“Is it a boy or a girl?” This question tends to be the first thought that comes to mind for new and elated parents. In recent years, “gender” reveal parties have become increasingly popular as couples record and post their big moment across every source of social media. Whether the soon-to-be parents decide to cut a cake, hit a ball or pop a balloon, the universal theme has always been pink and blue, as if sex is the baby’s entire identity.
“Woman,” someone called him and the words were crushing. “Girl,” someone else said and a tear fell down his cheek. “Female,” society told him as he wished it wasn’t so. Even after hearing their words, he knew he wasn’t.
Experiences like this are all too common in the transgender community, something that senior Aiden Shantery, formerly Alexis Shantery, is familiar with. “The hardest part is getting people to understand,” he said.
When born, everyone is labeled by their biological sex as either a boy or a girl. However, as years pass, people are consumed by the cultural and social norms of their sex in their society. This is where the term gender comes to play. Unlike sex, gender isn’t focused on the genetics but upon socially-constructed roles. Well exposed to this subject is 29-year-old Jenny Insenstadt, a fully transitioned transgender female who started hormones in 2008.
“The important thing to remember is that their gender identity is their own personal identity, how they identify themselves,” Insenstadt said.
According to the American Psychological Association, transgender is a term used for someone whose gender identity - a person’s sense of being, male, female or something else- doesn’t match with their biological sex. At any point in their life, someone may know for certain or even have a sudden realization that they are transgender.
There is no one specific reason why someone is transgender. However, some scientist point to biological factors, experiences in adolescence or experiences in adulthood, which may contribute to someone’s transgender identity.
The transgender community had a long road before it became what it is today. The first American to become widely known as transgender was Christine Jorgensen, according to the New York Times. Her operation was performed in Denmark in 1952 and when she returned to the United States, she became a tabloid sensation.
In the years following, riots between transgender civilians and police broke out in public places such as Los Angeles’s Cooper’s Donuts in May of 1959 and later, San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria in August of 1966. Even with all the riots and debate, the transgender community didn’t even have a classification until years later.
In 1987, the American Psychiatric Association added a new classification known as “gender identity disorder.” The community eventually gained more awareness; in the late 1990s and early 2000s states made laws protecting the rights of the transgender community, but that didn’t necessarily stop the discrimination towards them and general lack of understanding.
Alongside the discrimination and hatred comes the tragedy. The rate of suicides and murders of transgender people across the world has steadily increased. “In 2016 we’ve already had two murders in Ohio alone. Two hate crimes where trans people have been the victims. We’ve been attacked and killed because of who we are. We have a holiday- not something you celebrate- it’s a day where we mourn, it’s called the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Every year it’s been getting worse,” Insenstadt said.
Through all of the challenges and perils, the transgender community is still pushing forward. In recent years several celebrities have come out as trans, such as Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, Isis King, Jazz Jennings and Caitlyn Jenner. They are all very different people, but each of then have transitioned genders under the scrutiny of the public eye.
Although they are applauded for being brave enough to publicly go through such a massive and controversial change, not everyone in the transgender community feels as though transgender celebrities’ experiences depict a realistic transition.
Celebrity or not, several steps must be taken to change one’s gender. According to CAMH, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, there is a series of requirements that must be fulfilled before being able to go through surgery. To be eligible, one must be at least 18 and needs to have been on hormones continuously for a year.
After meeting these requirements, the next step is finding a doctor willing to perform the desired surgery, and the cost of the surgeries is immense.
According to sexchangeoperation.net, a metoidioplasty, one form of a female-to-male reassignment surgery, starts around $5,200 and a vaginoplasty, male-to-female reassignment surgery, costs about $12,600. Each of the surgeries have
possible additional costs depending on the patient.
Paying for surgery can be an issue. According to HealthCare.gov, there are many health plans that still exclude or deny coverage of some services for transgender individuals. Due to such resistance from insurance companies, people have to pay out of pocket for these procedures. The average person may take years to save up enough for this, while wealthy celebrities can easily afford to quickly transition.
“We like to see them as representatives of a whole community, but their transition isn’t very typical,” said Liam Gallagher, volunteer coordinator at Stonewall Columbus, a LGBTQ+ community center. “Caitlyn had a lot of class privilege; it was very easy. Typically, going through the transition takes years because you don’t have the means.”
Although celebrities’ transitions aren’t realistic for the average trans person, not all trans celebrities are seen in a negative way in the transgender community.
“If I had to choose someone to be the example trans person to the world, to America, I’d much rather people look up to Laverne Cox because as far as actresses go she’s amazing, and she’s a trans person,” said Insenstadt. “A lot of those shows are following actual trans people and their real experiences.”
While older generations have actresses like Laverne Cox to look up to, younger generations tend to look at others closer to their age.
“Jazz Jennings is a great role model for trans youth. And it’s great that she’s able to spread her word. Jazz sets a goal for young trans kids to be able to reach for, and her parents are role models for how parents should react with having a trans child and supporting them,” Shantery said.
When a person is transitioning genders, feeling accepted and supported by friends and family is incredibly important. Being accepted by those close to them allows them to be who they are in front of others.
“I’ll see a teenager who looks, acts and behaves very masculine and then will pull out knitting needles start crocheting or knitting. They will do other arts and crafts that are very outside of the gender norms and they don’t care,” Insenstadt said. “It’s them saying forget the societal rules, they just do whatever they want. It’s really amazing and actually rather inspirational.”
There are a lot of social barriers when coming out as trans in a society in which those who aren’t the stereotypical ‘normal’ are subject to prejudice, criticism or rejection.
“The biggest barrier is getting people to understand,” Shantery said. “When that wall is broken, people either accept you or reject you.”
Being trans doesn’t change who they were before. In fact, they’re expressing themselves as who they’ve always been.
“I don’t feel like I changed. I’ve grown as a person, but that’s just being a teenager,” Shantery said. “My being trans hasn’t changed who I am.”
“As my body was changing, I was also changing my mind about things,” Insenstadt said. “Hormones make a huge difference in how we feel about ourselves, others and how we interact with the world.”
According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey done by the Williams Institute, 57 percent of the transgender respondents were disowned by their families and 54 percent were bullied in school.
“People going through a transition may be harassed or discriminated against causing some people to delay their transition,” Gallagher said.
Trans teens may have a hard time being open about their identity resulting in isolation, depression and anxiety. According to NTDS, 49 percent of the trans students attempted suicide in high school.
“As a closeted trans in high school, I often felt depressed and hopeless,” Gallagher said. “There’s no positive representation and very little information. It was a big struggle.”
The lack of information about the trans community can hinder their understanding of self. Trans teens may feel disconnected with their bodies during puberty and not understand why, according to Transgender Mental Health.
“Everyone was hitting puberty and we’d just gotten the talk. Most of the class was excited for these new changes. I just felt dread. I didn’t want the things that I was told I would get. I vehemently rejected them,” Shantery said, “I felt disgusting.”
Representation can be hard to find, resulting in misunderstanding and not being seen as people.
“I wish people viewed me as human. That sounds awful, but it’s true. To people who don’t know what it means to be trans, I’m something weird,” Shantery said. “I’m the person who wants to be something, but the truth is, I am that something.”
Within the school district, there is a strict anti-discrimination rule. At OOHS speci cally, there is a Gender and Sexuality Alliance club that welcomes trans students.
“GSA is a safe place that has given students the chance to meet like-minded students going through the same experience,” GSA adviser Andrew Rock said.
However, as seen with Shantery the school’s policies and clubs don’t guarantee acceptance.
“There’s all the jokes like ‘she was a dude all along’. It’s an extremely common joke that hurts the trans community by assuming that trans women are not real women,” Shantery said. “It reduces them down to what’s in their pants rather than who they are.”
According to the Unitarian Universalist Association, the best way to fight discrimination of the trans community is by respecting them as people.
“Everyone has a story; we can all relate to one another because of that,” Gallagher said. “We’re all people, not stereotypes.”
“It exists,” Shantery said, commenting on the transgender community. “And it’s okay that it does.”
This issue’s cover story, which chronicles the tribulation of modern transgender life, would not be complete without the insight of senior Aiden Shantery. It is with a heavy heart that we must report the recent and sudden passing of Rick Shantery, Aiden’s father. He told the Courier in August, speaking of Aiden, that “whatever he decides, I support”.
Aiden has allowed The Courier to run the story, despite every reason not to. We ask that in this time of grief, the readership be gentle.
Our thoughts are with the Shantery family as they mourn the passing of Mr. Shantery.