12 February 2011

Walking With Our Heads Up

After reading Diana's post today, I checked out one of the links she provided.

That there is discrimination against transgender people is not news to me. Nor is the knowledge that trans people of color experience even more discrimination than those of us who are melanin-deficient.   If those facts were all the survey revealed, I would not be thinking about it now.

However, the researchers who compiled the report Diana linked seemed to understand the limits of so many previous studies.  Those earlier surveys and reports indicated, for example, that we are much more likely than everyone else to be unemployed, experience harassment, try to kill ourselves or to be killed by someone else.  But they missed two other key elements of our lives that "Injustice At Every Turn" conveys about as well as anyone can with statistical narratives.

The first of those elements is the cumulative effect of our experiences.  According to the report, nearly two out of every three of us have experienced a "serious act of discrimination," which the authors define as "events 
that would have a major impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to sustain themselves financially or emotionally."  Those events include, but are not limited to:

• Lost job due to bias
• Eviction due to bias
• School bullying/harassment so severe the respondent had to drop out 
• Teacher bullying 
• Physical assault due to bias
• Sexual assault due to bias
• Homelessness because of gender identity/expression
• Lost relationship with partner or children due to gender identity/expression
• Denial of medical service due to bias
• Incarceration due to gender identity/expression.

Worse, nearly one in four of us has experienced "catastrophic" discrimination, which the researchers define as experiencing at least three of those life-disrupting events.  

The second dimension of our experiences that the researchers managed to convey was what we develop in part as a result of our experiences:  resilience. More than three out of every four of us report that we felt more comfortable at work and our performance improved after we began to transition, even in spite of the discrimination and even harassment many of us experience.

And we still manage to get hormones, as well as the other medicines and treatments we need, in spite of the discrimination or structural barriers we face in getting health care.  We lose jobs and aren't considered for others because of bigotry, but somehow many of us still find employment.  We find places to live after we've been kicked or kept out of other places because of bias, and we're three times as likely to return to school after the age of 25 even after so many of us were essentially bullied out of our high schools and colleges.

But, most important of all, we keep our self-esteem--which many of us found only upon coming to terms with who we are and deciding to live in accordance with it (whatever that may mean for us)--even in the face of rejection from partners, family members, colleagues and people who were friends.  As one survey respondent said, "I have walked these streets and been harassed nearly every day, but I will not change.  I am back out there the next day with my head up."