We fought hard for it. We rallied and protested and pushed legislature for it. We celebrated in courthouses and petitioned our elected officials for it. And after a decades-long battle which many of us didn’t think we’d outlive, we finally have marriage equality in the United States!
This is cause for a celebration, but now comes the part where I remind you that the fight is not won. There are anti discrimination laws for housing, healthcare, and employment to pass, gay blood bans to overturn, the need to fund and find a viable HIV vaccine, and many other battles to win.
But all of these battles assume that our freedom fighters will survive to keep fighting. Jobs, blood donation, and viral protection are all incredibly important, but not more important than survival itself. Why do I bring this up? Because trans folks in our community—the too-often neglected “T” at the end of our umbrella acronym—are assaulted and murdered at a terrifying rate in this country.
With victories like the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act and our recent marriage equality ruling, we might be inclined to think the United States is a safer place for queers than countries like Russia, Uganda, and Egypt. You would be right, but only if you’re talking about white cisgender folks. For our trans brothers and sisters, especially those of color, America is not yet a safe place. Even gay meccas like San Francisco and New York City report excessive violence against transgender Americans. And that’s just the crimes that are being reported.
Out trans icons like actress Laverne Cox, TV host Janet Mock, author Chaz Bono, artist Kate Bornstein, models Jasmine King and Carmen Carrera, porn star Buck Angel, and Olympic gold-medalist Caitlyn Jenner are bringing terminology like “transition” and “gender expression” to American laypeople with uplifting social media messages and poised interviews. TV shows like Transparent, Sons of Anarchy, Orange is the New Black, and Sense8 (my new drug of choice) are telling the stories of trans characters, many of whom are refreshingly portrayed by actual trans actors. Yet Laverne Cox herself poignantly expressed the strange dichotomy of being a renowned celebrity by day, then fearing for her life at night with jeers and attacks on the street simply for being a black trans woman.
Trans folks are not victims to be coddled. Trans folks don’t need others to fight battles for the trans community. Trans folks are a strong people who are in danger of small-minded, violent idiots who react to their own lack of understanding with a compulsion to beat someone’s gender out of them. Just as the queer population at-large relies on straight allies to help us turn the tide for cultural opinions about gayness in general, so too do cisgender allies have a responsibility to our trans, genderqueer, and intersex community members.
What can you do to support the trans community?
1.) Don’t assume everyone is cisgender. We live in an exciting time when some children’s parents are finally accepting the fact that their kids’ gender identities are up to the kids themselves. As much as you can, wait to hear someone’s preferred pronouns before labeling them. If you get it wrong and they correct you, simply apologize and use the correct pronouns thereafter (without stuttering, freezing, and telling them an elaborate story about how “one of your best friends” blahblahblah). And don’t say “transgendered.” It makes you sound 84.
2.) Don’t ask someone what kind of genitals they have unless they say they want to fuck you. Only then would it be any of your business. If they divulge this information without you asking for it, accept it and keep it to yourself.
3.) STOP COMPARING CAITLYN JENNER TO RACHEL DOLEZAL. Race is inherited from one’s biological parents through genetic phenotypes, national origins, and ethnic heritage. Biological sex is one’s reproductive organ anatomy and the hormone chemistry with which one is born. Unlike race and sex, gender (like sexual orientation) is a personal identifier that one discovers for themself. (Note: all of this is coming from a cisgender European-American man, so please don’t let me be your end-all-be-all subject matter expert.)
4.) Educate yourself. This doesn’t mean hunting down the first trans person you see, begging them to befriend you because they’re trans, then grilling them about their identity development. If you already have trans friends, ask politely if they’re open to helping you understand a couple things. If you don’t, be open to making trans friends as you would make friends with anyone else. In the meantime, read everything you can by trans people and learn about their varied experiences, their humanity, and the struggles they face every day.
5.) Don’t be that asshole who freaks out when an androgynous stranger enters a public bathroom. If someone is expressing themself as the gender labeled on the restroom door, get over yourself and let them piss in peace. You are not the potty police. And if you’re a business owner, take the fucking triangle-dress-or-nothing label off the goddamn door and upgrade your restrooms to gender-neutral spaces so your customers can use a restroom safely.
6.) If you see someone harassing a trans person, do something about it. Say something. Fight back with them. Call the police. Don’t walk away pretending you didn’t know what was happening. You could save a life.
7.) And perhaps most importantly, don’t be ashamed of trans folks. DJ Mister Cee, a cisgender man, was intruded upon (the media reported it as “getting caught” at the time) while having sex with a trans woman. He was vilified and shunned for the “scandal” and resigned from his 20-year career in radio. Why? Because in America, loving and lusting after a trans person is still considered despicable. This shames cisgender folks who love trans folks, but ultimately it further dehumanizes trans folks, as if they are not worthy of love or sex. Be open to seeing trans folks as you would see anyone else: friend; child; parent; boss; spouse; jaw-dropping hottie who makes you hard-and-or-wet in all the right places.
Many states have made incredible strides in gender identity protections and trans equality. Washington State includes gender expression and identity under our Washington Law Against Discrimination. But we have more to do. Keep your ear to the ground for ways you can support everyday trans folks, and keep your mind open.
Anything I missed, trans readers? Hit us up via social media, comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another amazing piece. Pullitzer-ready.
Thanks for this excellent article! I fought for marriage equality, and it’s nice to know that the LGB hasn’t forgotten the T.
DON’T ever call the police if you see a trans person being assaulted. Cops are more likely to lock us up even with a witness there. Sorry, yr gonna have to get personally involved if a trans person is getting assaulted.
I keep hoping that people like you are the wave of the future, not those in the LGB community who have shown a terrifying tendency to throw the T under the bus as soon as it’s convenient. There are still far too many of those, and not nearly enough of you, Ryan. Thank you for continuing to ensure that trans folk are still heard.