This season always makes me mull our future.
Our history is one of oppression. It is a history of being directed how we were to live: that it was necessary we dress a particular way or that we were unable dress a particular way, that we were required to use certain bathrooms or were forbidden from using certain bathrooms, that we were compelled to assume specific, predefined identities or that we were prohibited from taking on other identities. It is a history of the mainstream insisting we set aside our needs so as to maintain the social order. And it is a history of being assaulted and murdered for having the audacity to insist our presence be recognized. Ours is a history of pain.
Not long ago I attended a Day of Remembrance event in Manhattan. The venue, a large auditorium in Greenwich Village, was overfull with countless more lining the halls outside. The attendees spanned the entire trans* community and our allies, shoulder to shoulder in cramped solidarity.
The tension was unmistakable. Many shouted their grief, frustration and bitter outrage. Especially troubling was that these assaults persist in the 21st century and here in New York City, an LGBTQ ‘mecca’ that embodies multiculturalism. Elitist or not, we prefer to believe our city is above intolerance. None of us want to need such a gathering, though we know the reality. The lives we’ve lost were fresh in our minds.
But while times are the same, times are changing.
The next afternoon I’d cofacilitated a support group for transgender adolescents. We meet every few weeks and each time I complain the night before, wishing I didn’t need to return home early or that I could savor a lazy Saturday doing laundry (least favorite of my chores). I’m especially grouchy while driving to the location, an hour from my home.
Yet each time I sit in that room of teens, all trans* of one variety or another, I remember why I agreed to participate. They still encounter resistance from educators, families and society, and many lack access to transition-related healthcare or come from communities where transition is not feasible. But by and large they are empowered: most are out in their schools, out in their homes, some have pursued name changes, hormones, even surgery and are embodying their self-identified genders. They demand their identities be acknowledged. They have youthful determination and refuse to be silent. Through them I vicariously experience an adolescence I wish I’d had.
(At times they view me as a respected elder with whom they can identify; at other moments I am an authority figure who merely by coincidence transitioned when dinosaurs roamed wild. I can live with that.)
Still, what I find most inspiring is their eagerness to explore far outside male/female dichotomies or traditional conceptualizations of gender. They are questioning gender in ways undoable even five years ago and certainly impossible when I transitioned, outside norms, outside boundaries. They speak with sophistication and have nuanced understandings of their selves, as some identify in traditional ways and others with terms like genderqueer, gender nonconforming, genderfluid, bigendered, demigendered, agendered, gender expansive, gender diverse, two spirit and countless more. Some even call themselves ‘gender unicorns’ — rare, fantastical, almost mythical creatures that defy explanation. They deconstruct gender and destabilize our most basic interpretations of what gender actually is. They, and their progeny, will be expanding the meanings of gender and human identity in ways we are unable to even conceptualize.
Those ninety minutes each month are some of the most rewarding of my career.
Right now our community is in the awkward, liminal space where we move from past to future, from disempowerment to autonomy. We have endured decades of conflict. We have risen to the challenge of persecution and respect the countless martyrs who sacrificed to ensure we were no longer marginalized. Our struggles are finally showing signs of victory.
These adolescents are at the forefront of that revolution. They have the freedom to surpass our wildest imaginations.
We are part of one lineage. The youth are our future.
Happy New Year’s, everyone.
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