Baby Steps to Trans Equality

Baby steps.

This is what I must remind myself whenever I see something new about the transgender community made public: that we are all taking baby steps toward acceptance, toward acknowledgment, toward normalization. As much as I would like it to be more, as much as I would like to see immediate full visibility for transgender individuals, it’s going to take time. As with many revolutions throughout history, it won’t happen overnight.

That is not to say, of course, that progress is not being made. Despite recent setbacks in the political arena with the passage of North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” and the current administration’s removal of questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity from the 2020 Census, the transgender community continues to move closer toward our goals. And we do this by being present. By being visible in the public eye. By making people aware that we exist, that there are alternatives to the binary gender assignations they’re used to, and that there is nothing wrong with this. That we are people just like they are, simply living our lives. We are sons and daughters, parents, siblings, and partners; we are teachers, students, sales clerks, scientists, businesspeople; we are actors, artists, and writers; we are everywhere and everyone. There is no limit to what a person can do or be just because he, she, or they do not fall on the more traditional end of the gender spectrum.

This gender nonconformity was the subject of a recent Time magazine cover story entitled “Infinite Identities.” In it, the assertion is made that the current younger generation—our millennials—are helping to redefine gender identities in ways many previous generations probably had never thought possible. Based on a GLAAD survey, the article reports that 20 percent of millennials identify as something other than cisgender and straight, that they are more comfortable defining themselves with terms such as genderqueer, gender nonconforming, and gender fluid.

It also notes that growing rates of acceptance have led to more people coming out as members of the LGBT community than ever before. If we look to popular media, we can see this might be true; now more than ever we can find TV shows featuring transgender characters and actors, memoirs written by members of the transgender community about their journeys toward living as their authentic selves, and gender nonconforming individuals gracing the covers of magazines such as Time, as mentioned above, and National Geographic, with its “Gender Revolution” issue in January 2017.

Does this mean we have achieved acceptance? Far from it, I am sad to say. Eighty percent of trans students still feel unsafe at their schools due to their gender expressions. One in eight transgender individuals has still been evicted from his or her housing simply for being who they are. An alarming 41 percent of trans individuals have attempted suicide, and a heartbreaking 49 percent have reported being survivors of physical abuse. What will it take for these numbers to change? What will bring about the societal and cultural shifts that will be necessary for people of all genders (or no gender!) to be heard, to be validated, to be seen?

I wish I had the solution. I wish there were one thing we could all do to make this world more inclusive. I wish we didn’t need an annual Trans Day of Visibility, celebrated every year on March 31, because being trans has become so commonplace, so accepted, it’s no longer a newsworthy issue. Are these pie-in-the-sky dreams? Perhaps. Maybe my expectations are high. But that’s only because I know we can achieve them. Not today, but one day. One day.

Until then I’ll keep reminding myself: sometimes great movements do not begin with dramatic actions. Sometimes they start with baby steps. And I must be patient. For someday those steps will turn into leaps and bounds.