The recent New York Times article, When to Out a Transgendered Dater?, written by a cis man posing as an ethicist, was notable more for its display of blatant cisupremacism and noxious subtext of anti trans sentiment than for answering its own question in any useful way. Thankfully, it’s been thoroughly and deservedly deconstructed in numerous responses (see Questioning Transphobia, The Bay Area Reporter, Feministing and Bilerico, to name but a few).
In the light of that unnecessary reminder that many cis people will always make it about them, it’s a real breath of fresh air to read about two cis parents, Venessia and Joseph Romero, who are as open, supportive and loving as any child could wish for. Four years ago they found that their elder daughter Josie is transgender and since then, according to the Arizona Daily Star (see also the site’s health blog), have worked hard to follow her lead.
And Josie is not only adamant that she’s a girl, but also that she’s transgender. She doesn’t want to hide who she is, and her family says they respect and support that. Telling her story validates her, her mother says.
“Josie is very proud of who she is,” Venessia says. “Why go through life with a secret? Where’s the health in that? There should be no shame.”
“Josie will change her mind on many issues in her life. Halfway through grad school she may switch her major,” Venessia says. “But her blood type will never change, and she’ll always be female. All through Josie’s life she has persistently and consistently identified as female. Josie is a girl, has always been a girl, and will grow up to become a woman. That is just part of who she is.”
Needless to say, the Romero family has received a lot of criticism, not least for being the focus of a significant amount of media attention.
A year ago, National Geographic contacted TransYouth Family Allies seeking a family with a transgender child, and the group contacted the Romeros. Venessia says the family gave it a lot of thought, including talking with Josie. Ultimately, they decided it would be a good idea and other media appearances soon followed.
“This world isn’t going to change on its own,” Venessia says as Josie and sister Jade, adopted from China when she was 2 and Josie was 3, ride their pink and purple bikes. “I don’t want her growing into a world that isn’t ready for her.”
Which, to me, is the heart of the matter. Articles like the NYT piece I mentioned above have only one purpose: to reinforce the ciscentric (and cissupremacist) values of a world which is transphobic by default. All anti trans rhetoric is fundamentally and intractably aimed at upholding the essentially (and essentialist) transphobic belief that trans people simply shouldn’t exist. As Alison Davison, coordinator of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance points out, in the debate about whether TS/TG people should be ‘out’:
Many transgender folks prefer to live what we call a ‘stealth’ existence.
If they are transsexual, they will go through the stages of transition and often do their best to quietly blend in. There are philosophical and political discussions about the importance of being ‘out.’
Personally, I think there is strength in being out and public. I think the rest of society needs to see faces and hear stories of transgender people so they can develop greater understanding and compassion.
Whilst I’m broadly in agreement with this, I doubt that any cis person can ever truly understand our experiences of being trans; however, it’s true that a little more acceptance wouldn’t go amiss. And a useful place to start for cis people who want to show solidarity with, and support for, our communities would be to actually listen to us with the same degree of care and attention as Venessia and Joseph Romero have shown for Josie. If we were able to feel safe enough around cis people that mentioning, or not, that we’re trans wouldn’t be putting our lives at risk whether we self-disclose, or not – then just maybe the world could take another small step towards being a better place for all of us.
Edited to add: There are a couple of YouTube videos of Tyra Banks’ interview with Josie and her family, televised in January 2010. Despite the poor quality of sound and images, either is well worth taking 10 minutes to watch. Here are the links: