What makes you feel comfortable in your own skin doesn’t necessarily make you safer in the world.
That was the underlying message beneath much of the Sunday’s Transgender Awareness Panel at the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
With the help of OUTreach Denton and the UNT Pride Alliance, the church hosted four panelists to answer questions, as well as provided a reception following the event.
Panelists discussed their own journey through gender transition and what it means to live openly in a world with so much violence and ignorance toward transgender people.
Discussion was moderated by Amber Briggle, a local activist and co-chair of the Parents for Transgender Equality Council, as well as a member of the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Denton.
The panel was the first in what Briggle hopes to be an annual tradition, and it came toward the end of Transgender Awareness Week, which itself was founded to usher in Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Day of Remembrance, which began in 1999 to recognize the murder of Rita Hester, is a day set aside to remember all transgender people killed in the past year, according to the event’s website.
Tuesday will mark the 20th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. A website for the event lists victims of transgender-related hate crimes across the world, including 23 from the United States and two from Texas in the past year. In total, the website lists 311 people murdered for their gender expression, cross-dressing or another related motive.
Founded in 1949, the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship “has been on the forefront of LGBTQ+ initiatives for decades,” according to the fellowship’s website.
It is led by Rev. Donna Dolham, who had a social work practice in Maine specializing in work with “transgender and queer folks and their families,” according to her bio on the group’s website.
These factors seamlessly lead to the conclusion DUUF, as the fellowship is colloquially known, is particularly well-suited to host a panel commemorating Transgender Awareness Week.
Panelists Garrett Gantt (who takes he/him/his pronouns), Alex Sylvester (they/them/theirs), Monique Evans (she/her/hers) and Clark Pomerleau ( he/him/his) spoke unashamedly about some of the most sensitive moments in their lives.
Perhaps the most common topic was the evolution of language used to discuss issues of gender.
“It’s really as an adult that I started finding language that fit me better, eventually finding that word ‘transgender,’” Pomerleau said.
Even though words such as “non-binary” and “transgender” seem to have arrived recently, panelists argued they developed as ways to describe how many people already felt about themselves.
In other words, being trans isn’t new, but our way of talking about it is. That’s a difficult topic to wrap one’s head around, which can lead to a lot of uncomfortable misunderstandings.
“I really encourage most people to just be themselves,” Evans said. “The titles, the categories — all that stuff will come later.”
Another topic, which seemed to sit just below the surface of most questions and answers, dealt with how one can safely navigate a world so often unsafe for transgender people.
“I leave my house a lot less because I’m worried about what will happen out in the world,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester doesn’t even have to think that something catastrophic or dangerous will happen; sometimes the small stuff in life is just too much to deal with.
“Sometimes I just don’t have the energy for it,” they said.
Fear and confusion around transgender issues isn’t new. Sunday’s panel is situated firmly between a tumultuous past and an uncertain future for people who express their gender in a non-binary way — in a way other than “male” or “female.”
For a list of policy changes and directives from the Trump administration that affect LGBTQ+ communities, go to the National Center for Transgender Equality website.