TDoR 2016: Thoughts on Trans Rights After the Election

Protestors standing up against the election of Donald Trump in New York City. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Protestors standing up against the election of Donald Trump in New York City. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

This is a time in history when many of us have seen a need for action, including the trans community. The Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience this year happened in the context of both increasing visibility and significant danger for trans and gender-nonconforming people. In July, GLAAD described 2016 as “the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States.” Political fights over access to public restrooms for trans people reached a height in North Carolina, reaching more national attention as part of larger debates over our legal rights. This year and the U.S. presidential campaign specifically was filled with argument over the civil rights of many marginalized groups. 

On November 8th, many people’s worst fears about this country were reinforced by a national election that enabled and seemed to validate many forms of bigotry and violence. Racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are becoming louder, and those who promote them are demanding power past the institutional oppression that was already present. What is happening is not new, but it seems to have worsened even as many have seen our society as continually progressing towards diversity and tolerance.

TDoR on November 20th carried even more weight than before. As a trans person, it felt like I might be mourning for the future as well as for those who had already been lost to us.

There is a long history of the most marginalized in our community, primarily trans women of color, doing the most for all of our rights and wellbeing. The Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria riots in the late 1960s, often considered the start of the modern trans and LGBTQIA+ rights movements, were mainly the work of trans women of color with few resources. Trans women of color also experience the worst effects of transphobia, combined with racism and misogyny. The wider trans community, and the LGBTQIA+ community, have a responsibility to do better at listening to the concerns of the most vulnerable people in our communities, and focus our work and resources accordingly. This has clearly not always been the case for us. The next few years may begin to lower our expectations even further, and to resist a dead-end future we have to resist the normalization of any oppression. Remembering our history and the potential of a world that is truly welcoming and safe for any of us is vital. 

We need those who can most afford to take risks to actually do so. Often in my conversations with cisgender people who consider themselves allies, or at least not enemies, we are still stuck working out the most basic forms of acceptance and respect like using the correct pronouns (sometimes called preferred pronouns; that does not mean they are optional). Instead of limiting ourselves to that, we need people who get it to address the systems of oppression they are not the targets of. As someone with relative privilege compared to the rest of the trans community, I include myself as one of the people who need to step up more than ever.

We have as much right to live our lives as anyone; no one should be made constant advocates for their basic humanity.

People who are not trans seem to find it easy to dismiss our concerns as irrelevant. This is not an equal loss for everyone who does not support Trump; marginalized people will get the worst of it. Even the fight for our basic legal rights has been treated like a joke; a recent attempt at a joke on SNL flippantly blamed the Democrats’ election loss on advocacy for trans rights, in an exhaustingly familiar example of victim-blaming. When we want this world and this country to change, we have to make sure we are fighting the right forces, not finding scapegoats.

Those who do recognize the validity of our rights can still dismiss the validity of our fears. Not one, but two people close to me, when I mentioned briefly the concern my friends and I had about traveling in more conservative parts of the country, told me I should stop worrying about it because there were surely more likely dangers anyway. My lived experience, even as someone who is relatively unnoticeable and often read as cis, was not once considered a reliable predictor of reality by anyone except other trans people. Trans people have been living in an unsafe world for a long time; we are the ones who know most clearly what we are facing.

For other trans people: It is ok to be scared. It is also ok to not always have the energy to fight; you shouldn’t have to. We should all be able to live our lives as whole lives, not as a war. At a time when the rest of the world is uncertain, we can still do our best to take care of each other and ourselves.

We do not have the time to be patient, by which people often mean quiet. We are already surviving what the world throws at us however we can. I think that when cisgender people tell us to slow down, what they mean is to not make them be aware of how slow they are going. They frame it as being about what we ask of other people, but really even our self-proclaimed allies are often afraid of being asked to share one piece of the tasks ahead of us. So they may deny that the work even needs to be done as it does. Everyone – including cisgender people – has the right to take care of themselves and not do what is impossible or truly unhealthy. But even corrections of pronoun use, or walking with someone to keep them safe, can go a long way.

There have been times in my life when the isolation of continued misgendering and harassment for my gender expression, the exhaustion of hypervigilance from the need to repeatedly defend myself verbally or physically, and fear for my friends and community all seemed like too much to carry for an entire life. That was the case long before this year. What helped was any reminder that the world is not limited to that. Being called the right pronouns for the first time all day once I met up with friends, or getting a compliment on my shorter haircut, could help. Even something not related to gender like a momentary undemanding smile from a stranger, or a text from a friend who had to share a bad pun, can bring back the reality that the world does not have to be a cold place.

After the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience, after remembering who and what has been lost, we can also continue to celebrate and build our resilience. We are already whole people with whole lives. And we have the right to recognize that and expect other people to recognize that as well. When some people act like they want us to disappear, our survival and ability to live anyway is more meaningful than ever. When faced with transphobia, we do not have to be the bigger people about it, because we already are. 

We can support each other in ways that might seem small. Many of us, trans people and others, have already been doing that; checking in with each other, offering a cup of tea or a hug, sharing a spare meal swipe, being a listening ear. Those are ways we help grow our community and make the world a more welcoming place for everyone.

And sometimes we are moved to take political action; that does not have to be painful or very visible either. A phone call to a representative, or sharing news and petitions, or a small donation, has meaning and can help make a real difference.

There will always be inherent value in our existence, and always a future.

I can’t say it will be ok. The next few years will probably be painful, and there will be unacceptable losses. What I can say is that it might hurt less if we get through this together, and look out for each other.

J.M. Stewart '18

Comment

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.