On Sexuality and Gender Identity

Did you know that LGBTQIA youth contemplate suicide at a rate three times that of heterosexual youth and are almost five times as likely to have attempted it?  In addition, in a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported a suicide attempt, 92% before the age of 25. LGBTQIA people are also four times more likely to experience violent victimization and six times more likely to experience violence from someone known to them.  This is a shocking and well-established long-term trend in the reality that people in the LGBTQIA community face.

 Last night, I watched a show on PBS about the mass firing and forced resignations of homosexuals, or even those who were suspected of being homosexual, by President Eisenhower and his administration with the excuse that they were a national security threat. I found myself getting more and more angry throughout the show.  My anger did not come solely from what President Eisenhower and his administration did.  It was not surprising, considering the way the country viewed homosexuality at the time, even in the medical profession.  What really spurred my anger was when I discovered this policy was not overturned in the United States until President Clinton.  How could the “Land of the free and the home of the brave” treat millions of its citizens like this even after it became understood that homosexuality is not a mental illness?  On a more personal level, how could I have not known that this policy existed? 

The good news in this show was that this decision and this policy planted the first seed of the civil rights movement for the LGBTQIA community.  It made people angry enough to start doing more about it, and a community that for years had lived in the shadows slowly began to come out of them and walk proudly in the sunlight.  Unfortunately, this effort still has a long way to go, and the ignorant, fearful, and judgmental in these matters still hold way too much power in this country.  That issue is what has prompted me to write this article.

 For years, I have believed in the right of people to love whom they choose without being judged or persecuted for it.  However, I have not felt the passion that I feel today, perhaps because as a white, heterosexual woman who has lived most of her life in the sheltered mid-west, I have not felt the confrontation of it much in my own life.  However, in the last few years, that has changed.  As certain politicians in the state where I reside push legislation that directly affects the rights of LGBTQIA people and my own child lives the life of a teenager, I am feeling more and more passionate about this.

In their friend group, my child, T,  has friends who are gay, friends who are pan sexual, and friends who are bisexual, as well as friends who are gender neutral, friends who are transitioning, and friends who identify their gender with the sex to which they were born.  In our discussions together, T has educated me in many ways, and I am grateful for the education.  My old brain was raised in a society that did not discuss such things and was not very open to people making these choices for themselves, especially in the area of gender identification, but I am working on retraining my brain to allow for all identification possibilities.  For example, in writing this paragraph, I have had to remove the word “he” twice because T identifies as they, but I am still learning to change my thinking to meet and respect their choice.  

This isn’t easy, it takes practice, but I deeply believe that it is the responsibility of each of us to respect each other for who we are.  In society today, there is a big push about the importance of being our authentic selves.  How can we say that everyone should be their authentic self but then ask those in the LGBTQIA community to not identify in a way that is authentic to their needs.  Can these be difficult waters to travel for those of us who need to be educated?  Of course they can, but it is a necessary trip if we are going to work to make this world a more loving, accepting place for all.  

If we truly believe in human rights, then we have to respect how each person identifies, even if it is not within our comfort zone.  What right do any of us have to place gender or sexuality norms on anyone else if we do not walk in their shoes, just because respecting their needs makes us a little uncomfortable? It’s lazy and it’s wrong, and we need to stop.  Nobody has the right to tell another person whom they should love.  Nobody has the right to tell another person how they should identify or how they should behave based solely on what sex they were born into.  

I think about the saying, “Love thy neighbor” and I ask, how can anyone claim to love their neighbor while judging them and placing expectations to live a certain way and love a certain way onto their shoulders, even if it is not who they really are? If my passion was music, would it be okay for you to tell me I had to be an engineer because that’s what you expected of me?  Of course not.  How are gender identity and sexuality any different, other than the fact that my being a musician likely does not make anyone else uncomfortable because they fear what they don’t understand?  

It is not okay for anyone to have to live their lives in the shadows just because those around them refuse to accept that there may be other possibilities than the ones they have ascribed to for years.  We have made strides, but it is time we become more vocal and let people know that this matters!  If we are going to have a society that lifts up its members instead of holding them down, that strives to make life better for all, we have to start telling people that their ignorance and refusal to change, grow, and expand their thinking is not okay if it destroys the lives of others.  We are better together, and it is time we start including all facets of humanity, in all its shifting, changing, and beautifully diversifying forms.  It is only then that we will become the best that we, as a species, can be.