Including, supporting, and protecting transgender youth

By Andrea Persephone Sand, Minnesota NOW Affirmative Action Chair

I am a gender-breaking individual, and I feel this is the one time I can speak for my community of all gender-varying peoples without excusing myself for doing so.

Stop abandoning us and leaving us behind. We need protection, and nothing is more irritating or blood-boiling than those who falsely claim to be for “full LGBT rights” yet really mean “just LG rights”. This is where I stop speaking for anyone other than myself, because I am not a voice for the masses unless they say I am. I am only a voice for myself and those who stand behind me. I don’t know who they are, and I claim no following.

That out of the way, I’d like to focus for a moment on one of our most at-risk populations: students. This is to the Aurora County School Board in Illinois first and foremost due to their fish-out-of-water stance on trans- protection: Stop flip-flopping and get back in the right pond and protect students who often cannot protect themselves. Numbers have floated around varying that anywhere between 40 to over 50% of transgender youth attempting suicide before age 20. It is not unheard of for those as young as 7 to make an attempt on their own lives to escape a world that refuses to see them as they are. Worse, there is a total global population suicide rate of 31% to 50% (depending who in the community you speak to, and which surveys you use). These numbers don’t come from nowhere. Nobody has ever woken up one day and said to themselves ‘man I’m bored, let’s try suicide!’. Nobody wants to die, it is hard-wired in to us. When one runs out of coping mechanisms, when they no longer know how to deal with the pain they are facing, it is only then that suicide is the next step. What sickens me to my core is that we allow people to walk that plank by our own cruelty and indifference.

By flip-flopping on issues, by being lazy and half-assed on a stance, we are allowing children to come to harm for no other reason than they dare to be themselves. We all must stand up and say ‘enough is enough and too much is too much,” we must draw a line and say ‘this far, no further.” We seem too content to allow groups that we are not a part of to be pushed to the side, marginalized, and walked upon with cruel disregard to their lives. Worse, this ass-backwards sense of communal isolationism means that groups for whom few stand and fight for are allowed to be persecuted and taunted, humiliated and shamed with almost no rebuttal or swift retribution.

The moment a self-proclaimed ‘loving, tolerant’ monotheist group screams that their rights are being infringed upon, we feel obligated to back down even if it means allowing hate and bigotry to continue to thrive. I am a Religious Humanist and I acknowledge that religion is an intricate part of humanity; it has been since we habitated caves. We cannot deny the aspect of us that yearns to believe in something higher than us tending to the light at the end of the tunnel, but maybe, like Dr. Thompson once said, that was the folly of the acid junkies of the 70’s. At no time should someone’s personal religious views or narrow-minded ideologies be allowed to infringe upon the happiness and lives of another group.

I know it may sound hypocritical to those who don’t understand things like ‘compassion’ and ‘consent,’ but when I speak out against those speaking out against us, I am not trying to silence them. Simply I am saying keep your hateful views, but keep them privately behind closed doors where you say our lives belong. Happiness is also an intricate, intrinsic part of humanity and the human condition and should never, under any circumstances, be abridged for anyone.

(Though I understand where people like that come from. Before I accepted myself, before I fully embraced who I am, while I still ran from the truths I had been taught were undesirable, I too was a hateful bastard. I hated seeing people happy doing what I only wished I could do.)

This bullying comes from us and passed on to the next generation. When we say faggot to each other in public, that’s where kids learn it. They see us hurl it as an insult, they hear us say “that’s so gay” in scorn at a situation we don’t like and correlate “gay” with “undesirable.” When it’s children against children it’s called bullying, when adults do it to each other it’s business as usual. We ourselves are passing on the demons that haunt us to the next generation. 

So to East Aurora School District 131, and by extension the Anoka-Hennepin school district for letting a member of a hate group help (though I think ‘hinder’ is more apt) with an anti-bullying task force: grow a spine and be that voice screaming ‘enough!’  Be the people who knew what was the humane thing to do and draw that line for us. You have powers I only wish I had–in your hands is the ability to safeguard all of your students and give them the chance to thrive. Instead of making school in to more of a brutal prison, restore it to being a place of education and acceptance.

I am sick of those who say they are for us and then actively work against us. Put your heels in the dirt and push back! Our children are the ones suffering!

RESOURCES:

Trans Youth Support Network (based in Minneapolis!)

Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund

National Center for Transgender Equality

“I’ve had enough trying to fit a cultural definition of beautiful.”

TRIGGER WARNING: this post contains graphic depictions of living with eating disorders.. We share it today in observance of the National NOW Foundation’s 2012 Love Your Body Day. It is our belief that telling our stories is a powerful and transformative feminist act.  A list of resources is available at the end of the post. All images, except the 2012 Love Your Body Day contest winner, were taken from online “thinspiration” sites that Andrea refers to in her essay.

By Andrea Persephone Sand, Minnesota NOW Affirmative Action Chair

Hipbones and collarbones, muscles and tendons, that space between your legs. The more I found, the better and worse I felt about myself. The less my scale showed, the greater the accomplishment and the further the goal was pushed back. It felt like the only real control I had over anything in my life was over what and how much went in to my body, and how much of it made it to digestion. Nobody noticed my warning signs, and since nobody seemed intent on asking if I was okay, I never really mentioned what was going on. I even began using it as a joke, to see if anyone took me seriously. When asked how I was dropping all this weight, I just responded “lots of exercise and a diet low in food.”

By the time I sought help, my weight had dropped 70 or so pounds in under six months. It became something more like 80 or 90 by the time I dropped out of a treatment program I felt was counter-productive. As I write this, over a year after the fact, I have lost about 100 pounds. I’m happy my weight loss has slowed down or stopped, I hope that I’m holding at what I was the last time I had to go to the doctors. I don’t know. I had to have a friend throw away my scale for me because I knew I couldn’t do it myself. How do you throw away something you use 8-10 times a day, even if it’s destroying you? An addiction is an addiction, no matter how you look at it.

I’ve lost so much over the last year, it’s heartbreaking for me to have to think back over it all. The money I’ve lost replacing things I’ve forgotten, or the money I’ve lost when I’ve misplaced my wallet in public spaces. Your memory fades from you, you see, and eventually you have trouble even holding a conversation. I’ve lost all semblance of self. I feel I look physically similar now as I did over a year ago, and my obsession and addiction to weight loss even led me to sell my car and upgrade to a nice bicycle to get everywhere with. I’ve lost any form of confidence I had in myself. My tiniest transgressions in public or private will cause me to not only immediately apologize, but also dwell on it from between the next few hours to the next decade or so. I have no idea how to forgive myself for anything I’ve ever done wrong.

Before my computer melted down and I had to reinstall the operating system, losing all my information, I had a large folder of what some people refer to as “thinspirational” pictures and images. These are pictures of naturally skinny people with things like hipbones and collarbones, ribcages and spines. It is essentially holding up a picture of what you really wanted to compare against what you have. These people though, they aren’t starved and they aren’t hungry. They’re naturally healthy, and were born that way. It’s not healthy and now that I’m in struggling through recovery, when I see my friends who battle similar food demons post pictures like this on their facebook or tumblr, I become worried and talk to them. The hardest part of recovery with any addiction is it’s so similar to cancer. You never truly beat it, you’re just in recovery or remission until your next relapse or death. Even now, there are still days where I do not eat. Even still, there are times where I feel I’ve eaten far too much and need to purge, lest my weight returns.

There is nothing quite as sobering as having to have a tooth yanked out, and having it snap off in your head with the healthy roots still dug in for dear life. I rotted away enough of my wisdom teeth that two were just yanked out today. The only thing more sobering than seeing a tooth in four pieces is later weeping in to your pillow, crying “what have I done to myself” as you drool blood on your bedsheets. I swear I have to recover harder. I am so scared, because now that I’ve stopped intentionally starving myself I’m waiting for all these health problems to boomerang back around at me full force. From the first time I had to beg my brother to take me to the hospital, to him being here now helping me deal with two missing teeth, anorexia and bulimia have robbed me of everything it tricked me in with. I feel fatter than ever, I have no self-esteem, my teeth are falling out and my hair is still coming out in clumps so I feel pretty ugly and misshapen, and my body is slow to heal and doesn’t feel much pain below a threshold of ‘sheer agony’. My nerve endings died a little, became less responsive to input. Where my hand could feel chilly or cold water before, now it can’t; not until it feels like frostbite. Peripheral neuropathy? What the fuck is that? My hands and feet will randomly go numb; do you know how scary that is to just lose feeling in parts of your body for minutes and then have it come back? This happens far too fucking often for me!

They need to have warning labels on beauty magazines like cigarettes; warning: Not all people are meant to look this way.

Anorexia and Bulimia can and will greatly reduce your quality of life. You are beautiful, and shouldn’t aspire to be anyone other than you.

So I’ve had enough trying to fit a cultural definition of beautiful. I’m still not skinny and I don’t give a fuck. I can’t believe I’ve been had so hard by the ad industry, by the health industry, by far too many industries telling me I’m fat, that I’m worthless, that I’m ugly and undesirable, and that there is something wrong with me that needs to change and/or die in a fire. I’m still “overweight” and I can count my ribs, I can see my spine, and I FINALLY just lost the little baby hair growing on the back of my neck; my memory’s almost back and I can carry a conversation again. You know what? I’m not having them rip out the other two wisdom teeth. I’ll be “fat” and “ugly” and healthy and happy. We’re built the way we are. Can we celebrate this fact for once instead of mourn it every time it doesn’t line up with a Victoria’s Secret or Calvin Klein model? Can we give each other a fighting shot at not crying our collective selves to sleep at night?

RESOURCES:

National Eating Disorders Association (includes a toll-free help line)

The Joy Project (a Twin Cities-based ED support & advocacy group)

Sex, Stereotypes and Women (a project of the National NOW Foundation)