The transgender movement is an uneven landscape these days. On the one hand, trans celebrities such as Bruce Jenner and Laverne Cox are enjoying widespread support for their public announcements, and positive media representations like Amazon’s Transparent are critical darlings. On the other, many everyday trans people continue to live under threat of hostile legislation and outright violence, not to mention the psychic pain of being one of the most marginalized groups in society—pain that, as with the recent case of Leelah Alcorn, all too often leads to tragedy.
In response to all this, the New York Times launched on Monday a ground-breaking editorial package called “Transgender Today.” In the opening piece, the Times expressed unequivocal support of trans civil rights and offered a plain-language primer for those readers still unfamiliar with the community and its struggles. But more important, the package features a “story wall” to which trans people are invited to post their own personal narratives of “strength, diversity, and challenges.” While mainstream outlets like Slate, BuzzFeed and ABC News have covered the transgender community for some time now, this high-profile real estate in the “newspaper of record” represents a huge step in visibility, especially with its focus on individual trans voices.
In an interview with BuzzFeed's Dominic Holden, Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal described the new feature as an effort to push transgender equality to the forefront of public policy debates: “There has been progress in this area, but there is a long way to go,” Rosenthal told Holden. “This is not a front-burner issue for people, and we hope to make it one. We want policy makers to read this and think about policies they need to change.”
The editorial series currently features over 20 posts accompanied by video and text from an incredibly diverse set of individuals in the transgender community—think U.S. foreign service officers, Navy pilots, Ph.D. students, and astrophysicists—covering issues ranging from relationships with cisgender men to the perils and anxiety of seeking health care. Taken together, these vignettes remind those of us who wish to be allies that though advocating for change on the levels of policy and social treatment is important, oftentimes the most helpful thing we can do is to listen. Here’s a sampling of the stories:
J Mase III
J Mase III is a poet, educator, and founder of awQward, “the first ever queer and trans people of color specific talent agency.”
“I came out inside of a larger mainstream LGBTQ community that did not want to encourage nuanced thinking about race or nuanced thinking about class,” said Mase III in a video submission. “Even for myself as a transmasculine person, I was actually not asked to think about my privileges in comparison to my transwomen and transfeminine counterparts.”
“I found myself dealing with lots of white supremacy, racism and transphobia inside of mainstream LGBTQ communities that thought fondly of discussing social justice, but never actually trusted trans people of color in positions of leadership or funding projects that would make space for us.”
When Brynn Tannehill realized she wanted to be a pilot, she also realized that she didn’t identify with the male gender identity that she had been assigned at birth.
“As time goes on, this didn’t go away. It was at that time I realized I had to make a choice: I can either be a pilot or I can be myself,” Tannehill said in her video post. “And I knew what the consequences of being myself would be ... I’d lose just about everything: my family, my job, my career, and my education. So, I choose to pursue my career.”
After years of serving in the Navy as a pilot, Tannehill finally made her decision: It was time to come out as a trans woman. “And after I came out, I realized that everything in my life between me pursuing my career and me being myself–and how much that has cost me. The reason why I do so much of the work and activism I do now is because I don’t want anyone else to have to make that choice between their career and doing what they love, and being themselves.”
For many transgender women, finding love and relationships is fraught with trauma, anxiety, and frustration due to the stigma they receive from society, especially from cisgender men. Andy Marra, a transgender woman of color, has spent years feeling forced to stay silent regarding her relationships with cisgender men.
“Before meeting my fiancé Drew, almost all of the men attracted to me would insist upon our time together to be kept a secret. Something never to be spoken of with others. They were fearful of what others might think of dating a woman like me,” Marra writes in her post.
Despite her past trials, she was able to find solace in honesty and in love through her fiancé Drew. “Being with Drew has reaffirmed what I should expect from a guy. I deserve to be treated with respect. Honesty should be the baseline to any relationship. And I should never be silent or hide who I am,” Marra said.
As for Drew? “Andy’s the one thing that gives my life all of its color.”