Transphobia and Transcending Gender Binary
"Growing out of old molds and models"
“On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being worsened the situation, 10 completely resolved the situation), how effective were the actions taken by your administration at actually remedying the situation?” we asked Bay Area students.
What was the response?
"Every single respondent who had faced transphobia ranked their administration response at 1: the staff did worse than nothing—they had further harmed these students."
This very accurately reflects the discrimination that has been allowed to take place. As if the bias against the LGB community were not already enough, transgender people—transgender being the umbrella term for anyone who doesn’t identify with their birth gender, including, for example, non-binary individuals—must endure more prejudice due to their transcending of both sexual and gender norms.
The discrimination reached a point wherein 2016, the Departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidance reminding and specifying that Title IX, a federal non-discrimination law, required schools to “respond promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment of all students” and “treat students consistent with their gender identity”. This was an important validation of transgender students and emphasized transgender students’ civil rights to use gender-segregated facilities—bathrooms and locker rooms—based on their gender identity. It was a step towards alleviating the issue of three out of five transgender students being required to use a bathroom or locker room of a gender they don’t identify with, as reported by GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey.
Yet it was met with much outrage, North Carolina going as far as voting to repeal the law in their state. Why? Dissenters commonly express that they fear sharing facilities with someone they consider of the opposite gender and that these “bathroom laws” may cause a rise in sexual assault, allowing predators to sneak into bathrooms. This is nothing more than a myth—even if public figures like J.K. Rowling are sponsoring it, even if it has amassed supporters—that is used to push prejudice and fear. Time magazine has found that there is no difference in sexual assault rates between states with laws protecting bathroom rights and states without, in or outside of school.
Despite all its benefits, these additional specifications and rules were later revoked in 2017, and nothing has changed since only worsening when Donald Trump issued his discriminatory command concerning transgender soldiers.
"Years later, the situation has not progressed, and although the technology in our area has, we have not progressed either."
This is why we started the Bay Area Uncovered project, aiming to uncover the flaws in our systems and our beliefs. We sent out a survey, and since then, we have received over a hundred testimonies sharing with us various experiences of discrimination.
One of these testimonies is from a student attending a public Bay Area high school. They told us, “I was called… a male even though I am a transgender female.” Ignoring someone’s preferred pronouns is a form of transphobia, and the APA states that these microaggressions cause stress that may lead to long-term, negative health impacts ranging from depression and suicide to asthma.
"Transgender individuals were nine times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime than the whole U.S. population."
Microaggressions already have much potential to harm, yet transphobia, however, can manifest into worse actions. Coming out takes a lot of courage and is a very delicate time for an individual as they fully step into their identity. Yet instead of getting support, another public school student stated, “[I] came out as trans to a group of friends in my sophomore year, they all cut ties, and the bullying got worse.” Isolation and alienation compounded with bullying, especially in such a time, can place even high stress on the individual, and through that, increase the severity and probability of adverse health concerns, with the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reporting that they found transgender individuals were nine times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime than the whole U.S. population.
Behind this discriminatory culture is rampant intolerance, transphobia that lashes out at any student who doesn’t conform with gender norms. A student attending a public school said, “[T]his group of boys made comments on how I looked like a boy. One time[,] they even asked my brother and me while we were walking down the street do you have a brother. My brother replied yes and they said oh that must be him. Growing up very gender-neutral[,] it hurt that they were trying to tease me[,] making me feel like I wasn't feminine enough.” The kind of toxic environment—going as far as attacking a nontransgender student simply choosing to be more true to themselves—resulted in three out of four transgender students feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression, according to the GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey.
“Teachers and admin laughed when I told them about it.”
This could’ve been prevented, made an example of by staff. However, despite both state and federal law holding the administration responsible for protecting students against transphobia, a Bay Area public high school student revealed, “Teachers and admin laughed when I told them about it.” Another student reported that “[m]ost of their help felt more like an afterthought to them.” When the bullying became worse, a respondent stated was then put into a program meant to help them, but instead, they reported, “[I]t made trying to mix back into school kids so difficult. I was completely isolated.” Isolation may lead to many health concerns, showing how the school had further endangered this student.
This eventually builds up to devastating consequences; the 2015 National Transgender Survey reported that poor treatment in school caused 15% more students to attempt suicide and 18% more to have experienced homelessness, further increasing rates that are already too high.
It’s imperative to reverse these consequences, and there is still much to do: push for reprimanding students and staff for discrimination with the same severity as a school would for plagiarism. Ask for programs that help students instead of isolating them. We are taught various Human Growth and Development courses throughout middle and high school; we learn anatomy and abstinence, but the program says nothing about LGBTQ. Demand our districts give students at least basic information.
But most importantly, we must reflect on ourselves and on how no one might speak up when somebody makes an offensive remark. We must reconsider our beliefs. Psychologists Today detailed that believing in gender binary causes us to be more transphobic, to feel threatened by transgender individuals, who defy gender norms of both genders in addition to sexual norms. But gender binarism is outdated, and only after we dislodge this belief can we assist transgender individuals and make our society more inclusive.
To tell your own story, www.tinyurl.com/bayareauncovered or go to the Contact section of this website.
“A Glossary: Defining Transgender Terms.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, September 2018, <www.apa.org/monitor/2018/09/ce-corner-glossary>
Blair, Karen. “What Precisely Do Transgender People Threaten?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers. 24 September 2018. <www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inclusive-insight/201809/what-precisely-do-transgender-people-threaten>
James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C. & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
Meyer, Ilan H. “Resilience in the Study of Minority Stress and Health of Sexual and Gender Minorities.” Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, vol. 2, no. 3, 2015, pp. 209–213., doi:10.1037/sgd0000132.
Peters, Jeremy W., et al. “Trump Rescinds Rules on Bathrooms for Transgender Students.” The New York Times, The New York Times. 22 February 2017. <www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/us/politics/devos-sessions-transgender-students-rights.html>
Steinmetz, Katy. “Transgender Bathroom: Advocates Say 'Predator' Is Myth.” Time, Time. 2 May 2016. <https://time.com/4314896/transgender-bathroom-bill-male-predators-argument/>
“U.S. Departments of Education and Justice Release Joint Guidance to Help Schools Ensure the Civil Rights of Transgender Students.” U.S. Departments of Education and Justice Release Joint Guidance to Help Schools Ensure the Civil Rights of Transgender Students | U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Education. 13 May 2016. <www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-departments-education-and-justice-release-joint-guidance-help-schools-ensure-civil-rights-transgender-students>