I’ve penned a few stories since President Trump declared he would implement a ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military — mostly about how terrible the policy would be. The social media debates on the subject have ranged from whether or not having transgender personnel costs too much (it costs relatively little) or affects military readiness (according to the most cited study, it doesn’t).
These are worthy debates, but let’s leave them aside for the moment.
A lot of what I read, and what I have long noticed about many people’s attitude on this issue, essentially boils down to the argument that transgender is not a real thing. These people are crazy and we should not accept their delusions.
There was a time when I would have thought the same way. I mean, yes, that’s “Caitlyn” Jenner now, we are told, but it’s still Bruce Jenner in a dress, right?
Plenty of Americans think this — and in many ways, it’s understandable. It really is a complex issue. It’s hard for so many to understand.
Last year Scientific American asked, “Is There Something Unique About the Transgender Brain?” Citing an extensive MRI study, here’s what the magazine reported regarding children who insist from a very early age that they do not identify as their birth gender:
“Trans people have brains that are different from males and females, a unique kind of brain,” (Psychobiologist Antonio Guillamon) says. “It is simplistic to say that a female-to-male transgender person is a female trapped in a male body. It’s not because they have a male brain but a transsexual brain.” Of course, behavior and experience shape brain anatomy, so it is impossible to say if these subtle differences are inborn.
It’s even complex for scientists, apparently.
But let’s not focus on the science. What do we know and generally accept about men, women and sexuality in 2017 America?
Common sense has always told us that boys are born boys, girls are born girls, and boys were meant to be sexually compatible with girls and vice versa. Today we also acknowledge, or at least a majority of the U.S. population does, that some men and women are attracted to the same sex. We are in a place in American culture, finally, where same sex attraction is accepted and even celebrated.
But there was a time when being homosexual was considered a mental disorder. Gay men and women endured so many years of societal and even actual torture because society-at-large could not understand them and did not want to. Today, most of us are ashamed of how gay people were treated in the past, due to our lack of understanding and compassion, and above all, ignorance.
It has been through engaging with gay people and their community, at both individual and cultural levels, that we better understand, respect and accept them.
But if we generally accept that some men and women are intrinsically attracted to the same sex, and that sexuality is integral to what it means to be human, why is it impossible to imagine that more iterations of human sexuality exist?
Gay and transgender people aren’t pretending, nor are they crazy — something most Americans finally acknowledge about the former after decades of ostracizing the gay community. The astronomically high suicide rate among transgender people is no act either.
Again, most of us have always been told that boys are attracted to girls and vice versa. The broader acceptance of the gay community changed some of those false long-held conceptions. Perhaps our views needs to be broadened again? Having a more comprehensive understanding of the human condition does not reflect societal decay, as some conservatives argue.
Gay Americans were systematically dismissed and demeaned until very recently. Unfortunately, in 2017, there also seems to be a lot of ignorance about what it means to be transgender, and transgender Americans are encountering the same hate gay men and women faced for most of this country’s history.
And so, I ask this of anyone who still doesn’t quite know what to think of transgender men and women: are you better off trying to be more understanding and compassionate, or automatically dismissing and demeaning fellow human beings simply because you find them difficult to understand?