We Are All Transgender

When I was a much younger gay activist, just out of the closet as a matter of fact, I was asked if I would join the Employee Resource Group at my company for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Employees. My head still spinning with the new identity I had just adopted, I was nonetheless eager to jump right in and start making a difference, and I enthusiastically signed up.

At my very first meeting, I asked what I honestly thought was an innocent question: why weren’t we including transgender people in our name and mission? The looks on the faces around the room immediately told a story: this group had been down this road before, and wasn’t eager to repeat the journey.

“We don’t have any transgender employees at this company,” I was told.

“That we know of,” I responded.

And then the conversation continued, with neither side saying anything that hadn’t been said before. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are two totally separate things,” one person said. Another chimed in with, “people already think that we’re gender-confused. I don’t think we should add to that perception.”

But, a number in my group – a smaller number – agreed with my stance, and so the debate was reborn, for an hour or so. The leader of the group eventually shut the conversation down, then gazed at me with a withering look, clearly wishing she could rescind her invitation. Sadly, the things I heard in that hour have become all too familiar to me over the years.

This is an open letter to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, particularly those who wish that the “LGBT” acronym could be forever abbreviated to “LG,” full stop. I have something to say to you.

You might think that the reason you’re hated by the haters is because deep in your hearts, you harbor a physical desire for persons of the same sex. You are wrong. They couldn’t care less about what you’re feeling. They hate you because you act upon those feelings. If you are true to yourself, you date, flirt with, sleep with, and often settle down and buy property with persons of the same sex. Some gay men walk with a supermodel’s swagger, and use words like “fierce” and “fabulous.” Some lesbians cut their hair short, and haven’t worn a skirt since high school. And this is why they hate you. They hate you because you break their rules of what a man or a woman is supposed to be. You violate gender norms they hold dear, you cross a line they don’t ever want crossed. They hate you because you’re transgender.

Maybe you don’t want to change your anatomy; most of us don’t. But in the minds of those who hate us, you have betrayed your anatomy as surely as those who do. In this way, “queer” might as well be a synonym for “transgender.” Brothers and sisters, we are all transgender. Deal with it.

And if those who hate us make up stories about us, such as we all wish we could undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery, let them. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve told lies about us. They lie about us all the time – and I know it hurts to hear those lies. But we can’t let their lies dictate our battle for civil rights, or how we plan to fight. We can’t allow their bigotry to draw boundaries around our humanity. Supporting those in our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our schools who are transgender is the right thing to do – not just because we’re gay or lesbian, but because we’re human. And if we limit our capacity for compassion and kindness because of what Pat Robertson or Tony Perkins might say about us on the television, then we don’t deserve to be free. I, for one, refuse to take marching orders from those who want me dead.

When you were born, it’s likely that the first words spoken were either “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy!” And with those simple words, a limitless number of expectations were piled upon you, when you were only minutes old. Whoever spoke those words could only see what was between your legs; they had no way of knowing what was inside your heart. And if you’re a lesbian or a gay man, it’s likely that you disappointed someone along the way, someone who expected you to be someone that you’re not. In that way, our lives aren’t always easy. In that way, we are all transgender. In that way, we owe it to ourselves to look out for our own.

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