Most of us have heard about transgender people in the news recently, with multiple celebrities coming out and also multiple states attempting to pass legislation prohibiting treatment for transgender youth and preventing transgender youth from competing on athletic teams matching their gender identity. To a cisgender person (a person whose gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth), it may be difficult to understand what transgender is and how a person could identify as such. “Transgender” is used as an umbrella term for a person whose assigned sex at birth (based on specific body parts) does not match their gender identity (internal sense of their being male or female). Non-binary people may also consider themselves as part of the transgender community. A person who identifies as non-binary has a gender identity that does not fit neatly in the constructs of male or female.
Studies have shown that children as young as 3 years old start to identify with a specific gender (wearing clothes typical of a certain gender, the pronouns they use for themselves, and do activities generally associated with a certain gender). Gender dysphoria, the distress a person feels when their assigned sex at birth does not match their gender identity, has also been seen around this age as well. Children this young may not have the words to explain how they feel, but will show signs of being a different gender (insisting that they are a different gender, refusing to dress a certain way, asking if doctors can “fix” them, etc). Being transgender is not a phase.
Gender identity is completely different from sexual orientation. A person’s gender identity is who they are, whereas sexual orientation is who they are attracted to. A transwoman (a person born assigned male at birth that has a gender identity of female) can have any sexual orientation: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or any other orientation.
Transgender people are at high risk of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, harassment, and suicidality, lack of medical treatment, and other adverse experiences. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s “2015 US Trans Survey” showed that 40% of the people surveyed had attempted suicide. The survey also showed that transgender women of color were more likely to have negative experiences, including being assaulted and murdered. One third of respondents to the survey had seen a medical doctor and had a negative experience such as being harassed or refused treatment. Currently, at the Federal level, transgender individuals can be discriminated against for housing, employment, healthcare, among other things. H.R. 5, also named the Equality Act, would extent protections to transgender individuals at the Federal level.
Currently, Oklahoma is considering three anti-transgender bills that would negatively affect transgender youth specifically. SB 331, also named the Save Women’s Sports Act, would prohibit a transgender female from competing on a women’s athletic team, stating that athletes must play for the team associated with their assigned sex at birth. SB583 prohibits anyone under 18 years old from receiving gender affirming treatment (hormones, surgeries, etc). This bill also allows punishment to healthcare professionals that provide gender affirming treatments. SB676 would make it unlawful for a transgender person to receive gender affirming treatment until the age of 21, make it unlawful for a parent to seek gender affirming treatment for their child, and make it unlawful for healthcare professionals to provide this treatment. The punishment listed in SB676 would be a felony charge with a minimum of 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
Some ways to show support for transgender individuals is to use their preferred pronouns (he, she, they, etc), using their preferred name, and standing up for transgender individuals when you see or hear something.