I’m going to say it explicitly: I am a transgender person.
I’m saying this from a place of privilege:
I’m saying this as a white, middle class person who owns a home.
I’m saying this as someone who has what’s known as “passing privilege” – that most people don’t assume I’m transgender just by looking at me.
I’m saying this as someone with a Masters degree.
I’m saying this as someone who is a minister in the United Church of Christ.
And all of that privilege makes it much easier for me to move in the world than many of my sisters and brothers. I even have the option of not disclosing that I’m transgender.
And so I feel a burden to speak on behalf of those whose words have not been heard, on behalf of those who have been silenced, on behalf of those who have ended their own lives, on behalf of those who have had their lives taken from them.
Transgender visibility has greatly increased in the past few years, with writers like Janet Mock, actresses like Laverne Cox, public figures like Chas Bono, and sports figures like Caitlyn Jenner appearing in popular media. We’ve seen young lives like Jazz Jennings take shape. When I transitioned three decades ago, I didn’t have such role models, and I am overjoyed that today’s young people can see themselves growing into capable and lovable people.
But for every forward movement, there is an opposite (if not always proportional) backlash. And we’re seeing it at the ballotbox: the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was voted down largely on the fear that it would put men in women’s restrooms and locker rooms.
We’re seeing it in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual community, where a small portion of the community began a petition to “Drop the T” from LGBT.
We’re seeing it in the workplace, where the Washington D.C. Office of Human Rights “released the findings of a six-month study that showed 48 percent of employers appeared to prefer at least one less-qualified job applicant over a better-qualified applicant perceived as being transgender.”
And we’re seeing it in violence against transgender people.
Murders of transgender people in the USA have nearly doubled in the past year. And, while I’m tempted to say that these are people like me, I know that very few of these people have the same privilege as I do. Most of those killed are transgender women of color, often with far less income and education than I have been privileged to receive. It is at the intersection of being female, being a person of color, living in poverty, and being transgender that we are exceptionally vulnerable.
Furthermore, income is influenced by presenting as female, women earning 84% what men do. Wealth is influenced by race. And according to one study, “Fifteen percent (15%) of transgender people … lived on $10,000 per year or less – double the rate of the general population.”
These factors are in addition to the backlash against transgender rights. Add them together, and transgender women of color are especially vulnerable to violence.
The murders are typically very brutal.
The USA is, of course, not the only place where trans people are being murdered. Brazil is a particularly dangerous place to be transgender. Violence against transgender people happens all over the world.
On November 28, 1998, transgender woman Rita Hester was killed. In 1999, an annual vigil began called Transgender Day of Remembrance. While the official date is November 20, observances around the world occur before and after this date. At these vigils, we call out the names of the transgender and gender variant people who have been killed since the previous November 20.
Some of these vigils are held in places of worship, some in schools, some outdoors, some in yet other venues. What they have in common is that they recognize and celebrate the lives of the people we have lost to violence. They hold up the lives of transgender people as being just as sacred as those of anyone else.
If this article has touched your heart, consider attending a vigil. There is a list here. You might feel uncomfortable being around so many transgender people. That’s okay, sometimes we feel uncomfortable being around so many cisgender (non-transgender) people.
Beyond that, get to know some transgender people. Defend us when people say rude and disparaging things about us. And create spaces for us to be heard.
Our lives are more than a political issue: they are a pastoral issue and, for me, a personal issue.
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