Are you aware of transgender people? Chances are that, unless you have the world’s worst data plan and no access to WiFi, you are. You may have even heard that many people, including prominent scientists, believe that gender is a spectrum, and that people can be non-binary and identify as anything other than their birth sex. So why do we need Transgender Awareness Week? And what is the upcoming Transgender Day of Remembrance all about?
During the week of 12th – 18th November, Transgender Awareness Week will be celebrated around the world. Here, the University of Southampton is marking the week by flying the trans flag, while the SUSU LGBT+ society and Feminist Society are hosting a range of events from discussion groups to a showcase of local trans-positive charities.
For many trans people, events like these are a wave of positivity in an increasingly hostile and dangerous world as more than a third of transgender students in the UK say they experienced negative comments and behaviour from university staff in 2017. In the UK there has been an 80% increase in transgender-related hate crime over the past four years, and last year an estimated 29 trans people in the US tragically lost their lives as a result of fatal violence. Finally, according to the Stonewall School Report 2017, the attempted suicide rate among trans pupils in the UK is 45%.
Yet, all transgender people are trying to do is live in peace as the people they truly are.
Transgender Day of Remembrance, on November 20th, is a sombre and reflective end to Transgender Awareness Week, where transgender people and allies around the world join together to remember all those we’ve lost in the fight to live in a world where we can be ourselves, free from hate.
The week itself, however, isn’t just a chance for trans people like me to “feel the love” by seeing our flag raised and our struggles discussed. It’s a reminder to everyone that transgender people have always been here, will always be here, and are a marginalised group that is already interwoven through every layer of our society.
If you’re anywhere under the LGBT+ umbrella, you owe much of the early days of the pride movement to Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman of colour who was pivotal in starting the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. Use a smartphone? The chips in most of our gadgets were pioneered by Sophie Wilson, the British computer scientist and prominent trans woman who created the ARM processor in 1983. Using x-rays to screen for diseases was the brainchild of Alan L. Hart, a trans man, in the 1920s. Award-winning Jewish playwright Kate Bornstein identifies as non-binary. The list goes on.
Intersectionality is core to our existence as transgender people. We are forever bound together by the nature of our shared suffering and experience, but we can be anyone, from any background or faith, any colour, and any sexual orientation.
Awareness is the first step on the road to education, and as Nelson Mandela once said:
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.
Perhaps you have a trans friend, and you want to know how to be a better ally. Perhaps one of your friends or family members are struggling with the thought of coming out to you, and without realising it you’re not showing them that they’d be loved and accepted if they did. Perhaps one day you’ll have a trans child. Or perhaps you’re a trans person reading this, whether out-and-proud or closeted, binary or non-binary, or anywhere in between.
Whatever your personal situation, Transgender Awareness Week is an opportunity to show your support. It’s a chance to listen to the discussions, to learn from trans voices, and to challenge any transphobic or “gender critical” language that you hear. As an ally, you can use this week to amplify the voices of trans people around you. Go to some of the many events happening around the city and the country. Spread the message of hope above hate. That trans rights are human rights, and that we’re all in this together.
As a trans person, whether you feel comfortable getting involved in any of the events happening this week or not, please know that you are seen. You are supported. You are beautiful, and you are loved.
If you have been impacted by any of the issues discussed in this article, or just need to talk, you can get free, anonymous advice from the UK Trans Helpline on+441582412220 or the Trans Youth Helpline on +442081234819.