For those of us in the transgender community watching Bruce Jenner's interview with Dianne Sawyer, the stories told all rang very familiar with us. We know what it's like to have these feelings since early childhood. We know what it's like to feel that you absolutely must keep it secret from everyone. We know what it's like to go through years trying to find little opportunities to get a secret taste of the gender you've always longed to be. For us, Jenner's account is completely familiar, and in its familiarity, thrilling to hear made public before such a broad audience. In speaking purely for himself, he inadvertently spoke for all of us.
For us, the most shocking revelation of the interview was Jenner coming out as Republican. Those who have lived in this life for years have come to perceive being transgender and Republican as the ultimate oxymoron. The most extreme form of self-loathing. How can you be in bed with people who want to destroy you? Who want to see you homeless and penniless in the street. Who want to criminalize you and put you in jail? Who would rather that you not exist at all?
Gender dysphoria is a condition a person can have independently of any other personal quality they might possess. As such, gender dysphorics represent a true cross-section of society. You find all kinds among people with this condition. However, being gender dysphoric does not necessarily translate into being transgender as we typically use the term. After all, Jenner is only coming out about transition at age 65 after a lifetime of experiencing gender dysphoria. Keeping it hidden is not only not unusual, but in reality more the rule. The great majority of people experiencing this condition never come forward and do anything about it. They just suffer in silence. It takes an act of great courage to choose to solve a problem that society will condemn or punish you for trying to solve or even knowing you have. As such, while you may find all kinds of people among gender dysphorics, there are many societal filters affecting who among them come forward and transition. Personal courage is certainly one of those filters. Another is means. Having the wealth to pay the necessary expenses and weather the many inevitable storms inherent in the process opens a door to gender transition shut off to many.
Even though blessed with wealth since early adulthood and the financial means to both bankroll transition and live without concern for employment, Jenner still waited until now to be public about his transition, and even then only when cornered and forced out by the media. With his coming out, the public now sees something true of all of us. This condition does not define our lives. It is one part of it, but our lives tend more to be defined by our histories, our communities, our values, our personalities, our means, our professions, etc. In other words, we're like everyone else, except we are dealing with a very unusual condition of birth and a different set of challenges than most others around us.
Since we mirror the diversity of society, there are as many conservatives among us as there are liberals, or at least so before we start transition. There are plenty of staunch Republicans who enter gender transition. Having an innate identification for the other sex bears no relationship to your belief in smaller government, less taxation, a distrust of governmental effectiveness, a belief in market based solutions, etc. When it comes to matters of political conservatism, there is nothing about about being a Republican that is incompatible with being transgender.
However, when it comes to our modern political climate, there is certainly something about being transgender that is incompatible with being Republican. Across the country, Republican leadership have chosen to go to war against transgender people. In 2012, Republican Tennessee State Rep. Richard Floyd filed HB 2279 which would restrict restroom use based on birth certificate. In 2013, Republican State Rep. John Kavanagh introduced SB 1432 which would have restricted restroom use based on birth certificate punishable for up to 6 months in jail. In 2014, Republican Utah Rep. Michael Kennedy filed HB 87 which restricted transgender student's use of restrooms. This year, Republican Texas Rep. Debbie Riddle created HB 1748 which limits restroom use based on chromosomes with a $4000 fine and up to year in jail for violations. Florida Republican Rep. Frank Artiles filed HB 583 would have restricted restroom use based on sex at birth with a $1000 and up to a year in prison. Kentucky Republican Sen. C.B Embry Jr. and Republican Sen. Chris Girdler wrote SB 76 which would restrict student's use of restrooms based on biologic sex at birth.
The reality is that once moving into a new gender role, but never able to truly leave behind a transgender identity, the loss of privilege that comes with gender transition makes it virtually impossible to hang on to a Republican identification. As you encounter more and more ways that your rights and opportunities are being cut off by Republican policies, as you see every pathway to equality being pointlessly thwarted by Republican actions and as you see Republican lawmakers aggressively bring forward new legislation intent on criminalizing your life, throwing you in jail and destroying your future, such ideals as smaller government evaporate from your mind as concerns over survival take front and center. It is the Republicans who drive the Republicanism out of transgender people.
My hope is that Republicans across the country, and especially party leaders nationally and locally, will see that there is no reason for them to make transgender people their enemies. We would support them in the same proportions as everyone else if they would just leave us alone. We are not their enemies. They have chosen to make themselves ours.
My suspicion however, is that it won't be the Republicans who change as a result of Jenner's coming out. It will be him. We shall see how long he can remain loyal to people who wish he were homeless, in jail or dead.
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