Today marks the International Transgender Day of Remembance, to remember those who have been lost to transphobia, cissexism, transmisogyny, and intersecting bigotries like hatred of trans sex workers and trans women of colour. It is not the only day that people can remember those lives, but it is a day, and it is an opportunity for a global conversation.
There are lots of things I could talk about today, and I struggle to know what to say because it is an intensely personal day for me and many of the trans people who are writing, speaking, holding vigils, and engaging in other remembrance activities today. But what I would like to talk to you about today, what I think is important to talk about, is bullying. Recently, the airwaves have been abuzz with discussions about bullying and abuse of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth, but I haven’t seen very much discussion about the transgender community, outside of spaces specifically dedicated to us.
While people all over the world, of all genders and sexual orientations, participate in ‘awareness’ campaigns designed to spark discussion about bullying of gay youth and how to fight it, the trans community has been ignored. It’s virtually impossible to even find news reports specifically on trans youth who have been bullied to death, even though some studies estimate our rate of suicide attempts at 50%. And very few of these bullying awareness campaigns have talked about bullied trans youth, except, again, when they come specifically from transgender people, in transgender-friendly spaces.
Writing at Questioning Transphobia last month, Lisa said:
I don’t mean to introduce these statistics to say anyone has it harder, but rather to question why with all the talk about bullying and getting better, why what trans people specifically face is not discussed at all. I mean 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide? As compared to the 1.6% of the general population? I remember when people questioned the idea that trans people really had a 50% rate of attempted suicide, but it looks like that is confirmed. This is, honestly, reprehensible that this is constantly kept invisible, in the background. And it’s not as if trans people are a such a small minority, either. Educated guesswork puts us at .2-.4% of the population, with numbers supported in multiple countries, not even counting non-transitioning trans people that were neglected by Lynn Conway’s paper. In the US that means out of 310,430,000 people (per Wikipedia). 620,000 – 1,240,000 trans people. Relatively small compared to the rest of the population, but still significant. Not that population size should reflect anyone’s worthiness to not be bullied, harassed, denied employment, denied housing, and so on.
I think today, as I do every day, about my fellow transgender people who didn’t make it through the year, for a wide variety of reasons. The people who died because they could not access health services, ranging from trans women denied care at women’s clinics to trans men dying of conditions they weren’t screened for because of cissexist assumptions about bodies, to trans people who couldn’t meet the exacting standards for medical transition and decided they didn’t want to live anymore. I think about the people who were raped and beaten and murdered in the last year for their gender, their misgendering in the media and the decision on the part of some journalists to violate their memories by using the wrong names, employing the wrong pronouns, suggesting they deserved that happened to them.
And I think about all of the bullied trans people, not just trans youth, but trans people of all ages, who died in the last year, who came close to dying, who will die this year. I think about the tidal wave of hatred for us and the way it expresses and the fact that it is so rarely discussed. I think, too, about the bullying within the transgender community, the binarism, for example, that leads to people making assumptions about my body and causes people to think it’s perfectly appropriate to misgender me and people like me. I think about the ways to address the problems both outside and inside the trans community, to make the world a safer place for every person, of every gender (and nongender). I think about how we can possibly build a better world.
I think about how trans women of all ages are often excluded from ‘woman-only’ spaces or are made to feel unsafe in those spaces, and what kind of impact that has when you need help and solidarity. This is a form of bullying; telling people they don’t belong in your little club is a tactic I remember well from middle school. Telling people they can’t come to you for help is a form of isolation, a common abuse tactic. Making sure that people know exactly how much you despise them, and their bodies, is not just a form of power and control, it’s also bullying.
People die not just because they are bullied, but because they end up with nowhere safe and no person to turn to. For members of the trans community, finding safe spaces is difficult, and a space seemingly safe can turn unsafe very quickly.
Our exclusion from the conversation about bullying is reflective of our exclusion from other spaces in society, including spaces supposedly designed for us; how many ‘LGBQT’ centres forget completely about the ‘T’ and focus on the LGBQ, doing nothing to provide services to us? It’s not I think that the trans community is more important than the LGBQ community or that I think we deserve more or that I think being LGBQ is a bed of roses: All I want is to break down the walls between us.
I want non-trans people to talk about how bullying affects the trans community. I want video campaigns focused on bullying of trans people. I want more studies on suicidal ideation in the trans community, with a particular focus on intersections like social class, race, and occupation. I want a focus on creating safe and welcoming spaces for trans people to receive counseling, health care services, assistance. I want inclusive spaces for trans people to meet, to talk, to organise, I want trans teens in high school to have access to support. I want the world to stop paying lip service and saying that we matter, and to start doing something to back that claim up.