“How you present yourself is how people perceive you, but it’s more than that,” TransCentral PA President Joanne Carroll said.
Carroll visited Shippensburg University on Thursday to express the concerns transgender people face in communities.
Carroll is a transgender female, and since she was 4 years old, she knew something was off about her gender identity.
“I just knew something wasn’t quite right,” she said.
She remembers going to family Christmas parties and wanting the same presents her female cousins were getting. They were opening dolls, while Carroll was getting tractors.
“As much as a 4-year-old might process, that made no sense to me,” Carroll said. “I wanted to look the way they looked. I wanted to dress the way they dressed.”
People define gender as a social construct. Carroll explained that gender and sex are different. Gender is who you go to bed as, and sex is who you go to bed with.
Everyone has a sexual orientation, a gender identity and a gender expression.
Carroll joined the Air Force when she was 18 years old and retired in 1980. Later, she decided to go into the hotel business. At age 60, she transitioned from male to female. Afterward, her career in the hotel business ended and four months later she landed her first job as a female.
Carroll remembers hearing the first public story about a transgender person. In 1952, the story of Christine Jorgensen was heard around the nation.
“She went to Denmark as George and came back as Christine,” Carroll said. “If you thought Caitlyn Jenner’s story was big, back in that day that was huge.”
Carroll was 12 at the time, and after hearing that story, she realized there were others who feel the way she does. She found out that there was a solution, but since sex reassignment surgery was unheard of, there was no information.
Carroll’s mother was her biggest supporter.
When Carroll came out to her, she asked why she waited so long to tell her. Carroll explained that there is a lot of guilt that comes with it. Her response was, “Why would you feel guilty about something you were born with?”
TransCentralPA is a non-profit organization that provides support and advocacy to transgender people and their loved ones. They are located in Harrisburg and have about 200 members. They have 700 - 800 trans people from across the U.S., half of Canada and 12 from 15 foreign countries including Australia, Israel and South Africa.
“Advocacy work never stops,” Carroll said.
The transgender community has been fighting to pass the Fairness Act for Equality in Pennsylvania for the past eight legislatures.
The biggest complaint from people in the LGBT community is disrespect. The bullying they receive usually leads to suicide. About 40 percent or more of the transgender community attempts suicide, according to Carroll.
Another circumstance they deal with is low employment opportunities. The national unemployment rate is around 3.9 percent which affects about 19 percent of white trans people and 25 percent of colored trans people. One-third of transgender people are paid an average of $10,000 a year. Forty-four percent of the community is underemployed, Carroll said.
“I have a friend who has a Ph.D. and lives in San Francisco, and the best job she can get is an assistant manager in a Burger King,” she said.
Carroll said the aging transgender population is affected as much, if not more, because they are on a fixed income.
She described what is called the starfish theory. A little boy found a starfish along the beach and threw it into the water to save it. Someone asked him why, because there were tons of other fish and he would not be able to save them all.
He said, “No, but I can save that one.”
So, when someone asked Carroll why she is in the business of what she does, she said, “It’s all about the starfish.
“If I can change one mind or change the life of one person in the course of a day, I’ve done something worthwhile,” Carroll said.