Trans Awareness Week
In the lead up to Trans Day of Remembrance on November 20th, a day in which we mourn trans lives lost to transphobic violence, trans individuals and organisations all over the world call for increased awareness through ‘Trans Awareness Week’. This period of focus gives trans people a platform to talk about the issues they face, educate others and celebrate collective trans history and achievements.
Trans people are people whose gender identity does not correspond to what they were assigned at birth – they can identify as male, female or non-binary (a term for many other genders which fall outside the scope of male and female), use various pronouns including, he, she, they, zie etc., and dress … any way they want! The existence of trans people clearly demonstrates that gender identity is NOT something that can be defined by external anatomy or defined by upbringing. Many trans people do not come out or transition until later life, having lived through the upbringing and all the social norms associated with their birth gender – you cannot force someone to identify a certain way, only force them to further suppress their true identity. This is one of several reasons trans suicide rates remain remarkably high across the world, ranging from 32-50% depending on the country, and much scientific research has shown that the best treatment for gender dysphoria is acceptance, and providing the chance to transition if the individual wants to.
Transness and gender variance has existed in other forms throughout history and in many different cultures under different names, often celebrated, from the Hijras of South Asia to the Two Spirit genders of Native American tribes such as the Navajo, Mohave and Lakota tribes (each tribe using their own respective terminologies). It was with colonialism and the arrival of settlers from Europe that an essentialist and binary understanding of gender was imposed, erasing indigenous celebration of gender variance. This erasure of trans people throughout history is a contributing factor in much of the backlash against trans people today – for people unaware of the extensive history of such gender variance, trans people may seem to have sprung up from nowhere and are thus too easily labelled a ‘fad’ or ‘trend’.
However, even in modern history in the Imperialist West, trans people have existed on the fringes of society, in hidden ballroom scenes (eccentric gatherings from which drag and vogueing were born) and bars/ pubs which celebrated diverse gender and sexuality. In the 1960s, famed Stonewall activists, sex workers and people of colour, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera termed themselves ‘transvestites’, a now more obsolete term which was then synonymous with transgender and transsexual. They, and many others like them, were a huge part of the Stonewall riots which happened in response to the general oppression of the LGBT+ community –crossdressing or gender non-conforming individuals would be arrested (after having their genitalia examined), lesbians would be sexually harassed, and the police were generally violent towards patrons. As a result of this state sanctioned violence, Marsha and Sylvia, along with other patrons of the bar fought back, throwing bricks and bottles at the police sparking a riot that lasted several days. New York was in uproar and the gay liberation movement sprung forward, with the first pride parades happening a year after.
Knowing the involvement of trans people in the progression of gay rights, it is perhaps surprising to see transphobia rife among LGBT+ communities to this day. Some people have even called for the ‘T’ to be dropped, ignoring the shared dynamics of oppression all LGBT+ face. In particular, transmisogyny is a key issue –this year some groups of lesbians hijacked pride parades, accusing trans women of erasing them, and many cis women have raised concerns over trans women using female bathrooms. The truth is trans women are women and require access to women only spaces for the same reason as cis women – because they are at high risk of physical and sexual violence from men, even higher than cis women, with trans women of colour being the most affected group.
“TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN”
Many other worrying issues have arisen recently that go far beyond dictating toilet use, such as the move of Trump’s administration to attempt to define gender as immutable and fixed at birth, stripping trans people of legal recognition and therefore many rights. Equally in the UK the public consultation on the GRA (Gender Recognition Act) has caused much concern, as it prioritises public opinion, rather than that of individuals affected by any changes. Many trans activists hope for change that will allow easier legal recognition, and inclusion of non-binary genders, alongside removal of dated aspects such as the ‘spousal veto’, wherein a spouse may prevent their partner from gaining gender recognition.
Other issues can be found in the medical community, with the widely cited ‘Trans broken arm syndrome’ or #TransHealthFail, an issue wherein doctors may assume all illnesses are a result of transness, even in medical areas unaffected by transness or transition. Access to gendered healthcare such as prostate exams and cervical smears can be complicated and dysphoria inducing when language is not inclusive. Medical gatekeeping means many trans people can be denied hormones and surgeries if they are unable to obtain a diagnosis of gender dysphoria by meeting the ‘diagnostic criteria’ of their assessors. These criteria can be wildly inconsistent and lean heavily on dated gender norms. As a result, many non-binary people pose as binary trans people simply to access treatment and binary trans people are forced into gender norms any modern feminist would reject. Representation in films is another issue, with trans characters being played by cis actors of a different gender to the character – this only serves to add to the misplaced idea that trans people are simply playing at being another gender. It would be far more accurate to have the role played by a cis actor of the correct gender, or better yet, a trans actor, of which there are plenty.
Being aware of the issues which affect trans people is one thing, but knowing how to enact positive change is another. If you have trans friends or family, support can be as simple as making the effort to use their correct pronouns and name, not talking over them about their gender experience and standing up to transphobia whenever you may encounter it. On a larger level, you can look into changing gendered greetings and dress codes, providing gender neutral toilets, writing to your local MP highlighting trans issues and attending protests and demonstrations. We are living in a big climate of political change and Trans Awareness Week is a time to focus on the needs of trans people everywhere, platforming their voices and prioritising their lived experiences.