Transgender Awareness Is Not Enough

by Chris Paige

I am sick of Transgender Awareness.

November is a month that has become riddled with our religious allies checking off the box for transgender “issues”—often with a special service that turns the death of transgender women of color into a sort of morbid pageant.

It is an annual performance of care and concern that seems to end when the candles go out. 

But it isn’t clear how these services actually impact the transgender communities that are most impacted by violence.

Allies need to be asking “Is Your Transgender Day of Remembrance a One Night Stand or a Larger Commitment?

Transgender Day of Remembrance is an important day in the life of transgender communities because it provides space for us to come together around the grief and trauma that lines our lives year round. It is a time of resistance, a call for justice, an opportunity to rise up out of isolation.

Remembrance ebbs and flows throughout the year as it interplays with Resilience and Resistance. 

It creates a rhythm that is about weaving our survival in defiance of a culture that so often seems to treat us as just another disposable circus side show.

If your TDOR observance is disconnected from the communities that are most impacted, then your ceremony is likely disconnected from that rhythm, disconnected from resilience, disconnected from resistance. Under these circumstances, our grief becomes a tokenizing performance, making ourselves feel better about the guilt that comes from our indifference.

Does your TDOR observance actually impact the lives of living transgender women of color? Or does your observance simply help to “check the box” of your obligation towards transgender communities?

If I seem ungrateful that you’ve taken time out to empathize with the pain of transgender communities, then please try to understand that visibility by itself is dangerous if it is not accompanied by real life support mechanisms and an embrace of transgender leadership.

We have seen how transgender people are being targeted all over the country, from schools to legislative bodies. 

We have seen how that visibility leads us to be ridiculed by “jokes” and Halloween costumes. We have seen how “visibility” and “awareness” have turned bathrooms into sites of interrogation, intimidation, and harassment.

And in this time of assault, non-transgender leaders raise money claiming to serve transgender clients. Job descriptions are still being written to privilege those with degrees  rather than those with lived experience and close ties to transgender communities. Even the movement that says it cares about us regularly refuses to hire us. Instead, transgender leaders are continually asked to take ‘advisory’ roles on projects that impact our lives.

Drawing attention to transgender communities without also moving closer to serve in support of our survival does not make you an ally. It makes you a voyeur.

And it’s not enough. 

The armchair social media activism. You watching a transgender character on TV without squirming in disgust. These concessions do little to change the difficult choices that so many transgender people face.

That’s why I am sick of Transgender Awareness. I’m sick of “Awareness” and “Visibility” substituting for actual commitment and relationship to the lives of transgender people who are struggling, who are brilliant, whose lives matter.

Of course, transgender awareness is a good thing. But it cannot be the only thing.

It is simply not enough that the world takes one day (or one month) to be aware that transgender people exist, have real life concerns, and are dying from both neglect and abuse.

I long first for the day when Transgender Day of Remembrance is no longer needed.

But until then, I want the day to be transformed into a time when we hear allies rally behind the Mother Jones quote that says, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!” while renewing their commitment to being a meaningful part of our survival.

Photo by India Pierce for Believe Out Loud

Comments (1)

Mycroft Masada

Amen and thank you, Chris.
Amen and thank you, Chris.

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