October 21st struck yet another blow to the rights of trans, non-binary, and intersex people. The White House released plans to change the legal definition of sex, making it essentially impossible for gender-nonconforming people to transition or move away from a binary gender identity. With this news came a (very rightful) onslaught of anger and rage from my community, myself included. I remember feeling my body go cold, then numb, and then the rage shakes set in. In the days after I’ve written this, I know that even more articles fueled by our sadness and fury will continue to be published. And I’m glad that people are talking about these feelings, because they’re all valid and important.
However, I think an important aspect often gets overlooked in these responses. I’ve noticed a trend of the collective “us” feeding off trauma narratives pressed upon marginalized and oppressed people. It’s a way of making those who are not targeted by that specific discrimination think, “Wow, I could have it worse.” But that’s an unhelpful mindset in the face of injustice. When we publish our anger and devastation, we should also share productive ways to use that anger. Real people from that community talking not only about how we will get by in the face of terrible things—but what we will do to defy these garbage monsters and their garbage laws and ideas. And how we will thrive to spite them.
I am a firm believer in feeling your emotions, lest we be beholden to them. I also believe that rage is a powerful motivational tool when used properly. So how exactly are we supposed to use our rage to our own betterment? First, we must acknowledge the feelings that come up when we see our discrimination in the news. Name it, claim it, feel it. Are you sad? Furious? Afraid? Numb? It is absolutely okay to feel anything. Having people try to legislate you out of existence is a heavy burden to shoulder. And when we name things, we are better able to figure out how to handle them.
I’ve been feeling sad and anxious, so I tell myself that it’s okay to be sad and anxious.
Now when I feel particularly negative, I take all that energy and flip it on its head. I’ll go on social media and share another trans or non-binary person’s work with a note about how much I love it and how to support it. I’ll also donate a few dollars to someone’s Cash App or GoFundMe.
It’s so easy to get tangled up in and bogged down by the toxicity of a transphobic culture. This isn’t a judgment—it is just a fact.
We as transgender, non-binary, and intersex people are inundated with messages about how we don’t belong, through hate speech, legislation, and various microaggressions.
Of course, this also describes the experiences of people of color, women, queer folks, poor folks…essentially anyone who is not a straight, rich, white cis man. When we take a narrative about us that someone else has created and subvert its messaging, then we begin to take the power away from it, and away from those who wish to see us suffer and fail. Yes, we must report on all the ways in which we are being discriminated and devastated. But we can also share articles and media about how we, as a community, are vibrant, resilient, and joyful.
I admit I am always hesitant to use the word “resilient” in reference to marginalized people because it seems to put the onus on the people being oppressed, rather than the people with privilege.
So, if you have cis privilege and want to be an ally, what can you do? What direct action can you take to affect change?
For starters, you can pay us. Hire us, donate to our fundraisers for people in need of housing, gender confirmation surgery, food, whatever. When you take action, be aware that trans people of color—especially Black trans women—face even greater struggles as result of transphobia and racism. Work to understand the intersections of peoples’ identities, and ensure that you’re not only giving to white, able-bodied, passing trans people. If you don’t have money or you’re not in a position to hire employees, then share our work, promote our businesses, and tell people about our fundraisers. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Volunteer some time to work with grassroots organizations who do direct actions with local trans and intersex communities.
Additionally, one of the most important things that a cis ally can do to support our community is educate themselves. Learn about who we are by listening to us. Vote to protect us from discrimination in the November 6th midterm elections (check out this guide for ways to support LGBTQ candidates and measures on your ballot). Instead of watching films where cis white actors portray us, read stories about our lives written in our own words, using our own language. Share those words with other cis people so that you help voices that need to be heard, be heard. So many people want to have discourse about gender but leave us out of the conversation entirely, and that kind of erasure is violence. Confront your privilege and dismantle it. It is uncomfortable, but it is something that must be done if any of us—regardless of our privileges or marginalized status—expect to live under the equality each one of us deserves.