Is sex binary? A few years ago, I would’ve said yes. But here’s why my opinion changed, and why yours should, too.
With the turn of the new century, people are becoming more open-minded and gender is becoming a more fluid concept. This is a good thing: No longer are we hanging people for adultery or burning gay men at the stake. We live in a free, new world. At least, most of us do.
Unfortunately, this world is not so free for some. In Japan, transgender people are required to be sterilized before they transition. And here in the United States, the Trump administration hopes to draw back recognition of transgender people under federal civil rights laws. It hopes to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX — one that does not include transgender individuals.
The federal government seeks to define gender as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” requiring rivals of this notion to undergo genetic testing to determine their sex. This is utterly unacceptable and can be damaging to transgender and nonbinary individuals, let alone threaten the civil rights of nearly two million people in this country. One’s gender is an expression of self — as either male, female, a blend of both or neither — but ultimately, it is a decision that is made by the individual and none other.
But the real reason my mind was turned and my eyes were opened? It was because, just like anybody who is passionate about anything, I knew someone. In 2015, I arrived in my freshman dorm at Le Moyne College and met my new roommate, Lizzy. Lizzy was an outgoing character, full of life and fun. But something was definitely wrong. Lizzy spent all her free time lying in bed, watching Netflix. I had honestly never seen somebody watch seasons and seasons of TV shows so quickly.
One time she wore a skirt to a party. After that, I never saw her in a skirt again.
In the second semester of freshman year, Lizzy came out as gay. “I was scared to tell you,” Lizzy said to me. “I hope it doesn’t change anything between us. I love you like a sister.” Of course it didn’t. She eventually got a girlfriend who was instantly accepted into our friendship circle. “It makes sense,” I thought. I had always known something was off, and deep down, I think I knew. She was never quite herself while she was “straight.”
Eventually, Lizzy started to cut her hair shorter and shorter. For our athletics banquet, she wore a suit with a bow tie. She was one of the coolest, most hip people I had ever met. She shopped in the men’s section, didn’t care for any girl drama and became an active member of the Student Government Association. Things were looking up for Lizzy. To her family, her closest friends and even to me, her roommate, it seemed as though she was doing great.
It was only until just before junior year that Lizzy sent everybody she knew an email describing just how unhappy she was. She was, in fact, not a “she,” but a young man. His name was Eli, and we were all going to have to get used to it.
“Growing up in a very homogenous town made it hard to be different,” Eli wrote. “My whole life I grew up with people instilling values in me that contradicted exactly how I was feeling. My friends from home distanced themselves and didn’t really care to continue our friendship after I transitioned.”
Yet despite his struggle, with the support of his family and some close college friends, Eli raised $10,000 on GoFundMe to undergo a chest reduction surgery. He is now the bearer of two mighty scars, weekly testosterone shots and an immense Instagram following.
“My friends from college were amazing and learned to support me in so many ways,” he wrote. “My family took a little time to adjust to the change but not once were they unsupportive nor did they ever belittle my feelings.”
Unfortunately, not all transgender people are as lucky as Eli is. Suicide rates are high among the transgender community, and more than 50 percent of transgender male teens reported attempting suicide in their life, while the figure lies at around 30 percent for transgender female teens.
“The worst part is having to advocate for myself when all I simply want to do is exist without having to justify my identity,” Eli wrote. “People can be prejudiced and some doctors make me feel shameful or uncomfortable in my skin.”
The little things that we take for granted are what transgender people, like Eli, must deal with every day. “When my ID had my old female picture and my old name I had bouncers deny me, throw my ID on the floor or laugh in my face,” he wrote. “I feel unsafe in men’s bathrooms and even sometimes with ignorant people in public or on the train.”
While gender-neutral bathrooms on campus are a step in the right direction, it is imperative that we raise awareness and educate ourselves about a community that often goes unnoticed. As human rights advocates, we cannot simply deny one large population within our society. We must stand up for those who need it while having an open heart and mind. And while President Donald Trump hopes to “define transgender people out of existence,” we must vote for politicians who are going to make a positive change in our society.
“Get to know one trans person before you formulate and opinion on our identity,” Eli wrote. “Transgender people are not broken or damaged — we are struggling in light of today’s society to feel comfortable and welcomed in the world.”
Tiffany Dun is a senior majoring in psychology.