Monday, March 09, 2009

The "T" in LGBT

The "T" in LGBT stands for Transgender -- and it's a group that even the L, G and B [Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual] segments of that acronym often are uncomfortable with.

Here is how GLAAD -- Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation -- defines terms dealing with this issue:

Transgender -An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers, and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Transsexual (also Transexual) -An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. Many transgender people prefer the term "transgender" to "transsexual." Some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves. However, unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, and many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.

Transition -Altering one's birth sex is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following cultural, legal and medical adjustments: telling one's family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) some form of surgical alteration

Intersex -Describing a person whose biological sex is ambiguous. There are many genetic, hormonal or anatomical variations which make a person's sex ambiguous (i.e., Klinefelter Syndrome, Adrenal Hyperplasia). Parents and medical professionals usually assign intersex infants a sex and perform surgical operations to conform the infant's body to that assignment. This practice has become increasingly controversial as intersex adults are speaking out against the practice, accusing doctors of genital mutilation.

I found these definitions very helpful this past spring and summer as I spent time with African Anglicans who are transgender.

Previously, I had met and spent time with a few American transgender folk and I confess I was usually uneasy at first. What should I call them? How should I act? Do I pretend I don't notice?

Notice all these questions are about ME, not them. That was my first clue that I was starting from the wrong place.

When a kind MTF transgender named Carol said gently, "You can ask me all the questions that are on your face," I was ashamed of how rude I was being and said so.

She smiled and said, "Let's talk." And we did. She was incredibly generous and patient with me as I fumbled around trying to figure out how to frame all the questions rolling around in my head.

She had known from childhood that she was a female, not a male, even though she was raised as a boy. She has had some surgery, but not all transgender folk do. This is especially true in Africa, where cost alone makes such surgery unobtainable for most people.

And yes, she thinks of herself as female and prefers to be addressed as a woman.

I am still learning about this part of God's incredibly diverse creation. But clearly some places are further along on this journey than am I if this television commercial for a bank in Argentina is any evidence.

Think what a difference it would make if we saw commercials like this more often.


ROBERTA said...

what a moving commercial - do you think we will ever live to see that day here in the US of A?

motheramelia said...

Thank you for your postig. It was helpful as I also am also a loss for what to say when speaking to transgender people. Thanks to Wounded Bird for leading me to your site.

Amie said...

I know it sounds trite as it is used by many who are more conservative than I but - one of my best friends is transgender. I have been through some intense times with her (not related to her transition or surgery or anything - well after the fact). I have learned to see beyond the fact that she is transgender and see the wonderful person that she is. Not that this journey was without its struggles. I often wondered who she was when she was male for in this case it is highly likely that our paths crossed when I was much younger and when she was physically male. Because of this I had the resources to find out - still do. But finding out did not seem to honour who she is so I have never done so. Through her I have learned just to speak where they lead - to speak as I would to any other woman. That's who and what she is.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Anonymous said...

"to speak as I would to any other woman. That's who and what she is." I think that sums it up!

I think that we so often just have the T in LGBT, but don't really think through what that means. In some ways people who are TG have similar struggles as people who are L or G or B, but also have very unique struggles that have little in common with the struggles of the LGB community.

Many live in isolation and the fear of being outed or being subject to violence. Many people who are TG also struggle with depression and just the feeling of being trapped in the wrong body, and wonder if they transition, will they really be taken seriously as the gender they feel they are. For those who can make the transition, it can be a long and difficult struggle. Yet many also make the journey and go on to lead very happy lives.

One of the things that the church can do is to specifically invite people who are TG to be a part of the community, and to provide a safe place where they can be accepted as they are, and as they are becoming. But as with any movement to become an open and welcoming parish, make sure that everyone in your parish is on board with this. Just as with inviting someone in to your community who is LGB, the wrong comment can undo everything you are trying to accomplish.

Invite the person who is transitioning MTF to your women's Bible study. Invite the person who is transitioning FTM to participate in your men's group. Offer to help her with her makeup when she is still learning how to use it, and complement her when she looks pretty! Basically just accept her as a sister or him as a brother. Provide a safe and loving community to support her during her transition.

As Anne Marie said so well, speak to her as a woman, or to him as a man, just as you would any other woman or man.

Debbie B-T said...

I belong to a local Basenji* club that has probably 25 members. Just this last year, one of our members who is 74 years old announced one day that he had decided to go through a sex change operation and become the woman outwardly that he had been inwardly since birth. One of his comments to us was that he had "always loved adventure and this was going to be the biggest adventure of his entire life." He explained the entire process to us of how he would need to live as a woman for a year first and would be taking hormones, etc. He even gave us a timetable of what changes to expect as he came to each of our club functions over the next year.

Perhaps it was because we were all used to quirky, little wild dogs in our club and nothing much scares us anymore including new adventures, but after the initial shock of his announcement, we all decided we might as well enjoy this adventure along with him.

Now, the funniest thing has happened. Our formerly male member (now a she) changed her looks, changed her clothes, changed some of her hobbies (or perhaps only brought them out in the open), and changed her name. But she is still the same person she always was. Same sense of humor, same devotion to her dog. It is the rest of us in the club who have changed. We have learned that what is on the outside doesn't really matter--that changes over time anyway. It's that "inner part" of a person that's worth looking for.

And of course, our Basenjis already knew this.

*Basenji - a breed of dog known as the African Barkless dog

Katie Sherrod said...

Thanks for this touching story. And yes, our dogs do know what's important, don't they?