Chi Upsilon Iota Tri-Ess

Transgendered Issues
This is a talk given to PFLAG in Champaign dealing with issues the transgender community face.

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Transgender issues
Rae Louise Wall
August 2004

Imagine living life at only half your potential, many of your emotions throttled, your dreams and desires locked in secrecy. Imagine for a moment a deep longing with your every breath, thought and emotion to simply be free to look on the outside how you feel on the inside. Imagine having to "prove" yourself to others by denying the more sensitive aspects of your personality, to prove to those around you that you are "normal" and not an oddity. Now, imagine these feelings at age 5, or at age 7, or age 12.

What if most information and images people had about who you were inside was obtained from such unbiased sources as "Jerry Springer," Hollywood Movies and drag shows. How do you explain to them "I am a heterosexual male, I do not want to have a sex change, but I like to wear women's clothes"? How do you overcome the weight of social stereotypes that have borne down on you all your life?

How do years of hiding feelings and aspects of your personality affect your interpersonal relationships with others? What if your spouse does not know you are doing this, or your family, friends and co-workers? What if they find out and abandon you?
These are just some of the issues that face the typical transgendered person in the world today.

Issues facing the transgender community:
I believe there are 3 main issues that affect the transgendered community today. All three of them have been alluded to in my opening comments; fear, understanding and acceptance.

The first is Fear: There are many things that a transgendered person fears. Fear that we are not normal, fear of what loved ones will think if "only they knew", fear of what will happen if we venture out of the house and are "caught" by someone, fear of discrimination in housing and in the workplace, and many others.

The fear that we are not "normal" is often what drives many transgendered deep into that closet. In the context of what is normal however, most transgendered follow a very similar path of self discovery starting at around the same age and following the same basic progression of events in life.

The fear of what loved ones and others would think is a difficult fear. For many transgendered individuals the act of crossdressing has been a closely guarded secret for years. On the outside, they may look and act very much as their birth gender, however deep inside them is another aspect of life that is often screaming to be set free. This internal fight to keep others from "knowing" about our secret is often devastating to a transgendered individual's emotions and even relationships. Many transgendered have turned to alcohol, drugs, and other escape mechanisms to try and cope.
The fear of being caught is immense among the transgendered community. We are taught from an early age that boys wear pants; climb trees and play sports and girls wear skirts, play house and cheer the boys as they play sports. For a transgendered individual to tell others that he would rather be a cheerleader (in uniform of course) than the quarterback causes them to stay in that closet. If anyone ever found out that that guy wanted to be a cheerleader, imagine the ridicule!

While some large companies are ending discrimination against transgendered people, our people can lose their jobs if the company finds out they are transgendered, whether or not they appear so at work. An example is Peter Oiler, who lost his job at Winn-Dixie because the company found out he was transgendered.

Recently there was an election in Texas where the leading Republican incumbent was "outed" by his competition as being a crossdresser. Prior to this, the incumbent was in the lead and had all indications of winning the seat for another term of office. The incumbent lost the election and it was apparent that it was a direct result of the disclosure of his crossdressing. The question here is why? Does his crossdressing affect his ability to govern? Does it affect his ability to think, to act, to perform his duties? Of course it does not. Why then did he never tell others he was a crossdresser to begin with? Because he knew the potential existed that people would react as they did and that fear kept him in the closet.

The second is understanding: Most people in society do not understand what drives the transgendered individual to do what we do. Psychologists and professors have been pondering this issue for years with no conclusive answers. Most transgendered people will tell you that they do not know the "why" behind it and that makes it all the more difficult to understand. If the person expressing his transgenderism has no idea why other than "because I need to", or "it feels right", how can we explain to others? When we compound this with the thought that most people's understanding of what a crossdresser or transgendered individual is comes from the media, and in particular movies, and the daytime talk show circuit, there is a pronounced misunderstanding of what this is all about.

Movies tend to portray crosdressers either as "men in dresses" mostly for comic relief (Tootsye, Mrs. Doubtfire, Some Like it Hot), or as effeminate gay drag queens (To Wong Foo, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). There are very few movies on the market that portray the mainstream crossdresser or transgendered individual in a positive or even "normal" manner. This does not help the person dealing with his transgenderism.

Talk shows such as Jerry Springer show most people in less than representative circumstances. Because of this, people continue to get a false impression of the typical crossdresser. There are a few shows that have done positive things for the transgender community. Among the shows are Oprah and the now defunct Phil Donahue show. Phil's show was one of the first to openly discuss the concept of a crossdresser and they had members of the Chicago chapter of Tri-Ess on the show. This is, however, the exception to the rule.

Most churches tend to automatically lump a crossdresser into the category of sexual "sin." They have no real basis for this other than a misunderstanding of Deut 22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God. This is interesting because so many other Old Testament "Blue Laws" are simply ignored by well meaning Christians. When this verse is studied it is not what it seems to be. I have printed out a study on this verse and it is available for those interested.
Since so much misinformation exists in the world relating to transgender issues, it is no wonder that most of us stay buried deep in the closet, petrified to venture out.

The third is acceptance: If you asked 100 crossdressers what they wanted most in life relating to this issue I suspect most would place "acceptance by others" at the top of the list. The need to be accepted for who we are inside is important for anyone. Considering the typical transgendered individual keeps his "alter ego" a secret from everyone one has to ask why? The answer if they are often afraid they will not be accepted if a loved one learns of this part of his life. That fear of non-acceptance keeps him in the closet for years. Many times after coming out to a spouse or loved one, the transgendered individual learns his fears were unfounded, however the years of hiding and secrecy have taken a large toll on his life. Such conflicts may take years to work out.

Besides acceptance from others, many transgendered individuals need to learn to accept themselves. If a person can't accept himself for who and what he is, how can he expect others to accept him? Often times this Lack of self acceptance is tied to guilt. Many transgendered feel a false guilt and shame for who they are. This is completely unfounded of course, but the stigma that is associated with transgender behavior is often enough to create a heavy burden of guilt.

The same guilt and shame keeps most of us in the closet, afraid to come out. When a transgendered individual joins a support group such as Tri-Ess, he starts to learn, through friendships, education and meetings that he is not alone and there is really nothing to be ashamed of. Once he starts to understand this concept on his own, the shackles of guilt and shame start to fall off and self acceptance begins.


The purpose of this discussion was to address issues facing the transgendered community today. The three areas I touched on fear, understanding and acceptance are all interlaced with each other. Understanding brings acceptance, lack of acceptance brings fear. Growing up as a male with a desire to look, act and portray oneself in very feminine ways is often a life of torment and confusion for a young man. It is often not until he learns that he is made this way for a reason that he can begin to accept himself for who he is. When he learns to accept himself, he is free.

Thank you for your attention and I now invite you to ask questions to our panel of guests