Trans explosion

By LISA BUNKER  |  October 26, 2011

Generational shift

Another huge change, less specific but definitely in the public consciousness, is a generational shift in attitudes about gender. (See, for example, a September 30 article in the New York Times profiling teens who reject the gender binary.)

One of the bright spots in my own gender transition has been the easy acceptance of it by the young people of my acquaintance. When my daughter Madeleine told her circle of high-school friends that her dad was becoming a woman, the response was a mix of "so what?", laughter, and the on-the-spot invention of a new nickname for me. (The sobriquet is "Madame D'Yves," which I love.) In other words, momentarily amusing, but no big deal. One of those friends, now a first-year college student, recently switched from original parent-given gender-specific first and middle names to the artfully gender-ambiguous "Rory Harper." Rory is content to be addressed with either traditional pronoun-set, remarking, "I can play with either side." And Madeleine, now a 19-year-old college sophomore, came out last year as pansexual, meaning equally open to attraction toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes. It's a cutting-edge sexuality; a pansexual pride flag started showing up online just last year.

Given such iconoclastic attitude-shifts about gender among the young it is unsurprising that change can be seen at Maine's schools and colleges. One recent move toward greater trans-inclusion in schools was the change of many GSAs, or Gay-Straight Alliances, to GSTAs, Gay-Straight-Trans Alliances. According to Betsy Parsons, co-chair of the Southern Maine chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, this move was inspired in large part by LD 1046. GLSEN advised the change as a public response to the bill, and many of the student-run organizations adopted it immediately. Parsons adds that LD 1046 (and associated court cases) have also nudged school administrations into action. "The light begins to dawn," she says. Administrators realize, "this will have implications for our school — what do we need to know?"

A perspective at the college level comes from Sarah Holmes, since 2006 coordinator of the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity at USM (and active on campus in other positions and as a student going back 20 years). Holmes observes that over her time at USM she has seen trans people becoming more prominent on campus, and has witnessed members of non-trans communities becoming more educated about trans issues. What has driven the increase in presence and awareness? "First and foremost," she says, "the sharing of and access to stories and personal experiences." Holmes also credits the UMaine system as a whole with a progressive attitude. For example, the system added specific mention of "transgender status and gender expression" to its anti-discrimination policy as soon the protection was added at the state level in 2005. The only other college in Maine to have done so to date, Holmes says, is Colby College in Waterville. And, she adds, USM was also among the first public schools in the country to offer gender-neutral housing to some of its students, in 2003.

Remaining challenges

In sum, the last decade has seen great advances in awareness of and societal engagement with trans people and issues — but everyone I interviewed for this article agrees that there is still a lot of ignorance about trans, and much work left to be done.

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