Seasons are, by their nature, transient -- short-lived shifts in climate and lifestyle choices that rarely transform into something more important than their three-month transference of solar energy. But this past season was different; this summer -- which ended on Monday -- will be less known for its transience than its trans-ness. Yes, the summer of 2015 may henceforth be known as the Summer of Trans, culminating perfectly (as if on cue) with Sunday's Emmy Awards and the triumph of Transparent -- an Amazon series about a Los Angeles family's hilarious and tumultuous experience with the gender transition of its p(m)atriarch.
Looking back, our societal transition toward greater acceptance of the trans community was not without foreshadowing. The summer began with Rochel Dolezal's troubled attempt to identify as transracial, continued with President Obama's equally troubled attempt to broker the Trans-Pacific Partnership and was dotted with countless other trans-moments -- from this week's revealing study about the human toll of trans-fat to the ongoing crisis affecting trans-continental Syrian refugees. But of course the only T word that will transcend this short-lived season is transgender, thanks to the very public transition of Caitlyn Jenner, whose emergence as a woman has propelled the term into the forefront of our national conscience.
The direct and indirect advocacy of Jenner, Jill Soloway (the creator of Transparent, who took home the Emmy for "Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series") and other trans activists have led more and more Americans to come around on this once "alternative" and marginalized identity. In July, timed not-coincidentally to Jenner's new reality show, online searches for transgender hit an all-time high, with by far the most interest coming from the U.S. The majority of the country now supports transgender military service. Two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies now offer explicit gender identity non-discrimination protections. And a similar proportion of Americans who know a transgender person view them favorably -- a kind of "duh" statistic that is nonetheless noteworthy in how it represents the unprecedented momentum being gained by the transgender community.
Yet with all this momentum, one might wonder why the trans movement has remained so inextricably linked to that of the lesbian, gay and bisexual community (which also had quite a summer). After all, lesbian, gay and bi (and a, pan, questioning, etc.) are all sexual orientations defined by whom one loves; transgender is an identity defined by who one is. While neither sexuality nor identity should be subject to any form of discrimination, shouldn't this nuanced-yet-not-insignificant distinction be reflected in the way these groups advocate?
On one hand, it has been politically and socially advantageous to "brand" the T's along with the LGB's, even if it sometimes leads people to wrongfully conflate the two. One can hardly deny that this four-letter movement has progressed by leaps and bounds because of its unified efforts, engendering new policies and social positions that have created a sort of "all boats rise" effect for the many sexualities and identities it encompasses. But after the summer that just transpired, could it be time for those identifying as transgender to blaze their own trail?
Some advocates think so. Tyler Curry, senior editor at HIV Equal Online and an award-winning LGBT columnist, acknowledged that "there is a difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and it can't be expected that one movement will equally serve both groups." As Curry pointed out in a Huffington Post article last year, trans people face a unique set of challenges that aren't always recognized in the LGB agenda. "Although transgender men and women also share [similar] inequalities, they are subjected to many more injustices that fail to gain hardly any mainstream support."
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans people experience three times as much police violence as their non-transgender counterparts, and also have the highest rate of newly identified HIV-positive test results. And then there are issues that could only be experienced by the trans community, such as the challenges they face when presenting identification documents, using a public restroom or securing housing. In fact, as Jill Soloway noted in her Emmy's acceptance speech, there are still 32 states with laws that allow landlords to refuse to rent an apartment to a trans person -- a reality that the LGB movement wouldn't necessarily prioritize.
Ultimately, how the trans community seeks to overcome the injustices confronting it is less important than the fact that we -- as an American society -- still have a long way to go on our journey toward equality for all. But after a summer during which Americans seemed to move past many previous transgressions against the trans community, the time might just be right for the Ts to divorce themselves from the LGB movement and chart their own path forward -- hand in non-gender-conforming hand. Then again, when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, perhaps the only letter that matters is I.
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