Recently, I got the opportunity to witness various interactions among those in the trans and non-binary community across a wide range of ages. One resounding thing I observed was that those who were on the older end had a much harder time adapting to the broader spectrum of gender-related terminology that’s only more recently been adapted (or created) by the community yet they seemed more adaptable or more forgiving of societal slipups regarding gender/pronoun usage.
“..a significant portion of the TGNC community has felt that these terms have been used too frequently by cis-society in a demeaning or overly sexualized way..”
Not that long ago transsexual and transvestite were the prevailing terms and while they are still in use today in a non-derogatory way, a significant portion of the TGNC community has felt that these terms have been used too frequently by cis-society in a demeaning or overly sexualized way that we wanted to break away from it, not to mention two words were incredibly limiting. Without getting into the actual history of words or how there’s now an onslaught of new terms (though you can check a previous article here). It’s important to acknowledge that the newer generations, while not without their own conflicts, have enough freedom to express themselves and to coin new terms as a result of those who came before them. Those who lived almost entirely in the closet and fought quietly, those who bucked the system entirely and risked everything – even death – to live as free as they could and, in doing so, laid important brickwork for us today like Marsha P. Johnson, who was so pivotal to our community and yet so unknown to our youth.
With that age gap comes a different view of the world and sometimes when you’ve spent so long fighting for just a single inch it’s hard to embrace the fact that you now have access to miles. When you’ve always had access to the miles it’s hard to understand why someone holds so steadfastly to a single inch. It’s a chasm that’s been part of our human culture since our beginning and is certainly not exclusive to the TGNC community, but we’ve seemed to have lost the part where the youth look to the elders for wisdom and the passing down of our tales. Ask the majority of the LGBT youth today what Stonewall is and most would be able to tell you it’s a bar in New York City, but far too many won’t be able to tell you why it’s such a famous bar, what the importance to our very existence today in the LGBT community it holds.
“The moral of the story – elders will always try to share their wisdom, youth will always buck the system and learn the hard way, and in the end both will have a greater respect for the lesson.”
Any time you’ve seen a movie of elder vs. youth – the inevitable butting of heads ensues and eventually, after trial and error, the youth returns to the elder with a greater understanding of what the elder tried to impart in the first place. The moral of the story – elders will always try to share their wisdom, youth will always buck the system and learn the hard way, and in the end both will have a greater respect for the lesson. But that’s not always the case, sometimes we do listen to our elders and sometimes, even, the elders listen to the youth. We are in a unique time in history right now where the two generations are able to mix and mingle. Right now it’s so important to listen to the tales and struggles of our elders to respect the freedoms we enjoy today. Alternatively, our elders need to connect with our youth as they are now the soldiers on the front lines and will soon transition to become our generals in the on-going fight for equality. We must arm them with wisdom, we must respect their need to travel their own roads of adversity, and we must be there to comfort and heal so that they can go back out even stronger.
So, to our youth – the next time you hear the “ramblings” of an older person, sit back and enjoy the tale. Ask your questions, tap into the fountain of knowledge and experience that you will not have access to forever like you would with impersonal google searches. To our elders, listen to our youth – they face unique struggles that weren’t around when you were on the battlegrounds. They also face a bold new world ahead of them that is ripe for shaping by their very hands. Respect them and teach them and our future generations may never have to worry about fighting for equality.