The Future Isn't Binary
Before I begin, I would just like to mention that trans women and cis women have very different experiences of womanhood, but that doesn’t make either experience any less valid. To be clear, I know that as a cis women I will never have to fight to get hormones, come out as a woman, or endure the hardships that come with being transgender. In this sense, I am incredibly privileged.
The gender binary is a classification of human beings into two opposite, disconnected forms: masculine and feminine. In any one culture certain qualities may be considered masculine, while in others they can be considered more feminine, but the gender binary still remains a strong socio-cultural influence in many parts of the world. Gender and sex, which is the anatomy of an organism’s reproductive system, are often mistaken for each other; however, gender-related aspects are not related to anatomy: they are often shaped by socio-cultural processes.
For example, being transgender means that someone’s gender identity or gender expression differs from the societal expectations and images associated with their assigned sex. Transgender is an umbrella term and may also include people who are nonbinary, agender, bigender, pangender, genderfluid, or genderqueer. I am not transgender, but I would like to talk about my position as an ally for trans women’s rights.
I am an ally, and I think that’s extremely important as a cisgender woman of color. I believe in standing against transphobia or any type of hate because the influence that comes from people in position of power when they stand up for those without power can be very significant. Trans people are some of the most discriminated against in our world, and in order for them to be able to feel safe we need to protect them, listen to them, and empower them. At the same time, as a person of color I understand what it’s like to feel systemic hate and would like to help other people not feel that kind of pain as well. It is important that we do not just sit on the sidelines waiting for change, but that we actively try to make it happen.
Both trans and cis women suffer from a variety of issues due to the nature of being a woman in our society. Some of these issues include unequal pay, sexual harassment, and denial of reproductive rights; there are many fights that we face together. Admittedly, cis and trans women can experience these hardships in very different ways: for example, cis women are struggling for reproductive rights in the form of access to birth control, abortion, STI testing, and vaginal health. Trans women are also fighting for reproductive rights but in the form of lack of access to health insurance, unequal treatment in healthcare settings, verbal harassment by medical providers (1 in 3 trans people report this), and healthcare providers’ lack of competence about trans healthcare. Being a woman in modern society means that your health is often compromised, and this is true for both trans and cis women. Ultimately, it’s important for cis allies to remember to include trans women in their fight for equal rights; there is no fight for women’s rights if all women are not being protected, validated, and respected. Trans women should not have to prove their womanhood in order to feel safe and appreciated.
Issues of injustice and discrimination are magnified for trans women of color; they experience higher rates of sexual abuse, hate crimes, and assault. According to the NCAVP’s 2009 report on hate and violence, 50 percent of people who died in violent hate crimes against LGBTQ people were transgender women; however, over 80% of murdered trans people in the U.S. are women of color.
The current number of trans woman murdered so far this year in the United States is 20. The number of black trans woman murdered this year is 15. Below is a list of the trans women of color who have been murdered in 2018 so far. It is important that we say their names:
• Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was killed on January 5th in North Adams, Massachusetts. She was 42 years old.
• Vicky Gutierrez was the first trans Latina killed on January 10th in Los Angeles, California.
• Celine Walker, a black trans woman, was killed on February 4th in Jacksonville, Florida, but due to misgendering by police and the media, she was not identified as a transgender woman until February 9th. She was 36 years old.
• Tonya Harvey, a black trans woman, also known as Kita, was killed on February 6th in Buffalo, New York. She was 35 years old.
• Zakaria Fry was reported missing on January 18th and her remains were found on February 18th in Stanley, New Mexico. She was 28 years old.
• Phylicia Mitchell, a black trans woman, was killed on February 23rd in Cleveland, Ohio. She was 46 years old.
• Amia Tyrae, a black trans woman, was killed on March 26th in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was 28 years old.
• Sasha Wall, a black trans woman, was killed on April 1st in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. She was 29 years old.
• Karla Patricia Flores-Pavón a black trans woman, was killed in Dallas, Texas, on May 9th. She was 26 years old.
• Nicole Hall a black trans woman, was found dead on May 12th in Dallas Texas. She was 39 years old.
• Nino Fortson, a black trans, was killed on May 13th in Atlanta, Georgia. Nino was 36 years old.
• Gigi Pierce, a trans woman of color, was killed on May 21st in Portland, Oregon. She was 28 years old.
• Antash’a Devine Sherrington English, a black trans woman, was killed in Jacksonville, Florida. She was 38 years old.
• Diamond Stephens, a black trans woman, was killed on June 18th in Meridian, Mississippi. She was 39 years old.
• Cathalina Christina James, a black trans woman, was killed on June 24th in Jacksonville, Florida. She was 24 years old.
• Keisha Wells, a black trans woman, was killed on June 24th in Cleveland, Ohio. She was in her 50s.
• Sasha Garden, a black trans woman, was killed on July 19th in Orlando, Florida. She was 27 years old.
• Vontashia Bell, a black trans woman, was killed on August 30th in Shreveport, Louisiana. She was 18 years old.
• Dejanay Stanton, a black trans woman, was killed on August 30th in Chicago, Illinois. She was 24 years old.
• Shantee Tucker, a black trans woman, was killed on September 5th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was 30 years old.
Trans people are suffering at the hands of sexism, masculinity, transphobia, and misogyny. They are dying and being discriminated against every day because of these issues. I am doing my part to help end ignorance surrounding trans community by speaking up for trans people in spaces they cannot access and educating those around me about trans issues. There is no one way to be a great ally, but I try my best and encourage you all to do the same in whatever way you can. I’ve helped my friend create a TED Talk in order to establish an understanding of trans people and trans issues. I attend events related to Trans-Remembrance Day in order to honor those lost to hate-motivated violence. I contact news companies if I ever hear something about trans issues, or any good news relating to the trans community to make sure they’re being accurately represented in the media. I sit in on trans support groups around my community. These are important steps, but they’re not the only steps. You can check out films, blogs, and movies about trans people to educate yourself about the issues within their community. You can encourage people around you to take action when trans people are in danger or facing bigotry.
As an ally being a conscientious listener is the first step you should always take. Personally, I sit and let trans people talk; sometimes oppressed people just need to know that someone cares enough to listen. I never will pressure them for details unless they are willing to reveal that information. Sometimes the urge to interject or tell your own story may arise, but over time I’ve learned to never downplay others’ experiences or compare your life story to someone else’s. People deserve to feel validated, especially when the world treats them like they don’t matter.
Lastly, I never force or encourage people to let me confront an issue related to them unless they are 100% okay with me speaking on their behalf. To become a good ally, I suggest first being a good listener, then taking action. You never know if your good intentions will cause more harm for someone down the line. If you’re around transphobic people and have the opportunity to educate them on their problematic behavior use what you’ve learned through reading, listening, and attending events to educate them on why what they’re saying or doing is harmful to trans people. Again, part of being a good ally is recognizing that your position of relative privilege can greatly help someone with less privilege. Trans women are dying at the hands of transphobia, racism, and sexism, and they need our help. I encourage you all to use some of the tactics I’ve described in order to protect them; you could end up saving someone’s life.