Back in the Stone Age—remember the 1970s?—my senior advisor in graduate School, Harold Bessell, took up the mantle of feminism when he assured parents that girls could do anything boys could do. “The only thing that separates boys and girls,” Bessell often said, “is an anatomical difference of three percent.” Forty years later, I’ve come to believe that there are a few other differences between girls and boys. But at the time, Bessell’s comment was both eye-opening and facilitative of change.
Three percent doesn’t seem like much, which of course was Bessell’s point. But that tiny difference becomes all the difference in the world when the three percent a person possesses doesn’t feel like it’s the three percent that actually belongs.
Welcome to the world of transgendered people.
Most of the time nature follows its usual course, but occasionally it veers slightly to the right. When it does, the exceptions that occur can be viewed as wondrous things, or vexing problems in a world in which everyone wants to fit in. Some can experience the wonder and forge their own paths. Others succumb to bullying, surrender, or suicide. Parents, are you paying attention? Your attitudes and behavior are crucial to the equation.
I find the following three transgender stories inspiring.
Her name is Jazz. You might have seen her. She’s all over the Internet and TV as one of the youngest spokesmodels in the transgender community. Did I mention she’s fifteen? Jazz first spoke to the world when she was seven in an interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20 in which she stated that she was a girl despite being born with the anatomy of a boy. Her mere presence in that interview, along with her poise, would have been impossible if not for the support of her parents, Greg and Jeanette, who recognized her gender incongruity as soon as she learned to talk. By all appearances, Jazz is a typical, well-adjusted teenager (as well-adjusted as teenagers can be) who uses her celebrity status to assist other transgender youth. She can be seen on the TLC reality TV series I Am Jazz.
His name is Ryan Sallans. I met Ryan at New Orleans’ Pride earlier this year. He was the keynote speaker at the three-day event, but I met him at a booth the day after he spoke when I noticed stacks of his book, Second Son, Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love, and Life, lying on a table. I picked up a copy and asked the attractive young man standing nearby what the book was about. “It’s about me,” he said. “It’s my story.” We shook hands, smiled, and chatted for a while as I studied the cover with its pictures of a cute young girl, a gawky female teen, and a muscular man—all him. I bought his book and immediately devoured it.
Like Jazz, Ryan is a national spokesperson in the LGBTAQ community. Unlike her, he struggled for years without the support of his otherwise loving parents. His story, unfortunately, is more typical in depicting the isolation felt by most transgender kids, knowing something’s amiss while being unable to muster the resources necessary to find out what. As a result, he struggled with depression and addictions, and twice attempted suicide. Friends helped throughout his journey, but it wasn’t until after he took steps on his own to alter his anatomy that his family finally showed a measure of acceptance. Because of his determination, Ryan today is a stable, successful, and handsome man with a promising future.
Their names are Zack and Megan (not exactly, but close enough). I met them at a seminar on “Sexual Fluidity” and figured them to be in their early twenties. When I first noticed them sitting across from me, I was taken by their adorableness, Megan leaning against Zack with her head on his shoulder. The facilitator invited everyone, one at a time, to give personal examples of sexual fluidity. Near the end of the session, Megan shyly raised her hand.
“You might say I’m sexually fluid,” she began. From the time I was really young, I thought I was a lesbian. Most of my friends were girls, and I eventually met Jen. We were best friends throughout high school and decided to get married right after graduation. Even though the ceremony wasn’t official, we got all our friends together and did it. It was great.
“Then one day Jen told me she was having strange feelings like maybe she was a boy. She talked to her parents, saw a psychologist, and went to see a doctor. That was three years ago.” She squeezed Zack’s hand and kissed his cheek. “Now I’m married to Zack who used to be Jen.”
I was stunned, as clearly most others were in the room.
“If you ask me if I’m still lesbian, I really don’t know. I’d say ‘sexually fluid’ is more like it. All that really matters to me is that I’m with the person I love.”