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Living transgender in a red state

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TULSA, Okla. - Natalie Keeton is a typical 27-year-old from Ohio, living in Tulsa. She moved to Oklahoma during the recession of 2008 for better job prospects. She considers herself a nerd, enjoying such things as videogames and writing. Natalie is also transgender.

Being transgender is a feeling of personal identity and gender not aligning with their sex assigned at birth, while being cisgender is a sense of being in your right body from birth. Transgender people experience dysphoria, a feeling of unease in their own skin. Sex is the biological features of a being. Gender is the ideas attributed to it. An easy to way to remember this is to understand that sex is what is between the legs and gender is what is in the head.

“I was born and raised in a very conservative town in Ohio.” Natalie says, “I was a fundamentalist Christian and hid my struggles with who I was because I was told repeatedly I would go to hell if I ever acted on anything. I knew something was amiss very young; I liked dolls and playing house and jewelry and that was shamed out of me by a very religious extended family who also primarily composed the congregation of my church.”

The changing of sex and gender whether physically or through gender roles is common throughout nature. Parrot fish will change their sexes numerous times in their lives. Spotted hyenas can adopt traits of the opposite sex.  Penguin fathers are the caregivers and nurturers in the brood while the mothers hunt for food. Humans are beginning to catch up to this practice. In Sweden, parents (including the father) are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave.

Natalie is in a difficult situation living in Oklahoma and being transgender.

“Living in this state has caused me to pause my transition completely out of concern for my wellbeing. If a person doesn't "pass" (meaning they come off as one sex or the other and not someone in between), the least that can happen are stares and whispers everywhere they go. Last month a trans woman was attacked on the street I live on, and I had always felt rather safe from violence in a city more liberal like Tulsa. Only my friends know that I am out; I wouldn't dare apply or reveal myself on a job for concern of backlash. I'll probably wait to get on estrogen until I move. The mood in the state has definitely shifted since the end of 2016. People are more vocal in their hate.”

Despite her travels from Ohio and Oklahoma, Natalie may not be settled just yet. She’s having trouble finding specialized healthcare for transgender people. “I'm hoping and working toward Colorado with a fallback plan of the west coast. The only available option here for a trans person with limited resources who can't get a therapist to sign off on hormones would be Planned Parenthood. I'd have access to healthcare in both options.”

According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, there were an estimated 1.4 million transgender Americans in 2016. It is likely an estimated number due to the stigma of being transgender. People are not ready to come out and/or they are still questioning their gender. 42 percent of transwomen had attempted suicide, 46 percent in transmen. 57 percent reported that their families have cut them off. Between 50 and 54 percent have reported being bullied at school and 50 to 59 percent have reported discrimination at work.

Natalie has faced her own hardships and heartache. “I came out, and lost about 90 precent of my family and friends. It was heartbreaking but it's wonderful to have that happen sooner in one's life rather than later, to know who you can depend on. I'm happier by far, even with that shrunken safety net, because I know I can count on the people in my life.”

“I've gotten hate messages on Facebook for speaking out against prejudice. I don't go into women's restrooms as I don't "pass", and if you don't pass in this state there's a heavy stigma that you're probably trying to creep on children in a bathroom

“I've yet to be physically assaulted. I don't go out presenting as female due to concerns for my safety Only in controlled environments, with friends and such usually their homes, or at the Transgender support group nearby.”

The one thing Natalie wants cisgender people to know is, “transgender people are human, and this isn't something new. In the last few months, especially since the distraction tweet sent by the president, people have been voicing in the online communities that the T should be dropped from LGBT as it doesn't deal with sexuality, but gender.

Trans women fought in the Stonewall Riots and have been at the forefront for pride since its vocal inception in the states. I understand that there needs to be a new scapegoat after gay marriage was struck down by the Supreme Court, but it's a divide and conquer tactic by intolerant people trying to break apart a multi-composed group. It's testing the fence for weakness, and going after the smallest group of the LGBT community is the only first step. It's a slippery slope to rolling back human rights.

It doesn't happen overnight, it's one focused group at a time. It's a long way ‘round of saying we need to stick together and stick up for one another.”

The best advice is to treat transgender people as just what they are, people. However, there is some nuances to manners. Don’t ask for their ‘real name’ (also called ‘deadnaming,’) as this can be a major source of anxiety for a person and don’t use that name if you knew them before they came out as transgender. Do not disclose their identity as being transgender without their explicit permission, with the stigma around them, it could be dangerous.

Don’t ask about their surgical status, about what’s in their pants and other intensely private questions; they are not a freak show. If you have a person who is transgender in your life, be sure to ask how you can support them better and do not make assumptions.

Let’s take a page from Natalie’s book and just be nice to each other. 

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About the Author

Chelsea Copeland

Chelsea Copeland is a native Oklahoman, born in Tulsa and raised in Coweta. She graduated from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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