Uncertain political world faces transgender Americans
STORM LAKE — Angus Pollock has made the difficult transition from woman to man, but American society is still embroiled in its slow transition to acceptance and understanding.
Angus, a student and activist, is concerned about the current political environment that faces anyone who may be viewed as different from the norm.
“Honestly, it’s pretty Fruit Loops. No matter what side you’re on, you have to know this situation isn’t normal. It’s like a circus parade gone wrong,” he told the Pilot-Tribune this week. “At the federal level there is one craziness after another, something coming out nearly every day that just stuns a person.”
He theorizes many of the social policy bombshells are “a bait and switch” to distract the public.
“The same is happening in Iowa. There were a whole lot of bills being pushed through right after the collective bargaining bill — important issues that should be discussed, but they were blown out of the water by all the attention focused on collective bargaining.”
Angus is careful about applying labels for the political environment.
“I try not to be personal about it. I’m a happy medium kind of guy. I wouldn’t call it backward, just ultra-conservative.”
Public opinion, however, has become irreversibly intertwined with the deep political chasm. “It’s a giant tug-of-war.”
For transgender Americans, and any others who may be singled out as different, it is an uncertain time.
The personal impact
“What is happening in our country is not floating well with me. As a transgender individual, it can have a direct effect to harm my civil liberties and my social freedom.”
For instance, while the voter ID issue in Iowa may seem only a minor inconvenience to some, it could potentially cost Angus his right to vote.
He is a native of Wisconsin, and that state refuses to amend his birth certificate to male status, and without that change, Iowa is reluctant to change his driver’s license.
“Am I going to be able to vote? I’m not even sure that if I traveled I would be able to get back into the country — I have a driver’s license that says I’m a female and a passport that says I’m a male.”
His marriage to wife Miranda, an educator at BVU, took place as a same-sex marriage, and the government’s and court’s stance could impact how such unions are recognized.
Issues that once seemed resolved, like the “bathroom bills” debate over trans American’s right to use the restroom of the gender they identify with, are suddenly thrust back into the spotlight.
“It’s not really about bathrooms — no more than the civil rights issues in the ‘60s were about water fountains,” Angus reflects. “It’s about restricting an entire class of citizens. Before it was trans people, it was gay and lesbian people, and before that, it was brown and black people. The scenario is the same — an attempt to make policy that justifies discrimination.
“When people talk about the bathroom bill, they aren’t picturing someone like me. They picture some guy in a beard and a dress trying to sneak into a bathroom with their wives and girlfriends. That’s never been the case. It doesn’t happen.”
He noted the reluctance of the courts to rule on the Gavin Grimm case — a highly-charged transgender issue based on a transgender schoolboy in Virginia, following the administration’s reversal of the federal government’s position. There is a similar gender identity Title IX case out of Texas, and pending appeals not being heard.
Learning to coexist
While the government may not be eager to accept transgender people, the public continues to evolve. “People have no choice. When you are thrown in with ‘x’ number of people, you eventually learn to get along,” Angus said. “I think people are trying to understand. They are realizing that the differences that the media is always trying to tell us about are not necessarily as important as we have been led to believe. It is easy to get caught up in the politics, but ultimately, underneath it we are essentially all the same ... human beings.”
What will it take to resolve the issues and achieve awareness?
“I wish I had a magic wand you could wave. The more people get involved and vocal, the better. Get involved, before this virus gets any worse. Right now, half of us don’t even vote. The voter participation rate in this country is abysmal,” Angus said. “If more people were involved and informed, I think the level of tolerance we display now would be improved.”
After the transition
At this stage in his own transition, Angus seldom experiences overt discrimination. It seems almost strange, without it.
“On the surface, I’m just another white guy to people now. I’m clearly starting to learn and understand the white male privilege. People treat me completely differently.”
In the past when Angus and his wife did business as a lesbian couple, the norm was for people to address Miranda. Now that he appears to be the male in a man-woman couple, they talk to him primarily, and invariably list his name first on any papers — subtle forms of sexism that most people might be unlikely to notice.
He also perceives a spacial difference when speaking to people. Others, especially woman, stand further away when they talk to him as a male than people did when he appeared female. He finds he is excluded when women gather.
Recently, Angus had long-awaited surgery in his transitional process.
“It took a good, solid two years to be able to do this, although I’ve spent a majority of my life waiting for opportunities,” he said.
Transgender people typically struggle to find medical help for transition and insurance willing to cover it.
After Obama administration policy changes, BVU worked with its insurance provider to include transgender care.
The window may prove temporary. “When Trump took office, it was all taken away and trans care has probably gotten even worse than it was to start with.”
The number of surgeons providing service has not increased, but as the stigma ebbs, they have become more visible and accessible, and now advertise their services openly. “The information network is better,” Angus says.
Healing from his procedure, he feels comfortable with where he is in his transition, and is uncertain whether he would ever opt for more surgery. Focusing on family, education, and activism, he finds “a renewed vigor.”
Life as a ‘transman’
For transgender individuals, some doors still remain closed.
“Now it depends if I have to disclose or not. If I don’t tell people, and I’m viewed like any other male, I don’t have problems. But when I have to disclose, or feel that I need to, it can have a varying effect. I feel that it has kept me from getting a couple of jobs locally. As soon as I close my mouth and stop talking about it, I’ve been able to get jobs.”
Now in his 40s, the former Marine continues to passionately pursue higher education opportunities.
“BV has transitioned with me,” he says. “There is nothing obstructing me here that I’m aware of, although that will perhaps become more evident as I apply for grad school.”
He is often asked to talk to classes and student groups about his experiences as a transgender person, and does so willingly and openly.
At times he is sought out by students and community members with gender-related questions, and does his best to connect people with resources.
“I feel like I can’t be a person who just sits around. I have to be a voice. There are others who won’t or can’t speak out, and I think it is vital that there are voices being heard out there.”
A touch of optimism
Serving as something of an unofficial spokesperson locally for transgender issues is not a natural role, however. “That’s not my personality, really. I’m a moderate, pretty quiet person and I don’t like attention. I’ve had to make myself be out there more.”
His studies are another step in that direction. He delves deep into neuroscience and biological psychology, with much of his research into transgender-related issues. He hopes to carve out a career to help others who face what he has faced, and perhaps to play a role in shaping future policy.
“Every talk I give, I repeat this: all people are just human beings. We just need to exist, with the same courtesies and privileges,” he says. “Transgenders, nobody, should be treated terribly.”
He describes his take on life as a transgender as, “Realistic with a touch of optimism.”
“We’re in the climate we’re in, and that means there will be growing pains for a while for our society. Ultimately, there isn’t really any choice but to move forward. Progress is often slow, but we always do seem to move forward.”