BY JOHN CARTER JR
Today is International Transgender Day Of Visibility – which is celebrated each year on March 31 to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by trans individuals worldwide. However, throughout the country, lawmakers are proposing changes that will have a significant impact on the lives of trans people. Some of these proposals have already come to pass in both the house and senate, like HB 2263 in Kansas, which allows for the revocation of physician’s licenses who perform a childhood gender reassignment service.
While Trans Day of Visibility is meant to shine a positive light on individuals of transgender identity, according to Fort Hays State University Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Vice President, Kiernan McCarty, there have been a number of bills recently introduced in the Kansas state legislature that would have a negative impact on transgender individuals, such as SB233, SB12, SB180, HB2238, HB2376, and SB149.
McCarty said these laws affect transgender youth but will also prevent parents from getting their children the help and access to potentially life-saving gender-affirming care – something McCarty’s parents were able to do.
“When [trans] kids come to [parents] with depression and anxiety surrounding gender identity issues, they will not be able to do what my parents did, which was listen and trust me enough for us, as a family, to have discussions and come to conclusions that ultimately benefited my mental health and brought me out of severe and worsening depression,” McCarty said. “Instead, they will be intimidated by the threat of the law prohibiting their child from receiving any type of gender-affirming care.”
McCarty said this could lead parents to be more inclined to deny their child’s real feelings, and this can cause parents to lose their children, either to estrangement, worsening mental health crises, drug and alcohol abuse, or suicide.
Mccarty believes it is imperative both affected trans youth and their parents are aware of the laws that are attempting to be passed. He discussed what it meant to him to have supportive parents when he began transitioning at the age of fifteen.
“When I came out, it was a difficult adjustment for my parents, calling me a new name and pronouns and trying to see me and my future differently than they had pictured it my whole life,” he said. “But they were willing to listen to me and to try for me because they loved me, they trusted me, and they told me they would support me.”
However, even though McCarty’s parents were supportive, it still took time and patience for all of them through his transition. McCarty’s father – a family practice physician with trans patients – had already started to educate himself on the situation as much as possible, according to McCarty.
“He quickly came to the conclusion that I was the same exact person I was before, that it wasn’t me changing, it was him and society that needed to change their perspective,” McCarty said.
But for his mother, the process of understanding took more time. McCarty said he wanted her to try and call him by his preferred pronouns and not deadname him, and for him to see her push back and feel guilty and apologize was hard on him too.
“I didn’t want to make her feel guilty. I felt terrible, like I was hurting her and taking something away from her,” he said. “It took her several years, but she trusted me and tried, and eventually understood that I was happier and more myself after hormones and surgeries compared to before I transitioned. We now have a very close and understanding relationship and neither of my relationships with my parents is strained because of my identity at all.”
For fellow GSA member Ellinor Couchman, coming out as transgender is difficult because the entire world expects you to be a certain way.
“[In the context of your family] you find yourself living as something you aren’t 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and the cognitive dissonance is enough to make you question if you’ve never been living as yourself in the first place,” she said. “Coming out as transgender forbids that security and predictability. You’ve never known anything else, and yet you permanently abandon it with no earthly clue on what the next day will bring.”
According to Couchman, nobody truly switches genders overnight, saying transitioning is long and arduous.
“You never know what you’ll end up being; you just know that anything is better than what you were,” she said. “Yet, every single moment of your transition is subject to public scrutiny. You have no cacoon; you have no hibernation. You are forced to metastasize into an unknown version of yourself, and adventuring into the unknown is intrinsically terrifying.”
For McCarty, the importance of International Transgender Day of Visibility can be found in the support he received from his family during what could have been a very difficult time. He said his parents’ response of loving him and accepting him no matter what ‘ was very affirming. Had they not been supportive and had he not had the system not been in place to allow him to transition, it could have been a very different outcome for McCarty.
“I wouldn’t be here today. I would have committed suicide,” he said.
According to an article published by the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, the suicide attempt rate among transgender persons ranges from 32-50 percent. The concern of increasing suicide rates among trans youth is something of particular concern to Mccarty and Couchman during this time of crisis for the trans community. But with positive attention drawn from today’s day of visibility, the trans community can look forward to a hopeful future.
“I hope that Transgender Day of Visibility continues to be a day to show off what the trans community really has to offer the world,” McCarty said. “It is my experience that when given the chance to thrive, transgender people mend social gaps because we have an intersectional experience of diffusing towards or away from certain gendered standards that illuminate us to the privileges that we, as humans, otherwise take for granted. We have different and valuable perspectives that can improve the social well-being of all people, so long as people are willing to respect and get to know the real us.”