Transgender Teens and Bullying: Background information when reading I Am J

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I Am J

by Cris Beam

I Am J by Cris Beam
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2011, 352 pages
    Nov 2012, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Transgender Teens and Bullying

Print Review

Teens are already subject to a lot of stress, but transgender teens face myriad additional challenges. According to PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a majority of LGBT kids (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) are bullied and harassed in school. In fact, 74% of students polled heard the words faggot and dyke "frequently" in school, and 86% said that they have been "verbally harassed." The stress put upon kids by this type of ridicule can lead to unhealthy and self-destructive behaviors such as self-mutilation, eating disorders or suicide. A 1989 US Dept. of Health report found that LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people, while a 2008 report by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates that 30-40% have attempted suicide. Performance in school also tends to suffer when a teen is subject to harassment.

Organizations such as GLSEN host workshops to increase awareness, and provide publications for students, parents and educators. Student-led clubs at school can also help address LGBT issues and promote a community of acceptance. A website called TYRA (Transgender Youth Resources and Advocacy) offers a number of links for transgender youth, their parents and families, and also has a list of agencies and other websites that serve transgender youth. Good resources are out there, and the topics of LGBT and transgender are being seen more frequently in the mainstream - not just on HBO, but also on shows such as Modern Family, Glee, and movies like TransAmerica starring Felicity Huffman.

In September 2010, a media campaign called "It Gets Better" was launched by columnist Dan Savage; it includes more than 100 short videos from celebrities, politicians and many others, including a particularly powerful video made by employees of Pixar, letting LGBT kids know that there is hope, and that the bullying and negativity they are experiencing will not last.

A book of essays edited by Dan Savage, an extension of the "It Gets Better" project, came out in March 2011.

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. It can describe anyone who is searching for their place on the gender spectrum, whether they are transitioning or transitioned from Female-to-Male (FTM), or from Male-to-Female (MTF), are cross dressing, transsexual, or are questioning or changing their gender or sexual orientation. Such individuals may, or may not be undergoing surgical alteration or taking hormones. 

Although it may be difficult to understand, it is important to distinguish between FTM or MTF transgender individuals and those who are gay or lesbian. One is a gender identity, the other is a sexual orientation. For example, as a boy, J is attracted to girls, and does not consider himself a lesbian even though he inhabits a female body.

Other terms in I Am J that may be unfamiliar:

  • LBGT, GLBT, and LGBT are all acceptable variations of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender. Some people add "Q" to the end these acronyms, which stands for "Queer," a controversial term typically used only within the GLBT community, and sometimes in the specific branch of academic critical theory called Queer Theory, which looks at the social construction of sexual identity, and includes gay and lesbian studies. It is controversial because the word "queer" has long been used as a term of hate against gays/lesbians.
  • Gender Binary: Refers to the rigid dichotomy of male and female that does not allow for other variations in the gender spectrum. It includes socially constructed notions such as "pink is for girls" and "little boys should play with trucks, not dolls."  Most transgender folk reject the gender binary.
  • Transvestite: a derogatory term, according to GLAAD (The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Cross-Dresser is the preferred term, which is not indicative of sexual preference or a desire to alter one's gender. For the same reasons tranny or trannie should be avoided.
  • Transman, Transwoman, Transboy, Transgirl:  "Trans" is the adjective, while "man," "woman," "boy," or "girl" refers to the gender with which the person would like to be identified.  J, for example, is a transboy. Transgender should always be used as an adjective and not as a noun or verb (e.g. "he is a transgender person", not "he is transgender").
  • Cisgender:  Cis (which means "on the same side as") individuals are those who are not transgendered, that is, those who remain comfortable with their birth gender and who are heterosexual in orientation.  The term is frequently considered to be negative toward transgendered people because it assumes that CISgender is the "norm," which situates transgendered individuals outside of the norm, or in the realm of "abnormal."  While some people use it to simply mean "people who are not transgendered," others prefer to avoid it altogether.


Article by Cindy Anderson

This article was originally published in April 2011, and has been updated for the November 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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