and influence who stands in support of LGBTQ youth.
I read through the information that I was directed to and as excited as I was about the opportunity to contribute, I suddenly took great pause. The words: “…far too many LGBTQ people — especially those under 25 — still face rejection from the people closest to them.” I watched the videos of parents, celebrities and young people on the side of the web page as they offered words of support or encouragement as they emphasized the importance of family and community acceptance for young members of the community. They want to hear from Parents, Teachers, even allies to help ensure a brighter future for young LGBTQ people in America.
Inexplicably, I felt this pang of sadness. I know the statistics regarding suicide, homelessness and murder that plague my community very well- enough to know that this initiative is one long overdue. I needed this when I was younger- I need this now… except, I understand I’m not the intended recipient. For me, specifically, as I hovered my mouse over those text windows, I wondered what I would tell my younger self.
What did I need to hear, but never had the opportunity. Things no one ever said.
I sat for a good 45 minutes staring at the page. Kids today, they have things most of us never did. Social media giving them access to a broader, international community of people like themselves. Resources, information, trans pop idols, TIME magazine covers, documentaries, reality shows (Thanks, Lifetime and Jazz Jennings) school alliance clubs, young adult books with Trans protagonists…
… and while I certainly don’t think it’s easier to be Trans now than it was back in 2000, when I finally acknowledged my status, it certainly feels like we’ve made enough progress just to make it easier for one to simply get their bearings or have a firmer grasp on what this journey means and what challenges they’ll face.
I didn’t have that. Maybe you didn’t either.
And it occurred to me, with a great heaviness, that I, along with an entire generation of trans identifying people have fallen through the cracks. While it’s so important to focus on youth and be the beacon of light they need to navigate lifes tumultuous waters of self acceptance and discovery, there are people- 30 years old, 40, 50- even 70… who no one is speaking to or on behalf of. My generation was the last to be universally ignored to placate cigender anxieties. Despite being on the cusp of something greater that we would see during the Obama era- such as The President and his Vice President lighting up the white house in Pride colors, we who came before are treated as if we never were. As if the state of being Transgender is somehow new, and only those 25 and younger are at risk for daring to live in their truth.
It’s difficult to put into words, but I’ll draw a crude parallel for you, dear readers. In the film The Last Unicorn, based on the best-selling novel by Peter S. Beagle, there is a character; A middle aged woman named Molly Grue. She was visibly disheveled, her clothes tattered, her face worn with lines indicating time had not been kind to her. When she sees the Unicorn for the first time, she weeps aloud, not with joy but with sorrow, even anger. Here is that encounter:
As grateful as I am to Joe Biden and all those founders of outreach programs, resource providers, healthcare advocates and community staples that centralize their focus on improving the quality of life for Trans youth, another side of me wondered, perhaps selfishly, “Where have you been? Where were you when I was young, twenty years ago, ten years ago… before I became this…”
And then I questioned, again, perhaps selfishly, “Where are you now? Now that I am not 25?”
I find solace in knowing we have seen such a cultural shift that people like Joe Biden are working diligently to prevent youth of today and all those who come after from being subject to the systemic ostracizing, the bullying and abuse borne from ignorance. An ignorance that results, inevitably in the self-imposed alienation, the crippling myriad of social anxieties, depression and suicidal ideation that so many of us dealt with alone not so long ago. We are guilty only of being the “befores.” It is only a single generation ago that transgender “Youth” became anybody’s priority… from this moment and withering backward through time, every era, every decade before, we were simply lost children.
And what we became, those of us who survived despite all odds, are a consequence of that. Those of us who have managed to learn to love ourselves or find some acceptance in the world did so in spite of everyone else telling us we never should or never would. Some of us, today, have a weathered face or graying hair and still we endure the same plight that youth face… except many of us have been without a family for years. Many of us have been fired, evicted, tortured by administrative policies which render us feeling subhuman. We, too, still suffer the inability to process the fact that legislators in 16 states want to make it illegal for us to use a public bathroom that doesn’t align with our genitals- and even send us to jail if we do so. Most of us, as adults, suffer PTSD as a result of unbearably cruel and inhumane treatment we experienced as children. We, too, were that youth one day.
Of course we want to stop that from happening to anyone else… but as we suffered neglect from leaders of this nation in the past and extremely limited access to any sense of community, visibility or education, many of us who are not 25 are still suffering… and we don’t have anyone creating more broad initiatives to include us in their efforts. We were, and remain, forgotten. It’s as if trans activism is now in fashion, thankfully. But, it seems to apply only to the latest generation of young folks. Many of whom ultimately have greater reach, a more promising future, an increased chance to achieve their fullest potential while not having to reach beyond their grasp to find a strong system of support and acceptance thanks to a rising tide of social awareness. We have seen expanded involvement in schools and colleges much in thanks to liberal youth who refused to be indoctrinated into hate- even Trans Prom Kings and Queens. We’ve witnessed an ever increasing standard of inclusion. Trans youth today experience a radically different world than even their slightly older counterparts. Just 15 years ago, advocacy groups on college campuses that included Trans people were almost unheard of. Now they are commonplace.
I believe it is the responsibility of the Trans community to guide our youth. To embrace them; To teach them what life was like at the dawn of the new millennium, just 18 years ago. It was, for us who were young teens then, a world they would not recognize. Just as most young gay men and women cannot ever imagine, no matter how many television programs, plays produced or books written on the AIDS epidemic and the inconceivable toll it took on the entire community in the 80’s and 90’s, Trans youth today have no relationship with what it was like to be Trans when there was no actress Laverne Cox, High fashion models Carmen Carrera and Laith Ashley, Trans politicians like Danica Roem or Christine Hallquist. There were no movies like Tangerine or The Danish Girl or out and proud Trans musicians like Kim Petras.
There was a before. We are that before. We are still here. We are still in need of acknowledgement, normalization in society and even equal justice in a system whose track record is to throw us in prisons by birth gender to be raped or physically assaulted without consideration to the consequences on our person. We, of all ages, still see mainstream conservatives leveraging religion to strip us, not only of our rights, but our dignities. We wake up to this reality every day… yet there is no initiative to help us cope with the devastating effects that our history has had on us while young Trans folks still have the chance to create their history, but equipped with better tools.
Indeed, trans youth need us. They deserve better than we had. They deserve to have their humanity valued and their existence acknowledged by the mainstream public- not only by government leaders, but by those of us who came before. It is our obligation to protect them from having to pay the price we paid for the right to live in our own skin and without shame.
The problem is, so many from just the generation before who didn’t have a Joe Biden never got to that place themselves. We’re still struggling- even moreso under the discriminatory acts and redaction of protective rights committed by the current government. The youth of our community are not the only ones in need of support. Those of us who came before them need someone to build us a bridge over the chasm between the complete absence of regard for our lives that we experienced and this movement to save the younger members of this community today. I don’t understand why we in our 30’s, 40’s and older are being separated and watching modern day activists turn their backs on us… again.
Maybe they see their efforts to save the youth as recompense for allowing us to lose ours.
But we’re still here. Many of us still experiencing the psychological and emotional aftermath of the neglect that we want to save the children from today.
I told Joe Biden my story. You should, too. If we don’t tell our stories, I don’t care how old you are or how badly it hurts, when you’re gone, no one else can. You have a responsibility to yourself to be a reflection of the world as it was during your journey. Your chapter is necessary. Our experiences are not history until they’re happening no more… and not to anyone else.
I support Joe Biden. I support him so that my dark history is not some other innocent child’s future.
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