On Friday, transgender people got a win when the Social Security Administration (SSA) made an announcement that they would no longer be requiring proof of irreversible gender reassignment surgery before they would change the records of an individual’s gender.
The decision is similar to that of other governmental agencies such as those of the US State Department for passport updates and the process for updating work permits, changing green cards, and other documents by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. This latest victory for the transgender population is colossal; prior to this decision, they were more open to holding inconsistent identification, without which they could not apply for loans, get insurance, vote, open bank accounts, use credit cards, or get a job.
With the work of lobbyists, and some lawsuits, almost half of all US states now have laws allowing residents to alter the designation of their gender on their driver’s license prior to surgery or a judge’s approval letter. Now, an applicant must provide a document from a health care professional indicating that they have received hormone therapy, counseling, or another type of treatment for gender-transition.
According to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, taken in 2008, out of 6,450 people, 40 percent of those responding had been harassed after using an identification card conflicting with their current gender look. Another 15 percent had been refused service and three percent of the respondents reported being attacked after presenting their ID.
An April 2011 study by The Williams Institute, a UCLA-based think tank, estimates that 0.3 percent of the adult population in the United States identifies as being transgender. They used several studies to make an estimation that the number is close to approximately 700,000 people.
With Friday’s decision by the Social Security Administration to make it a little easier for transgender people to live the life they want to live, it should be a win for us all to move forward – less bureaucracy.
However, those who identify with being transgender likely still have a long road ahead of them as they navigate life and work through the day to day challenges of gender reassignment, transition, and simply living life as Joe one day and Joanne another.
As I was doing research for this article, I could not help but remember my own experience with a co-worker who was transitioning through a gender reassignment surgery. First, he faced challenges with his decision, struggled with his co-workers, and was awkward in his own skin; and afterwards, she had an even more difficult time at work as she tried to fit in, fought to stay employed in a man’s field, and was harassed by co-workers over which restroom she was using.
I thought I would look up what we could have done better to be more supportive to help him feel more comfortable with his decision before, and make her feel more welcome after she returned to work, or even during her transition. I came upon a list that was so obtuse, at first glance, I almost overlooked it. The advice could be applied to any group, minority or majority.
Some of the advice from the list, good advice that should be used when dealing with anybody:
- Respect their gender identity – This seems simple enough; you would not call anybody by a name other than the one they use
- Watch your past tense – Avoid phrases such as “When you were a man/woman”; sort of like talking about ex-husbands and wives, a Pandora’s box better left closed
- Use language appropriate to the person’s gender – Again, no different than you would with anybody else; he, she, her, him
- Do not be afraid to ask questions – This is an interesting piece of advice, in this day and age, if you need/want to know something there are a multitude of places for you to research; if you have a personal relationship with somebody it is appropriate to ask questions, if not, it is best left alone
- Respect the transgender person’s need for privacy – Same as for anybody who is gay, straight, black, white, purple, green, blue, or striped
- Do not assume you know what the person’s experience is – Everybody is on their own path and has their own life; no two people are experiencing the same thing
- Recognize the difference between gender identity and sexuality – Do no assume gender and sexuality is the same thing, it is not; gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender all have different meanings
- Treat the transgender person the same way – Do not pay extra attention to them or draw attention to them; same as you would anybody else
- Have patience – Gender transition is a major life-changing event
My point being, there should not be a distinction between how you treat somebody going through a gender transition, somebody who is black, gay, straight, or different from you in any way. Every time we do and point out the differences, we open ourselves up to biases, racism, prejudices, and intolerance.
This small win for transgender people with the Social Security Administration was one small step towards that equality.
By Dawn Cranfield
Senior Correspondent / Product Specialist