From my therapist’s office, I walk to the LGBT clinic where they take my blood, test my levels. Access to my life-affirming hormones, my preventative HIV medication, and my anti-anxiety medication also seem to hang in the balance.
From there, I shuffle south. Leaving the sharp line that 6th Avenue cuts down the city, I make a right on Bleecker. I am walking that precious winding, un-gridded territory of the West Village where the Stonewall Riots raged. I am on the way to Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR), an annual event that honors and mourns all of those folks we’ve lost to transphobic violence during the year. The rain soaks into my jacket, and I start thinking about umbrellas.
The transgender umbrella gathers together people whose experiences cut across lines of race, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, class, religion, ability, age, geographic location, and much more; a collection of people who share a common feeling of not identifying with the genders we were assigned at birth. There is incredible beauty in the solidarity that coalesces around transgender identities.
However, each year as I join my community for TDoR, I am reminded of the limitations the transgender umbrella also presents. Too often the umbrella just isn’t big enough to hold all of my siblings. In an age where transgender folks are beginning to gain greater acceptance, folks like myself (white, able-bodied, transmasculine, privileged with respect to class and education, urban-dwelling, HIV-negative) are given space at the center, mostly shielded from the falling rain. People at the edges, however, are not only exposed to the rain but also to the runoff that builds up and falls from those of us who are being most protected. Too often my acceptance is predicated on the marginalization of others; my whiteness, my proximity to cisnormative standards, my education level mark me as more deserving of respect and protection.
Each year as we read the names of those trans people who have been murdered, it becomes clear who is at the very edges of the umbrella. Transphobic violence is always first and foremost transmisogynist violence; to be more specific, it is always first and foremost transmisogynist violence that is rooted in racism and colonialism. Trans women accounted for all but one of the reported trans murders in the US in 2015. According to a National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report, of the 24 LGBT homicides in the US in 2015, 51% were trans women of color.
This transmisogynist violence stems from the false cissexist assumption that trans women are not women. People who discriminate against trans women are often of the idea that trans women’s “rejection” of masculinity poses a threat to the binary gender system which upholds the social privileging of masculinity over femininity. Viewing trans women as something other than women allows these same people to preserve their fragile ideas about patriarchal gender norms. Transmisogynist violence often occurs within the context of sexual interest and intimate relationships as well; 46% of the victims of intimate partner LGBT homicides in 2015 were transgender women of color.
However, to evoke AIDS activist Douglas Crimp, transgender and queer folks have long been adept at navigating mourning and militancy. No one has embodied that ethos more than trans women, particularly trans women of color. After the names were read, members of Audre Lorde Project’s TransJustice, a grassroots organization run by and serving the needs of trans and gender non-conforming people of color, took the stage. They shared a call and response with the audience acknowledging their pain and rage (“Do you see me? Do you care?”), and the reality of transphobia (“Transphobia is not a lie!”). Though we recognized our collective mourning, the primary ethos of the evening was a call to action and a celebration of the work that has already been done. The evening actively centered the voices and bodies of trans and gender non-conforming people of color by reserving the front rows for TGNC people of color and disabled folks.
TransJustice called on us not just to focus our efforts on recording and mourning this disproportionate violence, but also to show up for our living leaders. Those of us with privilege need to be offering our bodies, our resources, and our time to those organizations that preceded this disastrous presidential election and that would have continued this work regardless of the outcome. This includes folks like the members of TransJustice, Miss Major and TGI Justice’s crucial prison abolition work, Jennicet Gutierrez and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement’s fierce fighting for pro-Latinx immigrants, and so many others (this is a great resource for finding more).
What I need to keep telling myself and other privileged trans folks is that we have the duty to offer up our time and resources to trans women (especially women of color), trans and gender non-conforming people of color, poor and working-class trans folks, differently abled trans folks, trans elders, and incarcerated trans people. We have a chance to educate ourselves and our cis allies, to push ourselves to the edges of the umbrella and let the margins back in. We have the opportunity to recognize that because transgender signifies so many different things, we can be both impacted anti-transgender legislation and discrimination, and also be in a position to be allies and accomplices to other trans people. We have a chance to help really build the movement that trans women and TGNC people of color have been championing all along, the movement we’ve always needed.
What I need to tell my cisgender allies is that being a good ally to me does not automatically make you a good transgender ally. Supporting me means upholding my place at the center of the umbrella; it means centering me in your perception of transgender issues when I am actually one of the least impacted. What you can do with your allyship is to donate your time, money, and resources to organizations led by trans women, particularly trans women of color, and other trans and gender non-conforming people of color. You can make sure that they are centered, given a voice, and heard in spaces where they are not being given the opportunity to lead.
As I reflect on the day, it occurs to me that even as I face a precarious future regarding my mental and physical health as a trans person, I have spent most of the day seamlessly navigating the streets of New York. Compared to many trans folks, I move through the world with exceptional ease. What matters is what I will do with that mobility, who I will walk with, who I will put my body and my privilege on the line for, and who I will help shelter from the rain.