‘Transgender is not a choice’

PHOTO BY JESSICA CRAWFORD

Kaleo Ramos spoke at Windward’s annual Women’s History Month events on March 17.

Imagine identifying as a male but being trapped in a woman’s body. Kaleo Ramos knew this feeling all too well. On March 17, Ramos spoke about his transgender experiences at WCC’s Women’s History Month events.

“Transgender is not a choice,” said Ramos. “I don’t think I would have chosen this for myself.”

However, Ramos said he considers himself a success story since he decided to confront his own true identity.

He explained that the transition is mentally and physically exhausting. The person has to undergo multiple surgeries, and it costs time and money.

Transgendered people are not as rare as you may think. According to transitioned Professor Lynn Conway, “Medical authority figures often quote a prevalence of 1 in 30,000 for M.T.F. (male to female) transsexualism and 1 in 100,000 for F.T.M. (female to male).”

Although more resources and research have developed over the past century for transgendered people, they’ve been around for a long time. Ramos, who is Hawaiian, first talked about transgender roles in old Hawai’i.

Those who fit this description were referred to as “mahu.” They were respected because it was believed they had two spirits. He also pointed out that they held a high standing in society.

However, over time, “mahu” became a derogatory term, but now it is welcomed by many transgendered Hawaiians.

Men who have transitioned to women refer to themselves as “mahuwahine,” and women who have transitioned to men are called as “mahukane.” The terms allow them to “embrace themselves with honor and respect.”

Another important aspect of transgender history in Hawai’i he discussed were safe houses.

In the ‘60s, kids who came out to their families and weren’t accepted sought refuge. The houses were spread out in different locations of the island. The head of the houses, called “queen mothers,” would take the kids in and acted as a safe haven.

Ramos discussed that gender identity and sexuality are two different things. Gender identity is how people label themselves as a man or a woman and how they present themselves to the world. Sexual orientation refers to the people a person is attracted to. “You love who you love,” said Ramos.

He believes that society stresses labels and how we define a person and put them into a category.

Similarly, he discussed how society slips kids into gender roles as soon as they’re born.

Before Ramos’ speech, the movie “Codes of Gender” was shown. Media scholar Sut Jhally applies sociologist Erving Goffman’s work to show how gender roles are portrayed through the media and advertising.

Advertisements subliminally portray women as submissive, weak, and gentle in poses, whereas men are portrayed as dominant, strong, and confident in their body language. These portrayals reflect the stereotyped behavior considered acceptable of the sexes.

WCC sociology professor and the event coordinator Kathleen French asked the audience, “Are ads simply showing what’s out there or are they creating it?”

The film spurred multiple questions and discussion, ranging from how society influences children’s identities and why women continue to participate in these ads.

On his own transition, Ramos said he knew something wasn’t right at the age of four when he preferred to wear his underwear like the boys and when his natural instinct was to use the boys’ restroom in kindergarten. However, he ignored it and was “tom-boyish” as a kid but felt unhappy.

In seventh grade, he “tried being a girl, and it was a lot of work.” He admitted being suicidal but didn’t want to disappoint his parents. However, he saw how accepting his family was when his cousin “came out.”

Nonetheless, he continued living his life as a woman until he was 28. He had a successful career, a husband and a son but said he didn’t want to continue to “just survive but to live.”

“I live a very powerful life since transitioning,” said Ramos. “Life became so much more meaningful.”

Today, he is a special education teacher and a LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer, intersex, asexual/ally) activist. He is involved with many organizations such as GLSEN Hawai’i, CREATE One ‘Ohana, and the LGBT Legacy Foundation.

Through his transitioning experience, he realized that the process would be close to impossible to children who had limited to resources and vowed to help them.

Currently, he is working with seven children who are in the process of transitioning.

Ramos talked about the struggles a transgender person goes through. The transition can pose a lot of mental challenges, including shame and guilt. At the same time, he or she may experience judgment from society.

It’s also a lengthy process to change his or her birth certificate to the desired sex. The first step is to receive a mental health evaluation from a professional, get real-life experience as the desired sex, receive hormone treatments and get surgery.

The surgery can cost up to $50,000, he added. Not only is it costly, but most of the time, the surgery is done in another country. This is because it is a very difficult and specialized surgery. The countries with the least expensive procedures are Thailand and Mexico.

Ramos said he was greatly inspired by his deceased grandparents. They gave back to the community, and now he wants to do the same.

“I can’t believe I’m this far,” said Ramos. “I can’t believe I’ve accomplished this much.”

by Elizabeth Voltz, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter