24 March 2013

Not A Luxury

Being transgendered is not a luxury.

To some of you, such a statement may seem so self-evident that it doesn’t need to be said.  To other people, it may be frivolous, blasphemous or worse.
Let me put it another way:  Living as one’s true self—that is to say, living with integrity and dignity—is not a luxury.

Likewise, loving whomever one loves, and being loved by that person, is also not a luxury.  Nor is having the ability to build a life around one’s relationship with such a person.

The notion that the right to  be ourselves and to love whomever we love are luxuries is, however, deeply ingrained in people’s psyches—not to mention our legal, social and economic systems.  I say this as someone who, until the time of her transition—and, in fact, well into it—thought that living as Justine was not as important or necessary as going to school, having a career, building a family or meeting all sorts of other expectations that had been placed upon me.  

The truth is, of course, that I was never terribly successful at school, work or life itself because I was spending so much of my time trying to live without what I needed, and in alienation from the person I am.  I wasn’t more studious or ambitious than I was because I figured that the grades, the accomplishments, the accolades and everything else simply weren’t going to matter.  Degrees, titles, careers, money, beautiful lovers and spouses, and all of the other accomplishments, accolades and trophies simply wouldn’t mean a damned thing because they wouldn’t make life worth living. 

I am trying not to turn this into a hateful, resentful rant against heterosexual and cisgender people.  What I am trying to do, among other things, is to point out that people who never felt any reason to question their gender identities or any inclination to love anyone who isn’t of the “opposite” gender—or not to marry—are not treated as if their identities and proclivities must be earned, if they are allowed to exist at all.  Of course, we tell people that it’s best to be established in a career, or at least to have a stable job, before marrying someone of the “opposite” gender and having children.  However, if they are having difficulty providing for their kids, or are going through “rough patches” in their relationships, nobody questions their right to be married or have kids.  If anything, they often find sympathy and even help, even if they were “too young” or “too poor” when they got married and had kids.  If one or both members of the couple has a reasonably good insurance plan, it will pay for the hospital stay and most other costs related to giving birth. And, as we all know, there are tax benefits (at least in the US) for being a married heterosexual couple and having kids. 

The fact that there is such approval and support for a man and a woman who have kids tells us that the so-called nuclear family is seen as a foundation of society and, therefore, not a luxury.  The legal, social and economic arrangements I’ve described also allow people in heterosexual marriages, especially if they have kids, to feel secure in themselves in ways denied to those of us whose sense of ourselves and who we love is not condoned, let alone supported, by society in general.  A number of studies show that married people (particularly men) make much more money than single people, and that their kids do better in school.

Now, of course, social conservatives would take that last statement as evidence that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman, and that only people who are so married should be allowed to give birth to, or adopt, children.  But what it shows me is the importance of having a positive (though not overly egoistic) image of one’s self in attaining loce and other kinds of success.  To understand what I mean, all you have to do is to look at how much more likely despised or disapproved-of people are to be depressed, or to abuse substances, attempt suicide or harm themselves in any number of other ways.  I know this as someone who has done those things and was depressed for about 35 of the first 45 years of her life.  Now, I’m not saying that my gender-identity issues were the sole cause of those problems, and I’m not using the fact that I had to live as someone I’m not as the excuse for underachieving and other failures.  After all, some people have had the same problems as mine and attained success in one way or another.  But even those people—including a few I know personally—wonder how much more they could have achieved, or what different choices they might have made, had they been able to live and love their entire lives as the people they truly are.

Almost nobody denies that those who grow up poor and, as a result, attend bad schools or get substandard nutrition will have a more difficult time in realizing his or her potential.  I think that most of us would want to see talented, sensitive or simply ambitious kids get the kind of education that will help them realize their potential and dreams.  I think most people would also want those kids to get the help they need in overcoming the emotional difficulties they may have as a result of growing up in a fractured environment.

In other words, I don’t think that most of us would regard what those kids need as “luxuries.”  Why, then, shouldn’t we see someone’s need to be true to him- or her- self, and to love and be loved, as anything but necessities?