Bi the way: remembering the reasons for trans remembrance

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

When I mentioned to my friend the other day that I was going to a vigil to commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20th), I was met with a slightly blank look and a bemused question: “what exactly is it remembering?” She asked this not out of malice but out of genuine curiosity, and this made me think about the basic and crucial problem facing a lot of trans activists today – many cis people simply don’t get the trans community or the depth of the issues it faces. In my experience, this doesn’t mean that people are fundamentally prejudiced against trans folk. The problem is that the lack of education about, and representation of, trans people in media, entertainment and government means that unless you come into contact with discussions of trans issues by choice, you’re unlikely to encounter it much in your day-to-day life.

The situation is changing, of course: trans actors and actresses like Laverne Cox are becoming more prominent and portraying more than token roles, and there’s a greater willingness to represent gender diversity in fashion with figures like Munroe Bergdorf gaining acclaim. Last week, Danica Roem became the first openly transgender candidate to win a seat in the Virginia legislature and one of 2 to win a seat in any state legislature in America. There’s no doubt that there’s a greater awareness of trans issues than there was even five years ago. But while high-profile trans figures are able to make their names known, the fact remains that for large parts of society there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of the problems ordinary trans people face just going about their lives. Even as someone who considered myself an ally to the trans community for years, it was not until dating a trans man for over a year that I was seriously made to think about the reality of life for the community, because I just did not read or think about it enough.

The onus should never be on the trans community to educate others about their struggles. As cis people we must to some extent take it upon ourselves to find resources to try and understand the privilege we experience and the oppression we enforce, whether we want to or not, on the basis of our gender alignment. Yet we must also ensure that trans voices are lifted up and encouraged so that those who might not actively seek out material about the trans community learn about these kinds of gender issues. The Transgender Day of Remembrance exists to remember those lost from the trans community to suicide or murder; to recognise the fact that life expectancy for trans people has reached as low as 30-32 years old in some countries; to be sad and angry and disturbed about the unbelievable inequality of it all. But it must also work as a day of coming together – first and foremost for the trans community, but a crucial moment for cis allies to demonstrate a real commitment to the cause of transgender equality. Even if you are someone who feels like you will never be affected by these kind of issues, take a moment to think about the ways that we can all contribute to eliminating the systems that result in 41% of trans people attempting suicide. It is the least that cis people can do – when our trans friends, family and colleagues are dealing with issues as terrifying and deep-rooted as these – to remember the reasons for remembrance. 

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