Coming out of the closet can be a difficult and traumatic experience. The confusion, questions and disappointment from friends and family is often palpable. But after coming out of the closet twice, once as a lesbian and once as a transgender man, Dayne Law is now an expert.
“Coming out as trans, or gender nonconforming, is different and in a lot of ways more difficult,” Law said. “I couldn’t slowly come out as trans or only tell some people; my beard kind of gave me away.”
Law, the transgender program coordinator at the Utah Pride Center, began hormonal and other treatments in June 2010, and couldn’t be more pleased with the results.
“I feel healthier than I have in a long time. I take better care of my body and I am just at home. I finally found where I feel at home,” Law said.
However, the transition has not always been simple and Law said he still faces discrimination – institutionalized and subtle. And he’s not alone. According to a study released by Equality Utah and the Williams Institute at UCLA, 67 percent of transgender people in Utah have faced discrimination in the workplace, 37 percent fear discrimination on a daily basis and 20 percent said they experience transphobia or harassment daily.
“Although things are slowly getting better for us, there are a lot of really important issues out there; health care, employment discrimination and homelessness are all really affecting our community right now,” Law said.
Finding health care practitioners and insurance to cover trans health issues can be extremely difficult.
Before trans people can receive medical care such as hormonal treatment, they have to receive a mental diagnosis of a gender identity disorder, Law said. The diagnosis is controversial at best, and considered offensive by many, but even with the diagnosis, insurance providers are not required to cover trans-related care, he said.
“I myself am faced with a huge dilemma. I need a procedure that would only be performed on a woman, but my insurance company only knows me as a male. If I submit the paperwork for this operation, it will be automatically denied,” Law said. “And if I try to appeal the decision, then they will stop covering my hormones. I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.”
Despite the difficulties, Law said he is grateful for a job where he can access insurance because too many trans and queer people face discrimination in the workplace. Unemployment, transphobia and expensive medical costs lead to a high rate of homelessness within the trans and gender-queer community, Law said.
Nearly one-third of openly transgender people in the United States make less than $10,000 a year and 29 percent are unemployed, according to a study conducted by the Washington Transgender Needs Assessment.
“Trans and gender-queer people are faced with unemployment, underemployment, job discrimination and have a difficult time finding adequate health care and insurance,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the national center for transgender equality. “Compounding the deplorable employment situation, trans people are often hounded out of school and forced onto the streets by family. There are so many challenges facing the trans community right now.”
The Utah Pride Center offers various programs and services for trans and gender-queer people, and the annual gender conference, which will be held Nov. 12 at Westminster College, is one of the best resources available. The free conference will have Yoseñio V. Lewis, a trans activist, as keynote speaker and other workshops and programs for all queer people and their allies.
“The Center offers so many resources that are available to everyone,” Law said. “We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable, and we especially want to reach out to our gender nonconforming brothers and sisters that are also racial and ethnic minorities.”
Programs and outreach offered by the Center and other groups are making a real impact, and the general quality of life and opportunities for trans people are improving, Keisling said.
“There is still so much work to do, but the work is very exciting. Change is happening so fast and things are improving for the trans community,” Keisling said.
Despite the difficulties he’s faced, Law said his emotional well-being and quality of life have vastly improved.
“There’s just something about finally feeling comfortable in my own skin and learning to love myself and my body,” Law said. “The programs at the Center and support from others have helped so much.”
For more information about the gender conference or the programs offered by the Center, go to UtahPrideCenter.org.