So, what is the Trans* Experience?
The well-circulated narratives of trans* stories, whether fictitious or not, generally follow a person’s tragic backstory and fear-inducing moments throughout their transition. Judging from what movies and tv shows alone tell us, it seems like trans* folks simply don’t lead happy lives, which just isn’t true.
Each person’s experience of the world is complex and varies based on factors such as identity and location. No one trans* person will have the same experience because no one person is the same. Some go through Hormone Replacement Therapy, some don’t. Some will have multiple surgeries, some might have none.
Each experience is valid and unique to the person, and each trans* person deserves the opportunity to make those choices without worrying about expenses or violence. Unfortunately, these are still the realities of many trans* folks.
In order to enact positive change for the trans* community in Idaho as well as the world, we must all educate ourselves on the struggles and inequalities the trans* community faces on a daily basis.
How is it unequal in Idaho?
For those unaware, Idaho is a fairly conservative state in America. I found this particular infographic from Movement Advancement Project to be handy when looking at inequality in America:
As seen in this, Idaho has “Negative Equality” status for trans* folks, which means that Idaho does not have policies in place to protect trans* people from discrimination in the workplace, housing, school, and even a hospital.
Drawing from my personal experience in Boise, which is the most liberal city in the state, a name change petition costs $166, in addition to posting it in a local paper for four weeks, which was roughly $90. Not only are these fees excessive, but the additional time and emotional energy it takes to fill out all the proper forms on time in the correct wording and format is completely draining and simply archaic.
There’s also the issue of sealing the court file so that no one can, say, find your name change and target you because it clearly says you identify as transgender on your reasoning for the change.
Though people in Idaho can change their gender marker on their driver’s license with an affidavit from a medical doctor, people cannot change their gender marker on their Idaho birth certificates, and even with a name change, the name given to the individual at birth is still listed under their name.
Medical care is another issue entirely. To my knowledge, there are only three medical doctors in Boise that attest to being trans* friendly. This isn’t to say that there aren’t more, but trans* people risk discrimination if they go to someone without knowing beforehand their stance on treating trans* people.
If there’s only three for the “liberal” city, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the rural areas of Idaho. Planned Parenthood is trans* friendly as well, however, their clinics are few and far between in Idaho.
Though not all trans* people will get surgery, for those that want to, there’s only one surgeon in Idaho who openly discusses options aimed at trans* folks on their webpage (Linea Cosmetic Surgery in Moscow, Idaho). However, even this surgeon has their own faults; there are no public examples of their work on their website, which can be a determining factor for those seeking surgeries such as top surgery or bottom surgery. For example, top surgery (or double mastectomy) costs anywhere from $6-10,000, and typically isn’t covered by insurance unless appealed.
Trans* folks experience daily reminders of discrimination based on how well they “pass.” For those unfamiliar, “passing” means that someone’s exterior appearance matches their gender identity. However, “passing” itself is a problematic idea because many trans* people may not “pass,” but that does not make them any less trans*.
The issue, however, is when trans* folks do not pass, there is a greater risk of discrimination and violence aimed at them. Especially for trans* women of color, there is a high risk of life-threatening violence directed towards them simply for existing.
Why should I care?
Whether you identify as transgender or not, every single person should care about the issues trans* people face.
Now, this isn’t a reality of our world, but in an ideal one, everyone would care that we’re only four months into the year and there have already been nine murders of trans women of color in America (eight African-American women and one Two-Spirit person from the Oglala Lakota tribe).
Ideally, everyone would care that, of trans* people whose family no longer speaks to them, 57% have attempted suicide, and 69% of trans* people who have been homeless due to housing discrimination have attempted suicide. You should care that 90% of trans* people have experienced some form of harassment at their workplace due to their identity, and that one in five trans* people have either unstable housing or are homeless.
I admire this quote from Michael Schwalbe’s Rigging the Game, in which he discusses how people view a marginalized identity when they haven’t come into contact with someone from the marginalized identity:
“If we even become aware that they exist, we might think or say, ‘It’s unfortunate that those folks are suffering. I sure hope things get better for them.’ But if we’ve learned to seem them as Others, we probably don’t feel a pressing need to help them- in the way we would if they were, say, members of our family. Imagine if we did see them as members of our family. It would be hard then to ignore their suffering, and we would probably feel compelled to try to do something about it.”
I acknowledge that everyone has their own opinions and biases in relation to trans* people, which is why it’s inherent to educate people about the discrimination and inequality of trans* people. Trans* folks are not threats to anyone, and we’re not a “trend”; we’ve existed for centuries, and the fact that there’s been attention paid to trans* stories lately means that maybe, just maybe, we might someday be treated like people instead of burdens or threats.
Schwalbe, Michael. Rigging the Game. Oxford University Press, 2008.