We are at the end of another year and another decade. It’s that week leading up to the start of a new year. It’s that week when many take stock of what they’d planned to accomplish, what they actually accomplished, and what will roll over to the new list of plans likely to never be crossed off or the boxes ticked.
For a transgender or non-binary person that list often becomes a plan for survival. What may appear to others as a means to maneuver through simple day-to-day activities are often necessary steps to ensuring the personal safety of a trans person working towards living as their authentic self. For some who are trans a seemingly mundane trip to the DMV can manifest anxiety well before the day arrives for them to step through that door and approach that ever ready face waiting to greet them across the counter.
Going to the DMV isn’t high on anyone’s list of fun things to do but imagine what it’s like for a transgender woman – especially if all of your documents still identify you as male. Recently Jaydee Dolinar, Salt Lake City, Utah was directed by a DMV supervisor to remove her make up with hand sanitizer because wearing the make up did not reflect her gender and could confuse facial recognition software. This was more than a misinterpretation of policy as the director of the Utah Driver License Division stated. A request like this is humiliating, degrading; and despite what may appear to some as a benign request, undeniably places a trans woman at risk for her personal safety.
This is not an isolated incident. It happens over and over again – even in some of the most diverse municipalities. And it’s not just the DMV. The discrimination occurs in the workplace, in medical facilities, when interacting with law enforcement, and in the home. The segregation occurs in all of the places where many humans take personal safety for granted. And it is never okay.
So, the ever-looming question remains. How do we fix this? I hear time and time again from people stating emphatically that “this is not right” and “I’ve got your back.” Our allies are speaking and telling us that they are there for us. That’s a good thing, right?
Two things about this whole trans ally thingy: We as the transgender and non-binary community know what it will take to “fix this” and have been shouting it from the rooftops, the mountaintops, the brick wall at the park, the corner of…well, you get the idea. Secondly, you as the allies are asking the wrong question. Look someone in the eye and ask instead, “what can I do to help?” Then listen. Do something.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to diminish the importance of allyship. It is by definition the foundation of sharing the load when it comes to trans visibility and support. Allies are a great influence when behind the keyboard sharing trans news on social media, clicking on that sad or angry emoticon every time someone posts about another trans woman of color being murdered, or a trans man is kicked out of the men’s restroom, or a gender nonconforming boy gets the “thumbs up” from his family to wear dresses in public for the first time. This is all so very important, but it isn’t enough. Visibility is vital to furthering the trans agenda. Yes, I said it. We do have an agenda. And our needs are growing and ever-changing.
This is why we need our allies to change their narrative. Imagine if you will what it would look like if a self-identified trans ally were to step out from behind their keyboard. If rather than just tweeting their reaction to an issue – good or bad – they were to actually physically be there for the trans community. Picture yourself standing side-by-side with folks from all walks of life, who believe that trans women are women, and trans men are men, and that non-binary friends and family are equally valid as human beings and all deserve the same opportunities to lead a life free from discrimination and violence.
Here are just a few examples of what we need and how that might look on any day of the week.
- Create opportunities and make room for all. Just like everyone else, trans people need an income to survive. Create jobs and fill them with trans humans – not because they are trans, but because they are in fact qualified; and pay them a living wage.
- Don’t deny access to affordable and decent housing for trans individuals. Let’s get more people off the street and into safer living environments. If you know a trans individual seeking housing and know someone with a space available for rent, do what you can to help them connect.
- Show up for events sponsored by or on behalf of your local trans organizations. If you are able, throw them a few bucks to help them reach their goals or give the gift of your time. Volunteer to help at an event or meeting. Again…that whole visibility thing. When others see you working shoulder-to-shoulder it sends the clearest message of support.
- More visibility – join in at political rallies to support and elect candidates who include the LGBTQIA community in their short and long-term plans. This is important from our local governments all the way to the White House.
- Do you have a friend who has changed their pronouns or name? Don’t make this about you. Honor them. Use the pronouns, don’t dead-name them, respect them.
- If you find that you truly are best suited to provide support from that keyboard use it as a voice of advocacy. Don’t just hit the share option and let that post get lost between puppy and kitten videos; include a personal comment on the post about why you support or abhor whatever the message is that you’re forwarding to others. Tell us why. Give us something to think about. Let us hear your voice.
And that brings me to “your voice” and where that fits in this big diverse world. In a world where hate rears its ugly head daily from the TERFs stepping further into the spotlight to our current White House administration removing protections we fight daily to keep; yes, the trans and non-binary community needs to hear your voice. They need to know you are there. Others out there just doing their thing need to know that they have support. No one is asking you to sit silently. Your voice will be heard in your visibility. Here’s the thing – and some of you may turn a deaf ear to this – we know you mean well, but we need the message to be ours. Trans people need to be given the room to make their message clear and loud and unencumbered. You don’t get to tell us what you think we need because you haven’t walked this path. This is our fight, after all. Let us fight the fight. Listen to what we need to make things happen for us and help us do the heavy lifting.
We don’t need or want you speaking for us or standing up on your soapbox speaking your mind then pulling us up there next to you as an example of what you’re trying to say. Instead, please step down, make room and lift us up, then cheer us on as we shout out our life-supporting trans epistle! It is material that you walk beside us, not in front of us. We do need you. We have always needed you; and without a doubt our message is stronger when we are together – when you advocate for us and with us.
As we march into 2020, I challenge all of our community allies to throw aside making resolutions and instead make a decision – a choice – to be an advocate.