Today, on International Transgender Day of Visibility, I present a poignant letter that two friends of mine emailed me and others earlier this week. I am honored that my friends gave me permission to post their brilliance here for the world to see.
We are sending this letter to share some news with people who know our family. We love you and count on your love, intelligence, and open-mindedness.
The news is that our child John is a transgender girl. [All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the family.]
Life is a wonderful journey which sometimes takes an unexpected turn, but everything eventually works out for the best, and we find ourselves exactly where we are supposed to be. Everybody has his/her/their own path. Going through the process of learning, understanding, and embracing this new reality has made our family stronger and brought us much closer together. We want you to know that we are happy! Happy for our daughter, who is now in tune with her true self and feels more confident and happy. Happy for the boundless love that we share. We fully support our brave and beautiful child and we hope that you will too.
She has chosen the name Janet. Please kindly use that name and feminine pronouns (she, her) when addressing her or talking about her. You will likely slip occasionally – we know, we did, and still sometimes do. It’s okay. We now use the name Janet and speak of her as a girl even when we talk about her childhood. She has always been a girl, but we just didn’t realize it.
This is not a family tragedy, which may be the first reaction for some people, and there is absolutely no shame in being transgender. It really helped that we held socially liberal views before and didn’t need to break out of a mental prison of prejudice to find acceptance. We are concerned, of course, that not everyone may be as open-minded and that could make our daughter’s life more complicated. As any normal parents, we will do our best to protect her, although she is an adult and is strong to stand up for herself. We hope that everyone will understand that this is not an illness and not a lifestyle choice. What’s happening is a positive change that will improve our daughter’s quality of life. We are glad that she has found her true gender identity. This revelation is a blessing, not a curse. We are certain of that.
Transgender individuals don’t want to be defined only by their gender identity, just like all of us. This year, we’ve made friends with some wonderful, kind, caring people in the LGBTQ community and were touched by their personal stories. Our child is unique in many ways and this is one of her many traits, alongside her brilliant intelligence, her curiosity, her kindness and compassion, and her somewhat dark sense of humor. Living her life as a girl won’t change any of that.
We don’t expect or demand any special privileges or bonuses for Janet. Now that she knows who she is, it should be easier for her to chart her life course and achieve what she sets to achieve. She likes her privacy, so please respect that. We are sending this letter to prevent gossip and misunderstanding. It’s a one-time announcement to keep people who know us aware of the change and to increase awareness and understanding of the subject.
If you need to absorb our news and learn more, then please take your time. When you are ready, please let us know how you feel, send an email (even a short one), call us if you like, say a few encouraging words to Janet next time you see her. We cherish your friendship. We know that you may have questions and may be hesitating what is okay or not okay to ask, what is the proper etiquette, and how to be supportive. Some people may feel uncomfortable at first, but find acceptance over time. Please don’t worry! We’ll help with information and answer your questions.
Recognizing that this topic may be new or somewhat confusing for many people, let us provide basic facts that we have recently learned ourselves, with hopes that it may be useful.
Nature in its amazing complexity creates people with a great variety of physical traits. We come in different shapes and sizes, colors, genders and we celebrate our uniqueness in this world. Gender identity is one of many dimensions by which we differ. Most people are comfortable with belonging to their birth gender, while some feel strongly that they need to be the opposite gender, or both genders, or no gender, or that their gender varies over time. Transgender people feel that their true gender identity is different from the one assigned to them at birth and experience gender dysphoria – a distress caused by the societal pressure to live as a gender that feels wrong to them. Some of them recognize these feelings in childhood, while some don’t recognize or don’t admit them until they become adults. Scientists can’t currently explain why this happens, but there is a strong scientific and medical consensus that it’s not a result of parental or societal influence, not an illusion, not a choice that someone makes, and it’s not a physical or mental illness. Our gender identity is somehow programmed before birth and can’t be unlearned or reprogrammed.
The problem is not being transgender, but trying to deny it to yourself or hiding it from other people, because it takes a high psychological toll. The only solution that has been consistently demonstrated to work is accepting and embracing one’s true gender identity and transitioning to it. There isn’t one standard way to transition. Most transgender people change their clothes and appearance to look more like their affirmed gender. Some use hormonal treatments and some use gender confirmation surgeries, both of which have become very safe and effective in recent years. It’s incorrect to make assumptions that everyone follows the same path and it’s generally inappropriate to ask specific questions about that, just like it’s impolite to ask your co-workers or neighbors if they are circumcised or what medications they use.
Another problem is societal prejudice and stigmatization of transgender individuals. We believe that this problem can be fixed by providing correct information, because most people are not evil, mean, or cold-hearted, but may be uninformed. Not so long ago left-handed people were punished for using their dominant hand. Not so long ago racism defined who could sit on which bench or go to which college or – worse – who deserved to live or die. But our society is evolving rapidly and becoming better educated and accepting of individual uniqueness and diversity. So, we are very optimistic that reason and common sense will prevail! Just like the rights of gay people have advanced over the last decade and the level of homophobia has declined, we expect that the same will happen with the rights and treatment of transgender people in the coming years. Significant progress has already been made in medical care and acceptance. We are glad that schools now teach students about many aspects of the human sexuality and its nonbinary nature, because it helps to reduce ignorance, discrimination, and unfair stigmatization.
By recent estimates, 0.6% of the adult population self-identifies as transgender. That’s 1.4 million people just in the United States. You likely know some of them, maybe without even realizing that they are transgender.
- Janet calls herself transgender, so please use that term if you must use any term at all. But you probably shouldn’t use it most of the time. Janet is a young woman and it’s not necessary to always prefix it with “transgender” when mentioning her. Although it’s not a taboo to mention it either, just use your best judgement on when and where.
- Transphobia is an irrational fear and hatred of transgender individuals, just as repugnant and harmful as racism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism.
- The opposite of transgender is cisgender.
- Please avoid using words “real” and “normal” when referring to cisgender, because it implies that transgender is somehow not We assure you that Janet is not imaginary. To prove it, we have hugged her and she still feels very real, even if a bit too thin. J
Sexual orientation. This is widely misunderstood. Gender identity doesn’t define sexual orientation. Transgender people may be straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual, just like cisgender people. Gender identity is who you are (e.g. cisgender, transgender, gender-fluid, agender), while sexual attraction is who you love (e.g. straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual). One doesn’t define the other and vice versa. When interacting with any person, it’s generally best not to assume their sexual orientation.
Being a stigmatized minority, transgender people are at a high risk of discrimination and hatred. Those who are treated with the same respect and dignity as cisgender people generally live happy lives. Those who are not accepted by their close relatives and social or professional circle often become depressed and even suicidal. It’s not because they are transgender, but because they are not accepted by parents and friends, forcing them to social isolation, homelessness, and poverty. Any person ostracized by the society would become depressed regardless of their gender identity. If we all become more supportive and accepting, it may literally save lives.
Please remember that transgender is not a disease, not a result of parenting or someone’s influence, not a mental disorder, and not a lifestyle choice. Some people are born that way. And if Nature or God (depending on what you believe in) created them that way, then they deserve the same respect and support as all other people.
Thank you for your love and kindness!
Alice and Michael
P.S. Please check the following links for more information or search for other recently updated non-political reputable sources online.
- Frequently asked questions: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq
- How to be an ally: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies
- American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.pdf
- National Geographic’s video episode Gender Revolution (1.5 hours-long): http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/gender-revolution-a-journey-with-katie-couric/videos/gender-revolution-a-journey-with-katie-couric/