Talking transgender rights, experience

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Atlas Week event zeroes in on the ‘T’ in LGBT

As a part of the rich diversity that is Atlas Week at SLU, Monday, April 13, provided an opportunity for students to hear the stories of a demographic often not fully represented in the discussions on oppressed groups and social justice: transgendered people.  In the international lounge of Des Peres, students gathered to hear two trans individuals speak about their own stories and provide information on the St. Louis trans community.

The event, put on by SLU’s Rainbow Alliance and Una, the feminist voice at SLU, allowed students to engage in discussion and listen to the voices of a trans individuals living in the metropolitan area.  The organization that provided the speakers and the discussion was the Metro Trans Umbrella Group (MTUG), is a “grassroots trans-run, trans-focused organization.”  One of these voices was that of Sayer Johnson, a father, activist and a trans man.

Johnson spoke out on his personal journey of discovery of his gender identity, and mentioned the importance of “possibility models” for those wishing to transition.  A possibility model is a person or character in the media, which serves as an example that it is possible to live openly with an identity that is self-defined.  For cis-gendered people (non-trans), a “possibility model” might be someone with a similar body type who is also an athlete, or a comic book hero from the same ethnic background as the individual.

When Johnson was growing up, he was not familiar with any trans men or trans masculine people, until a fateful encounter with a Mr. X (name withheld to ensure privacy).  Johnson said that by meeting Mr. X at his wedding, he was able to see the potential for him to undergo the transition, and live as the gender he identified as.

Johnson, who was in a committed relationship with children prior to his transition, talked about the acceptance his children had for him, as he became their “Papi.”  A name he claims to sound just as sweet, if not sweeter, than his own name.

Further discussion on the issues trans people face every day ranged from topics of how trans people are portrayed in the media, to the need for a safe place use the restroom, to the way social media has saved the lives of many trans people.

This ability to see the lives of other trans people via social media has provided many people with the possibility models that Johnson talked about.  One member of the discussion, who asked for their name to be withheld for the sake of privacy said, “I was terribly depressed and I did not know why.  But then one day I just saw this video of a trans person speaking about their journey and I realized that was me.  I realized that was what was keeping me from being happy.”

As was discussed at the meeting, trans organizations in the St. Louis area are hoping to work to acquire more resources for the trans community.  Many trans individuals choose to take hormonal therapies to attain the physiology to fit their gender identity.  However, for many trans people, it is not covered by their insurance or they cannot find a doctor to prescribe them the hormones necessary for them to reach their preferred gender identity.  Trans people are also heavily discriminated against when it comes to the issues of housing.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 1 in 5 trans individuals will experience homelessness in their lifetime.  This is due, in part, to many shelters choosing to not cater to trans individuals.  A frequent discriminator, is the Salvation Army, where Jennifer Gale, a trans woman, died of hypothermia as a result of not being welcomed into the Salvation Army’s shelters due to her being trans.

MTUG is composed of many different groups, all supporting the trans community in the St. Louis area.  These groups include The Locker Room for trans masculine people, Fem Spec for those that identify as trans feminine, Expression Spectrum for those that identify as somewhere in between, also referred to as non-binary, and Transparent, an organization devoted to helping out the under 21 crowd of trans people and their families.

Information about the trans community in St. Louis can be found at the website www.stlmetrotrans.com or the Facebook page for the Metro Trans Umbrella Group.