Jennifer Laude’s a Human Being

The violent murder of transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, allegedly by a US Marine over the weekend in Olongapo City has outraged the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community and confused the local law enforcers and the media covering the news on what to call the murder victim. Worse, some of them believe it is Laude’s fault she was murdered; that she has somehow brought it upon herself for “pretending to be a woman.”

Yes, I am calling her Jennifer and using the pronoun she. Because she identified as a transgender woman in life and that was her chosen name. She was not “pretending” to be a woman; that was her gender identity. And if we must talk about her in death, let us talk about her with respect. Not just the respect usually accorded to the dead, but respect for her gender identity.

Perhaps, it’s time we get our definitions straight (pun intended). I am using the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) media reference guide for this purpose.

Sex is the classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy and that is the basis for what is written on the birth certificate. But sex is more than just whether one has a penis or a vagina. It is a combination of other bodily characteristics including chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs.

Gender identity is one’s internal, deeply held sense of one’s gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not visible to others.

Gender expression is the external manifestations of gender, expressed through one’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine or feminine, although what is considered masculine and feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression align with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.

Sexual orientation describes an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, or bisexual. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would identify as a straight woman.

Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, so “transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” is often viewed as disrespectful. A transgender woman is a term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman.

Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures.

It must be noted that transgender women are not cross-dressers or drag queens. Drag queens are men, typically gay men, who dress like women for the purpose of entertainment. We must be careful not to mistake one for the other or use them interchangeably. Let us use the term preferred by the individual.

Because Laude identified herself as a transgender woman, she must be called by her chosen name, which is Jennifer, not Jeffrey, the name on her birth certificate. Many transgender people are able to obtain a legal name change from a court. But some transgender people cannot afford a legal name change. Nevertheless they should be afforded the same respect for their chosen name as anyone who lives by a name other than their birth name, like celebrities, for example.

The Associated Press Stylebook provides guidelines for journalists reporting on transgender people and issues. It states: “use pronouns preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individual lives publicly.”  So, clearly, based on her photos, Laude is a she.

It is not considered appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity.

Gender identity is an integral part of a person’s identity. To characterize transgender people as “deceptive” or “pretending to be” or “posing as” a man or woman is defamatory and insulting. Not to mention displaying one’s ignorance and insensitivity.

Transgender is not a mental illness that can be cured with treatment, but it remains a common stereotype about transgender people. Transgender people often experience a persistent and authentic disconnect between the sex assigned to them at birth and their internal sense of who they are. In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association no longer includes “gender identity disorder” in its latest version of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. So it is not a disorder or a medical condition.

Everyone has the right to define his or her own gender identity. Transgender people should be recognized and treated as the gender they live in, whether or not they have undergone surgery, or their identity documents are up to date. Just because we cannot relate to their situation or we do not struggle with our own gender identity does not give us the right to disrespect them and mock the way they live. Whatever one’s gender identity is, he or she is vested with the same human rights as any human being. No exceptions.

Jennifer Laude’s a human being. Let us give her back her human dignity in death, even if she may not have been accorded that in life. Let us stop gender vilification — publicly inciting hatred towards a person or group of people which is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate that person or group of people. She was most likely killed because of gender identity discrimination perpetuated by this culture of gender vilification.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, October 16, 2014