(In the article, Trans will be used as an umbrella term encompassing Transgender identities)
Transgender Awareness Week leads into Transgender Remembrance Day annually on November 20. This day honors the hundreds of Trans people who have been killed during the year. Sadly, this number includes a disproportionately high number of Trans women of color, and in the reporting of these deaths, many of the deceased are misgendered and misreported related to their gender identities. It is a day where the harsh realities for many Trans people are brought to the forefront of the conversation. Beyond the physical harm caused to many Trans people, there are countless challenges in everyday life. Here are a few you may not have considered.
Gender is Not Binary
Many people view gender as equal to the sex a person is assigned at birth with male and female as the assumed options. This is not true. Gender identity is decided by each individual person. Examples of gender identities include Woman, Man, Trans man, Trans woman, Non-binary, Genderqueer, Agender, etc. Your gender is who you know yourself to be, and there are many Trans people who have identities outside the binary of man and woman. Non-binary genders span everything from identifying with multiple genders to not identifying with a gender at all. In American society, most legal forms and ways of reporting identity to not reflect the scope of gender. Last month, California was the first state to make the jump of recognizing Non-binary as a gender marker option on state issued identification documents. For Non-binary Trans people, there are often many hurdles faced to be recognized for who they are in all aspects of their lives.
Think about how many places require you to show ID? Common examples are airports, hotels, bars, banks, pharmacies, etc. In many states, there are legal hurdles that can often prevent Trans people from having an ID that matches their name, gender marker, and appearance. This can be a safety hazard, and in states where non-discrimination laws do not include gender identity, it can prevent Trans people from having access to things like renting an apartment. Laws differ by state, and some require medical proof to change a driver’s license or birth certificate. In four states, amending one’s gender marker on their birth certificate is even prohibited. Not having documents that align with one’s identity can make every life process more difficult including applying for a job or getting a loan to buy a home.
Only 13 states and Washington, DC have a law preventing discrimination in schools covering sexual orientation AND gender identity. Only slightly better, 19 states and Washington, DC have a law preventing bullying in schools based on sexual orientation AND gender identity. This means that Trans kids in most states cannot be guaranteed a safe environment to learn and grow. Schools are often not required to allow students to use bathrooms/locker rooms matching their gender identity, and beyond that, Trans kids are often not affirmed by school personnel using the name and pronouns the students provide for themselves.
In American society, people assume that people assigned female at birth will use “she/her” pronouns and people assigned male at birth will use “he/him.” For Trans people, pronouns are a huge part of the affirmation of their gender. Trans men and Trans women may use “he/him” and “she/her” respectively. There are also other pronouns like “they/them” and “ze/zir” that Trans people use to more accurately reflect their gender/lack of gender. Some people use different pronouns in different settings also, often based on the consequences of coming out with one’s true pronouns. Notice I didn’t say “preferred pronouns.” Preferred can imply that if the pronouns are not used, that is ok. All people should use the pronouns provided by each individual, without complaint of difficulty or disagreement. Pronouns signify who someone is, and by respecting a Trans person’s pronouns, you’re showing that you value them as a person. Just as you should never ask a Trans person for their previous name, you should never assume what pronouns a person uses. Just ask!
Whether to Transition or Not
Being Trans does not come with one set of rules and required actions. All Trans people define their gender individually, and thus, determine if they want to pursue any type of transition. Common examples involve hormones or various options for surgeries to have one’s body better align with their gender, or adapting one’s voice and wardrobe to present their gender expression outwardly. It is never appropriate to ask someone about the personal aspects of their transition without a relationship that warrants that level of sharing. Also, discussing Trans people’s bodies is invasive and inappropriate. It is no one else’s business what a person possesses under their clothes, so unless a Trans person offers information about their transition and body, you should not ask invasive questions related. Realize that how Trans people are treated throughout their transition is very important, so if a person comes out to you as Trans, affirm their identity fully from the beginning.
As a country, our laws are often not inclusive of Trans people. We have states rescinding non-discrimination policies and a Federal government pushing forward policies like preventing Trans people from serving in the military. It is important that Trans inclusion is present in all aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, and by understanding the complexities in the lives of Trans people, we can better work together in full support of all members of our community.