SAN FRANCISCO — President Barack Obama has quietly done more to advance rights for transgender people than any other president, but they remain among the nation’s most misunderstood minorities.
Here are five things to know about transgender America:
WHO YOU ARE, VS. WHOM YOU LOVE
Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing. The first refers to a person’s physical and emotional attractions to another person. Gender identity is a person’s strongly felt sense of being female, male or perhaps neither. That’s why transgender rights advocates are pushing for nondiscrimination laws that cover both sexual orientation (gay, lesbian or bisexual) and gender identity (transgender). Some transgender people also identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
WATCH YOUR WORDS
Terminology is constantly evolving. Words once tossed around casually are now considered offensive. A recent campaign pushed TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to stop using the words “tranny” and “she-male.” (Drag queens, such as RuPaul, are not usually considered transgender because their act is based on performance, not innate identity.)
“Sex change” has fallen out of polite use for the medical treatments that some, but not all, transgender people undergo to bring their bodies into alignment with their identities. Until recently, “sex reassignment” was the favored alternative, but it is giving way to “gender reassignment” and “gender confirmation.”
Katie Couric was called out in January after she pressed model Carmen Carrera for details about her gender transition and “private parts.” Such questions are considered rude and intrusive.
As Washington Post etiquette columnist Steven Petrow has noted, “It wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a non-transgender person about the appearance or status of their genitalia, so it isn’t appropriate to ask a transgender person that question either.” Asking transgender people what their names were before they transitioned is similarly considered ill-mannered, as is failing to make an effort to use the pronouns they prefer.
BY THE NUMBERS
Transgender people make up 0.3 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to estimates by The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA. In a 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 11 percent of respondents reported having a close friend or relative who was transgender, compared with 58 percent who had a close relationship with someone who was gay or lesbian.
And transgender people, especially women, remain vulnerable to violence. Out of the 18 bias-related killings of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people documented by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs last year, 13 victims were transgender women.
“Orange is the New Black” co-star Laverne Cox’s made history this month with her debut as the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. But several other people who identify as transgender have been in the limelight because of affiliations with other Time cover subjects.
During his boyhood in Indonesia, Obama’s nanny was a transgender woman who told The Associated Press two years ago that she did not dress as a woman around her young charge but that he “did see me trying on his mother’s lipstick, sometimes.”
When he was president, George W. Bush hosted a White House reunion for his former Yale classmates, including a transgender woman who had lived as a man when Bush knew her. Another guest told reporters that the president grabbed the classmate’s hand and exclaimed fondly, “Now you’ve come back as yourself.”
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