Being transgender isn’t pleasant anywhere, but it may be better in Iowa

Written by guest writer Dylan Nikkel

Seriously, what’s not to love about Keeping Up with the Kardashians? Since I was eleven, I’ve been infatuated by the documentation of the Kardashian-Jenner family. As a devout Kardashian follower, I was promptly forced to educate myself on the concept of transgenderism when patriarch of the family, Bruce Jenner, announced that he would be transitioning into a woman (now known as Caitlyn). I was not alone in my spur-of-the-moment research – an abundance of fans and nonfans alike were relatively oblivious to the topic of transgenderism before Jenner stole the media spotlight. Prior to her announcement to transition, I possessed a close-minded view of the transgender community – in my narrow education of the topic, I had essentially been told to think that transgender people are cross-dressers.

After doing some research and actively familiarizing myself with the topic (first through Jenner’s series I Am Cait, then through in-person interactions), I’m changing my perspective on the transgender community – mostly because its members are, in fact, people. And they are pretty normal people, if I may add. Once I took an empathetic, educated standpoint, I developed a sense of curiosity about the transgender community around me (one that has seemingly been invisible my whole life). As I began to consider, I assumed that being transgender in Iowa is less difficult than in other states.

Based on what I know about attitudes in Iowa’s bigger cities versus its smaller towns, I guessed that the experience is more difficult in the smaller, more rural towns. However, Hayden Moffitt, a transgender male who attends Iowa State University, says that news of his transition was not met with negativity from the citizens of Moffit’s hometown of Eldridge, Iowa, which he describes as a “rural farm town.” “People reached out to me and gave support. It was really reassuring. I don’t know if that would have happened if I wasn’t from a small town in Iowa…I think that it kind of goes back to the whole concept of ‘Iowa nice,’” says Moffitt.

At school in Ames, Moffitt says that he has not experienced any blatant discrimination since beginning his transition last March, though he does recall being labeled a “dyke” by inebriated individuals as he walked passed bars at night before beginning his medical transition. “I think the most hurtful things anyone has said to my face [about my transition] came from my family…before they were onboard with everything,” says Moffitt.

Because he comes from a “conservative, Republican, Catholic family,” seeing eye-to-eye with his family has been the most challenging part of the transition for Moffitt. But through explanation and education, Moffitt improved relations with his family.

Sophia Stone, director of support and education group Transformations Iowa, who is from the larger area of Indianola, has similar thoughts to Moffitt when it comes to the acceptance of Iowans. “I would say it’s better to be transgender in Iowa than it is in other places in the United States,” says Stone, who is a transgender female herself. “We Iowans are pretty easy-going. We just want people to just go about their business…and we don’t really care what people do.”

In addition to social acceptance, resources are also important for the transgender community. There seem to be solid resources in Iowa – medical, social, and psychological – but there is room for more. Groups like One Iowa and Transformations Iowa provide support and information for the transgender community in the state.

At ISU, Moffitt has access to various resources that make his transition an easier, more educated process. He is a member of Gamma Rho Lambda (GRL), a gender-neutral sorority for LGBT students. The sorority has sixteen chapters, which are dispersed across the country. “It’s been a good resource to get me in contact with people all over, because I can reach out to people from different chapters,” says Moffitt. Though GRL has been perhaps the most valuable resource provided by Iowa State, Moffitt has also been able to get in contact with an LGBTQ Club on campus as well as campus therapists. These resources provide support and advice for individuals like Moffitt as they begin an unexperienced process.

However, both Moffitt and Stone emphasized a lack of medical resources in Iowa. “Finding medical resources for hormones and re-assignment surgery in Iowa is much hard than it should be,” says Moffitt. However, both Moffitt and Stone referenced how good the few resources in Iowa are, referencing Dr. Katie Imborek of the University of Iowa Healthcare LGBTQ Clinic and Dr. Joe Freund of Franklin Family Practice in Des Moines. “There are lots of doctors in Iowa,” says Stone, “but it is important to have doctors like [Katie and Joe] who are sensitive to what you are going through and who have knowledge and experience [with transgender individuals].” Hormone therapy is available (and partially covered by insurance, according to Moffitt). Full gender reassignment surgery is not available in the state; however, this is the case in many other states as well – according to Moffitt, the best options for surgery are California, Florida, Ohio, and Chicago.

The legal status of Iowa is similar to its resources – there are positive elements in place, but further steps need to be taken to maximize the quality of life for transgender individuals in Iowa. In 1965, the State of Iowa passed the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), providing comprehensive laws that prohibit discrimination of certain groups. At the time it was passed, the ICRA did not include protections of transgender people, but they were added in 2007. Iowa is one of nineteen states (including Washington, D.C.) that has these comprehensive laws. Some states vary on their laws, but the ICRA includes protections in education, housing, harassment, and employment among other areas.

Despite being ahead in its legislation, Iowa does lack hate crime laws specifically for crimes against the transgender community; these laws would increase punishments for crimes against trans people that are clearly fueled by hate and discrimination. Though there are hate crime laws regarding gender and sexual orientation, there are not yet hate crime laws that focus on gender identity.

While the ICRA provides standards of employment, there can be issues in a fair hiring process. In addition, employers can find ways to dispose of a newly outed transgender employee without explicitly using their gender identity as the reason. Sophia Stone, director of support and education group Transformations Iowa, says that, despite these drawbacks, there are opportunities for employment for transgender people in Iowa. “It can be difficult to find employers who are supportive of the transgender community,” says Stone, “but many bigger ones like Principle Financial, Wells Fargo, and Nationwide are typically good employers because they seem to not have an issue hiring trans employees.”

Perhaps more important than employment are aspects of physical and social well-being for members of the transgender community in Iowa. Even though Iowa lacks the security of hate crime laws, there are no recorded murders in Iowa of transgender individuals. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done to make the transgender community more comfortable. “I know of people in Iowa who have committed or attempted suicide because of harassments or micro-aggressions,” says Stone, “because it is too difficult to be transgender.” And Stone says that hearing stories and watching the news often instills fear for simply being transgender; even without visible threats in the area, it is frightening to think about what could happen.

Is Iowa a good place to be transgender? The short answer is no – because no state provides a perfectly equal platform for transgender individuals as far as safety, resources, social acceptance, employment, and the law. But when the pros and cons are compared to other states, it seems that Iowa is a “good” place to be transgender by certain standards. However, there are clearly strides to be taken by the citizens and leaders of the state to make it “good” to be transgender in Iowa without having to seek a positive outlook by juxtaposition.

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