Transgender people grapple with unique problems


Rochita Ghosh


Mirrors reflect the world. Walking past one, people catch a glimpse of themselves and their surroundings. Some people stop to fix something minor. Others stare, smile at their appearance and carry on with their day. But some hate the mirror and what they see. They see the mirror as a reminder of who they are, and sometimes who they are is not who they want to be.

Shane Stinson, a training and development officer at the University of Missouri, was once such a person. The mirror never showed who he truly was — a man. Instead, he saw the feminine characteristics he didn’t want to be defined by.
People such as Stinson are transgender, meaning they don’t identify with their assigned sex. In the past few years, more transgender people have been noticed in the media, most notably with Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner. Both have undergone processes to change their physical appearances and have noted they feel happier for it.
Perhaps in light of recent events, the Columbia Public School Board of Education voted Monday, Sept. 14 to change the non-discrimination policy to include gender identity; the administrative team will now work toward protecting the rights for all individuals by ensuring there is no discrimination toward faculty or students.
Jonathan Sessions, vice president of the Board of Education, said that the policy had not mentioned sexual orientation and gender identity and expression before. This change ensured that people who differed from the normative genders and orientation were protected as much as anyone else.
“Every person, regardless of race, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation should feel safe in the district,” Sessions said. “If they do not, that is not acceptable.”
RBHS itself provides private unisex bathrooms for students who identify as transgender, assistant principal Lisa Nieuwenhuizen said. This prevents the crippling anxiety that may result from deciding between the public ones. The school ensures that teachers and students refer to transgender students by their chosen name and pronouns and are treated with respect.
“Any student who feels that they are being harassed or bullied, for whatever reason, should let their administrator and counselor know,” Nieuwenhuizen said. “[That way] we can address the situation promptly and ensure that all our students feel safe and valued at RBHS.”
Stinson is glad to see more transgender people can receive assistance but believes there is room for improvement, considering what they face daily.
“We need more resources in this country that educate, support and embrace,” Stinson said. “We need resources that help people who are [transgender] thrive in this world instead of just surviving.”
For a person to thrive, this may include physically changing who they see in the mirror. Surgery is commonly used to shape a person’s body into a desirable one, as well as taking supplements of estrogen or testosterone called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This therapy results in developing a more masculine or feminine body, depending on which hormone is taken. Stinson has been on HRT for a few years and could not be more happy with his decision.
“Since beginning my physical transition, I have felt more at home in my body,” Stinson said. “I look at myself in the mirror and see the person I’ve envisioned in my head for over 20 years.”
The process of physically transitioning is extensive with several downsides. Taking hormone supplements may result in side effects currently unknown to the medical world from a lack of research, according to Ohio University. Some researchers believe the risks for cancer and other diseases increase while on the supplements, but Stinson is still satisfied with his decision.
“I feel honest,” Stinson said. “I feel like I’m living my truth.”
When a person looks in the mirror and sees a lie, the effects are dangerous; 41 percent of transgender people in the USA have attempted suicide, which is more than 25 times the rate of the general population at 1.6 percent, according to Livescience. This may stem from the fact that half of transgender women and a third of transgender men surveyed said they struggle with depression, isolation and anxiety, usually caused by how others treated them, according to the American Psychological Association.
Emily Foltz, psychologist at the Transgender Institute in Kansas City, Mo., works with transgender patients to help overcome gender dysphoria and other mental health issues. She knows the transgender community has a high suicide attempt and self-harm percentage and believes it can be lowered by offering them access to counseling.

“Since beginning my physical transition, I have felt more at home in my body,” Stinson said. “I look at myself in the mirror and see the person I’ve envisioned in my head for over 20 years.”

“Usually when an individual has support, what we find is that the statistics drop,” Foltz said. “The risk for suicide and self-harm, all of those risks drop significantly and back down to about the national average.”
At the Transgender Institute, Foltz provides affirmation in a person’s identity. When a person looks in a mirror and sees someone they can’t relate to and the world sees them as someone they are not, it can stir up anxiety and depression that may cause hope to falter, Foltz said. She hopes to help people transition into who they are by giving them the tools to accomplish this goal and become happier for it.
“When somebody comes out and they have that support, they are able to transition fully and be recognized for who they are,” Foltz said. “[Dysphoria] decreases significantly. It’s a truly exciting day when somebody is called the correct name, when somebody uses the right pronouns to talk to them. That kind of recognition and affirmation is huge.”
By Rochita Ghosh