On 11/11 at 11:30, shortly after the super wish of the year, TAGSS welcomed the lovely Jeanine Ruhsam, a PhD candidate and an avid activist for transgender rights, to talk about the basics of what being transgender is like and what it means for our society. This Transgender 101 brown bag talk was fascinating and lively as Jeanine talked all about different gender identities, the politics of being transgender in the workplace, what is happening in the fight for equality for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, and, sadly, how gender identity can impact mental health.
Jeanine is, in essence, a badass. She fought her entire life for the right to express herself however she wishes. Jeanine mentioned knowing her gender identity when she was a mere four years old, when she would insist on not being called a boy or treated like a boy in preschool and early elementary school. However, when confronted with well-meaning people saying they are “so proud of her for finally being her true own self finally” after her transition, Jeanine confidently responds, “I was always my own true self.” Way to be you Jeanine! In fact, Jeanine likes to think of herself as something of a super hero. But that doesn’t exactly mean what you think. Jeanine believes that because of the work that Laverne Cox and Janet Mock (shout out to my earlier post on the amazing Janet Mock from Camp Pride) some transgender people are seen as being a little bit of a hero or a rebel for being out and proud, and even that being transgender is cool. Jeanine explains, “Thinking back on my own life as a teenager and in high school through my whole life, well I guess that’s kind of like being a hero, because shit! I survived! I’m tough, I’m resilient.”
Jeanine should be proud that she survived the extreme adversity that being transgender in an unaccepting climate can be. Jeanine mentioned that being transgender does not exactly come with an instruction manual. It can be confusing, and everyone makes decisions at different times and in different ways. In the same sense that no two snowflakes are alike, no two people, no matter their gender identity, are exactly alike. Only 20% of transgender people actually get physical surgery to transition to the other gender. The concept of physically changing sexes used to be called ‘transsexual,’ a term that has since fallen out of use after its elimination from the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual claiming that changer reassignment sex was the official cure for gender-identity ‘confusion.’ The choice to get surgery, use hormones, or to transition used anything at all is purely a personal choice. “There are no rules for that,” Jeanine explained. It is all just personal preference.
The statistics suggest that 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide at some point compared to 1.6% of average Americans, with 75% of transgender teens attempting suicide. “That is just staggering,” Jeanine commented. She went on to discuss the statistics from a survey from 2011 that she participated in. Jeanine urged everyone to think about these statistics before suggesting that things are getting better, because there is still work to be done. With the suicide rate so high, Jeanine pointed to bullying and discrimination as the cause. She explained, “Bullying is just discrimination under a different name… Everyone should have to go through some sort of education program in the humanities. They can only be good citizens… They can only be decent people if they understand the culture we live in and what we can all do to make it a little better.”
Discrimination in American is a huge topic,especially for those of us working toward equality. Jeanine commented, “Trans people are probably the most discriminated group of people in America today.” She spoke often about how discrimination is impacting the transgender community, saying, “This concept of gender identity is absolutely critical and it’s because of the refusal to accept such a thing as gender identity as being a separate category of analysis from one’s physical sex and sexuality is really at the crux of discrimination against transgender people or just discrimination against any people with gender and gender-based discrimination.” What a quote, Jeanine! She mentioned quite a bit about gender-based discrimination during her talk including another zinger of a quote: “Whether you are born with a penis or a vagina has no impact on my ability to go out into the world and get things done.” Oh, and a personal favorite of mine: “How transgender people are [helping to end oppression based on gender and sex] is by taking down the Berlin wall [of the gender binary.]”
Jeanine, you are the official badass of my day!
— Katelyn Gebbia