REGION — Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, sparked a national conversation about living as a transgender when she recently shared her story about deciding to live as a woman.
North County LGBTQ Center Executive Director Max Disposti said bringing the issues of living as a transgender to light is positive. He said a public figure coming forward and talking about being transgender, or gender nonconforming, encourages others to talk about the subject with their families.
Disposti added Jenner’s Hollywood experience is valid, but also glamorizes a situation that is often very difficult for the average gender nonconforming person. There still remains a general lack of sensitivity and acceptance.
“There are a lot of things that don’t match with everyday struggles,” Disposti said. “Not all doctors are supportive and understanding. Not all parents give their support.”
Disposti said there is also public confusion about gender identity and sexual orientation.
“Sexual orientation happens through puberty,” Disposti said. “Gender identification is a physiological association that happens when you’re really young.”
A simple way the difference has been described is sexual orientation is who you go to sleep with; gender identification is who you go to sleep as.
The North County LGBTQ Center in Oceanside serves about 300 youth a week, and 18 percent are transgender.
Transgender teens are especially vulnerable. Disposti said they often feel isolated because transgender issues are not understood by society.
“Kids are struggling,” Disposti said.
Three local transgender teens committed suicide within the last year. They all had a link to the North County LGBTQ Center.
David, Aleana and Kyle took their lives when they reached a breaking point.
“It’s a tragedy we’re still dealing with,” Disposti said.
A memorial was held at the center for Alena in April that drew hundreds.
Disposti said her suicide became national news because Aleana left videos explaining her frustration by the lack of support at school, where she was bullied and adults did not step in to stop it.
Disposti said this sparked the center’s implementation of new outreach training.
He added teens continue to struggle with not being accepted for being themselves.
“We need to be supportive of our kids and sensitive to their needs,” Disposti said.
Kyle took his life in May.
The North County LGBTQ Center supports gender nonconforming individuals and their families with youth groups and family support groups.
The center also provides community outreach training to schools, hospitals and first responders to educate them on gender nonconforming and LGB issues.
Disposti said there is a lot more to it than the way people dress. Often gender nonconforming individuals do not dress outside their birth gender, but deeply identify with living as the opposite gender.
“Gender is a social constructed identity,” Disposti said. “The same for race. We’re all human. There’s no need to impose our hate.”
Disposti said it’s important for all of us to be more inclusive.
For more information on the North County LGBTQ Center go to ncresourcecenter.org.