Sunday, January 29, 2017

Published in a Journal

Some time ago, I was asked by my dear friend and former boss Dr. Dolores Fidishun to write an article for a library journal.  And a couple of months later she asked again.  Both times I said yes, and both times circumstances (usually the Darkness) prevented me from doing it.

Then she asked again.  I asked "when do you need it by?"  She replied "tomorrow."


I worked the closing shift at the bookstore that night.  And so it was that I sat at my computer madly typing and researching until 2:30 in the morning to complete this article.  They did some editing, and it was posted.

Gratuitous Sophie Picture

The journal is part of a wikigroup called FTF.

"ALA's SRRT Feminist Task Force (FTF) was founded in 1970 by women determined to address sexism in libraries and librarianship. FTF was the first ALA group to focus on women's issues. Other ALA women's groups fostered by FTF include the standing ALA Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL), the Committee on Pay Equity which is now the ALA-APA Standing Committee on the Salaries and Status of Library Workers, the RASD Discussion Group on Women's Materials and Women Library Users, the ACRL Women and Gender Studies Section, and the LAMA Women Administrators Discussion Group. The Feminist Task Force continues to be one of SRRT's largest and most active groups, concerned with a broad, evolving set of feminist issues."

All of which means that rethuglicans don't like them.  My kind of people!

Anyway, here is what I wrote.  The link to the story is HERE.


Assisting Transgender Patrons: Resources to Save Lives

Sophie **** , M.Ed., Instructional Design

Transgender people appear to be popping up out of nowhere. Ever since Caitlyn Jenner “came out” transpeople have been in the news, on TV, in books- everywhere. However, there have always been transgender people. There is evidence of transpeople in ancient civilizations. Native Americans called them “Two Spirits” and regarded them as Shamans. Many cultures recognize many genders, not just two.

In life, there is no true “black and white:” there are always shades of grey, and so it is with Gender. Gender is a spectrum, not a binary. The big differences are Visibility and Access to Information. In the past, transpeople suffered in isolation and silence. There were no ways to learn about their condition: Gender Dysphoria.

Gender Dysphoria is when the person’s gender identity does not match their body. For example, a biological male who has a female brain, vice versa, and many things in between are possible. In the past, they were just labeled as “queer” or worse. Many met with violent ends. Others suffered until they could suffer no more, and ended their own lives. Research has shown that 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, compared to 4.6 percent of Americans overall.

Today, with the internet and with the increased visibility of transgender people, many people who suffer with gender dysphoria realize that they are not alone, and, more important, that their condition is natural and biological, similar to, but not the same as, homosexuality.

Gender Dysphoria is a biological condition, not a mental condition. It is NOT a choice. No one would choose to be transgender. Why would anyone choose to be scorned, ridiculed, and attacked; to lose family, friends and loved ones; destroy their career or even their lives? They wouldn’t. No one would. It is thought that perhaps 0.3% of the world population is transgender, but no one is sure, as people have been afraid to disclose their identity. Many transgender people “go stealth” by moving to a new city and dropping contact with everyone they knew before. In fact, for years, this was a “standard of care.”

Gender is also independent of sexuality, although they are often confused. An easy way to remember the difference is that “Sexuality is who you want to love; Gender is who you want to be.”

These people may come to a library to find information about Gender Dysphoria, either for themselves or perhaps a loved one. After all, most transpeople report knowing that they are “different” from a very early age. (The author knew when she was four years old.)

How does a librarian handle this situation? How do we provide info for a young person who is searching for who they are? Are there ways libraries can provide safe havens for community groups? How can librarians find out about support systems or places to refer people? How can librarians help them?

These are all important questions.

First and foremost, remember that a transgender person is a human being- they are not a freak or “demonic abomination.” They are often very vulnerable as they try to find a solution to a pain they can’t describe. They will probably be embarrassed and afraid. They will make excuses like “it’s for a friend” or “I’m doing a report for school.” It is critical to treat a Transgender person just like any other library patron: with dignity and respect. Also very important: NEVER reveal to others that the patron is transgender if the person confides that to you. The effects could be disastrous for your patron, and could open your library to legal action.

Fortunately, there are many resources available online for people seeking to learn about Gender Dysphoria, with more information all of the time. Brain gender science is still a “cutting edge” research area, with new discoveries happening often.


Many organizations have an online presence, and they have a large amount of information. A Google search will uncover many. Start with the basics.

A few guidelines:
  • If the organization has the word “family” in its title, it is NOT LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) friendly. “Family” is a buzzword used by conservatives who believe that LGBT is a choice or a lifestyle or choice, which it is not.
  • Also avoid any use of the word “cure.” There is NO “cure” for gender Dysphoria. It is a natural state for transgender people.
  • If a group is particularly vilified by conservative or religious groups, they are usually good sources of facts. For example, GLAAD and HRC are often attacked as “evil” by these groups.
  • Be careful- there are MANY trans-centric pornographic sites on the internet. Stick to scientific terms (Gender Dysphoria, Transgender).

A quick internet search uncovers many good sources of information.

There are also many good sites assembled by individuals. A few are listed here.
  • Laura’s Playground
  • Lynn Conway Aside from her personal story, Ms. Conway assembled an impressive array of informative sites. This was one of sites that the author of this piece found very helpful in her own journey.
  • Susan’s Place

For personal stories, there are an endless supply of blogs available, which range in quality and appropriateness:
  • T-Central is a good place to start for blogs by transgender people (Disclosure: T-Central links to the author’s blog as well.)

There are many books written by and about transgender people, most of which are self-published. The author recommends the following as good starting points:
  • Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein
  • She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan
  • Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

Once the librarian has found resources for the patron, what is next? A good next step is to search for local support groups. Support groups are vital for transgender people, as so many feel alone. Support groups bring transgender people with others from all walks of life who understand what it means to have Gender Dysphoria. Members of support groups could be further along in their journey than the patron, and could help mentor the person.

Local Support Groups

To find local support groups, simply perform an internet search “transgender support groups (name of your town/city/area).” Again, be careful of the words “family” and "cure.”

Many support groups meet in private places like homes and doctor’s offices. However, if a library wishes to provide a meeting space, one factor is critical: Privacy. Many transgender people are not “out” to the general public, and their being “outed” could have potentially devastating effects on their lives. Groups would need a private room, or, ideally a private entrance, so members who are not “out” may come and go in secret. However, few libraries will be able to make these accommodations.

There is another very easy way to learn about transgender people in both a library setting: speak to one. Many transgender people do outreach work to public and private institutions. A quick way to connect with a transgender activist or outreach person is through a local support group or organization. Note: some transgender people charge a nominal fee for presentations to organizations. Again, performing an internet search for “transgender support groups (name of your town/city/area)” will help connect the librarian with these groups.

Transgender people face many hardships. They are shunned by family, targeted by discriminatory laws, face high unemployment, and high suicide rates. Your library can be a valuable resource for transgender people, their families, and people wishing to learn more about Gender Dysphoria. Above all, remember: Transpeople are human beings who deserve the same treatment as any other person. By treating transpeople like all others, a librarian can make a difficult journey far easier.

Sophie *****  is an author, advocate, and lectures on Transgender issues. She is a member of several Transgender support organizations, and has been living her Truth for three years. She has been published in international magazines, as well as the New York Times. She holds Bachelor's and Master’s degrees in Education from Penn State University, and previously worked for the Penn State Great Valley Library. Sophie is available to speak at and/or work with libraries on understanding the Transgender experience. Her blog, Woman Named Sophie, is frequently updated. Sophie may be contacted at


  1. Thanks for the post, Sophie! This was a great read. Can you point me to which resources could tell me more about gender dysphoria as a biological condition? I know many people think of gender as a social/cultural construct vs biological and I'd like to learn more.

    1. Most of these are currently in scientific journals. I will look some up and post.

  2. May I suggest starting with Harry Benjamin's "The Transsexual Phenomenon"? Although it's over 50 years old I found it to have a wealth of information and in fact may have been the first (or one of the earliest) books by a medical professional who challenged the "social conditioning" argument for transgender. Amazingly, a PDF is available for free on the web.