Transgender Awareness Month

This article is cross-posted from the ZS intranet (which we call ZSpace), where I write episodically about issues of interest to the LGBTQ+ community and our allies. It’s been lightly edited for an external audience.

This Friday (November 20th) is Transgender Day of Remembrance, part of a month of transgender awareness efforts coordinated by GLADD and other organizations.  There are lots of resources linked on the Glaad page if you want to organize an educational / awareness-raising effort.

While we’ve made some progress in protecting civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community, we have a long way to go for the non-binary / trans community especially.  Pre-presidential election, Bloomberg had a good article about the 1.4 million adults who identify as transgender, and the challenges they face with voting.  In the simplest terms, they struggle because they don’t have a photo ID that matches their affirmed name. In many cases, mail-in voting has simplified mattes for this community.  

But so many other challenges remain.  An article called Unerased: Counting Transgender Lives looks at transgender murders since 2010. You can also have a look at the database, which has data through 2018. In the general U.S. population, one in 19K people are murdered every year; for young black trans women, that chance is one in 2,600. The actual rate is likely much higher, for a variety of complex reasons.

Some of the most important changes start at home, where children can feel accepted and understood as they are.  This award-winning short film by Brandon Kelley (released two years ago) is an important testament to the challenges faced by both parents and children. 

You can watch the full film on YouTube; it’s only seven minutes, but it’s a tear-jerker (at least it was for me).  The original is on Vimeo if you prefer.   

If you are not already following @alokvmenon on Instagram, I recommend following them. They just re-published a video from the 2019 Business of Fashion conference about ‘fashion’s genderless future’.  

It’s about 15 minutes long but I found it very worthwhile – really causing me to think about all the ways that we claim to be open to bending gender norms; we can tolerate men in a dress (more on that below) and women in ‘menwear inspired’ suiting or gender neutral athletic wear.  Yet, in most cases that tolerance extends only so far – and most times, not to those who are truly non-binary.  

In a more recent Instagram post, Alok talks about the importance of having Harry Styles appear on the cover of American Vogue in a dress, and acknowledging that it’s progress.  And yet still:

Styles on the cover of US Vogue’s December issue.

We can both acknowledge this unprecedented moment while also remembering that it could only happen because of the resistance of trans femmes of color. We who for decades were imprisoned by cross-dressing legislation. Make no mistake: trans femmes of color started this and continue to face the backlash from it. Our aesthetics make it to the mainstream, but not our bodies. We are still dismissed as “too much” and “too queer” because we aren’t palatable enough to whiteness and heteronormativity. Is that Harry’s fault? No. It’s the fault of systems of transmisogyny and racism. I want a world where everyone — regardless of their gender — can wear whatever they want. He is exercising that and giving permission for other people to do the same and that makes me so happy!! I can both celebrate that and be cautious about the politics of representation.

Alok challenges our binary thinking about gender, and they are super articulate about all the ways that social norms are en/forced by those that are uncomfortable with non-binary individuals.  They also speak about Indian culture; both the history and current, and those engaged ZS The Black and Hispanic Alliance (BHA) might be interested to learn about all the ways that gender norms are deeply intertwined with racist constructs.  It’s pretty heady stuff, but they are both super intellectual and playful and challenging and … well, eye-opening.  I encourage you to follow along, listen, and learn.  

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