Kelly is a new friend of mine. So new, we haven’t yet met in person. Our relationship is an online, text and email friendship. Our conversations take advantage of many platforms depending on what is convenient at the time. Apparently, this is what “the kids” are doing and spinsters like me who like talking on their phone instead of tapping a screen have to adjust. But, that’s not what this post is about.
I started having interactions with Kelly earlier this year. She was roommates with the person I was dating at the time. Our friendship began as a series of Facebook comments and posts. We shared a hello and a wave once while my ex-boyfriend and I were connected on Skype. Over time, we moved from Facebook comments to texting. She reached out to me when my relationship with her roommate ended, hoping we would not lose touch.
When I decided to include Kelly in my 30 Days of Thanks I asked for her permission to write about her. While Kelly is open with me, I knew there was no easy way for me to tell about my admiration for her without sharing personal details. Kelly is transgender and until recently was not “out” (presenting as female) at work. I would never intentionally write or share anything which would add to the uncertainty she faces in life.
I am not an expert in gender identity, but to help explain things I offer the following simplified definitions. “Transgender” is an umbrella adjective (not a noun) used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or somewhere else on the spectrum between genders. People can identify with either, aspects of both or a lack of gender identity. Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation – or a person’s physical, emotional or romantic attraction to another person. You can learn more about this subject by visiting GLAAD’s Transgender Media and Education Program, Susan’s Place or Trans-What? A Guide Towards Allyship.**
I can’t imagine what it is like to know the body you were born with is not the identity you were meant to have. Kelly has described her experience as complicated – always knowing she was different, thinking something was ‘wrong’ and knowing she wanted to be a girl but not being able to connect that all in her head. She hid these feelings until college, but didn’t start her transition process until 2013 when, as she said to me in a text, “It was either get help or kill myself.”
Many research studies report increased rates of suicide and depression among transgender individuals. According to a study conducted by the Williams Institute and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention earlier this year, 46 percent of trans men and 42 percent of trans women in the USA have attempted suicide. Discrimination and hate crimes cause valid fear among many. Transgender Day of Remembrance (held annually on November 20) honors those who have died due to anti-transgender violence. Sadly, the numbers of victims remembered each year have not really diminished over time. As a person who has faced discrimination in life, it is difficult for me to understand those who hate others for reasons a person cannot control.
Kelly continues to struggle with depression, but says coming out to others gradually became easier. Earlier this year she legally changed her name and started hormone replacement therapy. This week she will start going to her job as Kelly. Today is her birthday and she says she actually likes the poetry of appearing at work as her authentic self on her birthday.
It takes strength to live authentically in a world where discrimination, fear and hatred are present. There are steps we all can take to be allies to those struggling to define their gender identity. We can ask about preferred pronoun use – and honor preferences. We can use gender-neutral language and avoid making assumptions about gender and sexual orientation. We can raise our voices when we witness discrimination.
Happy birthday Kelly. I am glad to have your wit and wisdom in my life. I’m proud of you for taking the difficult steps on your journey towards authenticity. One of these days, we’re going to share that bottle of wine in person.
**There are MANY websites and resources out there – these are just a few to get you started. Please feel free to share other credible resources in the comments.