The identity that an individual holds has many layers, one very important layer is gender. One can define their own gender identity in a way that is cohesive with the sex that they were assigned at birth or they can be Transgender (Trans*). A person who is Trans* identifies as a gender that does not correspond to what they were assigned at birth. What does this mean? It means that humans can identify with a gender that matches the sex that they are, but they can also identify as the opposite sex, as both, or as neither. Gender can be considered fluid in the sense that it can take the form of whatever the person identifies. Trans* individuals usually, but not always, undergo a process of transitioning from one gender to the other either naturally or medically. A medical transition requires psychiatric evaluations, hormone therapy, and surgeries to change the person’s outside appearance to match their inner identity.
One can chose to complete all of the steps, some of the steps, or none of them. If a Trans* person decides that they do not want to medically transition, they typically go through a natural transition. This would mean for a female-to-male Trans* person, they would allow their body hair to grow and they might cut their hair. For a male-to-female Trans* person, they might grow their hair out and remove all of their body hair. The purpose of a natural transition is to take on as many physical characteristics of the identified gender as possible, without the help of hormones or surgery. What should matter most to Trans* people is their own happiness with themselves, but what the society and culture in which they live is highly significant as well. It is the culture and society that creates the rules, norms, and regulations that control how Trans* people are seen, treated, what rights they have, what rights are protected, and so much more (Tishelman, 2015). From America, to India, Australia, and Nepal, this essay will dive into these different cultures, examining how Trans* people live and are treated all over the world.
In the United States, there has been an increase in the amount of people who openly identify as Transgender. With the help of various media outlets, including social media sites, Trans* people can and have become more visible to the U.S. society as a whole. Thanks to social media, these people have also been given a safe place to connect to other Trans* people and create a supportive social foundation. The growth in awareness of these individuals has also brought with it support from educators, mental health professionals, and more. The increase in support has also encouraged more people to come out as Trans*, adding to more awareness, creating an upward spiral. Having a lack of support in a Transgender individuals life can have a negative influence on whether or not they express their gender identity in the first place (Dentato, 2014, p.497).
The increased awareness of the Transgender community has not only brought on positive support, it has also increased the amount of hate that is expressed towards Trans* individuals, also known as Transphobia. This has unfortunately not only gotten larger in the public population, but the U.S. Government has more recently had a negative effect on the lives of Transgender people. The Trans* community had thought that they had made great strides towards equality, especially when President Obama mentioned Transgender people in his State of the Union address in 2015; something no other president has ever done. The progress that Trans* individuals have made has come to a sudden halt, and one could even say has taken some steps backwards, as the Trump administration has created laws that prevent openly Trans* people from serving in the United States military. Along with that, there has a bill proposed that has expanded to twelve different states known as the bathroom bill. This bill would bar transgender individuals from being able to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity by requiring that all persons must use the bathroom that matches their assigned birth sex listed on their birth certificate (Parent, 2018, p. 403).
This would apply to bathrooms, locker rooms, fitting rooms, and others. The passing of this bill, and others like it is not only devisistating for those in the Transgender community, it is also incredibly unsafe for them both in their health and in their public lives. In the states where these bills are under review, it has been found that the Trans* people who live there eat and drink less and have more urinary tract infections due to not using the restroom because they are too scared or anxious. When Trans* people are forced into using the restroom that matches their biological sex, it puts them at an increased risk for sexual, verbal, and physical assault. Not only that, but the growth in anxiety over the issue can also be linked to an increase in Trans* suicide rates (Parent, 2018). Anti-transgender laws also send a message to the public saying that being Transgender is taboo and wrong, also increasing the amount of hate and violence towards the Trans* community. Overall, the United States has come a long way with Transgender rights, but it is far from equality.
In Western societies, like the United States, legal gender is typically binary, male and female. In the East, some countries such as India, are far less black and white when it comes to gender identity and expression. Indian culture differs markedly from the United States in terms of fundamental conceptualizations of gender […] and [Indian] law recognize a third gender, which finds it most visible representation in its hijras (Elischberger, 2017, p. 143). Although India has legally accepted a third gender, there is still a negative stigma that is socially attached to it. Because of this, Indian people who identify with this third gender experience much of the same kinds of hate that American Trans* people do. Transgender Indians, or hijras, are believed to account for five to six million people (Sharma, 2012) and are often linked to lower class sex workers, which is not always the case. This association creates a poor image for the hijras and leads to greater instances of violence and discrimination towards them, leading them to live in small communities or large homes together (Elischberger, 2017). India may differ from the United States in the fact that their government legally recognizes a third gender, but the societal oppression is consistent between the two countries.
Another Eastern country, close to India both geographically and legislatively when it comes to gender, is Nepal. The Nepali government is truly similar to the government of India with their ideas about gender because in 2007, the Nepali government passed laws protecting their LGBT community and creating a legal third gender (Bista, 2012). Many Transgender people in Nepal are actually more marginalized than what their government might suggest. Much like in India, these legal protections have not made much of a difference when it comes to discrimination in the public (Boyce, 2013). In Nepali society, gender is closely bound to sexuallity. If someone is non-conforming with their gender identity, then they are given the charge of sexual immorality (Johnson, 2000, p. 370) and are highly discriminated against and often disowned from their family. This, of course, leads to an increase in violence towards people who identify with this third gender. There may be laws in place that recognize and protect Transgender people in Nepal, but actions are not taken to ensure that these laws are followed and that these people are kept safe.
It is not only in the Eastern countries where there has been an incredible progression for the Transgender community. The Western country Australia has made great strides towards recognizing and protecting Trans* rights. It is now easier for Trans* individuals to obtain passports with any gender that they identify with; male, female, or neither male nor female (Sharma, 2012). The Sex Discrimination Amendment Act 2013 ensured protection for any and every gender, regardless of what sex was listed on their birth certificate and without any medical intervention. Further to this, in March, 2014 the Australian Capital Territory Government passed an amendment to the Birth Certificates Law allowing individuals to change the sex listed on their birth certificate, as well as adding a third category ?x’ (Smith, 2014, p. 16). There has also been a push to change Medicare policies to assist in decreasing the amount of discrimination that occurs in healthcare (Jones, 2016). Australia is much like India, America, and Nepal in the way that the government has set laws to protect Transgender people, but they are not always followed by their society. Violence and discrimination are still abundantly common. Trans* allies and advocates in Australia are working against the negative stigmas that have been placed on the Transgender community by creating campaigns that shed positive light on gender diversity. The idea is to show the public that Trans* people are more like them than they think, and there is no reason to be afraid of or angry at people who are different (Smith, 2014).
Overall, there are not as many differences between the Eastern and Western treatment of Transgender individuals that one might expect. There is a definite commonality between the cultures of the United States, India, Nepal, and Australia. The common theme that can be gathered from each country is that their governments have made great progress in Trans* rights, but the societies have fallen behind in their treatment of Trans* individuals. The one exception, and more surprising of it all, is the regression that is being experienced in America. Yes, great strides have been made there like there as been in the other countries, but due to more recent changes in legislation, Transgender rights are actually being threatened. It is not only societal discrimination that is hurting Trans* people in America, it is also their government. Transgender people in the United States could benefit from the government following in the footsteps of the governments of India, Nepal, and Australia. Transgender people of the world would benefit even more, if the societies surrounding them could stop the violence and discrimination and see that it is alright for these people to be different.
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