Feminism | Posted by Danielle C on 11/24/2009

Harsh Realities

Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network

When I read the news every morning, I don’t expect to read good things. If I read about a bombing in the Middle East or the murder of a gay teen in Puerto Rico I’m certainly upset about it, but it’s sad to say that I almost expect it. Our world is fueled by hate, and it always seems to have been. But this morning I came across an article that even I didn’t expect to encounter, and sadly it’s familiar to me, more familiar than it ever should be.

This study, Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Students in School carried out by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Network, is about transgendered youth in American high schools. Its contents are highly disturbing. For instance, this study found that two-thirds of transgender students felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation (69%) and how they expressed their gender (65%), and only 24% of the students said that the school policy included specific protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

When I read this, I fell into a state of shock. How could this even be allowed to happen? How can so many of these teenagers fear for their safety and their lives simply because they’re different from others? And yet even I’ve witnessed this firsthand, even though I live on the opposite side of the world-New Zealand.

When I was in primary school I knew one boy three years younger than me, and he was really feminine. He dressed in girl’s clothes, spoke like a girl, and referred to himself as a girl. He was new to the school that year, and yet from his first day he was tormented and alienated by his classmates; only eight and nine years old. He was bullied, beaten up and made fun of on a daily basis. In the end his parents moved him away because the bullying was becoming dangerous. I remember how upset he used to look when others were picking on him, and I also remember the guilt that I felt when I stood by and didn’t do anything. I still kick myself over that. I don’t know where he went, and I don’t know what he’s doing now. He’ll have almost finished his first year of high school this year. Are the statistics in my country the same as they are in the USA? Does he still feel unsafe at school? Is he still being bullied?

Is he still alive?

And sadly, for many transgendered teens all over the world, this question could well be answered with “no”.

Maybe one day people will look beyond looks and preferences and realize that deep down, we’re all the same. I hope that day comes soon, because there’s almost no time left for these teenagers. The clock is ticking.

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  • Toongrrl @ at 11:54 am, November 24th, 2009

    I hope he graduated out of the 6th grade to college.

  • Austin @ at 12:17 pm, November 24th, 2009

    I do realise that you’re trying to do an ally piece, but it would really help if you didn’t refer to the girl you knew when in NZ as a boy. From the information here presented (of course you know about the situation more than I, you having been there) you have described how she knew herself to be female – why are you then going and misgendering her?

  • Steph @ at 12:33 pm, November 24th, 2009

    Thank you, Danielle, thank you SO MUCH for posting this. The entire study is well worth a read, and probably eye-opening to those who don’t think about trans issues very often. In which case, I’ll also recommend a couple of useful articles to refer .href=”http://queersunited.blogspot.com/2008/10/how-to-be-trans-ally.html”>to.

    But still, when over one in four trans students reports being the victim of physical violence in the last year, you’ve got an issue. When your GPA drops because going to school means you’ll get beaten up again, and you worry that you won’t get into the program you want (and would have been qualified for if you weren’t skipping school so often), you have to balance academic goals with self-preservation.
    When 18 percent of trans-identified students feel that their school administration protects them from hate speech and violence some to most of the time, and only ten percent feel that they do a good job of it, there’s obviously a set of issues to deal with.

    If there’s anyone out there reading this comment who just doesn’t get it, and has looked at the links I provided above, I’d be happy to explain my experience with regards to whatever’s on their mind.

    (also, as a side note, Danielle, if the person you knew referred to herself as a girl, then she WAS a girl, and the proper pronouns for her are not he/him/his, but she/her/hers. Just an aside, as pronouns are a huge issue for trans-identified folk like myself.)

  • Steph @ at 1:42 pm, November 24th, 2009

    oops – that should read “pronouns are often a huge issue”.

  • Kati @ at 4:14 pm, November 24th, 2009

    Great piece, but is there any way you can correct the pronouns? If she refered to herself as a she so should you. But no big deal, everyone slips up.

  • Jenna @ at 6:12 pm, November 24th, 2009

    Yes. Let’s worry about pronoun use rather than the actual issues at hand. I swear, between this and the Twilight article I just read…

    Mistreatment of gays and lesbians is a horrible evil. But instead of doing something about it, we’re bitching about which pronoun to use. Gimme a break.

  • Danielle @ at 6:48 pm, November 24th, 2009

    Sorry about those pronouns! Guess I really should have re-read what I wrote before I sent it in. :/ I think I wrote “he” because when I was in primary school I still used “he” and so it just kind of kept going when I went back in my memories.

  • Steph @ at 12:28 am, November 25th, 2009

    @Jenna: Misusing pronouns *is* mistreatment of trans-identified individuals. Using the wrong pronouns, even when corrected, misgenders these students, and leads to further discrimination.
    Leslie Feinberg, in hir speech at LaTeisha Green’s memorial, said that “[p]ronouns are important: they are an expression of body and self, of personhood.” Using the wrong ones, then, is a deliberate dismissal of a person’s identity.

    Also, ‘gays and lesbians’ =/= trans-identified people. Trans is not, convenient as it might be, gay, turned up to eleven. There are trans-identified lesbians, trans-identified gay men, and trans-identified people who are straight, or asexual, or bi/pan, or what have you.

    While it irks me to have to use the ‘you’re not trans and you don’t get it’ point, you’re not, and you don’t – not to say that you can’t, but you don’t at the present moment.

    When people use the wrong pronouns for you, it outs you in an uncontrolled fashion. Not only is it wrong, it’s dangerous. You don’t know how other people will or might react.

    Personally, I’ve spent sixteen years being called ‘he’ and ‘him’, and I’m fucking sick of it, and being misgendered actually causes me severe emotional distress, and it hurts, it fucking hurts.

    So no, “bitching about which pronoun to use” isn’t insignificant or nitpicky. In fact, it pretty much defines “doing something”.

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