In March, I wrote a piece for Rolling Stone on the growing number of bathroom bills in the US, little realising that the issue was about to explode into the public consciousness. By mid-April, it had become a cause celebre across the United States, from the Department of Justice to publications across the political spectrum. It had also become an issue that cis people seized upon as some sort of next great frontier for trans rights: Gosh, did you know that trans people encounter bathroom harassment? Yes, thank you for that breaking news, cis people.
The thing is that bathroom bills are important, as is bathroom harassment in general, but trans rights are about a whole lot more than this. Bathroom bills themselves aren’t talked about as comprehensively as they should be, with many people skating around the fact that they target trans women, as I discussed recently. This isn’t just about transphobia, but transmisogyny, and the fact that people want to advance the narrative that trans women are not women, and we should be taking about that.
But the conversation about trans rights also needs to be additive. Okay, cis people, you’ve decided to take on trans issues? That’s excellent, and I’m glad that bathroom bills alerted you to the fact that trans people are struggling in the United States and around the world. Now, though, I’m inviting you to broaden your scope, to think beyond bathroom bills, to confront the fact that trans politics are huge, multifaceted, highly intersectional — from the violence leveled at trans women of colour to the erasure of disabled trans people from the conversation about our rights.
Here are some other things you might want to discuss when thinking about trans rights:
20 percent of transgender people have experienced housing discrimination. We are not protected under federal law when it comes to housing, and landlords can and do deny housing or subject us to other illegal actions like overcharging for deposits, evicting us, and harassing us. In some states and municipalities, more legal protections are available, but these aren’t guaranteed, and people can’t necessarily pick and choose where they live on the basis of where laws offer more protections.
Similarly, 20 percent of transgender people have experienced homelessness, and somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth in the United States are transgender. Youth experience tremendous discrimination between hostile families, bullying and abuse in school, and limited access to resources. Many pay the ultimate price as they live in the streets and hustle for a living, deprived of opportunities for social advancement like higher education and professional training.
Somewhere between 50 and 66 percent of transgender people experience sexual assault during their lifetimes, with transgender women, especially women of colour, at particular risk. Trans women of colour often have to turn to sex work to support themselves because they are cut out of other industries, and they often engage in the most dangerous and unprotected forms of sex work in a culture that already penalises sex workers, leaving them vulnerable to robbery, physical and sexual assault, and murder.
Physical assault and murder are everpresent traumas in the trans community. Trans women of colour, particularly Latinas, are murdered at an alarming rate, in a culture that rarely says their names, and a world where they are erased in media coverage, misgendered and deadnamed into oblivion.
Speaking of media coverage, transgender people continue to be routinely misgendered and deadnamed, with media outlets being dismissive of these issues and the subject of nonbinary pronouns. Media coverage is also tremendously biased, slanted towards exploitative transition narratives and little else, when it’s not scaremongering about ‘men in dresses’ sneaking into restrooms to assault vulnerable little girls. (Again, there have been zero incidents in which transgender people have committed assault in a bathroom.)
Transgender people experience profound health care discrimination, particularly in the area of reproductive health care. They are misgendered, deadnamed, assaulted, and harassed by health care providers, and routinely receive inadequate care, including salicious and invasive questions about their gender and transition status, even when these subjects have nothing to do with a health care need. Trans-competency is unusual in health care providers even now, and many trans people cannot afford to choose between providers.
Transgender people — especially trans women of colour, you may be sensing a theme here — are four times more likely to live in poverty than the general population. That’s a tremendous denial of social opportunities, and it’s the result of a huge number of intersecting factors.
50 percent of trans people report being harassed at work, and 26 percent have lost their jobs for being trans. Employment discrimination is a pervasive problem not just in terms of job loss, but also progress within the workplace, with trans people passed over for promotions, raises, moves to different departments, and other opportunities like conference sponsorships. This makes it extremely difficult for trans people to succeed in their chosen professions.
41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide for reasons ranging from rape to harassment to the inability to access transition services to assault by law enforcement. 41 percent. That is a huge number of people. Trans people also struggle with access to mental health services and face unique mental health challenges that are not widely addressed.
This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues that affect the trans community. But the next time someone brings up bathroom bills, why not mention one of them?
Image: Trans March Toronto 2013, janice sinclaire, Flickr