The new millennium has become more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. People are beginning to understand that gender has more to do with the mind than the body. Thanks to the likes of Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, transgender people are becoming more openly visible and accepted, but there is still a long way to go.
We recently had the privilege of interviewing activist and author, Zoey Shopmaker. She shares her experience growing up in suburban Kansas City as a woman of trans experience.
Let’s start at the very beginning — what were you like as a kid?
I was kind of a paradoxical child. On one hand, I was deeply sensitive and dreamy, very shy and reserved. Had a profound world of emotions and visions and thoughts inside of me. But at the same time, I was very outgoing. I made friends with everyone; I was a part of at least one core friend group, whether it be at elementary school, at Sunday school or on sports teams. I loved everyone. I also felt misunderstood and alone, like no matter what I did, people would never fully accept me as I was. I spent a lot of time reading and daydreaming.
Is there an exact moment when you felt like you may be trans?
Oh gosh. This is a tough one. So there was an exact moment where I just knew it completely in my heart and soul — that was when I decided to transition. I had been sputtering in a major depression, spending all my time at home wearing a blond wig and some pink pajamas I thought were the cutest thing ever. One night I had a boy over. And some time between him entering my apartment and leaving, I had this epiphany that just washed over me. And I knew without a doubt that I was a girl.
How do you think life may be different for trans kids coming of age today?
Well there’s just more exposure, more acceptance, more information and support resources. It’s a whole host of things. When I was growing up there was no Laverne Cox or Janet Mock. There was no Internet to connect with others like yourself. There were TV depictions of transgender women as prostitutes, or pathetic old men in dresses. Trans women were punch lines instead of characters with lives and human value. There’s still a long way to go for trans acceptance in this country and in the world. But trans kids today are far better off than I was growing up.
For people who have no idea what being trans or gender queer means, what do they need to know?
That every single human being has a unique and deeply personal sense of gender and gender expression. That physical anatomy has very little to do with it. That gender exists on a spectrum, not on a binary. And most importantly, that every single human being deserves the complete autonomy to decide how to express their gender and their bodies and their sexuality.
Where is America when it comes to accepting trans people?
Further along than they were six years ago. Not as far as they’re going to be six years from now. To be honest, it seems there is a whole half of this country that believes trans people are mentally ill. So what does that tell you?
How can cisgender people (people who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth) support the trans and gender queer community?
By listening. By doing their own research. By figuring out appropriate questions and asking them in appropriate contexts. By using their privilege to raise the voices and perspectives of others. By using their power and social capital to positively impact and enhance the lives of trans/gender queer folk.
Zoey is working on a novel that touches on issues of queerness, identity politics, inequality and existentialism. She has just finished applying to master’s programs where she hopes to continue her work as an author and activist.
If you fit under the LGBTQ+ umbrella or are an ally, check out the following websites. They are a great way to connect with the community and find support:
How are you an ally? How do you listen? What does gender mean for you? —Alex