Trans Awareness Week runs from 13th to 20th November.
The last day of Trans Awareness Week, November 20th, is the annual International Trans Day of Remembrance, when people gather to mourn the loss of all the trans and gender diverse people who were murdered, or died by suicide, during the previous 12 months. There is always a long list of names. Many are trans women of colour.
This post isn’t ‘How to be a better ally’. And it’s not a gender explainer either (links at the bottom), nor a point-by-point bad science debunker. So who and what is it for?
This post is for anyone who is still unsure where they stand on trans rights. It’s about how to look at your feelings and wonder about them, for greater awareness and the benefit of all. I’m going back to the individual and the personal because you can strategise all you like, and read activist blogs and talk for hours about what you might do, but until you look at yourself and your beliefs, you won’t get very far.
Please note: Shaming (of yourself or anyone else) is not the aim here – we are all, no matter who we are, in a process of unlearning something.
History is repeating itself
Anyone who does not believe that trans rights are human rights, I will very gently suggest, is on the wrong side of history. Sure, it may not look like it right now, if you only get your information from mainstream media. An entire community gaslighted and abused – it ought to be illegal to say this stuff. (Oh, wait…) But remember what people said about gay men and lesbians back in the 80s – about contagion, perversity, the danger to children? Here are all the tropes again with another minority. How long do we have to wait for the current wave of prejudice to burn out?
Are you still unsure about trans rights?
This post is for anyone who still thinks trans and non-binary lives might be a debate – (but biology surely!) – and that there might be dangers here, but is not sure about that either, having seen trans and non-binary people coming into discussion threads with lengthy clarity and boundless energy, explaining, arguing, asserting the rights of gender diverse humans, pointing out the bad science, over and over and over.
There is a price to be paid for this seemingly boundless energy. You may not see the overwhelm and exhaustion from having to repeatedly respond to query after query after devil’s advocate after ‘I happen to believe…‘ from yet another cis person on yet another thread. It takes a colossal amount of emotional labour. Sometimes people tag trans people into very toxic threads, (perhaps even with good intentions), and they end up seeing yet more ‘opinions’ on their right to exist in the world, and wading through comments posted by overnight biologists talking about ‘large gametes’. Do you really want to contribute to this?
Trans rights are not a debate. ‘Debate’ is often a debased activity. It’s really about who gets upset first, making the other the ‘winner’. Either that, or it’s a theatre for false opposition (see: a lot of mainstream media content, unfortunately).
Where to start? With yourself.
You may have trans friends, but they’re okay as individuals, right? Or perhaps you think you don’t know anyone trans or non-binary? Actually, you probably do. They may be keeping quiet because they are unsure of you.
Expecting someone to debate their own right to exist – and only live a life free to be who they are after you have allowed them to – is inhumane. You likely know this, deep down.
How to move forward in understanding – some suggestions and thought starters
You could look at them in order, or just one or two. It may be that something in this list rings bells for you more than the rest – go with that. Whatever takes you forward.
• Be open about your unsureness, and the beliefs that support it: Let them out to air, write them down privately if you need to, share them with yourself or a trusted cis friend (don’t ask a trans person to do this work with you, as their labour will be double). Breathe. What else comes up?
• What do you fear? Next time you have that ‘Yes but what about’ feeling, ask yourself where it may be coming from. What causes you to see one minority group as having fewer rights than another? Perhaps you heard negative views in your family as a child?
• Think about when you saw something negative written about trans people. Were this writing by a trans person? If not, reflect on why you think a cis person would know better, however respected or high profile they may be. Perhaps you read even just one negative newspaper article when young, (particularly if you grew up before the internet) that somehow buried itself in your brain.
• Reflect on where you saw the negative commentary. Think about how much you actually trust mainstream media. Remember the last time you saw an article in mainstream media about a subject you are an expert in? I can pretty much guarantee it made you angry very quickly, with all the inaccuracies and mispresentations.
• Think about your own history. It may help to think back to a time that you were othered, excluded, had assumptions made about you, were threatened, or attacked. Think about the different intersections in your identity that others decided were unacceptable. If you find yourself saying ‘But but this is different!’ No, it’s not. Your feelings were your feelings. Imagine experiencing those feelings every day, because each day brings a batch of new attacks on your dignity, personhood, or right to exist. Again, it may help to talk or write about this.
• Reflect on your own gender. How did/do you know who you are? What stories do you tell yourself about your gender? I’ve linked below to some helpful books.
• Read or watch work by trans and non-binary authors, artists, and speakers. As more and more trans and non-binary people testify about their own experience (and many would dearly love not to have to do this, over and over again), they have created a body of work waiting for you to read or listen to. It’s all out there.
Not everyone is a big reader, or has time to be. There are many videos. Or you could start with Twitter or Instagram. Follow hashtags like #TransAwarenessWeek, #TransAwareness, or #Trans. Those hashtags will lead you to organisations and individuals who post a lot, about information and personal experience. You will see anger and frustration and you will start to understand why. Busy Twitter threads are a very quick way to understand how groups of people feel about their lives. Twitter can be absolutely terrible but, if you take care, you will find a lot. (The language around gender diversity evolves quite fast. Reading these fast moving media will show you how this happens.)
• Listen, read, and do the work. Please don’t ask a trans or non-binary friend – or stranger online – to educate you. Not unless they have very specifically offered this.
I have kept this post within a number of boundaries or it would have been thousands of words long.
You may have read my list of suggestions and thought they could apply to your relationship with many other groups that you do not share an identity with. And you would be right. I have been inspired to write this post by many things – my own evolving identities, the wellbeing of my communities, and the appalling misinformation being spread around.
It has also been inspired by a number of Black authors who are doing a lot of public engagement around anti-racism, particularly as Black Lives Matter gains more and more traction. I am particularly grateful to Leila Saad for the highly structured and tightly held anti-racism journey she offers in her book: Me and White Supremacy.
This is a very brief selection.
A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth. By the Trevor Project. An introductory educational resource that covers a wide range of topics and best practices on how to support transgender and nonbinary people.
My Genderation. Trans-run organisation making films for and about trans people, for everyone. YouTube channel here.
Mermaids. Charity that supports trans and non-binary children and young people under 20, and their families.
Julia Serano Tireless writer, unpicker of complexities, and debunker of myths (and biologist).
Disclosure – Documentary on Netflix in which trans actors and writers discuss the history of trans portrayal in film and TV. It will shake up your view of many popular films.
Travis Alabanza Artist and performer.
Alok Vaid-Menon Writer and performer.
Books & authors
Non-Binary Lives Anthology of 30 non-binary life stories.
Trans, A Memoir by Juliet Jacques.
Kate Bornstein Author of My New Gender Workbook and others.
Meg-John Barker Author of How to Understand your Gender (co-authored with Alex Iantaffi) and Gender-A Graphic Guide (illlustrated by Jules Scheele), and others.
Seven books about trans people of colour
Books by trans writers of colour
Children’s Books with Transgender, Non-Binary and Gender Expansive Children