‘People are still freaked out of trans people because of not knowing us’

by Patty Templeton

A 4-year-old child runs up to you and says, “I’m a boy!” What do you do? If they look like a male-presenting child, you say, “Good for you, little dude,” and no one questions the interaction.

But what if a 4-year-old child runs up to you and says, “I’m a boy!” and the child is currently presenting as a female? Some might be inclined to say, “No, sweetheart, you are a little girl.” Just trying to be helpful, right? Unintentionally, the adult could have undermined the child’s internal gender.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that children discover their gender identity between the ages of 2 to 4. Why can a cis-gender child discover their gender identity but a transgender child is “corrected”? This was one of the many topics brought up at Trans 101, an introductory level presentation on transgender people given on Feb. 19 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango by Adrien Lawyer and Zane Stephens, co-directors of the Transgender Resource Center (TGRC) in Albuquerque. .

Founded in 2008 as a welcoming space for the transgender community, the TGRC provides free counseling, training sessions like “Trans 101,” a computer lab, a legal clinic, HIV testing, clothing, support groups, and a drop-in center.

DGO caught up with the co-directors to talk about the TGRC and how the current political climate affects the transgender community.

Has your workload changed since the Trump presidency started?

Adrien Lawyer: For me, a little bit … We feel that identity documents and name changes have gotten more critical. We went after and received some rapid-response funding to help people with that. We help with those things all the time, but we don’t usually put in this degree of focus.

Even for me, I got my passport in December because I think all of us are concerned about how far down the list we are for the administration on take-aways. Clearly, things like the immigration ban were top priority. Changing the way trans people get passports may be somewhere in the middle or down at the bottom of the list, but when the administration hits it, we’re screwed. It’s regulatory not statutory. So there’s not a law about how we get our passports, it’s the State Department’s regulation. It’s pretty easy to say, “We’re not issuing them to y’all except with your assigned sex at birth.” Then we have to use passports that have our assigned sex at birth.

Zane Stephens: … The folks we see on a daily basis and who we work for, their struggles and their lives haven’t changed. They don’t necessarily care who the president is right now. They’re worried about where they’re going to sleep that night, where their next meal is going to come from, are they going to survive till morning? That is what we are working with. The political stuff isn’t right in the front of their minds. Not that it isn’t a concern, but it’s not the immediate need. They’re trying to survive.

Are there specific politicians that people need to be aware are a danger to trans people and trans rights?

Lawyer: Everybody in the Cabinet scares me, honestly. Pence is really scary to LGBTQ folks. DeVos, I’m nervous about her: One of the big things that the Obama administration did was issue guidance to schools all over the country based on Title IX. They were interpreting Title IX so that sex discrimination included trans discrimination … This administration has already vowed to roll that back, to rescind it … When you look at school climate surveys, trans students are one of the very few groups that report abuse from peers, but also from adults. The statistic that chills my blood about that is that when a trans student is abused by an adult in school, when the adults who are there to keep you safe are the ones that are harming you, that kid goes on to attempt suicide 76 percent of the time. So to me, rescinding guidance in education around the country is like killing children.

Stephens: Often, safe zones, gay-straight alliance clubs, these are the places that a lot of LGBTQ students access because they don’t have that support at home. Those can disappear if Title IX and that guidance goes away. So if that is rescinded? Then what? When you don’t have support at home and you don’t have it at school?

Lawyer: Without support, there is a statistical increase for transgender youth to suffer from self-harm, substance use and abuse, uncontrolled depression, rage, and anxiety.

Stephens: We have statistics in New Mexico about kids missing school because they are scared of going because they get harassed and have violence perpetrated against them.

Lawyer: Then it creates an achievement gap and a graduation gap. How do you keep up? How do you feel plugged in? It is not as simple as they are scared to go to school and they miss a day, that’s bad. It’s bigger than that.

How can people be better allies to trans individuals?

Lawyer: I think that attending things like this [Trans 101] is a huge step forward because most folks are anxious and uncomfortable about this topic even if they think of themselves as progressive or whatever label they want to put on it. People are still freaked out of trans people because of not knowing us. Come to a training event to get your own personal thermometer down so you’ll do better with folks rather than be nervous. Even good-hearted people will be afraid to talk about it for the thought that they might say the wrong thing. It’s not that they feel gross toward trans people, it’s just that they don’t’ know how to talk about them so they don’t talk about or to them at all.

Stephens: On the personal level, being willing to (if you are able) go do things with folks … Taking someone to file their name change paperwork and being willing to sit with them at the courthouse because it is daunting and they don’t want to do it alone. Even things like grocery shopping. We have had people do buddy systems to go out and use public restrooms … being a barrier to help that person navigate the world in a safer way can be really powerful.

Lawyer: I’m also very big on municipal elections. … I think one of the things about the (Albuquerque Public School) board is that those elections tend to turn out 5 percent of the electorate. You can imagine how few votes that swings on. If you don’t go out and vote, you let them have it. You can let them have it by 20 votes, a tiny margin. People committing to getting up and going to vote in municipal elections matters.

Down the road, what does success mean to the TGRC?

Stephens: That’s easy for me. I want to work myself out of a job. 
I don’t want to have to have a trans resource center. I never want to have to do another one of these training sessions, even though they are awesome. I never want to have to open a door to a whole crowd of folks who have nowhere else to go besides us because we are the only ones who care about them. I don’t want that to be needed. In my lifetime, will that happen? I don’t know. Success to me would be we are closing the center because we don’t need it anymore because everyone is able to have the life they want, whatever that looks like, in a good, safe, healthy way. That they can move through the world without the fear and the violence and the discrimination that exists today.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


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