I must preface the following with a possible trigger warning and then disclaimer: I do not want to speak as the voice of the transgender community or be a poster-child for transgender identity. I simply seek to live my life without having to apologize for who I am. However, my gender-identity does not always allow me to do that.
When I read about gender based violence in the media, specifically the recent attacks in the DC area on transgender individuals, I find myself struggling to gather my thoughts and emotions. As my eyes swell with tears, I am left with questions. Where do race and class come into play? How many hate-motivated attacks on transgender people have gone unnoticed or unreported? Why has there been an increase in violence against the transgender community in DC? What is occurring here beneath the surface? Is this not necessarily an increase in transgender violence, but rather an increase in media attention? What about those whose trans* identities are invisible—those who fall outside the gender binary? How many of these transgender individuals were sex workers and are displaced socio-economically because of their gender identity? What—or who—are we not talking about there? I am left with these haunts regarding the intersection of class struggle, gender identity, and race.
Transgender is an umbrella term that is used to describe people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from that usually associated with their sex assigned at birth. Transgender people have moved across a boundary imposed by society away from a starting place they themselves did not choose because it was assigned to them. Transgender can apply to a person who rejects the gender associated with the sex assigned at birth only part of the time too. The term transgender does not apply to just those who transition from male to female or female to male—there is a grey area. Just because someone challenges the gendered expectations of their presumed gender on some level, whether it be via appearance or behavior or both, does not mean they identify as a transgender person. Most importantly, transgender identity begins with self-identification. Transgender identity is not always visible, and not everyone wants their transgender identity to be visible.
For instance, I am female bodied—I have breasts, hips, curves, ovaries, and a cunt. However, I do not self-identify as a woman. Yet, I am treated by society as a woman. My transgender identity is not necessarily visible—I am not always referred to by others with non-binary pronouns. I do not bind my breasts or take testosterone. I do not always correct people when they use my birth name even though I have become detached from it and do not associate myself with it. I still ovulate and menstruate and am affected by the female hormones in my body. I visibly gender-fuck on a daily basis with my clothing options, the way I take up space. The way I perform my gender is a tight-rope act constantly balancing masculinity with femininity as I strive to feel comfortable with my body and confident with my physical appearance. I do not relate to my body the same way a cisgender, female would. Some days my body is an obstacle course, some days my body is a nuclear war zone, some days my body is a peace offering, a refugee camp, a shelter from the storm within. Constantly, my gender identity is in limbo; it is undefined and undetermined.
Society sometimes reacts negatively to my state of limbo and is frustrated by my unwillingness to conform, adhere, “fit,” check and/or label. After all, any rejection of gender is probably one of the most “rebellious” actions one can perform; the concept of gender is so deeply embedded in our society. However, any victim or survivor of gender based violence is never at fault—no one is asking for it. In DC I feel relatively “safe,” but that mostly likely stems from some sort of privilege on my part. It is to not say I do not think about ramifications that come from performing my preferred gender identity. I do not want to live in a state of fear or worry about drawing attention to myself in public. I am not going to apologize for who I am or tailor my performance to pass. Yet, sometimes when I’m out enjoying the DC nightlife or entering a public restroom I cannot help but experience a level of discomfort. I have been subject to verbal street-harassment numerous times. I do not respond to it. I do not even acknowledge it because I fear escalation—flashing in my head is an image of my motionless body on the ground.
I share my personal identity because this is what I know, and it allows me to view these attacks in a different way than cisgender people. When I read the articles I think about how I would be represented by the media. If I were to be attacked based on my gender identity, I am fairly certain the media coverage of me would not include my transgender identity, would not use non-binary pronouns, would not refer to me as my preferred name. I would instead be represented as a white, female in her early 20s. Perhaps, my rejection of gender expression in my physical appearance would even be attributed to sexuality marking me as a butch lesbian. That is not to say gender based violence does not impact those who identify as cisgender, straight or queer.
When I think about the interplay between race, gender and class in regards to these attacks I cannot help but notice when and where these women were attacked. I know from my background that a decent amount of sex workers are transgender. Unfortunately, stigmas surround sex work, but for those who don’t subscribe to gender norms, it can serve as one possible, or perhaps their only possible option of financial stability. Transgender individuals do not have employment protection—meaning they can be fired or denied employment based on their gender identity. Transgender individuals are not always privileged and can come from lower socio-economic situations. Sometimes they can be ostracized by their families and are forced to go without that support as well. Additionally, they may not have access to higher education or health insurance. Certainly, hormone therapy and surgery are not affordable or accessible to all. Without gainful employment and benefits, transgender individuals cannot always transition to the bodies they are more comfortable with or are able to pass in (if that is what they desire).
I cannot speak about race on a personal level because I am a privileged white person. However, I keep in mind that roughly 50% of DC residents are black. Not to mention that the majority of these attacks were against people of color. With the onset of gentrification, the racial divisions with in the city have become overwhelmingly apparent and I cannot help but wonder what role race played in these attacks. Certainly, a lack of institutionalized privilege places one in a more vulnerable position. In February of this year, the study, “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey” was released. Its findings are staggering and demonstrate the shocking levels of prejudice trans* people are subject to on a daily basis. According to the study:
“…transgender people face bias that affects all areas of life. However, one of the most important findings was that the combination of anti-transgender bias with structural and individual racism meant that transgender people of color experience particularly devastating levels of discrimination. Among them, Black transgender people often reported the highest levels of discrimination.”
There has been a call to action to support the transgender community, to ensure their safety, to improve community and police relations. These recent attacks need to be addressed and we need to support each other. There is no excuse for violence and it cannot go unanswered. At the same time, we- members of the trans* community and allies- must be cautious when organizing against and in response to gender-based violence. One voice cannot speak for all. The haunts of intersection (of race, class, and gender) need to be examined and considered when discussing, reading about, and organizing against gender-based violence.
If you want more information regarding trans* issues please explore the resources posted below.
*“If you have been a victim of gender-based violence or you know someone who has reach out to the DC Trans Coalition at 202.681.3282 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, the Transgender Health Empowerment at 202.636.1646 or HIPS via their 24-hour hotline at 1.800.676.HIPS. If you need police assistance, dial 911 or call the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit at 202.506.0714.”
Looking For More Information?! Check out these links:
- How To Be An Ally To Trans* People
- Gender-Normative Privilege
- Simple Steps To Being Trans* Inclusive Part 1 (Understand Cis Privilege)
- Trans*-Etiquette 101: No Offense, But That’s Offensive
- Not Your Mom’s Trans* 101
- Trans* FAQ
- A Really Awesome Trans* Glossary
- How Not To Be Defensive When Accused of Transphobia (A Guide For Cis People)
- T-Vox: An online, collective resource for trans* people and those questioning
- Pronoun Reference Charts
- Trans* 101 for Trans* People