Juli Grey-Owens is a transgender woman. She says people may be confused about that, and that's OK.
"Within the four walls of the forum, you can ask us anything."
Grey-Owens, board chair and executive director at Gender Equality New York, and other panelists have been traveling across New York state in recent months, sharing their stories and trying to clear up confusion about what it's like to be a transgender, binary, or intersex person. On Wednesday night, their public forum came to Rochester.
Grey-Owens says a lot of cisgender people -- those whose self-identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth -- have questions about the transition from one gender to another.
"I think cisgender people think a lot of transgender people who go through gender transition, well, they decide it's time to transition and they go one, two, three, four, five steps and they're done and they're finished," she says. "Well, the reality is that gender transition is, for us, really a lifelong journey."
For many in the trans community, Grey-Owens explained, life is like swimming upstream, from telling your parents you identify to another gender, to explaining this to friends, classmates, and teachers, and then perhaps undergoing gender transition surgery as an adult.
Some people are confused about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, which Grey-Owens explains, are completely different things.
"I've had cisgender men come up to me and say, 'The reason you dress like that is so you can be attractive to men.' I say to them, 'That's not true in my case, because I'm attracted to women and in fact, I'm married to a cisgender heterosexual woman who loves me very much, so it's not that.' Then, I'll turn to them and say, 'When did you decide to be a man?' Usually, they'll get very angry with me and go, 'I always knew I was a man!' And I'll say to them, 'That's exactly right. That's your gender identity and that's who you are; you know who you are, and if that's true for you, why isn't this true for me?' "
At Wednesday's session, audience members were able to socialize with local transgender, non-binary, and intersex people.
"That's one of the fun things about the event," says Grey-Owens. "I think it really opens people's eyes to the fact that we could be your neighbor, we could be a co-worker, we could be a member of your family. We're just regular people. There's nothing evil about us; there's nothing strange about us, it's just who we are."
The event was held at Asbury First United Methodist Church in Rochester.