Pattaya Daily News

09 February 2009 :: 13:02:25 pm 22139

The Transgender issue in the USA

For most Americans, their first encounter with transgender individuals may have been when they were stationed abroad in the military, in such places as Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, where the phenomenon, especially of ladyboys, is well known; many Arabs having visited Thailand, Lao, Malaysia or Indonesia; countries with a significant transgender population.
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To find, however, that there were, in fact, a large percentage of people of a transgender persuasion living amongst them in mainland America probably came as rather a shock. In reality, according to statistics published by the American Psychological Association 1 in 11,900 men and 1 in 30,400 women are uncomfortable being in the body they were born in and wish they were of a different sex. “A lot of people think there aren’t transgendered people here. But that’s not right. We’re everywhere. We’re your neighbors, the person at the store checking your groceries, your social workers. We’re not just in big cities like Chicago. We’re everywhere,” so says Trey Polesky, a 27-year-old man from Bloomington, who asserts he was born a man in a woman’s body.

In Thailand, the phenomenon of katoeys, or ladyboys, is not only well known, but an established part of the culture, such individuals featuring prominently not only in the media, but also in the monkhood. This is in stark contrast to Indonesia, a largely Muslim country. Indonesian ladyboys face discrimination, especially when it comes practicing their religion as Islam doesn’t recognize a third or intermediate gender and forces them to conform to their apparent gender role, segregating them in places of worship.

For Thai ladyboys, they occasionally, face awkward situations abroad, as for instance when a katoey went to England, recently, dressed as a woman, but with a man’s name on his/her passport. This resulted in hours of interrogation by airport immigration officials, who suspected the person of being a terrorist. However, this situation only arose because it was in a foreign country; for the most part, the transgender segment of society are largely tolerated in their home country of Thailand

But the US is radically different in this respect. There, as in the early days of the gay movement, they have to face mainstream rejection, discrimination, harassment and violence. To cope, some live in denial, whilst others hide their light behind a bushel, so to speak. The more adventurous cross-dress, especially those men who wish to be women, the ladyboys, disguising their features behind makeup and clothing. A small percentage, however, go the whole hog, as in Thailand, and embark on a two- to five-year process of counseling, hormone treatment and gender-altering surgeries to create a body they feel more comfortable in.

The US has a harsh reputation when it comes to the treatment of minorities, especially out of the cities, but even in major cities like Chicago, extreme reactions to the transgender community are commonplace. At a recent candlelight vigil held in Chicago in remembrance of 2008’s transgender victims of violence when at least two such were murdered, a Illinois Gender Advocates Board member, Stevie Conlon, had this to say: “Some people see us, and the entire GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) community as immoral. I believe that attitude justifies or fosters hate crime against all of us. I believe transgendered people are victims of horrible violence and hate crime because we are objectified. We are not treated with dignity as human beings.”

Whilst to some degree expecting negative reactions from certain intolerant sections of society and adjusting accordingly, the alienation of one’s family and friends is often the single most difficult issue to cope with for transgender individuals, who feel completely alone and misunderstood. This lack of support from family and friends is why certain transgender activists like Trey Polesky and Peorian Tylana Coop, 38, decided to start the Central Illinois Gender Society, a support group for anyone facing gender issues, which provides such people with a sense of community.

“Oftentimes – at least for me, when I came out – you feel like you’re the only one. Hearing that there are similar people in Illinois was important. The support group provides them with a built-in social network to turn to.”

Support is often forthcoming through the Internet, where applicants don’t have to identify their assumed gender. However, unlike Thailand, where clinics abound, sex-change facilities in the States are few and far between.

This deprivation also applies to those one would expect to be genned up on such matters, like doctors, counselors, and social services agencies. The education of such groups on transgender issues is just one aspect of the problem activists would like to see change. “They don’t always know how to deal with us,” Polesky said. “When these people were in school, there might not have been any education about this, but we want to get information out to them that can create an awareness.” The Central Illinois Gender Society is also looking for ways to educate schools and workplaces with a speakers’ group.

It would appear that Thailand has much to teach the States on such issues.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Lifestyle

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