Despite the proliferation of rainbow flags and queer parades, and fabulous groundbreaking television shows such as “Modern Family,” “Pose” and “Transparent,” transphobia is deeply rooted in America.
So, when a celebrity couple with a combined 30 million Instagram followers announces that they plan to use the pronoun “she” instead of “he” to refer to their 12-year-old child, the simple, open-armed act of parental love is a breathtaking step forward.
“I’ve watched my son from day one become into who she now eventually has come into. Nothing changes my love. Nothing changes my responsibilities. The only thing I got to do is get smarter and educate myself more. And that’s my job.” So said former NBA star Dwyane Wade, speaking on the “All the Smoke” sports podcast.
Wade, who spent the better part of 16 years playing guard for the Miami Heat, might one day be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. But this month he earned a place of honor that supersedes any accolade he might be due by way of sport.
Wade and his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, knew their stance would spark a conversation. This is, after all, a couple that lives out loud — their holidays, their vacations, their trips to the gym or the mall are all occasions for look-at-me social media moments.
This was different. This was a listen-to-me moment. They are using their platforms to push for greater tolerance.
But it’s more than that. Wade also invited us all to enter a messy conversation about our own contradictions and prejudices. And he did so while acknowledging that he had much to learn and would make his own mistakes along the way. He was proclaiming himself as awakening instead of fully “woke.” It is an important distinction.
And the Wade/Union family chose to share its vernacular turnabout over the holidays when competing family perspectives on all kinds of issues can stir up indigestion. We know there are people who will pass the sweet potatoes and praise Wade and Union as model parents. We know some people will condemn them and go even further to mock the child. And we know there are people who will take the high road in public while secretly traveling a less generous path in their hearts or in the comfort of the locker room or beauty shop.
I won’t repeat the transhomophobic comments that surfaced on social media from people who had no compunction about trashing a 12-year-old. (You all know who YOU are.)
No one wants to be 12 again. Preteen years are hell for all kinds of reasons, but the path is easier if home is both a safe and brave place. Too many people who don’t fall within heteronormative notions of gender or sexuality don’t find that at home — or wherever they are made to feel unwelcome, unwanted and unsafe. So yes, even as celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Mj Rodriguez and Ian Harvie have gained widespread fame, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are on the rise, according to FBI data.
We don’t really know how many non-gender-conforming people were killed in 2019. Depending on who is keeping track, it is likely somewhere between 25 and 50. Many were black transgender women. One was recently killed in Brooklyn: Yahira Nesby died Dec. 19. She was 33. Shot in the chest and the leg.
According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the killings happen everywhere. Miami, Baltimore, Dallas and Dayton, Ohio. Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas. The numbers may be higher because victims are sometimes misidentified or mis-gendered in police reports. Or because families choose to keep their deaths quiet.
“While the details of the cases differ,” a 2019 Human Rights Campaign report stated, “it is clear that the intersections of racism, sexism and transphobia conspire to deny so many members of the transgender community access to housing, employment and other necessities to survive and thrive.”
They were killed because of who they were, largely ignored in death and likely misunderstood in life as they applied for jobs, attended church, shopped for groceries or headed home to their families to celebrate the holidays.
They were most certainly teased and tormented. Statistics tell us they were more likely to have been physically abused, and they had probably seen violence before from people they knew and perhaps even loved. Disdained by folks who were worried what others would think of them if their “son” was in the world wearing high heels and hoop earrings or their “daughter” took hormones to shrink her breasts and grow a beard.
Yes, America is slowly becoming more embracing of people who live along a gender spectrum, but only up to a point. Anyone within that spectrum knows that acceptance is never guaranteed, especially in a politically divided era when protections are rolling backward and when emboldened expressions of LGBTQ+ pride and activism trigger resistance from those who seek to police a narrow definition of gender identity.
America can justly applaud a celebrity athlete who adopts a new way to describe a cherished child and contemplate the adoption of “they” as the word of the year. But America remains largely silent or sadly inured to violence faced by transgender people — especially black trans women — who need actual protection as well as adequate pronouns.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.