More Americans Claim To Have Seen A Ghost Than Met A Trans Person & It's The Most Depressingly Perfect Metaphor For Trans Invisibility
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Faye Seidler, a transgender activist and hospital technician, shares a perfect but also wildly depressing tidbit of information about how our fellow Americans view the transgender population: "Right now only 16 percent of Americans personally know someone who is transgender and 18 percent have seen a ghost. That's right, currently more people have seen a ghost than someone who is transgender in their life. That means we are less represented than things that likely do not exist." Seidler told the Huffington Post she made the ghost and transgender connection by comparing studies released by GLAAD and by the Pew Research Center; according to GLAAD, 16 percent of Americans report that they know someone who identifies as transgender, while according to Pew, nearly one in every five people claim to have been in contact with a ghost.
There has perhaps never been a more fitting metaphor for transgender invisibility. Fitting, and awful.
In a world where transgender people are frequently on the outskirts of society, feeling invisible can happen all too often — and it has devastating consequences. Research shows that transgender people are more likely to develop depression and anxiety, which many theorize is tied to the "minority stress theory" — essentially, "stressors induced by a hostile and homophobic culture ... often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization and may ultimately impact access to care," according to Medical Daily.
Heartbreakingly, research also shows that 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide, compared to the national average of 4.1 percent. Let that sink in: Nearly half of the transgender population has attempted suicide. Research done in Canada, which has similarly high rates of suicide for the transgender population, found that with parental support, rates of suicide dropped by 57 percent. That's an enormous number, especially when you stop and remind yourself of one simple fact: That number is more than just a series of digits; it's a series of digits that represents people and their lives. Acceptance can literally save lives.
Of course, acceptance at home isn't the only place it has a significant impact. The transgender community faces huge obstacles, both structurally and systematically, and a lot of these struggles occur outside of the home. For example, transgender youth comprise an estimated 20 to 40 percent of all homeless youth in America according to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)— which is absurdly high, given that statistics from the Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP) have found that between only 4.5 and nine percent of youth identify as LGBT. As adults, says the NCTE, one in five transgender individuals have been discriminated against when trying to find housing, and more than one in 10 have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity. Almost always, we consider access to a safe, affordable housing situation as a basic right, and yet it is a right that is frequently denied to the transgender population.
Healthcare is another major barrier for many transgender individuals. Even for those who have insurance, receiving proper medical care can be stressful at least, and terrifying at most. As we saw in the recent video "Vanessa Goes to the Doctor," misgendering often happens in medical settings, and even menial tasks, like filling out insurance paperwork or photocopying an identification card, can be dehumanizing and embarrassing.
Frightfully, it can get even worse than that. For instance, Ruby Jade Corado, founder of Casa Ruby, an LGBT community center located in Washington, DC, told the Washingtonian that more than 20 transgender patients have been denied surgery at MedStar Georgetown. In response, Marianne Worley, director of media relations for MedStar, said in a statement to the Washington Blade, "The hospital has a policy of not discriminating against patients based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression among other categories." She noted, "MedStar Georgetown University Hospital does not have a policy on assisting with gender transition; it is just not a comprehensive service that we currently offer."
There have been nationwide reports, as well, of transgender individuals seeking medical attention and never even receiving it, and that's a travesty. Reports of medical staff misgendering a patient, or refusing to call them by their preferred pronoun, should be unheard of, but in reality, it happens all too frequently. And when transgender patients are actually seen, it can be difficult for doctors to feel comfortable treating them — even when they're seeking treatment for the common flu.
What does all of this have to do with the transgender population feeling invisible? Transgender people are underrepresented in our media, and when they are represented, GLAAD reports that more than half of the time, transgender individuals play the role of a villain. Transgender issues are rarely discussed in health or sexual education in schools, and hardly ever do students learn about important transgender people in history, or read books by transgender authors. Sadly, it's no wonder more Americans believe they've met a ghost than a transgender individual. After all, with little positive discussion and minimal visibility, many Americans understand transgender issues to be "out of sight, out of mind" and find it easier, perhaps, to ruminate on ghosts than on people who are actively suffering in our country.
Wondering what you can do to help? Luckily, you're on the Internet! There are lots of great resources if you do some poking around. If your friend is transitioning and you're wondering how to help, start here. Check this out if someone close to you is transgender and experiencing body dysphoria. Read essays and watch videos from transgender people who are brave enough to share their stories. Donate to organizations working to support the transgender population. If your child comes out as transgender, get ready to do a lot of learning, but above all else: respect your child's gender identity, and embrace them with love.