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ASK MICHAEL: Identity isn't just about a sexual act
ASK MICHAEL: Identity isn't just about a sexual act
by Michael Raitt - SGN Contributing Writer

Yet again, an article about someone being attacked and beaten for being who they are (SGN 10/31/08). At WSU in Pullman, a couple of Transgender students, and possibly a third man because he may have been Gay, are beaten/harassed. These articles and bashings always sadden and anger me! In the minds of too many perpetrators, these bashings are justified because they focus only on sex ("fags having sex with fags") and lack the understanding of what being Transgender, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual really is.

This is an important issue for all of us because it reflects how we perceive one another and, therefore, how we react to one another.

What prompted me to write was how I interpreted the reaction of the WSU Police Chief, Mr. Bill Gardner. The sense that I got from his comments was that he was trying to understand and educate himself about the nature of hate-crimes and its victims. I applaud him for that and I wish many more leaders in every community would step up and face their own ignorance and learn more about this crime and those of us who have been victims of it. These attacks are about who we are, not about a sex act.

Let me add some perspective to this topic and explain what TGBL isn't and what it is. This is about who we are - our identity. Not just what we do - an act of sex!

Identity is a very complex issue. Webster's Dictionary defines identity as "who a person is" (please note that it doesn't say, "what a person does"). Who we are encompasses a myriad of components that are both biological and social/cultural. Our identity is about how we see and experience ourselves and how others see and experience us. On a spiritual/religious level, it is about the essence of who we are - our soul.

Our individual identities are formed through the integration of our emotional functioning, gender, race, culture, religion, history, and conscious/unconscious processes. These all come together to drive our perceptions and how we function in the world. Some of this is internal brain wiring and chemistry, and some of it is external cultural norms. I am not sure anyone has been able to quantify how much of which influences how much of the other.

What is clear is that in the straight community, these elements align in such a way that individuals perceive themselves, the world, and their actions, as "straight." This means that men feel like men and women feel like women, which results in an emotional/physical attraction toward the other. Their emotional/psychological states align with the gender they were born into and the cultural norms/roles that are placed upon them. These individuals, due to the ways all these elements come together, feel normal and healthy.

For those of us who are Gay/Lesbian, our alignment is slightly different, which results in men feeling like men and being emotionally and physically attracted to men. Women feel like women and are emotionally and physically attracted to other women. When we acknowledge this about ourselves and seek to fulfill our emotional/physical needs, we feel normal and healthy (when we are not being disparaged by extreme religious viewpoints).

For Transgender individuals, again, the alignment is such that their physical body doesn't match their emotional/psychological experiences. These individuals feel something different than who they were born as or the cultural norms/roles that are placed upon them. Their Transgender identity is about who they are and not about an act of sex. Transgender people are seeking to align their emotional/psychological experiences (the core of who they are) with their bodies so that their role and position in our culture is more integrated. When they are integrated, they are healthy, happy, and contributing members of our society. For these individuals, living and becoming a different physical gender allows them to align with the essence of who they are and, therefore, fulfill their cultural roles.

Very little of this is solely about an act of sex. There are so many other influential factors that weigh into what forms our identity.

It is my opinion that the next evolutionary step in our community and culture is to move away from a myopic, narrow-minded focus on sex acts and genitalia. We must broaden our vision and understanding of identities. Me being Gay reflects a complex interplay of emotions, perceptions, brain chemistry and wiring, and social influences. I am not simply Gay because I have sex with men. This concept is true for everyone. We are all these complex human beings.

With the understanding of what identity really is, it is a call for Transgender men and women to continue to step from the fringes of unacceptability into the arms of acceptance. This affirmation of Transgender men and women brings forth rights and protections against discrimination and hate-crimes. It is a call for others to evaluate themselves and what their focus is. Perhaps a change of focus is necessary.

Policy makers, politicians, religious and community leaders can provide necessary support to all of us - including Transgender men and women. I call on you to see us in all of our complexities, and don't just focus on an act of sex.

I wish the three individuals in Pullman every success and happiness and that they work to get over the violent assault they have experienced - I've been where you are at. I applaud Chief Gardner and encourage him to pursue justice and I hope we start looking at each other differently and hopefully these types of attacks will diminish and, one day, end.

Michael Raitt, MA LMHC, is a therapist and he writes a bi-monthly column in the SGN. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at askingmichael@comcast.net.
 

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