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Nov 18, 2021

How to fight the pushback against trans people

As we mark Trans Day of Remembrance, here's how to be the best ally you can be

Every November, we mourn dozens of trans people – predominantly trans women of colour – whose lives were lost over the past twelve months. This year, we faced an unprecedented number of attacks on the trans community from bills in countries across the world outlawing transition to banning mentions of trans identity in schools. By May, 2021 was already the worst year on record in the US for policies against trans people. These new laws exacerbate an already dangerous climate for trans folks. However, there are easy ways to help our community. As a trans woman, I get asked about supporting trans people almost every day. Here are six easy methods you can use to help us stop anti-trans violence:

1. Recognise that trans people have always existed 

Being trans is nothing new. There are documented cases of gender identities we may now call transgender spanning millennia. From a 5000-year-old skeleton to Ancient Greek galli priests, trans people have been here as long as gendered systems. As trans activists like to say, trans people have always existed. Despite all this evidence, hundreds of well-funded groups are pushing disinformation that transgender identity is just another new trend. They use this idea to provoke fear, particularly about trans children being caught up in a ‘dangerous social contagion’. Getting educated on trans history helps us combat these myths and recognise the long, impressive span of our community.

2. Protect those most at risk

Trans women of colour face the brunt of anti-trans violence. Since Transgender Day of Remembrance started in 1999, trans women of colour have always been the most represented on the annual TDOR list. But they are so much more than just a name or number. Each one of these individuals was put into a situation that led to deadly violence. Supporting trans people means stopping this force at its root and uplifting trans people of colour while they’re still here.

It may sound simple but donating directly to trans folks is the single most helpful thing you can do. Giving to someone’s GoFundMe campaign really can change a life. Trans people are four times as likely to live in poverty and often they can’t afford basic necessities like food or medicine. If you’re not sure where to donate, you can follow hashtags like #TransPizza and #TransCrowdFund on Twitter.

Celebrating trans creators of colour is also crucial to uplifting trans people most targeted by society. We’re often misrepresented in various forms of media as constantly suffering, unhappy and preoccupied with our identities. In reality, trans people can create incredible – and sometimes not even trans related – media. Grammy-winning Black trans musicians like LAFEMMEBEAR and D. Smith are incredibly talented yet report being blacklisted from the industry after coming out. Filmmakers like Tourmaline, visual artists like Wriply M. Bennet and writers like Kai Cheng Thom have meaningfully influenced – while still sometimes being erased from – their respective media. These are only a few names of the countless trans people creating and inspiring our community

3. Show up

It seems like every day, there’s a new attack on trans people. Showing up to in-person events like Transgender Day of Remembrance or Trans Day of Visibility is a great way to support trans people. Just seeing more bodies in a crowd shows trans people that they are cared for. There are also always opportunities to protest the rising number of anti-trans policy proposals if you live in a city. If you’re not close to other people or practicing social distancing, you can participate in online trends like #CisWithTheT, #ProtectTransKids and #YallMeansAll

4. Use teaching tools to educate

There are a huge number of resources to turn to when you’re looking to educate yourself or others on trans issues. For the basics, NPR has an expansive guide on trans language. Planned Parenthood has several video and informational series on trans issues. They have a great guide for speaking with trans youth about gender. Trans Reads also hosts hundreds of trans-related texts, all of which are available for free.

For more interactive tools, Trans Student Educational Resources created the Gender Unicorn, which helps users map gender and sexuality. Freedom for All Americans also hosts an interactive tracking system for anti-trans legislation in the U.S. There, you can learn which bills might affect trans people in your state.

Individuals who are curious about their own gender identity may also want to check out Kate Bornstein’s My New Gender Workbook and Planned Parenthood’s guide to coming out as trans

These are only a few examples among the available resources for trans education. Hundreds of other teaching tools are out there waiting to be used for your specific needs. Most trans websites feature resource pages that you can visit to find exactly what you’re looking for.

5. Support trans kids

Young trans people are one of the most targeted groups of transgender people by politicians. There are now over 100 bills across the United States and numerous policy proposals in Europe attempting to limit trans children’s access to medicine, sports and education. Trans youth now need more support than ever. Thankfully, it can be easy to help young trans people. Donating trans-themed books to schools, volunteering at local gender-sexuality alliances and learning about the unique needs in your community are all great places to start.

6. Learn about different genders

There are as many ways to express gender as there are people in this world. There are also countless named gender identities and plenty more being invented each day. Many individuals come up with creative and unique names to describe how they relate to gender. Learning about some different gender identities is a fantastic way to support trans people who represent the whole gender spectrum. Websites like Gender Wiki list hundreds of genders in detail. Other tools like the trans umbrella show that the term trans includes many genders under one ‘umbrella term’. 

Not only does learning more about gender identity help trans people but it also helps us to understand trans history. Scholars such as Marcia Ochoa, Scott Lauria Morgensen and María Lugones describe anti-transgender violence as a form of colonial occupation. They argue that the rigid two-gender system (the gender binary) is partly derived from Western European colonisation. Historically, Western European countries were among the few cultures to only recognise two genders. Most other cultures had gender roles that did not align with the gender binary. As Dr Ochoa describes it, the more complex gender systems of non-European cultures were used by Europeans to dehumanise indigenous populations and erase their understandings of gender. It is useful to be aware of this history and to understand anti-trans sentiment as historically rooted in racism. 

The trans community is still facing some of the worst backlash in its history. However, things may start to turn around as more people support our right to live complex and multifaceted lives. With the right help from our communities, trans people can truly thrive.

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