Each of the three individuals at the panel were asked to share their stories, specifically about their experiences and struggles being both transgender and people of color.
The first panelist spoke about her struggles as a transgender African-American woman. Born and raised in Tulsa, she eventually went to New York City for college where she began her physical transition into a woman.
During this period, she was raped by a taxi driver while she was drunk. She notified the police, but they only asked what she did to incite the violence. A second assault took place against her in 2006, and she encountered her attacker in December of last year, triggering her to return to old and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
She got her third DUI following this interaction, and was sent to David L. Moss Correctional Center. She was denied a true bed, showers and meals for an entire week. Officers watched her while she bathed in the sink to see for themselves if she had developed breasts yet.
She continuously felt that she was “better off dead than to be part of their society.” Following her release from jail the panelist began attending Tulsa’s chapter of Women in Recovery, which allowed her to confront her mistreatment and unhealthy behaviors. She said the program allowed her “to live instead of just exist.”
The next panelist who shared her story is a transgender Native American woman belonging to the Choctaw tribe working at the Oklahoma Equality Center. Growing up in a Mormon family, her initial questions about her sexuality and gender identity felt sinful and unnatural.
She did much reflection on this time in her life, and considered what would have happened had she come out at that age. While many trans individuals are regretful that they did not come out earlier in life, she believes that she “wouldn’t still be alive” if she had.
Prior to her transition, she served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009 where she attempted to overcompensate for these thoughts by casting her previous notions away and acting more masculine and macho.
She did, however, begin to research what she had been speculating about herself. What she discovered was the concept of a “Two-Spirit,” which was a concept several Native American tribes had of an individual who transcended their typical gender norms. These people were targeted by European settlers as threats to their conservative values despite them being widely revered within the tribes for purportedly possessing the understanding of both sides of humanity.
As a transgender Native American woman, this was a great revelation. This allowed her to adapt the mindset that “not only was everyone else wrong, but [she] was special in her community.”
However, others in the Navy still did not accept her for this. She had a long-term pattern of depression with one attempted suicide.
She eventually determined that it was “more important to find peace of mind than to be dismissed for using the ‘trans’ word,” which was when she retired from the Navy and was free to continue her transformation as she pleased.
The final panelist was a black, non-binary freshman at TCC who was adopted into a lower-class family where they were the youngest of 16 children. They were sexually abused by two of their older brothers, which caused them to question their sexuality at a young age. They attended a predominantly white school, so being part of not only one, but two marginalized groups presented many problems, and caused them to feel estranged from their fellow students. Transphobic, homophobic and racial slurs were thrown at them, which caused them to doubt their own gender identity even further.
They were told that they weren’t “recognized as black, as if it was supposed to be a compliment when really it’s the greatest insult ever.”
This lack of confirmation and constant questioning of themselves led to a pattern of acting out, which led them to begin an inpatient program at the Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health System. They were placed in an all-girl unit along with a transgender boy, simply because of the fact that he still had a vagina.
They were told continuously by the staff that they “didn’t know what [they] wanted,” they “didn’t know who [they] were, and that was the end of the story.”
They begged to be placed in any other unit, but the staff would not allow it. This complete refusal of their gender identity posed a further threat to their mental health, and eventually they were let out of Shadow Mountain’s facilities.
To wrap up the panel, each speaker was asked to provide some insight into what the general public should know about how to educate themselves on the transgender community and respect those in it. The most important thing was that trans individuals did not feel included in most social justice movements, particularly with feminism, which tends to focus on cisgender white women, and with the LGBT community where “the T is often silent.”
What is also important in regard to the respect of the transgender community is awareness and education of the public. Most often, the largest contributor to transphobia is the lack of knowledge on the subject.
Finally, the most crucial aspect of respect is acceptance. Comfort for people in the trans community is a very rare sensation, as one of the panelists stated perfectly: “I feel comfortable where I am accepted—not tolerated—accepted.”
They each agreed that if there is ever a question of someone’s preferred pronouns, the best way to ask is to be straightforward. For instance, “what are your preferred pronouns?” is a respectful and thoughtful way of asking someone.
There are many resources for people questioning their sexuality, gender identity and gender expression.
The Oklahoma Equality Center fights for equal rights and seeks to provide resources, support, and a welcoming environment for those in the Tulsa LGBTQIA+ community.
The United Campus Ministry (the Little Blue House) is located on campus and seeks to give a safe judgment-free place for TU students.