This year, Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance fell on the heels of an election that leaned heavily on hate and fear toward marginalized people and threatened to make the fight for trans rights in the United States that much more difficult. It’s also been a difficult year overall for the trans community, as 2016 has seen the continued rise of deadly violence against trans people, the vast majority of them trans women of color. Fears within the community have heightened, as evidenced by the high volume of calls to Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline created by and for trans people, and the overwhelming response to resources like #TransLawHelp, a Twitter hashtag that connects trans people to pro bono legal services for things like name and gender marker changes to identification documents.
It’s in that spirit that I’m calling on those of us with the means to do so to go beyond candlelight vigils and social media posts and remembering the dead. Cisgender people (who, unlike transgender people, identify solely with the gender they were assigned at birth) may read the increased visibility of trans people in the media as progress enough, but many trans people who don’t have the privileges of extensive platforms, secure jobs, wealth, and whiteness are still fighting for the right to exist. There are also relatively privileged/invisible trans people like myself who need to be sure that we center the needs of the most vulnerable and/or active among us as we join and foster movements (note: I’m a nonbinary, transmasculine person who is generally misread as cis at the time of writing, and thus am not subject to transmisogyny or the threat of violence due to my trans status).
There is a huge gap between the current visibility of trans people and the number of resources available to us, especially since the mainstream media is happy to use trans issues that get attention to look progressive while failing to properly and sensitively report on transphobic crimes. There needs to be more yearlong attention and awareness of trans people in all areas of progressive activism in order to stem the shameful tide of transphobic violence that our society’s silence and complacency prevent us from acting on.
In that spirit, here are some courses of action to keep in mind no matter what day or week it is.
1) Support Organizations That Center the Needs of Trans People
You’ve been seeing posts on Facebook and elsewhere about supporting organizations like ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Though I wouldn’t discourage anyone from donating to these organizations, they are already well-known, well-established, and getting flooded with donations.
Less mentioned, though often newer and in need of more support, are organizations that specifically center the needs of trans people. Consider making recurring donations to organizations like Casa Ruby, Trans Lifeline, the Sylvia Rivera Project, and the Trans Legal Defense Fund. A Google search for trans organizations in your area can help you find ways to support grassroots work in your local communities.
You can also hold larger, more general interest organizations accountable when it comes to working for and serving trans people. There are many organizations that claim to be about reproductive justice for all that exclude trans women and ignore the rest of us; LGBTQIA+ organizations that heavily center the needs of white, gay, cisgender men; and supposedly trans-inclusive feminist organizations that fail to recognize the power of intersectional oppression and how it disproportionately affects trans women of color. If you’re already giving money to such organizations, push them to be better—it matters that they listen.
2) Support Individual Trans People, and Not Just with Your Dollars
In addition to supporting organizations, you can support individual trans people raising funds for housing, legal assistance, medical care, and other needs. If you come across funds like these through your networks or via hashtags like #TransCrowdFund and you have the resources, consider putting money directly in people’s hands, which has a certain immediacy to it.
Furthermore, if you’re not trans yourself, start leveraging your privilege as a cis person. Use that relative safety and privilege to push back against your own transphobia and transmisogyny. If you hear people spouting transmisogynistic garbage, call them out on it. Too often, people think they’re justified in harming or killing trans women because they felt “tricked,” or they think it’s fair to keep them from accessing the bathroom appropriate to their gender because of a mischaracterization of trans women as predatory.
Don’t stand for that. Call it out. Because believe it or not, these “opinions” aren’t harmless. They lead to bills like HB2 (the unconstitutional “bathroom bill”) and phenomena like the Trans Panic Defense, which allows people to use their transmisogyny as an excuse for violence. And this bullshit defense has only recently been banned in a single state—California.
It doesn’t matter if the person who has a harmful opinion of trans people thinks they have religion, science, or public consensus on their side, if they are marginalized themselves, or if they are “respectful” of trans people in other superficial ways. Real lives and livelihoods are at stake, and they are affected by individual and societal misconceptions.
And lastly, listen to the trans people in your life when they point blank tell you what they need. If they need you to call them by a different name or pronoun than you’re used to, listen. If they need you to show up for them in whatever capacity you serve—as a spouse, partner, datemate, parent, child, friend, whatever—show up. All people rely on their relationships and communities for support, and too often trans people are denied that support by the people closest to them.
3) Include Trans Women of Color in Your Activism
Listen, if you are a feminist, do not exclude trans women from your feminism. They are affected by all of the misogyny that affects cis women with added layers of transphobia and transmisogyny.
This includes weeding out small acts of cissexism, which means treating the bodies of cisgender people who are not intersex as the only valid bodies. This includes reproductive justice activism that claims to serve women while excluding trans women from that definition and ignoring or misgendering trans men and nonbinary trans people.
If you are actively working toward racial justice, don’t forget that trans women of color are disproportionately the target of police violence and hate crimes, including crimes perpetrated by members of their own racial communities. Broad movements for Black lives, for example, often tend to center the needs of cis Black men despite their relative privilege in the Black community.
The same goes for LGBTQIA+ people and activists—do not leave trans women of color out of your work around civil rights. The LGBTQIA+ movement trends heavily toward the needs of white people, cis people, and gay men, and it’s necessary to decenter the most privileged members of our communities and movements in order to support those who bear the brunt of our oppression and who have been supporting the whole community from Stonewall on.
The fact is, trans women have been showing up for their larger communities, supporting their larger communities, and fostering the art of culture of their larger communities without getting the credit for or the benefits of their labor. The active (or unintentional) shutting out of trans women is a problem that occurs in many marginalized groups and movements, including the ones mentioned above, disability activism, housing activism, and civil rights movements. Be one of the people to fight that trend. And if you’re not trans, get the hell out of trans people’s way when they are working toward their own liberation.
4) Fight Systemic Transphobia
We also need to dismantle a system of privilege and oppression in which trans people, particularly trans women of color, are not offered real protection from discrimination and violence or may see current protections reversed. Discrimination against trans people is baked into our housing, employment, health care, and political systems, all of which heighten the likelihood of poverty, homelessness, abuse, dependence on the risky and unregulated underground economy, suicide, illness, police violence, harassment, and legal trouble.
It’s not enough to respond to transphobic violence if we aren’t working to dismantle the systems that foster and enable it. That requires engagement at varying levels of politics, from grassroots activism to electoral politics.
Know what protections your employers and local governments do or don’t offer trans people. Press your senators and representatives on matters of trans rights. Boycott organizations and people whose employment practices or charitable contributions perpetuate discrimination against trans people. Do not let the normalization of transphobia in our society stop you from treating it as an important political issue that requires high-level action.
5) Affirm Trans Humanity, Survival, and Resistance
You know what’s wrong with this article and a lot of the narratives around the lives of trans people? So often we talk about trans suffering, fear, and death that many cisgender people think being trans means living in a state of illness, fear, and helplessness. Though it’s important to acknowledge the ways in which our society continues to fail trans people, we can’t reduce trans lives to murder statistics, weeks of awareness, “how to ally” lists like this one, or days of remembrance.
Trans people aren’t here for cis people to save or pity. We aren’t here to entertain, educate, or morally uplift cis people. And we sure as fuck aren’t here to be seen only when we’re respectable, cis passing, dangerously hypervisible, binary gendered, or privileged enough to feel secure in the formal capitalist economy.
So don’t limit your awareness to a single day or week. There are living trans people working for justice who are tired of being ignored and fallen trans people who needed support and protection while they were alive. Out or not, visible or not, we’re integral parts of your families, communities, workplaces, organizations, and student bodies. Remember that, too.