THE BLOG
12/28/2015 09:50 am ET Updated Dec 28, 2016

2015 Trans Year in Review -- The Upside

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

2015 was the most momentous year in trans history. From scattered events in trans prehistory - Lili Elbe (The Danish Girl) , Christine Jorgensen, Sylvia Rivera, and Renee Richards - the community finally entered the historical mainstream in 2015 with the splashy "outcoming" of Caitlyn Jenner. She changed the cultural landscape, for better and worse, and gave us all a platform we never had. We're not quite to the status of "just another American minority group," but we're on our way.

I was asked what I thought were the three most momentous events for the trans community for the final Queerview segment on HuffPost Live last week, but I want to start with what I consider the most momentous event for the LGBT community as a whole - the Obergefell decision in June. Not only was the Supreme Court ruling important for trans persons who want to marry, so that they never have to worry again how any given state views their legal sex, but the language of dignity used by Justice Kennedy in writing the majority decision will have a cascading effect for both the trans and gay communities in the future on a host of issues. To put it in crass terms that are very relevant to today's political events - there is no dignity in forcing trans men and women to use the wrong bathroom. The repercussions of the SCOTUS decision will be felt from employment law to family issues, so the decision is even more important than just legalizing same-sex marriage; it impacts all of us profoundly.

• Caitlyn and the backlash

Caitlyn Jenner's transformation before millions of Americans in February brought trans Americans into the mainstream. When we had been known by less that 10% of the population before her conversation with Diane Sawyer, that number tripled, thanks to the ripple effects through the salacious culture of American celebrity. The impact of the transition of an American sports icon should not be underestimated. There are far more important trans persons alive today who have immeasurably changed the lives of many millions - Lynn Conway and Martine Rothblatt, for starters - but people relate better to sports heroes, particularly those who became icons during their youth. So Caitlyn did us all a big favor.

How she went about doing it is another matter. I don't know many who are pleased with her overall presentation over the course of this past year, including those closest to her on her journey through Kardashianland and multiple LGBT campaign stops. Caitlyn's original sin is that her lack of curiosity provided her with no context for her new life. She had never read about the community or its history, so she came to herself in a state of almost primal innocence and naïveté. While that has been hard to take in real-time, it has had a major consequence - it opened up a much more accessible platform for many other trans persons throughout the media.

Issues we had discussed on social media or in small local meetings and conferences suddenly went mainstream. The New York Times has an ongoing series about trans persons, including a full page editorial supporting full trans rights. There have been multiple magazine features, discussions on cable tv and nightly comedy shows. John Oliver on HBO has done some of the best stuff this year, and the awards keep on coming. Media representations are no longer universally negative, not every trans story ends in death, and even comedians are no longer singling us out. This is a remarkable phenomenon, 55 years after the arrival of Hitchcock's Psycho on the scene.

Even more importantly, however, is that the rest of the community now has an easier opportunity to make its case for equality, freedom and fairness. There is nothing better than a foil. Caitlyn's distinguishing attributes - her religion, party affiliation, race, wealth, age and confusion about sexual orientation - help the current generation of activists make their case. Most of us won't remember our high school English lessons in writing where we were taught the style of "compare and contrast," but Caitlyn's presentation helps us make the case for legal and legislative protections, cultural acceptance and economic opportunity. The endemic violence against African-American trans women gets more coverage thanks to Caitlyn, rather than less. On balance we're in a much stronger position thanks to her public transition.

• Legal, legislative and regulatory advances

Open trans military service has been approved and will go into effect next year. The EEOC has continued to fight on our behalf, highlighted by the Lusardi case, working with legal pioneers such as Jillian Weiss, Ezra Young and our impact organizations, led by Lambda Legal (which now spends 20% of its resources on trans cases), the ACLU which has stepped up boldly, and the NCLR, which has been quietly doing superlative work for what seems like forever.

Federal courts increasingly understand that being trans (and gay as well - see the Baldwin case) is self-evidently a form of sex or gender, and that leads to greater coverage under Titles VII and IX. Not every judge gets it, but when those older judges twist themselves up in knots while complaining how out of touch they are, we know we're winning. It's only five years since Vandy Beth Glenn's legal advocates fell out of their chairs upon hearing remarkably pro-trans comments from the bench during her historic appeal in Glenn v. Brumby, but it's becoming the norm.

Federal regulations, following upon the signing of the Executive Order 13672 in 2013, continue to reverberate through the nation. The new rules from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance regarding the federal contractor workforce, and guidance from OSHA, the Office of Safety and Health Administration, have been very clear and forceful in enumerating the rights of trans employees to basic human dignity. There's a revolution underway, and the year has culminated with new regs from New York City's Commission on Human Rights putting serious financial teeth into its civil rights code. Civil rights enforcement is often difficult because of the lack of penalties (in Maryland the fine is usually in the range of $50), but that will no longer be the case in America's largest city.

These changes, as they permeate our society, will have the secondary effect of introducing millions of more Americans to trans persons, who will then find it harder to demonize and hate and act out violently. It will be a long road from A to B, but together with the increasing interest of the federal government in anti-trans hate crimes which primarily impact the black community, and the rising up of voices from that community, there is greater reason today to hope for better lives for all in the coming year.

• Closing of the Gender Identity Clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, and the demise of anti-trans reparative therapy

As I wrote in my column last week, this unfolding story is representative of the evolution of the medical and psychological and social work communities over the past decade. What was once viewed as an aberration, deviance and mental illness now has a growing basis in science and is increasing being treated as a normal human variation. It may be easier to live as a cisgender, heterosexual individual but for some of us that simply isn't who we are. I've watched the mental health profession change, beginning 13 years ago when I ran a seminar on gender identity in the DC area, and I've been thrilled to watch the number of sensitive therapists and clinicians grow, even in previously hostile territory such as Johns Hopkins. When I first taught trans medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine in 2009 there was a sense that I was the odd one out, tacked onto the discussion of gay and lesbian health, which itself was relatively new. That's evolved over the years so that today we teach an integrated class, integrated because we are all sexual beings that run the same operating systems, but with some variations in the program.

When I first began my weekly column three years ago I had to stretch to find material each week. That's no longer the case; there are weeks when I'm inundated. We truly have gone mainstream in many aspects of our society, and it can get overwhelming at times. It's very humbling.

Happy New Year to all!