by KIONA BABEL and JAROD STURYCZ
In the hallways of an overcrowded public high school, where pressure to conform holds more authority than our periodically stationed security guards, conversations about identity are easily lost. This isn’t the fault of any individual student, but rather of a greater culture which threatens students with rejection if they fail to adhere to social codes. We are allowed to safely explore our identities, who we are and what we do, but only within the limitations of what is considered acceptable.
The years we spend in high school could easily be represented as a very complicated, and very stressful, balancing act, where students have to not only understand different personal, familial, and societal expectations, but also how to value them. Worse yet, sometimes the person that our culture and families wants us to be isn’t even who we want to be. Many students then feel forced to conform into something they aren’t, trading in their true identity for something that will fulfill other people’s expectations. This imposing fear of rejection acts as a shepherd, quickly herding students back towards the flock, effectively sustaining a culture of conformity.
While some fill this mold quite readily, there are many of us that still sit uneasily. We know what society wants from us, but it doesn’t always feel right. We are told all our lives that we should just “be ourselves,” so shouldn’t that be enough? For some, it can be. However, as I skim the newspaper or watch the news, it becomes glaringly clear that there is one group of students whose true identity is never respected: transgender teenagers.
For those of us who are not exposed to LGBT issues, the word “transgender” is generally avoided. When I do hear it in our hallways, the word is almost always used derogatorily, typically in feeble attempts to humiliate some “bros.” Many are quick to turn the trans identity into something vulgar, because it’s different. The trans identity does not conform. Those that use transphobic slurs most…eagerly….are those that are most afraid of abandoning their flock. By humiliating anything even remotely transgender, they are distancing themselves from the trans identity- the greatest deviation from high school’s social code. When I call this “transphobic,” the response I normally get is something along the lines of, “Well, I’m not afraid of transgender people!” Perhaps when understood literally, but that’s not what transphobic means. It means that they are afraid of what the trans identity represents, it means that they are afraid of being associated with “different,” and it means that their own sense of identity is too weak to withstand the threat of being challenged.
All I ask is to consider this: For the majority of history, “different” would have included most of us. What was considered “unacceptable” just a hundred years ago could easily be apart of our popular culture today. Society’s expectations aren’t always right, and just as our understanding of the world changes, so will they. Marsha P. Johnson did not throw the first brick at Stonewall so nearsighted teenagers could sling around transphobic slurs for fun. So, if your moral compass is broken, here’s a good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to your hypothetically-not-bigoted-grandmother, don’t let it leave your mouth in the first place.