I am a transgender, agender teenager living in New York City. I am very sure of my identity. I’ve known it since I was very young, I suppose since around the age of eight. I would think about boys, and then I would think about girls, and I always pictured myself somewhere in between. I knew I was a girl… but not exactly. Not quite.
I am proud of and adjusted to my identity, but no one else seems to be. I have attempted to make my gender known to several of my friends, but every attempt is met with the same result – confusion, ignorance, and apathy. New York City is famous for being socially innovative and one step ahead of everywhere else in the world, yet even here — in the capital of “freedom of expression” — my identity is at best only begrudgingly accepted, and at worst, ignored.
All transgender people suffer in our society, but particularly transgender teenagers, who depend on adults such as teachers and family to support them both emotionally and financially. At a young age, many transgender kids have to choose between suppressing their identities or coming out and potentially having their guardians’ support swapped for disapproval or a desperate desire to “fix them.”
According to The Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, transgender youths reported being much more likely to be subjected to harassment in school or at home than their cisgendered counterparts, and three quarters of them reported feeling unsafe in these situations. In my own life, I have seen far too many friends have to relocate to shelters or temporary housing situations to escape from oppressive or abusive parents. If you are an adult and able to offer temporary shelter for LGBTQA+ teens, please do so. There are multiple LGBTQA foster programs available state-wide, but eligible adults living in NYC can visit the Children’s Services page and read up on becoming LGBTQA foster parents.
Societal hostility follows transgender individuals throughout their whole lives. There is so much violence going on in America right now because the transgender community has finally surfaced enough that people have to acknowledge it, and, predictably, it is being met with explosive reactions. Several studies have documented the rise in violence against the LGBTQA+ community in recent years. For example, in The Lives of Transgender People:
“A U.S. survey of 402 older, employed, high-income transgender people found that 60% reported violence or harassment because of their gender identity. 56% had been harassed or verbally abused, 30% had been assaulted, 17% had had objects thrown at them, 14% had been robbed and 8% had experienced what they characterized as an unjustified arrest.”
It is horrifying for a person to experience this level of social abuse and isolation, and not surprisingly, it usually takes shape in the psyche as depression. A study conducted by the University of Nevada and the San Francisco Department of Public Health showed that in a sample of 392 male-to-female (MTF) and 123 female-to-male (FTM) people, 32 percent had attempted suicide.
One of the most frequently targeted minorities is transgender people of color. According to the LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD, 73 percent of reported hate crimes in 2012 were targeted against queer people of color. A frequent speaker on this issue (and one of my personal heroines) is actor and LGBTQA activist Laverne Cox. She speaks frequently on many subjects concerning the queer community, but particularly her experience as a transwoman of color. She recently appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and is interviewed about her experience surviving discrimination as a transgender youth, and shares her opinion that more education is necessary to reduce violence against transgender people in America.
I have faith that the situation will change just as other cases of oppression have changed. Bigotry has declined thanks to Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and countless others. Oppression and prejudice may be everywhere, but progress is constantly being made. The movement concerning trans rights is growing more and more prominent everyday, led by powerful advocates like Laverne Cox, and transgender youths.
Sam J. Valentine is a teenage armature graphic illustrator living in New York, New York. They have had several internships at the Children’s Museum of the Arts and has attended the Joan Mitchell Program for Portfolio Development. They plan on attending an arts high school next year. Sam is a student of Advice Project Media's Media and Writing Program in New York City, and they wrote this article as one of their assignments.