Perspective: The New Civil Rights Movement

Posted on: April 3, 2019, by :

This has proved to be a difficult article to write, namely because it’s such a hot button topic. I remember being in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, in 2008 I believe, and saw an issue of Time Magazine on a table. The cover featured an African-American transgender woman, the caption reading “The Next Civil Rights Movement.” And though I’m embarrassed to say this now, I at first thought it was a joke headline. When I sat down to read it, however, while I sympathized with the transgender community, I privately wondered if it was a good idea to equate the struggle for equal status faced by transgender individuals with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

While a millennial, I am technically at the cutoff point. While not old enough to have seen the film when it first came out, I remember the movie The Crying Game. One of its plot points, one frequently joked about and spoofed, was how the film’s protagonist, played by Stephen Rea, discovers his new love interest is a transgender woman. His reaction is a bit over the top, but it really sums up the public view of the transgender community back then. They simply weren’t visible, and I don’t recall hearing any major news stories about the subject back then. It was a taboo subject, during a time when the gay community was slowly but surely making some slow strides towards more equal treatment.

But have things really changed that much? Is the transgender community actually more universally accepted? I asked several Hoosiers what their thoughts were on the matter, liberals and conservatives alike. And their answers may not be what many would expect.

When I asked an IU alum, who identifies as a liberal Democrat, his thoughts on the transgender community, he said that he had no animosity towards them, and that everyone has a right to live how they want to live. However, when I asked him if he himself would date a transgender woman, he said “No I would not…Just not for me. I find it kind of gross.”

This may surprise some people, as this comes from someone on the left. The mainstream media often depicts those on the left as being the ones who are inclusive, tolerant, and open-minded. Behind closed doors, however — or speaking off the record with multiple assurances they wouldn’t be named — I found that this point of view was more prevalent on the left than many would expect. To be thorough, however, I spoke to a Republican woman from the Indianapolis area. When asked her views on the transgender community, she privately stated that she held no animosity towards anyone, though she did think that transgender individuals were “confused,” and had obviously suffered some type of trauma. When asked if she would date a transgender man, she said no, for the reason that she didn’t consider them to be an actual man but a woman suffering from confusion and identity problems.

This prompted me to do some research into what the medical world’s opinion is on what is known in the medical community as gender dysphoria. Previously, it was known as gender identity disorder, before backlash from vocal LGBTQ+ rights supporters demanded it be changed. Some are even requesting that the term gender dysphoria (as it is listed in the DSM-V) be removed from future editions of the DSM.

The media’s attitude towards the issue of this medical point of view varies depending on the news source. More conservative outlets decry doctors for valuing political ideology above the well-being of the patient, judicial activism employed in the medical field essentially. Liberal/progressive outlets seem to portray the issue more along the lines of the medical community having a unified and tolerant attitude with regards to treating gender dysphoria. A sampling of articles from different online medical websites illustrates that there is a division amongst the medical community also with regards to the long-term effects of hormonal treatments for children diagnosed with gender dysphoria. One camp thinks that even though there is no real long term data on the effects of hormonal treatments used in transitioning on children, that transitioning for individuals with gender dysphoria is necessary, according to a Medscape article from August 28, 2018. The other point of view holds that due to the lack of long-term research and data about the effects of hormonal drugs on transitioning children, that further long term research and data is needed. This point of view is reflected in more conservative views towards gender dysphoria, but isn’t based so much in ignorance and fear so much as genuine medical concerns, be they founded or unfounded, that more long term research should be done and data gathered.

Of course, there remains the larger issue, the public attitude towards the transgender community. While Indiana is a red state, Indianapolis and some of the more urban areas of the state and college towns tend to be more liberal/progressive. This doesn’t change the fact that the transgender community remains one of the most highly marginalized in the nation, as well as in our state. And if even the medical community can’t come to a consensus on this subject, how can the country as a whole? Until that happens, expect more controversy with regards to what bathrooms a transgender individual is allowed to use, whether they are allowed to serve in the military, the use of preferred pronouns, and whether businesses have the right to legally discriminate against them or not. In many respects, it is reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement, though we still have a long way to go as a society. Only time will tell if any lasting progress can be made.

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