My mentor Petey Peterson contributed to this post. Petey has worked in various capacities in LGBT education and activism for over 5 years. They currently work with LGBT student issues in higher education and student affairs.
[Trigger Warning: All links and comment sections are not guaranteed to be respectful of LGBT issues and identities.]
One specific problem area I have noticed in the libertarian community is a lack of regard for LGBT experiences and issues. Specifically, trans* issues and trans* identities are neither understood nor respected by many of those who claim to advocate for liberty. Obviously, many other people in the world do not have this respect either, but I am especially surprised to see it in the liberty movement. One of the central tenets of the liberty philosophy is that people should have the right to make the choices that are best for them without undue government influence. So, naturally, a lot of trans* issues are liberty issues too!
Trans* individuals have to fight for the right to change their name legally, to find healthcare through knowledgeable and open providers, to change their identification cards and documents to reflect their correct gender, and to seek recourse through the judicial system for discrimination or crimes.
Rather than alienating trans* individuals, we should celebrate them and welcome their fights into our general fight for liberty. In order to do this, education and respect of their experiences and lives are essential. So let’s start with terms:
Gender Identity – See also, “Sex vs. Gender” A personal sense of maleness, femaleness, or other construct of relating to one’s body according to society’s sense of the man/woman dichotomy.
Trans* – Short for “transgender.” Anyone whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior is different from what is traditionally associated with their assigned biological sex at birth and who identifies as transgender. This umbrella term may include people who have altered or wish to alter their bodies and/or self-presentation to match their gender (who may also want to be called transsexuals), and people transgress gender boundaries in some way (people with androgynous gender presentation, cross-dressers, etc.). To broaden the term further, many use an asterisk, to encompass gender variant identities that some feel go beyond the term transgender.
Queer – A reclaimed term, more individuals than ever are identifying their sexual or gender identities as queer, embracing the fluidity of the term, and can be used for many identities that are not heteronormative or heterosexual.
Simply put, everyone has a gender identity that is separate from their biological sex. Gender identity is how the mind perceives itself (and, by extension, its body). For some people, their gender identity doesn’t match up with their biological sex and, because of that, they exist as the gender identity that fits them best. I promise, it really is that simple!
Trans* folks are simply being who they are and presenting their bodies in a way that feels most comfortable and authentic for them. However, because gender is so integral to how society functions, and because we police gender on personal, political, and institutional levels this is made extremely difficult to do easily and safely.
Therefore as an individual you can do some simple things to be a better Ally:
Be respectful. Use the name and pronoun that a person asks you to.
Get to know the individual. Trans* folks are friends, family members, community members, etc. Each Trans* individual is their own person, has their own experiences, and their own needs, just like everyone else.
Educate yourself. Do not write off trans* folks or their needs just because you assume there is only a very small percent of trans* folks in the world. There are probably trans* folks around you who you never knew were there!
Question someone’s choice to use a restroom or any gendered facility.
Make any assumptions about trans* individuals other identities such as their sexual, political, religious, or professional identity.
Ever ask someone about their bodies, surgery, etc. While you may think this is a legitimate question, it is a deeply personal one and very rude to thrust on someone.
Ask someone what their “real” name is. The name a person gives you is their name. End of story.
Say “you do it so well” or “I would have never guessed you used to be a woman or man…” You may think that this is a compliment, but it implies that there’s only one way to be or look like a specific gender, or, worse, that this person is just “acting” like a this.
Understanding the lives, experiences, and issues of others and how they relate to liberty is essential to building a thriving and purposeful movement. Trans* issues, race issues, LGBT issues, women’s issues, and immigrant issues are all examples of the diverse experiences that should inform the liberty movement and its agenda. The experiences of many can come together to create powerful and wide reaching philosophies and solutions. Active tolerance and listening to others is how the liberty movement can and will grow.