When I began writing a series of stories chronicling the lives of transgender people, my goal was to help educate the public. Yet I’m learning just as much in the process.
It’s humbling how willing these people have been to share their deeply personal stories, but not necessarily surprising. After all, coming out as transgender — which means living as your authentic self, regardless of the gender you’re assigned at birth — requires an enormous amount of honesty and courage.
For the subjects of my series, just being featured in a blog post could get them fired, or worse. Transgender people face high rates of discrimination and even violence, especially in Michigan, where the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act doesn’t include protections for LGBT people.
But everyone I’ve interviewed has made a commitment to living authentically, including speaking out as part of the ACLU of Michigan’s Transgender Advocacy Project. Perhaps their stories resonate so powerfully because living authentically is one of the hardest things many of us will ever do.
With each story, I learn more about what it means to be transgender. At the same time, I see the ways in which transgender people are no different from anyone else.
Char Davenport’s story reveals the unique challenges transgender people face, along with the universal human desire for acceptance — both from others and ourselves. Ellie Webster should inspire anyone who is afraid to express their true self, because she’s done it and the response has been powerfully affirming. And we all hope to have at least one person in our lives who loves us the way Coleen Young loves her transgender child: unconditionally.
Those of us who aren’t transgender can never truly know what it feels like to struggle with our gender identity, and we should be compassionate to those who do. But it’s equally important to recognize how much we have in common.
Transgender people want the same things every other human being wants: to be loved, to be safe, to be productive, to be valued, to be understood. They fall in love; they care deeply about their families and friends; they have fulfilling careers and are vital members of our communities in countless ways.
Some of my story subjects have said they want to be open about their transition and their lives because they want people to understand. They want acceptance, equality and respect, which is part of our shared human experience.
In other words, transgender people want the same things everyone else does. Let them tell their stories, and you’ll see how much we all have in common.