Making the World Safe for Trans* People Like Me

Posted December 3, 2015 by Shawn Reilly

Graphic art by Micah Bazant for the Audre Lorde Project

Last Friday the queer community marked Transgender Day of Remembrance — also known as Trans Day of Resilience. This day, which seeks to memorialize and honor those we have lost to anti-transgender violence, was created in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, and is now held every year around the world on November 20th.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is always difficult for me. As a transgender person, I know the everyday realities of potential violence that I face. But it is not until I sit and scroll through the numerous names of people we have lost this year that that the depths of my community’s trauma truly hit me. It is not until I’m wiping tears from my eyes and snot from my nose that I realize how scared I am to simply live and operate in this world as my true, authentic self.

I am very privileged in the transgender community. I am white, transmasculine (as opposed to transfeminine, which is an infinitely more dangerous identity to hold), a college student, employed, and in stable housing. I hold all of these privileges with me wherever I go. However, although these things may inform the way I experience transness, and although they certainly serve as a buffer for a lot of anti-transgender violence, I am not immune from structural and interpersonal violence. The everyday realities for transgender people are slim. Transgender people have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered. An even darker reality, transwomen of color have a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered. On top of this violence, transgender people are also much more likely to attempt suicide, with 41% of transgender people attempting to take their own lives.

We need to start building a world that is safe for all people, including our gender expansive siblings. I often hear that people, and the world, are not ready for this conversation. “They’ pronouns are so difficult,” folks have said to me. “Is there anything else I can call you?,” they pipe or, “We can’t force everyone to try and be politically correct.”

Last weekend, I had the privilege to hang out with some amazing high school students during a weekend retreat that really tackled issues of stereotypes, bias, socialization, and oppression. I was able to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance with this awesome community. The ceremony was organized and led by an activist group called Students of Stonewall, comprised of LGBT high school students and college mentors.  I sat and watched as these students mourned the lives of the people lost to anti-transgender violence just hours after they learned about the concept of correct gender pronouns. After a quick, ten minute conversation with these young people, they were able to respect my pronouns, and in turn, my personhood. It’s difficult for me to understand professors who claim respecting my pronouns is just ‘too complicated’ when high schools can grasp the concept in less than one class period.

Transgender Day of Remembrance provides me with an opportunity to mourn my fallen transgender siblings. However, it also gives us all a way to start having the important conversations with loved ones that will make it safer for transgender people to merely exist in the world. We must take time to remember those we have lost. But we also must stop avoiding the real issues of misogyny, racism, classism, and transphobia that are at the root of this violence, and work in the name of those fallen for a better world.