It was not that long ago that I had no concept of what the word ‘transgender’ meant, let alone knew of any genders other than male or female. However, due to several leaps towards equal representation in the media, I stumbled across Sophia, a transgender character in the award-winning Netflix original, Orange is the New Black. Perhaps characters like these give us the push that we (as a society) need to educate ourselves.
Just a disclaimer; as a cisgender (my gender identity aligns with my sex) male, I am in no way speaking for the trans community, but instead as an ally to the trans community who wants to help bring an end to transphobia.
If someone is transgender it means that the gender they identify with does not match the gender they were assigned at birth, and it is common courtesy to refer to someone with the pronouns they associate with; if you do not know someone’s pronouns, then ask, do not assume. The fact is, if they identify as one gender, then they are of that gender, whether they have had surgery or not; nor should they feel like they have to go through surgery in order to be accepted as the gender they identify as.
So where does this transphobia exist? 41% of trans people have attempted suicide. Trans women have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered, and trans women of colour face a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered. These statistics are horrifyingly high, and the trans community needs as much visibility as possible if we are to bring about an end to the oppression and marginalisation of this minority.
I followed a particularly heartbreaking story recently, the story of one young transgender woman in Ohio, Leelah Alcorn. Born into a conservative Christian family, she was assigned male at birth and given the name Joshua. When she came out to her family as trans at the age of 14, her parents denied her identity as a female. At 16, she asked her parents to let her undergo transition treatment but they refused, instead sending her to several Christian ‘therapists’. She never got the help she needed in treating her depression and was told that she was selfish and wrong. Later on, she came out as gay at school, hoping if she eased into coming out as trans, then people would be less hostile towards the idea. In retaliation, her parents withdrew her from public school, and confiscated her laptop and her phone, banning her from any form of social media. Leelah described those isolated five months as full of nothing but “[her] parents’ disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness”. Then, on the 28th December 2014, Leelah walked into incoming traffic on the Interstate 17 highway, ending her own life. She concluded her suicide note by saying this: “My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s [messed] up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
We have a duty to every single transgender person who has committed suicide to change our society. Every time you use slurs, every time you reject someone’s gender identity and every time you misgender someone, you are contributing to the society that has 41% of trans people trying to kill themselves because they feel so ostracised, so alone; where they cannot see a future in which they are happy and accepted. We have a duty to show them that future.
Image sourced under Creative Commons Licence