All I have lost and gained: living outside the binary

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Transgender rights and the acceptance of gender nonconformity has become an extremely topi- cal and often heated debate.

There has been a rise in visibility of both trans people and transphobic sentiment, and in some places, both are on broad display.

Atlanta has a historic and massive LGBTQ+ community, yet on July 1st, a senate bill went into effect in Georgia, eliminating two key medical treatments for transgender minors: hormone replacement therapy and puberty blockers.

It is clear that the United States, and our own state, has a long way to go before reaching transgender acceptance. But why is it that the notion of gender nonconformity is so personally polarizing for a great deal of the population?

Why hasn’t transgender awareness translated into acceptance? My own experience as a transgender and non-binary person has led me to ponder these questions since the moment I became aware of my identity.

The religion I was raised in has never been accepting of transgender people, but there was also a time when there was no awareness of them.

Since I came out as non-binary two years ago, I’ve watched as the word “transgender” has gone from a single mention in a church manual to a topic spoken over the pulpit by the highest church leadership. Just over a month ago, the second highest leader in that religion, who my family and community recognize not only as the Earth’s next prophet, but also a person who literally speaks to God, made a lengthy address to young adults concerning marriage.

I listened as he stated what he believes is wrong with the world: “people changing their gender every other day.”

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed almost daily in my experiences at church since coming out.

I’ve been barred from entering temples, been called slurs in chapel restrooms and even received a death threat, yet there was something almost encouraging in hearing this most recent address. I am, by my own admission, one of the aforementioned people changing their gender every other day! Did a man who we think speaks to God just speak about me?

After years of witnessing homophobic and transphobic policy with no direct admission from church leadership, I almost felt flattered to be so directly addressed. There was an awareness from them that had felt absent before. The variety but pervasiveness of transphobic sentiments in my own religious community can be found throughout the United States as well. It’s almost as if the entire country is experiencing the five stages of grief, and each state, institution and individual is at a different point on that journey.

I see anger in many protestors, politicians and family friends, who scream that trans people are the end of our country’s culture and resent our existence.

I see depression in the religious community I was raised in and many others, who lament that they can no longer be outright bigoted without social repercussions and see that as a tragic “sign of the times.” I saw bargaining when I visited a committee meeting of our state’s senate and heard one senator argue that it should be legal to prescribe puberty blockers to cisgender minors, but illegal for transgender minors.

Many of the transgender people I know can attest that acceptance can feel difficult, at times impossible, to find.

But it would seem that acceptance is no longer the least likely stage to find; there’s practically no one still in denial. Trans people are here, we’re here to stay and the country is very aware of it.

But with this visibility comes violent backlash. The biases and bigotry of politicians and parents have lasting, devastating implications.

For many people, being trans is a death sentence, and it’s carried out by governments, peers and sometimes the trans person themselves.

From my perspective, much of this is founded on the belief that anything other than a rigid gender binary is both logically false and morally wrong.

When I was young, I was taught in church that a “spirit” would testify to me things which were right and true. It was one of the core tenets of our religion. For years, I felt nothing and eventually came to believe that everyone else had lied when they claimed to have experienced that feeling.

It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I finally felt what they described: a spiritual connection to myself and what was around me that told me I had what was good and true.

I felt it not in a church, but in a basement, as I held hands with my trans partner for the first time at a drag show hosted by and starring local fellow students.

This tool, which I was taught would guide me away from moral wrongs and worldly lies, led me to proof that there is more to gender than biological sex, and more to the self than gender. It was there that I learned that it’s not aware- ness that leads to acceptance, but the other way around.

The reason why many trans-phobes are so loud and uncompromising is because they feel they have personal stake in the conflict.

A central part of how they view themselves is being viewed so differently by other people.

They are abundantly aware of trans and gender nonconforming people existing, but they cannot find an ounce of acceptance in them for it.

It isn’t until you approach this community with open minded- ness and a willingness to under- stand that you can fully under- stand all that it encompasses.

Accepting that people experience gender in diverse and unexpected ways allows us to become aware of our own place within ourselves and the structures of our society. Where there

is a lack of acceptance outside our community, there is an abundance of it within.

For all the times my parents cried at my cut hair, there were my non-binary friends who have trusted me to cut theirs.

For all the times I was ever told I’d ruined my life, my transgender and non-binary friends have shown me a new one.

For all the times I’ve stayed up until six a.m. frantically messaging an online friend, begging them to let themselves live just one more night, there comes a future day when I’m rewarded with a picture of them twirling in a skirt or sporting a new haircut. These experiences have taught me more about who I am than anything else. Am I optimistic for transgender rights in the United States? Not really.

Many people are insistent on displaying their anger, depression and bargaining on a nation- wide political scale, too caught up in their stages of grief to imagine the joy outside of it.

Not everyone will be able to put aside their prejudices before learning about us, and many will still want our existence to end.

But where I have seen trans life, I have seen trans joy. I see not only survival, but a thriving community and an honoring of the tradition of trans resistance.

I am confident that as people experiment with the radical acceptance of the trans and gender nonconforming community, they will become aware of their own place inside and outside of it to the benefit of all.