My hometown of Savannah, Georgia has always been a favorite east coast tourist destination. Established, in 1743 Savannah epitomizes the diverse and at times tragic history of the antebellum south. In 1994, Savannah became an immensely popular tourist destination for other reasons than just its River Street tourist shops that once served as warehouses for the abhorrent North-Atlantic slave trade. 1994 was the year that John Berendt's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published. The book, and subsequent movie adaptation, still holds the record for longest-standing New York Times Best Seller.
The book chronicles the bizarre and eccentric world the seemingly sleepy southern town of Savannah, Georgia. Now, before we go any further with this story like I said, I grew up in Savannah. I can attest to the fact that every single last detail of Berendt's book is 100% accurate. The voodoo rituals, walking ghost dogs, the murders, and any other seemingly unbelievable detail in the book. All true.
Now, one for the most memorial characters of the book is an eccentric transgender woman, named "The Lady Chablis." Lady Chablis, both in the book, film and in real life was equal parts sassy, and intriguing. In the book, she describes her maintenance of her female character, while still possessing the working parts of a man, as "hiding my candy." A phrase that would ultimately the title of her own best-selling book.
Lady Chablis was the epitome of the flamboyant, yet intriguingly amusing "drag queen." Her persona was one that she had used to entertain many a Savannahian long before the book was ever published, at a popular local gay club called Club One. For many years, Lady Chablis was the headliner for the Club’s weekend drag show that was equal parts, a comedy routine, and drag queen exhibition.
Lady Chablis' fans and the drag shows were predominantly attended by heterosexual women and men. As a result of her Midnight fame and simply because of who she was, people came from all over to enjoy novelty act of an African American man, who proudly and unapologetically showed off her female gender identity. Lady Chablis would perform at the club and ultimately other larger venues on and off until her unfortunate death in 2015.
Lady Chablis represented the epitome of American society's collective attitude towards transgenderism at the time. Just like another nationally famous transgender, Rupaul, transgenderism was something that was viewed as a form of entertainment. To some degree, it was like transgender people were seen as magicians. An illusion that didn't represent reality and was merely a something to enjoy provided it was all an act for the amusement of the masses.
Then abruptly something dramatically changed in American societies views towards transgenderism. In 2015, Mr. Olympia, a role model for male athleticism, Bruce Jenner announced to the world; he was no longer Bruce. Mr. Olympia was gone. In his place was Caitlin, Miss Jenner if you're Nasty (Janet Jackson reference for you younger readers). Suddenly, American society lost their f%#$ing minds!
All the sudden, transgenderism was no longer reduced to the halls of sideshow oddities or some form of mainstream entertainment. It was real life. Many individuals suddenly slid into this chaotic ego-dystonic state of questioning everything. If an Olympic gold medalist, a married father of two could suddenly identify with transgender being transgender. What did that mean for the rest of us!?!?!
It was as if people suddenly feared that the once manly-man, Bruce had been bitten by a transgender vampire. It was as if transgenderism was some communicable disease. Silently, people pondered how many of the rest of our men were at risk of suddenly trading in their favorite pair of jeans for a lovely slimming Vera Wang number.
Whenever people are afraid of something they don’t understand, suddenly it becomes an object of bigotry and prejudice and transgenderism was no exception. Now, Look I get it. I really do. As a heterosexual male, I understand that individuals who identify as transgender are the most difficult for the vast number heterosexual people to relate too. I understand that, and I am not dismissing our natural psychological aversion to things that are dramatically different than us.
The truth is, human beings are incredibly visually motivated species. 99% of the time we don't even recognize it, however, we are continuously forming our opinions based on our visual perception of individuals. This is the foundation of all implicit bias. Our brains are hardwired to engage in a series of activities unconsciously whenever we encounter someone. This entire unconscious process involves our brains rapidly trying to make sense of our outer world. Every time we see someone, our minds quickly engage in the process of identifying and categorizing who are what they are.
Human beings need visual patterns or clues to recognize or perceive other individuals. This is why you can remember the store clerk at the gas station you stop to get coffee at every day. However, if you see them outside of work you, your brain experiences that confusing state in which you feel like you know someone, but you just can't place where you know them. That is because, your brain is lacking some of the patterns of information, such as the gas station, or the uniform you always see the person wearing.
If your brain fails to recognize someone, then it rapidly tries to process two separate the determinations. The first and most important decision your brain must make for you when you see a stranger is are they a threat to you. This is how the implicit bias against African-American males emerges often. Your brain is more likely to perceive them as threatening based on anecdotal evidence that comes from society. The second brain function that occurs, once you have determined a stranger is not a threat, is do you want to have sex with them. No, this doesn't mean that we all consciously think about having sex with every stranger. Rather it simply means our brains are hardwired to perceive others based on potential mating status. Ultimately, safety and sex are the most significant motivators that influence human behavior.
Now, given that is the way that people are psychologically hardwired, at least in a state of homeostasis, even the concept of transgenderism throws our conscious perception for a loop. Additionally, given the fact that studies suggest that .3% of the population identify as transgender, it is understandable that such an apparent confusion too many people’s visual perception is indeed difficult to relate with. Basically, for a significant portion of the population, even conceptionally, sexual perception is thrown off, so the only judgments that remain are the determination of safety.
Now, what causes individuals to have a gender identity other than their assigned sex, is not conclusively known. However, the consensus from an empirical and scientific standpoint is that it has biological or genetic origins. There is very little, and widely distributed evidence to suggest that it is psychological in nature. It is also important to know that transgenderism is independent of sexual orientation. Indeed, you can have individuals who are transgender who are also heterosexual.
However, regardless of the causes of gender dysphoria, the indisputable fact is that it indeed exists. Now, .3% of The population may seem like a small number. However, that translates into over 1 million people or almost identically to the number of sworn police officers that are in America. This begs the question, is it ethically sound to negatively relate to .3% of the population, merely because we cannot understand them?
It is an undeniable fact that individuals who relate to a gender other than the one they were born with exist. No matter how someone feels, they cannot just will gender dysphoria away. Many individuals will cite Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' (DSM-V), which is the physician’s bible of mental disorders, classification of Gender Dysphoria as evidence that transgenderism is a mental illness.
Now, it is imperative to note that the DSM-V specifically indicates that gender dysphoria must involve, “ difference between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, and significant distress or problems functioning” (DSM-V, 2013). Note the most important word is “distress.” In essence, if someone identifies with a gender that is contrary to their birth sex, yet they experience no mental hardship over this, then that is not representative of an affliction diagnosable as gender dysphoria. Most importantly, it is important to note what the treatment is for gender dysphoria in the DSM-V. According to the DSM-V, “Treatment options for gender dysphoria include counseling, cross-sex hormones, puberty suppression and gender reassignment surgery.” The DSM-V in no way suggests that transgenderism is a “treatable” affliction that can be “cured.” Rather, the text just offers solutions to help individuals suffering from distress from gender dysphoria.
The lack of understanding of transgenderism has led to fear motivated legal declarations such as North Carolina’s infamous “Bathroom Bill.” North Carolina’s bathroom bill, requires people to use the public restroom that matches the sex on their birth certificates regardless of their gender identities. There is not hiding it; the bill specifically targets transgender individuals.
Advocates of the bill and there are many, claim that the bill is about safety. Supporters fear that without the legal standard being set, it leaves the door open for people to be attacked in bathrooms by transgender or faux-transgender criminals. Now, as scary as the thought of predators lying in wait to attack unsuspecting victims in our nation's restrooms, there is a few problems with bathroom bill legislation.
First, the argument against a bathroom bill, in that it will stop potential bathroom predators, is the same one gun advocates argue against gun bans. Criminals don’t pay attention to laws. If one has the propensity to assault someone in a bathroom sexually, I assure you that breaking the law of going into that bathroom isn’t a deterrent.
Secondly, according to The Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union say there is zero reported evidence of any violence or sexual assaults being as a result of transgender individuals in public restrooms. This includes the fact that 19 states, the District of Columbia and more than 200 municipalities have anti-discrimination laws allowing transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. Not to mention all of the states, who have no laws regarding which bathroom people are supposed to use.
Ultimately, “bathroom bills” or any transgender discriminatory regulations do not address any real concern or fear that even exists. Rather, they just provide a medium for fostering more fear and discrimination against a group of people that it is already hard for the majority of the populous to relate too. It condones a lack of understanding by giving it an outlet of being justified by nonexistent threats.
In the end, a lack of understanding of transgenderism is understandable given our natural human psychology. However, lack of understanding, shouldn’t be a justification for treating others poorly. Not being prejudiced towards people who are transgender doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly tryout transgenderism for yourself to relate to it. Rather, it means you just have to treat people who are transgender the same way you would any other person. Treat them like an individual and like they are a human being.
Because the truth is, that is all any person who is transgender is asking for. To just be treated like a human being.