Monday, May 17, 2010

Alexis Lusk fights transphobia in high school through the Dallas Voice

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and in recognition of this day, I'd like to bring you readers a saddening story that caught my eye on Friday.

Above is Alexis Lusk, a trans teen girl in Texas [photo has been removed]. Alexis, a junior at Whitehouse High School in East Texas, is out to her supportive friends and not-so-supportive parents. She has been slowly changing her presentation for the last three years by wearing unisex clothing. Recently, she edged into more presentation by wearing a bra, a blouse, and a pair of ballet flats.

Her bravery was not met with violence or harassment from students. But her slow, unobtrusive transition apparently made the administrators quite uncomfortable, enough so that she was reprimanded by the principal and told that she was creating a "distraction". Their cissexism was successful: Alexis has repressed her identity and presentation in the interest of preserving her academic career. She's an ambitious young woman who hopes to be a pharmacist or computer programmer, but as with many trans teens, this may be a matter of life and death: Alexis says that previous attempts to give up presenting herself as she wants to have led to thoughts of suicide.

Alexis, however, is a little bit tougher than administrators at Whitehouse High may think. Instead of bowing to their bullying and going back into the closet to protect herself (as would be her right), she's taking her fight to the media and the law.

She's contacted LBGT newspaper the Dallas Voice, and they've written an article on her situation that is, with an exception, a model for portraying trans folks respectfully and sympathetically. In most mainstream (and even in LGBT) news coverage, trans people are systematically misgendered or degendered or worse. Sometimes they are referred to with slurs, other times they are reduced to their trans status by turning the adjective transgender into a noun. Other times, there is inordinate focus on their transition status or sex assignment at birth. But this article by John Wright is almost entirely respectful of Alexis' body and identity, and focuses on reporting on the situation at hand.

There is one problem in the source that I noticed, which is the reference to "cross-dressing" in the third to last paragraph. Alexis is not cross-dressing: she is trying to represent her true gender through her clothes. Referring to it as cross hints that she's being deceptive. But unless my cis privilege is keeping me from seeing some problematic construction or statement, this is otherwise an excellent article.

Alexis has contacted some lawyers, Lambda Legal, and Youth First Texas, but the outlook is not particularly rosy. Her parent's lack of support means that she would have to emancipate herself. Alexis' juvenile diabetes makes her dependent upon her parents for this support, and emancipation would be a likely death sentence, as it is for many trans teens lacking support.
“All I really want to do is be myself,” said Alexis. “I understand that in today’s world that’s complicated, but there’s a point where it’s not that complicated.”
It's not that complicated. Every woman, every man, every person, cis or trans or genderqueer or otherwise, deserves and needs the right to present themselves as they see fit. This is what hateful rhetoric like Barney Frank's references "full beard and a dress" gets our country: women are restricted from full expression of themselves as they see fit, teens are kept from blooming in the stage when people blossom. The world is a hateful place, and teens like Alexis Lusk deserve admiration for being willing to blaze the trail.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who stayed alive because of Youth First Texas (and has seen them move around 3 times now!), I'm glad to hear them help Alexis.
    This is a great story that needs to be told more, and I'll be including it in next week's modus vivendi blog roundup- thank you.

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