I wasn’t really sure what to address in this first column of 2009. I’ll be honest — I’ve had easier years than the last, emotionally. I’d be willing to bet that most, if not all, of us have faced depression at one time or another. Being trans tends toward isolation in all too many cases, mine included. But, the eternal optimist within me, which my internal cynic tries doggedly to sabotage (such duality!), brought the following to mind:

It hasn’t been long since we have come through the end-of-year holidays and this can be, and often is, a palpably depressing time of the year for many trans persons. Some of us have lost families, parents, spouses and children, as well as friends. Many are all too familiar with isolation and loneliness.

More trans people are under- and unemployed and the economic forecast is bleak for Joe the Plumber, forget Josie the Trans Rocket Scientist or Joe the Trans Computer Genius. Sure, we hear about a jobs recovery program that will be directed toward the failing U.S. infrastructure, but how many trans persons are seriously qualified to do construction work? We all do our best to maintain ourselves regarding food, heat and shelter (I, myself, have settled for a job as a third shift WalMart cashier and count myself lucky to be employed), yet the uncertainty with which we live is unsettling.

Trans Day of Remembrance was, as always, grief laden and it seems as though the statistics are not showing any kind of diminution of hate crimes, hate organizations or hate speakers. Even though many states and local jurisdictions have enacted anti-discrimination legislation that is gender identity inclusive, we have too many that refuse to move forward and even some that are moving backward. The rescinding of a local ordinance protecting trans persons in Hamtranck, Mich., and the proposed plans to back off trans protections in the D.C. penal system are two examples of this recidivism.

In too many instances, it seems as though the London of Dickens’ “Great Expectations” is eerily alive and well in 21st century America. Unemployment, homelessness, classism and the other markers of a civilization in turmoil seem to be unfolding before us. Minorities never fare well in such a climate, particularly with the additional added dose of me-firstism, something that sets this era apart from Elizabethan London or even the U.S Depression years when neighbors and neighborhoods pulled together. And, it would seem that trans individuals are the lowest of the low when we speak of minorities…the new untouchables, so to speak.

That first line in “Great Expectations” resonates: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” The second pairing of these couplets is obvious: worst, foolishness, incredulity, darkness and despair. Can we really find evidence that evinces the other sense of this great first line: best, wisdom, belief, light and hope?

Even though I, too, share in the psychic numbing and depressed sensibilities which surround us, I have predominantly been a glass-half-full person. Given that sense of optimism, and given that our lives may yet get worse before they get better, I detect a harbinger of better days to come with respect to issues of tolerance.

Forget the statistics…compare today to 40 years ago, well before the internet shrunk the world. Disparagement (an understatement) was not merely the standard fare for gender diversity, but the only fare. I lived with denial because self-preservation dictated it, whether I was aware of it or not, and I suspect this has been the case for many others who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, perhaps even ’70s. Any person eligible to vote in the 2008 election was born no later than 1990. The responses many of these 18-30-year-old individuals gave pollsters regarding discrimination issues showed a marked departure from older generations. Race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity are just no longer such a big deal. These persons will be the members of a new court of public opinion that embraces workplace, health and housing equality for everyone; supports a military free of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hypocrisy, recognizes that the salient ingredient of marriage is love, not gender, and adopts a mindset wherein individuality is not to be feared, but welcomed. Change can be a funny thing…it can happen gradually, but there are times when we see quantum leaps from one way of thinking to another. It seems as though we may be witness to humanity’s most recent evolutionary development, namely real tolerance for diversity.

Now if we can only save the planet (the really big picture) long enough for intolerance and discrimination to die and diversity to flourish, we may just see this new era’s birth.

— You can email any comments, criticisms or corrections to robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com.