Increasing Transgender Acceptance One Family at a Time

All over the world, trans identity is perceived and accepted differently. From Hong Kong to Pakistan and down to Texas, transgender individuals are granted a range of treatment, from first-class citizenship to street murders where police label the body bags "possible hate crimes."

You never know what you will pull out of the transgender news bucket on a daily basis. Last week, Hong Kong was a favorite. After long battles in court, a trans woman known as W. was allowed to marry her boyfriend. W. stated, "I'm very glad that I can finally get married to my beloved boyfriend in Hong Kong."

A second favorite was the news about a trans politician in Pakistan running for office. Pakistan is already pretty far along in its evolution toward accepting gender-nonconforming people. Thanks to a 2009 vote, individuals can select "third-gender" on their personal identity cards.

With all the forward motion on trans rights, how is it that America is still behind the curve in having and enforcing equality and freedom? If you have ever participated in an event on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, you know what I'm talking about. The memorials of that day reveal that America has a pretty big losing streak. Why do we consistently fail to treat gender-variant people well?

Some would say that the problem is education: Not enough of us know what gender variance is, or how to treat someone who claims to be in the wrong body. Still others would speculate that the problem is popular knowledge: The majority of us don't believe in a third gender, because everything around us screams "male" and "female." What we do see of gender variance is an exaggerated show. No matter which way you sing it, the fact is that the truth about trans identity remains buried under ages of bias and sexism.

Dr. Michele Angello is a therapist who works specifically with transgender youth and their families and believes in approaching the problem one child at a time. It's true what is said on her website: "When a single child comes out, their entire family will transition, along with their community." Through her interactions with transgender youth and, subsequently, their families, Dr. Angello has led the way in educating entire churches, schools and communities about transgender identity. In her new book, On the Couch With Dr. Angello: A Guide to Raising and Supporting Transgender Youth, she writes, "[T]his book is intended to bridge the empathy gap that many young people experience after coming out as transgender."

Bridging the empathy gap means educating every single person whom a developing trans youth will come into contact with on a daily basis. This can be a seemingly insurmountable feat, but in her book, Dr. Angello outlines just how effective a strategic coming-out plan can be.

As a tool for parents, teachers and medical professionals alike, this book represents the kind of education that America needs. Ultimately, by aiding the youth where they are in their transition and then helping the parents cope with their coming out, Dr. Angello is doing the unique work of aiding entire middle school and high school generations age with the knowledge of trans identity. When confronted with this issue as adults, they will know how to be inclusive of gender-variant people. Their knowledge will change the fabric of America. Maybe Dr. Angello's book is one step in the right direction. Her method may be the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching a man to fish.