Skirting the Issues: Light Speed

Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida
Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida

As much as I detest them, it’s time for one of those end-of-the-year retrospectives/look forward pieces.

Actually, I shouldn’t whine: 2014 was quite a year for us transgender folks, maybe even our best year yet.

After all, in June we showed up on the cover of Time magazine with the tagline, “The Transgender Tipping Point” in the embodiment of actress Laverne Cox. If nothing else, making the cover of Time confirmed that yes, indeed, trans people have finally arrived.

Last year also saw another transwoman-activist, Janet Mock, publish a bestselling memoir and embark on a cross-country speaking tour. She appeared on CNN for interviews with Pierce Morgan two nights in a row; first as the object of Morgan’s repeated compliments about her femininity and writing; however, on the second night Mock morphed into an angry and vilifying radical because CNN had audaciously characterized her as having been born male. (And in doing so, Mock yet again confirmed that sometimes, trans people are unpredictable in their public personas—something that yours truly hopes never to be accused of. Alas, that’s a story for another day.)

2014 also brought us a New York magazine article about Martine Rothblatt, who earned $38 million last year, making her the highest paid female executive in the country. Rothblatt transitioned from male to female in 1994—a time when the word, “transgender,” had barely entered the popular lexicon.

On an entirely different level, last year also saw one more state—Maryland—enact legal protections for gender identity and expression. A number of municipalities, including Miami and Toledo, Ohio, adopted ordinances prohibiting trans discrimination and ensuring for public access according to gender identity rather than birth anatomy.

What’s more, just last month, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines for trans students, mandating that schools treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity “in all aspects of the planning, implementation, enrollment, operation, and evaluation of single-sex classes.”

Here at home, the Minnesota State High School League finally adopted a policy giving trans athletes access to high school sports on the basis of their gender identity. In light of the negativity from right wingers and religious conservatives—which included taking out a full page newspaper ad filled with transphobic lies—I’m bestowing upon the League an extra big gold star for courage.

Finally, in California, opponents failed to repeal a state law that protects trans students and their ability to self-identify for bathroom usage and sports activities.

I can personally attest that 2014 was a year where trans people showed up. Three months ago, I gave a “Trans 101” presentation to healthcare workers; out of 29 people in the room, four persons had adult children or relatives who identified as transgender and another person self-identified as trans. That’s a huge percentage! (17 percent to be exact.)

For months, I’ve been asking groups that I address, “Who in this room knows a transgender person?” Each time I present, I’m seeing more and more hands raised.

Speaking of numbers, no one really knows how many gender variant people exist in the world. There are all kinds of guesses—a decade-old study puts the number of “transsexuals” (god, how I hate that word) in the United States at 700,000 people. I’ve seen other numbers suggesting that maybe one percent of the world’s population is transgender—with 7 billion people on the planet, that adds up to about 70 million humans, or roughly the population of California two times over.

It’s impossible to know how many trans people exist since, until recently, many of us have been scared to death to come out. We didn’t want to risk livelihoods, or the love of others, or at the most basic level, personal safety. It was just too risky to show up as one’s true self.

Now, everything is different. Those public/media figures inspire people to overcome their fears. Having new trans-friendly laws are public acknowledgements that yes, we too deserve respect. For me, as I close in on (gasp) sixty, all of this is truly amazing. The world—my world—is changing at light speed. It’s as if the electric light bulb, telephone, computer, and smart phone were suddenly invented all in a single day.

Yet, I know some will wince at my “light speed” remark; take heart, I agree that in 2015 much remains to be done. Transgender people are protected in only 18 states and D.C. Far too many people (loved ones, bosses, and coworkers) still believe that being trans is a “lifestyle choice,” meaning they’ll choose to discriminate. We continue to lose too many trans people to violence.

Still, to my T sisters and brothers who remain closeted and afraid of living authentically, please consider one undeniable fact: life is far too short. The daily pain—no, make that misery—that comes from denying your true self will evaporate if you walk out of that dark, horrible closet. Yes, it takes much personal courage, hard work, and a bit of luck. However, authenticity is very achievable in 2015, and with it will come wonderful sunshine and a happiness you never thought possible.

You can trust me on that.


Ellie Krug’s essay, “We Hear You Knocking: An Essay on Welcoming ‘Trans Lawyers’”, appears in this month’s edition of the William Mitchell Law Review. Ellie is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].

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