Transgender, as a term, has become much more prevalent in recent years. While the movement for transgender rights has become much more visible, especially in the past decade, the history of trans people in the United States goes back centuries. In this blog post, we will explore the history of trans people in the United States, from the pre-colonial period to the present day.
The history of transgender people in the United States starts with the pre-colonial period. In many Native American cultures, there were third-gender categories, including the Two-Spirit tradition. Two-Spirit people were individuals who did not fit into traditional gender roles and were considered to have both male and female spirits. Similarly, some Pacific Islander cultures had third-gender categories, such as the mahu in Hawaii.
Colonial and Early America
In colonial and early America, attitudes towards gender variance were quite different from those of Native American cultures. European attitudes towards gender variance were rooted in Christian beliefs about gender and sexuality, and individuals who did not conform to traditional gender roles were often punished. The story of Thomas(ine) Hall, who lived in Virginia in the 1620s, illustrates this. Thomas(ine) Hall was a person who was assigned female at birth but lived as a man. When his identity was discovered, he was publicly punished and forced to wear women’s clothing.
The 20th Century: Medicalization and Pathologization
In the 20th century, the medicalization and pathologization of transgender identities began. The rise of medical authority in defining transgender identities was led by Harry Benjamin, a German-born endocrinologist. Benjamin believed that transgender people should be allowed to transition medically, including hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery. Christine Jorgensen, who underwent sex reassignment surgery in Denmark in 1952, brought transgender issues to the public’s attention. However, many medical professionals still believed that being transgender was a mental illness.
The Stonewall Riots and the Emergence of Trans Activism
In 1969, the Stonewall Riots occurred in New York City. The riots were a response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Transgender women of color, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were at the forefront of the riots. The riots were a turning point in the history of LGBTQ+ rights and led to the emergence of trans activism. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. This opened the door for more research into transgender issues.
Trans Rights and the Modern Era
In recent years, the fight for trans rights has become much more visible. In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender woman, came out publicly. This brought attention to the struggles that transgender people face and increased the visibility of the trans community. In 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that employers could not discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The history of trans people in the United States is a long and complicated one. It is a history that includes both acceptance and persecution. While the fight for trans rights is far from over, progress has been made. By understanding the history of trans people in the United States, we can continue to work towards a more just and equitable future for all people, regardless of gender identity.Follow Tony