By Grayson Barnes
TOPEKA - The TransKansas IV conference took place on Aug. 26-27 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka. Presented by the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project (K-STEP), TransKansas explores topics that affect the lives of transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary people, their families, their employers, and their allies.
Breakout sessions at the conference included ones on non-binary people, updates on transgender law, parenting transgender children, racism and trans-prejudice, and mental health, to name a few. There were also discussion forums for transgender and non-conforming people, their families, allies and associates. Many of the sessions were eligible for continuing education credit.
In “The Letter,” psychiatrist Hiten Soni, MD, of Interpersonal Psychiatry in Lawrence, talked about the need that transgender people have to, in many states, secure letters from mental health and medical providers in order to “prove” that they are transgender. This proof is often necessary in order to obtain hormone treatment, gender confirmation surgery (GCS), and, also to change gender markers on official paperwork.
Currently, Kansas will not allow anyone to change their marker on a birth certificate. Dr. Soni talked about the steps for getting a letter, but also fiercely questioned, that since those desiring general cosmetic surgery or mental health care for issues other than gender dysphoria don’t need letters, why should transgender people?
“It is an insult to a person’s sovereignty that you do not have control over your life,” he said. “That letter is for the SURGEON’S mental health and because of systemic bigotry.” He concluded that this is an institutional problem and needs to be fought wholeheartedly in order for change to happen.
Stephanie Mott, the President/Executive Director of K-STEP, gave her story about how she came to “live authentically” in her session, “Words That Work.” Her delivery was peppered with humor and a very particular way of reframing the transgender journey by using very specific language. Mott used the phrase “beginning to live authentically” as opposed to “transitioning,” because it removes the image of a transgender person having once been the opposite gender. She says people need to think of “trans people as always having been the gender they ARE -- their BODY just has to catch up.”
Mott also avoids using FTM (female to male) or MTF (male to female) for the same reasons. Avoiding phrases like “LGBTQ issues,” is also important, because it sounds like LGBTQ people are the problem, not society. Instead, Mott opts for substituting “issues faced by LGBTQ people.”
John “Hawk” Co-Cké/Wa-Ko-Sa-Moie (lady who travels) spoke on the “History, Mystery and Pride of our Two-Spirit People.” John/Wako is the Prevention Specialist for the Suicide and Substance Abuse Incentive at the Muscogee-Creek Nation Behavioral Health in Okmulgee, OK.
He/She shared that many Native American tribes have an acceptance of more than two genders. Being other than simply male or female was also associated with magical power. Acceptance by one’s tribespeople was a given. Those outside the binary were referred to as “Two-Spirits,” since they embodied both masculinity and femininity. Wako/John told stories of male-bodied women who were warriors and healers and female-bodied men who shared their skills and gifts with their people.
Alyssa Bryant is Tulsa’s only openly transgender lawyer. In “The Protections Afforded Transgender Americans by Title VII and Title IX,” Bryant reviewed a number of cases that have paved the way for changes that will, hopefully, solidify support for transgender inclusion and protection. The beginning was not favorable, since the sticking point was the wording in both Title VII and Title IX, which states “sex” and not “gender.” Although a number of circuit courts have ruled that “sex” is NOT indicative of “gender,” some newer cases at higher levels have started to affirm otherwise.
The current agreement about Title IX, is that it does protect transgender students and many schools are working to make sure they are in alignment with this understanding, because it can affect their funding. Bryant said that an excellent example of how to do this is the Tulsa School District. She was part of the group that developed the district’s policies supporting transgender students.
The “Trans-Masculine Forum,” which was an opportunity for people to ask questions and share information of interest to transmen. Participants ranged from those still questioning their gender to men who had been living authentically for some time. There were also attendees who were simply interested in what transmen might have to say about life, love, health needs, and other concerns. There was no moderator, but after introductions, everybody joined in and took part in the discussion. l