BuzzFeed is attempting to redeem itself after outrage over a recent post about the Egyptian revolution. In an ode to the gender diversity that is becoming more and more recognized in society, BuzzFeed user Sarah Kasulke created a guide to the many different aspects of transgender identities.
The complexity of transgender identities can confuse those who think of transgender individuals as exclusively “cross-dressers” or “drag queens.” By demystifying such categories as “cisgender,” “MtF,” and “FtM,” and setting down the proper etiquette for pronouns, BuzzFeed has created an opportunity for many more folks to engage in respectful and honest dialogue about the significance of transgender identities for the people in our lives. For those who do not know any transgender or genderqueer folks, this guide provides an easy way to become a better ally from afar, and better yet, to not be afraid of engaging in dialogue with people who present themselves as transgender.
Transgender discrimination is an unmistakable problem that has yet to be approached by the marriage equality movement. Some might even say that the mainstream marriage equality movement does not address the issues faced by the transgender community or communities, especially transgender communities of color. Just recently, I was alerted to a story about a young woman in Minneapolis named CeCe McDonald, who was attacked outside of a bar by a group of white supremacists. McDonald received a 41 month jail sentence in a male prison for defending herself with a pair of scissors after she was verbally harassed and attacked with beer bottles. This was a clear case of racial and transgender discrimination on the part of the assailants, but also a case where the self-defense and anti-discrimination laws of the United States were not applied equally.
The optimistic and didactic tone of this BuzzFeed piece, which engages a topic that can be confusing, scary, or intimidating for many Americans, is what makes it so appealing. The story warns against questioning people's identities, or asking for their “real” names. The clear takeaway from this piece is that we should understand and accept identities as they are presented, rather than trying to fit people into a box that we assume they should inhabit. For example, the piece warns about calling transgender folks derogatory terms such as “shemale” or “trannie.”
Hopefully, Kasulke's piece can start discussions about ways to support the transgender and genderqueer people in our lives and in our communities. After all, as the piece indicates, it's okay to have questions!
For more resources to start a dialogue about understanding and supporting transgender persons, see this study on transgender discrimination, and Human Rights Campaign's transgender issues site.