Ever since Bruce Jenner announced in April 2015 that he had become a she, the debate over transgender rights began heating up. That same month, a gender-neutral restroom opened in the White House. Now, a year later, the federal government has sued the state of North Carolina over its so-called “bathroom law,” which requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their original gender.
Many ordinary Americans are scratching their heads. The word transgender is foreign to them—along with all the other new terms that have been coined in recent months to describe a person who wants to change their gender or isn’t sure about it. These terms include “gender fluid,” “pansexual,” “bigender” and “genderqueer.” The transgender phenomenon makes no sense to people who assume we live in an orderly world in which men are men, women are women and everybody just accepts the rules of biology.
But we don’t live in an orderly world. We live in a fallen world that has been marred by accidents, wars, human error, abuse, racism, environmental disasters, poverty, disease, terrorism, social injustice, sexual deviation, addictions and personality disorders.
As the Temptations sang way back in 1970, the world is “a ball of confusion.”
Transgender people only make up 0.3 percent of the U.S. population, so chances are you have never met one. I have. Several years ago, when I was on assignment with Charisma in San Francisco, I carried on a long conversation with Stephanie, a man who was living as a woman in the Polk district of the city. Stephanie had already paid $2,300 for breast implants but he was saving money for a full sex-change operation.
His hair was bleached blond and he wore thick blue eye shadow and dark red lipstick. He had feminine mannerisms, but the hormone pills he had been taking couldn’t soften his square jaw or shrink his thick hands, which were decorated with long purple nails.
“I feel kind of lost sometimes,” he told me after I bought him a cup of coffee.
Stephanie told me his sad story. He had been raised in a trailer park near Pittsburgh, and while still living as a man he entered the Navy after high school. He even married a Filipino woman for a while, but he left that relationship and decided to identify as female. He worked as a transgender prostitute for years in San Francisco, but that income dried up as he got older. He was living on disability when I met him.
Stephanie told me he had attempted suicide more than once, and I could see the scars on his arm where he had slit his wrists. Then he said: “My stepmother told me, ‘If you ever commit suicide, don’t leave a note to us because we don’t want anyone to know you are related to us.”