For years it has been a relentless barrage of unprovoked, baseless attacks and many transgender women are tired.
It comes in endless waves, both in America and the United Kingdom.
Every day, it’s the media propelling their anti-trans agendas, rife with misinformation into the mainstream. Sometimes they muse over whether we should be sterilized before being recognized, or if we should be allowed to participate in sports. Determined to make us a perpetual topic of criticism, they draw a malignant narrative for their readers, most who remain blissfully ignorant to the facts, into alignment with their traditionally caustic messaging.
Other days, it’s our government. Trump has waged a war on Transgender people across the country, radicalizing his base to justify the redaction of protections, the removal of access to healthcare and deliberately making us vulnerable to harassment, discrimination and compromising our public safety.
Adding to the merciless pile-on are the Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) who take to social media with an uncaged hostility wherein they relentlessly bully anyone who visibly identifies as a transgender woman. They refer to our anatomy with grotesque, demeaning vernacular. They hijack Pride parades to make certain we know we are not wanted. They hold cross country tours to campaign and recruit other women to join their ranks in eradicating the “Trans lobby.” They’ve taken their prejudices to such an unthinkable extreme that they’ve targeted trans children and organisations that poised to support them and their families.
Add to this the Evangelicals who blame us for an inevitable downfall of morality and have preached to their congregations that we should be punished or imprisoned. We are a pox on society… even killed.
With alarming frequency, we wake up to be met with the headline announcing another murder of a transgender woman. They assign us numbers now, keeping count. #SayHerName makes a nice, if not fleeting hashtag of awareness, but the reality of those who have been taken from us is far more bleak. In my own hometown, a beautiful girl, 23 years old, full of promise and a future of limitless possibility was shot and left dead in her garage. I watched as the local media began the reports with a deadname and using the “He” pronoun before I found myself incapable of tolerating the disrespect of this young woman and I raised my voice because she could not. Her’s had been stolen. I think about Jojo Striker every day. It is difficult for me not to give in to the outrage that I still feel over her murder being brushed under the rug, as so many others have been. It is hard for me not to lose a little piece of my soul every time another transwoman of color is killed in cold blood, often brutally, and the media calls her “#5 this month.” JoJo was so much more than a number. She could have been so much more if she had been allowed a tomorrow.
Some on social media didn’t offer condolences, but celebrated in the wake of her death. She was not a person, but a political agenda they opposed, a representation of an identity they so ignorantly protested legitimizing.
It hurts to look at Jojo, or any of the women of color, the most vulnerable in our community, who have been robbed of that which our critics take for granted; Life. They devote theirs, instead, to making ours so much more painful; So impossibly difficult.
This is why we, more than any other community, are riddled with depression, anxiety, social phobia, paranoia and PTSD. To those who’ve called us sick and accused us of being mentally ill: We are. Not because we are transgender, but because of how you’ve abused us for being transgender. So many have made entire careers out of destroying the lives of trans people. This is why we have witnessed so many young transgender young people take their own lives. They don’t see a tomorrow for themselves. They’re not allowed. Whether it is a young girl, Hope, who jumped off the roof of a building due to the treacherous rejection imposed by her own parents… parents who proceeded to publish her obituary in her male name, using male pronouns. They stole her autonomy in life and in death.
Eerily similar is the story of Leelah Alcorn, who, at 17, walked into traffic on a busy highway, was struck, and killed. Leelah’s parents were heavily religious and she had discussed how they challenged her identity. Even in death, Leelah’s Mother continued to reject her child, referring to her only by her male name, calling her daughter her son instead as she asked twitter for thoughts and prayers. On her Tumblr, she left a letter pleading with the world…
“I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse. That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me.
“My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
Suicide is the leading cause of death of young transgender people. According to the Crisis Text Line organisation, the transgender suicide rate is nearly nine times higher than that of the overall population and 50% of callers who identify as trans express suicide ideology. For every trans person who is murdered or is a victim of suicide, there are likely hundreds more that either the families or media refuse to properly identify.
As a transwoman still here, this is an extension of my existence every single day. This is not a history reflective of a tumultuous era long since passed. For us in the Trans community, these are our stories today; this is our reality in 2019. The losses we suffer belong to all of us and are ever-present in our peripheral, thus leaving us with no other option than to be hyper vigilant while simultaneously, scared, heartbroken… and all too often, defeated.
This is not just a chapter in our lives. For every transgender human, from childhood to adulthood, fighting hate and discrimination defines us in way we wish it didn’t. It is an anchor hung around our necks from the very start. It weighs on us every day, every hour, every minute. At home, school, work, church, social gatherings, doctors offices, prisons… Among the myriad of things we must fear or flee in order to survive, count persecution, violence and a bias justice system that has failed us too many times as just a few indicators of our status. No one should ever have to devote so much thinkspace to qualifying their existence to a society that simply wishes they would cease to.
To compound this, the more recent wave of those who thrive beneath our own umbrella suddenly turning on us. Many gay men along with the previously mentioned radical, feminist lesbians have mounted their own war on transgender women. Since writing my article asking “Why are more Gay Men Turning on Transgender People” last year, I’ve received so many emails and messages from gay men explaining why they rebuke and deny trans identities or inclusion in the LGBT acronym.
“You’re holding us back.”
“Transgender rhetoric is homophobic. If anyone is being “erased” here it’s homosexuals.By denying sex as a quantifier ergo homosexuality doesn’t exist”
“ Gays and Lesbians are acknowledging reality. Transgenders are fleeing from it. The two groups have almost nothing in common.”
“ the biggest threat to gay and lesbian people and culture is transgenderism”
These are just some of the comments you can read on that article.
Thankfully, these sentiments are not shared by the majority of LGB individuals, but the addition to the anti-trans armies that are collecting outside our door with their proverbial torches a pitchforks is jarring.
And why? Because when we defend ourselves against such criticism, or attempt to inform and educate, we are deemed, ourselves, radicals. We are divisive for asking to be acknowledged. We are the new extremists. We are the threat, bizarrely, while most of us are afraid to leave our homes.
A letter sent to me recently summarized how how so many transgender women feel:
“I cannot mentally process such political arguments anymore… My only option was to tune it out, just to preserve my sanity.
Thank you for keeping up the fight.”
There is no question that the inhospitable climate towards transgender people feels like a threat level that is constantly on the rise. When every aspect of your life is met with resistance and thereby a flurry of anxiety inducing experiences, the mental health of transgender folks begins to erode. When the moment your feet find the floor each day you are placed in a position where you have no choice but to defend your right to exist as your authentic self, your right to thrive in society based on your own merits and quality of character- just like your neighbors, you grow tired; Tired of going to war at sunrise and sleeping with our sword at sun down.
Our opposition- literally those who oppose our very lives and deny our identities for any number of reasons- will tell you we are not normal. I would rebut that the conditions we are expected to accept is what isn’t normal. We are humans living in a cruel, inhumane construct that seems intent on removing us entirely, either by legitimizing our murders, making us further vulnerable to hate-based violence, weaponizing government policy against us, rendering us homeless, jobless, killing us by denying us adequate access to healthcare, alienating us through mainstream vilification, or pushing us to the point of suicide. Our forced self elimination absolves them of burden on their conscience.
There is no peace allowed the transgender community except that which we provide ourselves in spite of the torrents of abuse that whirl around us. One of my favorite twitter users, a transgender lady, greets her followers each day with the following:
“Good morning echo chamber.”
We know no one is listening to us when we push back. Instead, we’re outnumbered and screamed into silence, which is how, if must exist, we are preferred.
Fewer and fewer transgender people are picking up the gauntlet in an effort to keep the unnecessary ire of others at bay. Understandably, many have concluded that fighting back is futile. Others choose to block it out- pretend it isn’t happening by curating what they’re exposed to as best they can out of self care. Others are afraid to speak for fear of becoming the next target. I’ve watched a single transgender woman attacked by thousands of men on social media, women, gays, radfems, evangelicals and bots who pick up on such matters explicitly to fuel the discord only to witness fewer than five transgender women or allies defend her against a maelstrom of hate. I was one of them. She deleted her twitter.
Sometimes, I’m her.
When I speak in defense of my community or face the public to correct the grossly distorted misinformation campaigns that intentionally mischaracterize trans people as men who are rapists or “Bepenised bodies” invading women’s spaces and usurping their rights… any number of the countless false accusations made by a propagandists with a platform, I am subjected to the wrath of their followers reacting to their dog whistle. I’ve often found myself a singular figure in a battle against the base of an anti-trans bigot with a bigger platform. I get why so few transwomen are willing to stick their head above the parapet today. I don’t blame them. I’m tired, too.
The one thing our detractors love to point out is how much of a minority we are in the trans community. To much of a minority to be a priority.
Said one gentleman regarding transgender pronouns; “Why should the rest of us have to change our entire way of life to accommodate you- who make up less than 0.07% of the entire population?”
Similar things have been said to justify the trans bathroom debate, or the displacement of trans military members who found themselves banned from patriotic service. Not enough of us to matter to them.
I am, however, given hope by my Sisters. Those transgender women like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who were fighting long before I did, and who were gone before I arrived. This life, today, was not what they wanted for us. They fought this very fight, being screamed down and boo’ed by gay men who believed our inclusion inhibited their progress, attacked by government and authorities who portrayed us as deviants, attacked by lesbians who felt we encroached on their rights as women, victimized by the fearmongering of the media, demonized by religious zealots with protest placards. They fought with the hope that we wouldn’t have to half a century later.
But here we are.
If they found the strength to keep getting back up, so can we. While they never imagined, I’m sure, that we trans folks today would have any relationship with the terrorizing they endured during their time, their legacy would be lost if it had not led to a revolution. If they had simply gone quiet instead of marching, even for those LGB people who viewed them with utter contempt, there would be no pride.
Even if modern Pride has manifested itself as a party where transgender people feel distinctly unwelcome or unrepresented. It was a riot. And transgender presence in that very riot is also being erased from history.
Listen to the stories directly from them- including trans people as told to PBS’s American Experience. Remember our progress was rooted in unity. We fought a common enemy. It was not a story of the world against transgender people. It was the world against all of us. And we all fought back. Together.