The Central Coast is far from being known as a beacon of transgender activism. That description is usually awarded to bigger, more socially active cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but it doesn’t mean transgender individuals are concentrated only in those places.
The 2015 Your True Gender Conference, a three-day event hosted at Cal Poly from Oct. 9-11 for transgender or gender-questioning individuals, their family members and allies- began Friday evening. The opening lecture alone brought hundreds of people to the Chumash Auditorium.
The conference, a result of collaboration between Tranz Central Coast, the Cal Poly Pride Center and Your True Gender, was intended to provide attendees with information about all aspects of undergoing a gender transition. Professionals from around the world showed up to talk about medical procedures and legal issues and to provide general support for the transgender community.
Jessica Lynn, the founder and president of Your True Gender, encountered many intimidating societal obstacles as she struggled with her gender expression. She was born male, but knew from a very young age that her anatomy did not match up with her self-image. It was not until she was in her forties that she became completely willing and able to change that, she said.
When it comes to gender, however, change can bring a host of consequences in modern day America. First, she endured the pain of substandard surgical work.
“It cost me a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of pain,” Lynn said.
Greater awareness of transgender issues on the part of the public would have been ideal, but education remains a slow process. Transgender individuals exist regardless of whether social institutions accept and accommodate them, which is why Lynn started her organization and has pushed to make this weekend’s conference happen.
“We have people in Los Angeles and people in the Bay Area, but no one here. So we said let’s put this together to start educating the transgender community (in San Luis Obispo),” she said.
People who want to make a gender transition need resources to help them get through the process with as little pain as possible, she said.
For most transgender individuals, life is still not very easy even after the transition. Isis King, one of the presenters at the conference, is a transgender model and fashion designer. She has achieved a fair amount of success by anyone’s definition, having appeared on America’s Next Top Model, which helped launch her career in fashion. But King said things aren’t as easy for her as people may think.
“I might get a callback at an audition, and then someone will notice who I am, and I won’t get that (job),” she said. “I’m like a ‘specialty’ model.”
King’s experiences in the fashion world may not equate to those of other transgender people, but her struggle in finding work and even basic acceptance for her identity is common among those in the community.
However, things are slowly beginning to change. The first speaker on Friday night was Jamison Green, a transgender rights activist and the president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. He mentioned repeatedly that the transgender community has made headway in working together to enact favorable legislation and garner a more positive public opinion, in part because of educational events like the conference. Equally as important, the transgender community has managed to maintain its voice in the face of extreme hostility and disapproval.
“(The transgender community) has become resilient,” Green said. “And after resilience there’s something that kicks in as a motivator, and that is determination.”