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Transmissions: Discovery and denial

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

I've told this story many times before. It was a Sunday evening in my pre-teen years and I was in the backseat of my parents' mint green 1963 Dodge Dart. We'd spent the day as we did many Sundays, road tripping over southern and central California.

The car's radio was turned to an AM talk station, this one offering up a call-in therapist. On the show, a mother had called in to talk to the host: her child had come out to her as trans and was seeking genital reassignment surgery and other care.

I'll admit, I don't recall a lot of what the host had to say, but I know it largely stuck to the basic facts. What I do remember was hearing for the first time about someone who shared the same feelings I did: I did not fit in the gender I had been assigned at birth based on a cursory examination of my genitals.

I continued to listen, while also trying to not draw any attention that the topic was of interest.

In the front seat, however, my parents were also listening. Toward the end of the call in question, my mom remarked to my father. How difficult it must be, she wondered aloud, for a parent to have to deal with something so challenging. I don't recall my father giving much of a response.

What I learned in that moment was that my feelings were not unique, and there were options that I could explore. I also learned that this would hurt my parents, and that they would not likely be able to cope. Even though I now had a name for what I was and how I felt, I knew that I could never actually address my trans self, and would have to hide it away forever.

Every so often I would hear more about being trans, and much of it continued to push me further into my own closet. For one, I recall when tennis player Renee Richards fought for acceptance, and how her story was treated in much the same way Caitlyn Jenner's has been in the last few years. This taught me that being known as a transgender person meant facing public scorn and ridicule, and never being truly accepted for who you are.

I remember, too, paging through the men's magazines my dad kept tucked in his nightstand, where every so often I could find a story that discussed a transgender person. I read the Wendy Carlos interview in Playboy and saw the Carolyn Cossey pictorial in same. These were rare moments where transgender people were treated well, but most of the time trans people were treated as sexual deviants in the pages of these periodicals. Once again, I felt that my identity was one to be ashamed of.

I spent my elementary and high school years deep in denial, feeling that I was carrying a secret that could never be revealed. It wasn't until my college years, thanks to some deep dives into the school and public libraries, that I finally started to crack away at that facade.

I suspect that my story is not that uncommon for transgender people in my age range. In fact, I suspect I was luckier than most, having heard more about being transgender issues than average, even if much of what I learned pushed me deeper into denial.

Today, things are, mercifully, different. There are a lot more transgender people who are out, and public, and thriving. We can be seen, for example, on television, in sports, and in public office. What's more, there is an ever-growing body of information just a few mouse clicks away. This is allowing transgender kids to find agency, and for their parents to serve as their advocates.

This is, however, what causes me the most concern about the current political climate. We are still facing threats against transgender people serving in the military under this presidency, and are seeing other departments in the administration turning their backs on transgender people. Most recently, the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos will no longer pursue complaints from trans kids about being barred from school restrooms that match their gender identity.

We are still seeing laws being foisted upon the populace, seeking to prevent transgender people from having equal rights, and we still see transgender people treated as deviants, as objects of ridicule, and as people who do not deserve to even exist.

There are those who would tell you that transgender people coming out younger, and in larger numbers than ever before, is simply evidence of some sort of transgender "trend," and that their trans identity isn't legitimate. Some even wish to argue that kids are being shunted into trans-ness against their best interests, and that they need to be protected from transgender care. That is nonsense.

We live in a time where being transgender isn't a trend, but where people are able to find good, solid information at an earlier age, where there are more possibilities open to transgender folks of all ages. It's not a fad, any more than being left-handed was in my youth, as educators stopped trying to forcibly correct kids to focus on their right hands.

I want to live in a world where the young kid in the back of their parents' 2004 Honda Accord will not be ashamed of who they are, and will not feel they have to repress their feelings at every turn. I don't want to see us slowly creep back into a place where the trans youth of today will face decades of denial and pain because society will not offer them a place to thrive.

We cannot go back.

Gwen Smith is a southpaw. You'll find her online at www.gwensmith.com.

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