Over the past few months, many comments made relating to trans identities have permeated both national and local discourse. From radio shows to specials in the newspapers, the positions on either side read as passionate and, often, incensed. However, there is a concerning lack of clarity on what we’re talking about and solidarity for our community’s children when it comes to these topics, which I hope to address.

Understanding the dichotomy of gender versus sex is paramount to a fruitful discussion and will hopefully help guide future policy in the Sandhills. Moreover, it is this need for understanding that informs us that we should have a policy with regard to transgender identities and people on the books – specifically, one that is proactive in protecting all our kids and hopefully reduce the horrifyingly high rate of suicide that many LGBTQ+ kids face.

Gender is the concept of oneself as it relates to society – it’s the combination of social norms that you’re comfortable with. Sex is purely the biological interpretation of one’s body. We often think of gender through the lens of sex (i.e., if one’s gender matches sex assigned at birth, that person is cisgender), but they operate differently. We are born in neither dresses nor trousers. We are born with physical characteristics that influence our personalities and genders, but neither predict nor restrict them.

Both gender and sex operate on a spectrum, even within strict definitions. Sex, interestingly, remains the far easier characteristic to demonstrate its array. From hormone levels to internal and external body parts, our bodies have a multitude of combinations. Intersex individuals, who are far too often left out of these conversations, occur in roughly 1 in 1500 births and demonstrate the beautifully diverse spectrum nature creates.

Our genders and how we see ourselves in a system are technically only restricted by the number of people that exist. The only limits to our genders are ones we place on ourselves. We should not mistake bimodal averages (i.e., that most people identify as male or female) for strict realities, and that having a nonbinary or transgender identity out of an infinite array of genders is attention-seeking. For some of us, it’s an eventuality.

The realities of gender and sex inform us of the existence of trans and nonbinary identities; however, many of the arguments put forth deny the gender of trans and nonbinary people from the beginning. This is denying a trait to someone that’s as important to their identity as race, country of origin, native language – characteristics we cannot choose. Unfortunately, this line of thought also stifles the discussion at the beginning that we as a community need so desperately.

These words and policies against our trans and nonbinary youth enact real violence on our kids. According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 94% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously consider suicide, and that percentage increases to 52% for trans and nonbinary youth. 20% of trans and nonbinary youth have attempted suicide. These numbers are worse for Black, Latinx, and Native/Indigenous kids. Our words and actions are killing our kids.

We can change that. Trans and nonbinary kids who have their pronouns respected attempt suicide at half the rate of those who don’t. Furthermore, a 2014 study from the University of British Columbia found that in schools with LGBTQ+ groups or explicitly anti-homophobic policies (i.e., pro-LGBTQ+ atmospheres), suicidal thoughts were cut in half for LGBTQ+ kids. In those same schools, heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide, too (Saewyc et al., doi 10.18357).

Trans kids exist. Intersex kids exist. Nonbinary kids exist. Whether or not we understand those identities is completely irrelevant to their existing. What is relevant is how we can create a world in which they are safe. They are people, and for that reason alone, they deserve rights.

Lastly, if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, nonbinary, pansexual, asexual, or any other identity under the rainbow, YOU ARE LOVED. You are important to this world. You are beautiful. We need you.

Respectfully,

Michael Bleggi