I care about Human Rights. A lot. I have been to Anti Homophobia demonstrations, I do not back off from discussions about abortions, racism and feminism. If someone had asked me a few weeks ago, I would have said I feel like I am pretty well informed about social justice questions.
And then Jared Leto won an Oscar for portraying a trans woman suffering from AIDS in the blockbuster “Dallas Buyer’s Club”. Like many other people I saw this as a giant step towards equality and thought it was a great sign of Hollywood to honor such a controversial role. Just like the director of the film it did not even occur to me that an actual trans woman instead of a male actor could have played that role. And while I think his answer to the question, why he did not cast a trans actress for the movie, sounds a bit rude (“Is there any transgender actor? To my knowledge — I don’t know one. I didn’t even think about it. There’s like five, or three, or what — two? I never thought of that. I’m not aiming for the real thing. I’m aiming for an experienced actor who wants to portray the thing.”), I will admit that I have never really thought about this issue.
While homosexuality is represented in mainstream media (not saying that the representation is always done politically correct or in good way) and women, gay and racial rights and issues are openly discussed, I have gone through the past 21 years of my life without actually thinking about transgender people and their struggle.
I wanted to change this, I wanted to understand this complex topic better and I wanted to understand it on a more personal level.
Being the internet addict that I am, I decided to look for answers there and soon found the blogger, Kylie a 24 year old freelance artist and animator at Hallmark eCards from Los Angeles. Her comic strips about her transition were very relatable and after watching a few of her vlogs, I decided to ask her some questions and she was so kind to help me out:
While the age of recognisng oneself as transgender and the start of transitions vary, many transpeople, including Kylie take until they are around 20. “I didn’t know I was a trans woman until after college. Before that I thought I was a gay guy. Labeling myself gay always felt off to me, but then I just thought I was trying to come to terms with being gay. Long story short, after some therapy sessions and soul searching, I realized I am a woman all along!”
As I am telling her about my experience and my sentiment that transrights are often neglected, Kylie agrees and talks about the problems she has with including transgender people in the umbrella term LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans). “The letters “T” and “B” of “LGBT” are often neglected. It’s like, America is picking the carrots and peas out of their salad. Also, putting “transgender” in a group with gay, lesbian, and bisexual makes the general public subconsciously think that it’s a sexual orientation, it’s not, it’s a gender identity. It’s like grouping apples together with spinach, kale and bean sprouts. Yeah, apples are good for you like spinach, but it ain’t a veggie!”
However Kylie is amazed by the trans actress Laverne Cox, who is portraying a trans woman in the series “Orange Is The New Black”, which airs on Netflix. Her outspokenness about trans rights, her intelligence and fierceness have really impressed the young woman. “She is a role model! There is definitely not enough trans representation in mainstream media, but I think Orange Is The New Black is doing a good job at representing a positive trans character in TV land. I can´t wait for the second season!”
I also asked Kylie which tips she would give to someone, who is dealing with a trans person for the first time. “Just be polite and genuine.” she tells me. “Address them with their preferred pronouns and name. Don’t ask or discuss any body part. Except, if you’re going to compliment on their pretty eyes, then go ahead in full force!”
The transition process trans people have to undergo is often extremely lengthy and challenging both physically and mentally. But for Kylie one of the hardest parts about the transition, is another one. “Picking a freaking name! I can be super indecisive when it comes to certain things, and picking a girl name is one of those.” Which is why her current name Kylie might not be up to date anymore, when this article goes online. “And also, voice! I’m so bad at making my voice sound more feminine. Also, sometimes when I meet new people and introduce myself, I’ll have to come out, because I still look and sound like a dude, but I have a female name, so I’ll have to explain to them; and that gets tiring.”
I imagine sharing an experience as personal as her transition with a lot of people must be hard. “Seeing other trans people vlogging about their transition gave me a lot of information and encouragement, and I want to do the same thing for other trans brothers and sisters in transition. I also just want to put myself out there, because I honestly believe if the world saw trans people as often as they see the Moon rising and setting, everyone would’ve just gone, oh yeah, transgender people are people; the Moon rises and falls.” Kaylie tells me and I think that this is a wonderful conclusion to this story. Transgender should be discussed as openly as other human rights and while I, again, come from a very privileged position and live in a country, where the rights of homosexuals and women are openly discussed, I really feel like we can improve in providing information about transgender. I really found the informative, yet very funny and personal vlogs and comics of Kylie helpful and hope this personal insight might get more people closer to this often-neglected topic.
By Céline Sonnenberg
Picture 1-3: Kylie Wu