By: Samie Hartley
Conversation about the transgender community leaps into the spotlight Sunday night as E! Network premieres “I Am Cait,” a reality program that follows Caitlyn Jenner as she navigates life as a transgender woman. But for the transgender community in Napa County, coming out isn’t nearly as easy or glamorous.
According to the 2012-2013 Napa County LGBTQ Needs Assessment, people living in Napa County who identify as transgender often leave the county to seek support groups and transgender healthcare, and that doesn’t sit well with LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) Connection Program Director Ian Stanley.
“People shouldn’t have to leave their hometown to find care and community,” Stanley said. "Napa County’s transgender community needs and deserves to have resources available specifically to them.”
LGBTQ Connection is in the process of forming the county’s first transgender youth support group for people ages 14-24. The group will have its first meeting, a barbecue held at LGBTQ Connection on Wednesday.
Cal Stonecipher, 18, will be unable to attend the group’s first meeting because the recent high school graduate has relocated from Napa to Olympia, Washington to attend Evergreen State College.
When people ask Stonecipher, a transgender male, about his gender identity, he tries to explain it in the simplest terms. “I tell people I was born with a female body and raised a girl, but I’ve always felt like a boy inside. I don’t like to say I was born into the wrong body. I just wasn’t assigned the correct gender at birth.”
Stonecipher said his decision to go to college out of state was partially influenced by the lack of resources for transgender people in the Napa area. Evergreen State College offers student housing specifically for LGBTQ students, and the school has several social and advocacy groups for LGBTQ students. Stonecipher said a local support group in Napa would have helped him as he prepared to transition.
“I think if I had a support group when I was still discovering my identity, I wouldn't have felt nearly as anxious about coming out,” Stonecipher said. “I still would have felt some of the same fears I do now, but it would have helped me to solidify my identity and be secure in that. It would have established a sense of community and peership, making me feel less isolated and alone."
Stonecipher said he wishes society had a better understanding of the transgender community, but knows a shift in perspective will take time.
“I wish people understood that we’re not these super-scary monsters,” Stonecipher said. “We’re just regular people. We want love and support just like everyone else does. But it’s difficult to help people understand the transgender community because it’s not something people talk about. There is a lot of ignorance out there and resistance to accepting transgender people, but we can’t help change that way of thinking if no one wants to talk about it.
“That’s what I would hope for the support group in Napa. That the people in the group find a way to support each other and get a conversation going in the community.”
Stonecipher intends to study psychology at Evergreen that he hopes he can use to offer counseling and support to transgender youth struggling with their gender identity.
“If there is going to be a change, we need to speak up and speak out, but that’s not something the trans community can do alone,” Stonecipher said. “Trans people still experience a lot of anxiety and fear because there is no way to know who supports us and who may be resistant and act out violently. I don’t feel safe because being transgender is not fully accepted. I’m constantly in fear for my life, but I hope we can change that.”
While LGBTQ Connection seeks to create community for people of all genders and sexual orientations, the first meeting of the transgender youth group is specifically for transgender youth. Those who want to show their support for the transgender community may still do so, but are respectfully asked not to attend the barbecue.
“Of course, we don’t want to exclude anyone from supporting our transgender community, especially our youth. But this support group is for them, and this first meeting is a chance for them to decide how they want to run the group. The youth group is for trans people by trans people. They may choose to open the group to LGBTQ supporters as well, but that has yet to be decided.”
Wearing clothes to match your preferred gender is one of the first steps transgender people can take to emotionally transition, Stanley said. So LGBTQ Connection is collecting donations of gently used clothing appropriate for ages 14-24. Donations may be dropped off at the LGBTQ Connection office, 780 Lincoln Ave., Napa.
Financial support for the transgender youth group is also accepted. Donations may be made at the LGBTQ Connection office or online at lgbtqconnection.org.