THE BLOG

It's Getting Better, Even If Some Days It Doesn't Seem Like It

03/17/2014 12:09 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Dana Beyer Executive Director, Gender Rights Maryland

Last week I ended my column on the Jared Leto problem with:

As a colleague recently wrote, "We are definitely in a "trans moment" in terms of awareness, but the education is still varied and people are coming from very different places of knowledge, concern and compassion." The actual process, as Janet Mock knows as well, and as I have learned the past month since declaring my candidacy for the Maryland state Senate, is difficult, but I will continue to believe these are growing pains and a necessary process along the road to full acceptance.

And since then, just in the past week, there have been a remarkable number of trans related stories:

• Independent commission finds no justification for military's transgender ban.
• A story on trans Jews at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
• Cosmo Magazine (!) reported that the porn industry is getting more respectful in its use of language with respect to its transgender actors.
• Brandon Ambrosino, grossly ignorant of the trans experience and recently hired by Ezra Klein at his new project, vox.com, generates major blowback.
• The Forbes Billionaires list this year includes Jennifer Pritzker, now openly trans and the major benefactor to the Palm Center which is the force behind the efforts towards open military service.
• The New York City Department of Education, where I started my school years, issued guidelines for trans students.
• The Pacific Justice Institute - the main right-wing force behind the referendum to derail the California trans student rights bill, AB 1266, was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
• CrossFit is being sued by a trans woman for discrimination.
• Wendy Williams, the eponymous host of "The Wendy Williams Show," spewed ignorant pseudoscience along with her guests about Chloie Jonsson, the trans CrossFit personal trainer.
• And then there's Ellen being labeled "transphobic" for her jokes at the expense of Liza Minelli, a woman with a long history of being parodied, like her mother, by drag queens.

This slew of media stories lends credence to the statement that we are "in a trans moment." Suddenly reports are popping up about discrimination, transphobic comments are being noticed and called out by the gay media, our bureaucracies continue to move forward with updating guidelines to protect their gender non-conforming students, Forbes Magazine notes the presence of a trans billionaire without snarkiness, and a distasteful drag queen joke gets smeared as transphobic.

My take-away is that the educational process has reached a tipping point where people are taking notice and doing some research. People are interested enough that the media feels it's worth covering. The dictum ascribed to Gandhi, which states, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win," seems to be playing out. We were ignored for decades, when we weren't being laughed at. Then all the attention we got was either hostile or insulting, with movies about trans serial killers and late night comics using us for routine comedic fodder. The fighting for trans inclusion began in earnest with the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) in Congress in 2007, and accelerated with the passage of the California School Success and Opportunity Act and subsequent failed referendum attempt this year.

Much hasn't changed, as evidenced by Jared Leto's performance in Dallas Buyers Club, but much has, the two streams flowing in parallel and occasionally crossing and mixing before acceptance is reached. This is hard for some people, who fear that getting to know us as real people will force them to lay down their arms and lose another target in their war against modernism. For others who've recently gained acceptance and affirmation for themselves it is, on occasion, hard to make room for an even more oppressed group. I can sympathize, since when you work for decades and live long enough to finally "make it," it can be terribly frustrating to realize your time in the spotlight has passed and is moving to another community. It happens to every generation when they age, and it happens in our culture as well.

Others, however, celebrate the progress. They realize that visibility, even when it focuses on violence and discrimination, is the first step along the journey from recognition to tolerance, then to acceptance and finally, affirmation. They see the diversity of trans people as evidence of our simple humanity, just like theirs, and applaud when stories are written about weight lifters and billionaires, high tech and biomedical entrepreneurs, students and parents, the religious and secular. Sooner, rather than later, the image of our community will not be what one colleague called the "wreckage of discrimination," but the neighbor pitching in and the inventor who changed the world.

And there are even some gay people who see a trans woman's challenge of a gay man for a state senate seat, on issues of economic justice, health care, and leadership, as a sign of real progress and social maturation. Growing up is never easy, and America has been growing up for 238 years. But, as the saying goes, "It gets better."