23 January 2013

"Passing" Does Not Mean "Equal"

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, previous generations of transsexuals tried to go "stealth" as much as they could.  That meant, not only looking and acting as if they were members of their "new" genders, but also erasing their pasts, often to the point of creating wholly fictitious histories (Is that an oxymoron?) for themselves.

I've pointed out some of the fallacies and pitfalls of doing so.  For one thing, amnesia is not healthy; self-imposed amnesia can only be worse.  Also, as Victoria Brownworth says, a person who "passes" is trapped:  He or she believes the lie or is caught in it.  Yet, as long as we're not caught, society will reward, and even demand, such fabrications.

We see one of the major problems in "going stealth" or "passing" when we look at the law.  I used to believe that if I were to "pass" well enough, I would never have to worry about transgender equality:  If I had to throw my (all-too-considerable) weight behind a movement, it would be feminism.

Well, I still tell anyone who knows about my history that there's nothing like becoming a woman to turn you into a feminist.   While I may not have to worry about daycare (unless, of course, I adopt), I still have to think about other women's workplace and lifestyle issues because they affect me.  

One of those issues is discrimination. While a prospective employer may know nothing of my history from seeing me, and nothing of my experience of life from my resume and cover letter, he or she could always find out about those things without searching very long.  Even if I never wrote this blog, or any of my articles or essays about transitioning or living as a woman, a prospective employer could do a simple background check.

So, for that matter, could a health insurer, or any health-care provider.  Or prospective landlord or lender.  Even trans people whom other people simply cannot imagine in their birth genders run into discrimination and other difficulties as a result of having had to live their previous lives.

Those are reasons why I now realize that I simply cannot ignore the issue of LGBT rights, or think that including protections for transgenders in civil rights laws is not as important as some other issues.  Simply distancing myself from my old life will not insulate me from it.  I made my transition and had my surgery so I could live as the woman I am, but there is no point in denying that some of my experiences are different from those of other women.  More to the point, my body has a different history from those of other women:  Even if I am no longer at risk for, say, prostate cancer, I may still need treatment for some residual condition.  (Trans men encounter this when they need screening for cervical or breast cancer.)  On top of that--as I learned early in my transition--there are some medical care providers who won't treat you, give you inappropriate treatments or will harass and humiliate you because of who you are.

Those are just some of the reasons why, no matter how good we are at "passing" and how little semblance our current lives bear to our former ones, we still need to work for equality, whether it's by getting language added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act or our employers to adopt fair and equitable policies.  As someone who's spent more than her share of time in classrooms, I can tell you that simply passing doesn't mean that you're equal to anyone else.  At least, you haven't gotten there yet.