Community forum addresses gender identityBy Yasmine Regester / November 17, 2016
Issues on gender identity and being transgender have taken forefront in the state legislature this year with the passage of House Bill 2, which requires transgender people to use the public restrooms according to the sex they were assigned at birth.
On Tuesday night at The Elm Street Center, Voices for a Stronger Guilford, an open forum sponsored by the News & Record, gave people an opportunity to have an open dialogue and gain a better understanding about gender identity.
The three transgender panelists shared their personal stories, and answered questions about gender identity, what it’s like to be transgender, and misconceptions about gender identity. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from their assigned sex at birth.
“I believe that we have to have transgender people who are willing to have an open and honest conversation with the community,” said panelist Candis Cox, a board member of Equality NC.
“As a trans woman of color, it has been important to give people a strong example of someone who is not ashamed,” said Cox.
A woman who transitioned from being male, Cox said she has had to explain to people that there is a difference between being transgender and a drag queen. She said anyone can partake in drag, but transgender refers more to how you feel inside.
“People tend to think that transgender women and drag queens are one and the same. I’m a woman and I can tell you I will never volunteer to wear heels for entertainment. Anyone can partake in drag, but I am not a drag queen, I am a woman,” said Cox.
Panelist Callie Schmid, a board member of Southeastern Transgender and Ally Initiative, a non-profit assisting those in transition, noted that people often think that being transgender is a choice.
“It’s not a choice. I am a woman. I didn’t choose. A lot of folks don’t understand that. I was born the way I was born. What was between my legs and what was between my ears didn’t match,” said Schmid, a woman who transitioned from being male.
Chris Lowrance, a local web developer and UNC-Greensboro graduate, identifies as non-binary, or someone who identifies as neither male or female, said gender is relative. People can still be considered transgender even if they choose not to have a surgery or do hormone replacement.
“Not everybody necessarily wants to have a surgery. Not everyone is a man or woman, some don’t identify as either. I was assigned male at birth, my choice is to present more feminine, but I am not a woman,” said Lowrance, who also added that being transgender does not translate to someone having a bad childhood.
Panel moderator, Dr. Deanna Adkins, pediatric endocrinologist at Duke Health and also director of the Duke Center for Child and Adolescent Gender Care, explained the need for the medical community to catch up to society. It is when children are around two years old that they start to identify individuals as male or female.
“The information that we have to give the transgender community is limited,” said Adkins. “We have struggled as a medical group to understand that gender could be different from how you were assigned at birth.”
The group also discussed HB2 and the devastating impact it has had on the larger community as a whole.
“HB2 sucks. It puts a target on the back of every trans person particularly trans females. Its derogatory, shrouded in fear and misunderstanding,” said Schmid, adding that she wished this panel could have been held in front of the General Assembly to help lawmakers understand.
Supporters of HB2 have criticized the transgender community, calling them perverts or deviants, which Cox reiterated that being transgender does not make one a predator.
“We now have people in positions of high power who are inciting their supporters to be vocal and say there is something wrong with you. That really messes with the psyche of a person. Now you are labeled as a person who is a detriment to society— a predator. It’s not right,” said Cox, who acknowledged that there are 37,000 individuals who identify as transgender in North Carolina, based on Equality NC stats.
The panelists suggested support groups for children and families seeking information on being transgender.
“Your perception of yourself is your identity,” said Schmid, who also leads a support group for transgender individuals and their families. She encouraged more parents to ask questions and be supportive.
“Education is the first thing. Keep an open mind,” said Schmid.
Lowrance noted that acceptance of oneself is an important first step.
“Gender identity is about how you feel and think about yourself,” said Lowrance. “I’m such a happier and more confident person now.”