A brief note: Due to deadlines for print, this piece was written prior to Chelsea Manning's disclosure of her intent to transition.
Each time I prepare to write this column I am concerned there will not be material to work with. But like the Daily Show I always find that news arrives with enough absurdity that there seems to always be plenty of source material to work with; this past several weeks were no exception. It would seem there were several trans folk in the public eye and not a one was particularly positive story of note.
You see these were stories that had been grabbed by the mainstream and LGBT media for their sensationalism and little else. It’s always interesting how we seem fascinated by the exception rather than the rule in such matters. “Man bites dog” is a story, the other way around, not so much even if it is the more common, mundane and dare I say boring case.
The first instance was the case of a well-publicized trans person who several months ago with great fanfare announced their transition from Male to Female. This person works in the media so you might expect they would have some understanding of how their own business works but apparently not. The transition decision by August was no longer a story really. What made it one anew was the decision by that same person to de-transition and return to life as a man.
In a very small number of cases, usually less than 1%, this happens, for any number of reasons. Transition is likely the hardest thing a human being can undertake, there really are few people who are standing by cheering, encouraging and actively supporting a person in transition. The truth of the matter is there are many impediments, including marriage, children, family, employment and other concerns that make the decision to proceed with transition difficult for anybody. And frankly not everybody can, or in some cases should, get there. It is hard.
What makes this matter and a few others like it this past month most troubling is that rather than owning the de-transition these folks sought to blame it on other factors. That somehow it was not their fault. That there was a medical condition, or I had amnesia or I just stopped my hormones. I get that these folks had a different road to travel, and that is OK, but when you elect to de-transition as a news headline and then offer a story that is something other than simply “transition was not for me” it weakens the entire community. Doing so very publicly makes it worse.
Here’s the rub, most folks who transition go on to leading useful lives in their chosen gender expression, few de-transition and most of those who go that path do so for reasons that often are associated with personal angst, be it marriage, family or livelihood. Period. Stop blaming other things and just own it, it is ok we will not think less of you, in reality we will think more of you.
The second hubbub was regarding an Army PFC, who presently says she is trans, who also happens to have been recently convicted of multiple counts of espionage. Regardless of your feelings about the PFC and what materials were divulged the simple matter is that classified info was disclosed and that is against the law in the USA. Period. This person was convicted of doing so but coincident with the sentencing we hear again about the PFC Manning’s gender identity “issue” as a primary force in creating a situation where she “had to” release classified materials. Bullshit. There are many trans persons, including this author, who have or had security clearances. These trans folk have been in pre-transition, transition, post-transition and non-transition states with respect to their job, or service, which allowed them the privilege of having a clearance. Contrary to the belief of some, being trans has no impact on your clearance unless you try and keep it a secret. And to suggest that being trans makes you mentally ill, and as such no longer trustworthy with secrets is an insult to those who work and serve in that community or the military.
Both of these stories will be used by our opponents to describe reasons why we are not worthy of our civil rights. It is unfortunate that people in our own community who construct these stories to rectify or explain personal behavior seem to have no notion of the greater impact they have on perpetuating stereotypes with respect to trans people. I certainly hope they all get the counseling and guidance they need. But the rest of the world needs to know that these are “man bites dog” stories and need to be treated accordingly.
[As published in Baltimore OUTloud 8/23/2013]