Talking about the “T” in LGBT

I watched this video on the New York Times website the other day. It’s a short documentary that Sharon Shattuck made about her transgender father. And although the story focuses somewhat on the anxiety she had surrounding her father’s name change, it does something else that is even more important. It shows her father as much more than a transgender person – her father is also an artist. Her father talks about painting the name Trish into a painting one day and realizing the significance of incorporating that into the painting.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this piece is that the filmmaker does a very clear and succinct job of explaining what it means to be transgender. She says there is a continuum of gender identities between male and female and that transgender people can be anywhere in this spectrum. But she also explains that transgender does not necessarily mean that someone has undergone sexual reassignment surgery and that it does not necessarily relate to their sexual orientation at all.

Something that seemed to pop up again and again when I talked to people about Prop 5 is that they wanted a clear definition of “transgender”. It was a discussion tackled in the media and in public opinion time and time again.

One of the big problems with arguing that transgender identity should be excluded from Prop 5 based on this fact is that sexual orientation does not fall under a “well-defined, distinct, and homogenous” category either. The “T” in LGBT can also stand for “transitioning” and the “Q” in LGBTQ can also stand for questioning. Everyone at some point in their life is going through a process of transitioning from one thing to another, be that a job, a religion, a life philosophy, their gender expression, or their sexual orientation.

One of the reasons I identify as “queer” is because I don’t believe that my sexual orientation is “well-defined, distinct, and homogeneous”. While it may be for some people, I have heard way too many stories about lesbians falling in love with men, gay men who go on to date women, and everything in between to think that I am the only one who feels this way.

And the same thing goes for transgender people. You may know from the time you are 3 years old that you feel uncomfortable with the gender assigned to you at birth, or you may not realize until you’re 50. But either way, you should be given the freedom, space, and legal protections to be able to explore your identity. No one in this world can say that their identity is the same from birth to death. So why do people feel that gender identity or sexual orientation should be the exception to this?

Alaska Pride would love to be part of moving the conversation forward on transgender issues. I know too many people who are comfortable with the “LGB” in LGBT but are still feeling queasy about the “T”. Our community knows what it is like to be marginalized and we need to be asking ourselves how we can be the best possible allies of transgender people in our community. Many of us have gone through the uncomfortable process of “coming out” and it is time that we all come out as “transgender allies”. We need to have the same hard conversations about transgender issues that we have had about sexual orientation. These conversations are long overdue and we should be leading the way.

What ideas do you have for events we could have during Pride week, Pride month, or Pride conference about transgender identity? Panels, discussions, poetry, story-telling? Let us know!

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