It’s Transgender Day of Remembrance and in honor of those who have passed we cover the origins of TDOR, the many trans people lost to anti-trans violence this last year, and 5 of the biggest misconceptions about the transgender and non-binary communities. If you were not able to make it to a vigil this year then perhaps our small reading will help.
And if you’re simply looking for better education on the trans community or ways to be an ally then this episode is packed with good information. Either way anyone can benefit from more awareness. So hit that download and play button and join the conversation!
If you’re listening to our episode the day that it drops – on Wednesday November 20th, then you’re listening on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. This national day of observance was founded 20 years ago today in 1999 and was created reated by trans woman and queer activist, Gwendolyn Ann Smith. Smith had been active in the trans rights movement during the early 1990s, starting one of the first online public forums for transgender people. She also wrote articles and various online blogs before finding her current position as a columnist for the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco. But Gwendolyns most lasting legacy will no doubt be her organization of TDOR – Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The idea for the ceremony was sparked by the murder of Rita Hester. A black trans woman who was stabbed to death in her own apartment in Allston, Massachuesettes on November 28, 1998. Immediately after her death, friends and family organized a candlelight vigil to remember Rita which drew around 250 people in attendance. Just one month before Rita’s murder, Matthew Shepard had also been gruesomely killed. Yet unlike the non-stop media coverage of Matthew’s death, as well as the quick capture and conviction of his killers, Rita’s murder was relatively ignored by news stations and her case has never been solved. A black transgender woman dying seemed of little concern to the nation, including many of the larger LGBT organizations who had capitalized on the spotlight surrounding Matthew’s death. Outraged by the neglect and apathy over Rita’s murder, Gwendolyn Smith put her graphic design skills to work and created the website Remembering Our Dead. Which listed the names and death of transgender people from 1970 – 1998.
The following year on November 20, 1999, Smith organized the first offical Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil. Today over 200 cities and countries around the world observe this practice. In 2017 Canada became the first country to officially declare TDOR as a national day of remembrance. The ceremonies and services surrounding the day will vary from area to area. There is no required format, though most do include the candlelight vigil. As for those remembered, the official Transgender Day of Remembrance website only recognizes those lost to anti-trans violence in the past year. However, in some communities organizers may choose to include other transgender individuals who passed from other forms of death. We encourage you to see what events may be held tonight or the rest of the week in observance of TDOR.
But in addition to the awareness brought on by the annual vigil, the research and information available on trans issues as a whole has only increased and grown with time. As has some of the mis-information about the community. Today we are going to discuss five of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding trans people. As well as some of the wonderful facts about the community. And we will end the podcast with a list of transgender people murdered in America during 2019 as a tribute to them and to Transgender Day of Remembrance. So let’s start with some common misconceptions.
Misconception #1: What Is a Trangender Person – A transgender person is someone who’s gender identity or gender expression is not in agreement with their biological sex or their sex assigned at birth. This term is an umbrella term for anyone who falls in this category. And therefore covers the following:
Transsexuals: people who seek medical treatment to change their bodies – Transsexual is an older term and specifically and only refers to those who seek medical intervention. Even so, most younger trans individuals prefer the umbrella term of transgender to the older term of transsexual.
Cross Dressers: While this term is used in a legal sense to cover anyone dressing outside their perceived gender, in the trans world it applies specifically to men who cross dress. Meaning they prefer to occasionally wear the clothes and makeup culturally associated with women and temporarily act in feminine fashion. Cross dressing men still identify as male and most are heterosexual. The old and outdated term for cross dressers is transvestite. But that term along with the word tranny are offensive and should not be used.
Non-Binary/Gender Queer – There are a few terms which people who don’t fit into the gender binary use. We will not get into the various definitions on this episode, only to say that those who don’t identify as male or female are still considered transgender. This is because they have all been assigned a gender at birth and their expression or identity does not fully match that gender or perhaps does not match any gender at all.
Misconception #2: Gender and Sex are the Same Thing: The more research is done on sex, gender, and sexuality, the more concepts on binary genders and orientations are broken down. But a big misconception is that sex and gender are the same. In reality we have three categories; Sex, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression.
Sex: It is the biological makeup of an individual combined with thier assignment at birth – If we base sex upon gonadic criterion (meaning based upon genitals), then we have 3 sexes; male, female and intersex. But there are other ways we measure sex such as genetic (Chromosones), hormonal (the predominant horomone either testosterone or estrogen) and anatomical (how the genitals look). In the 1990’s Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling found 5 sexes in her gonadic research alone. When we factor in the following 20 plus years of genetic research, the number of sexes becomes almost infinite. Regardless of what an individual wants to use to define sex, what we know for certain is that there are more than 2 sexes.
Gender Identity – This is the internal sense of one’s gender. Here is where a lot of the confusion comes in. Most transgender people will not debate on whether sex is limited to a few (current) definitions. However, gender identity is socially constructed and therefore is the neurological aspect of sex and gender. Studies have shown that many trans people have the brain scans of the gender they identify with rather than the gender they were assigned at birth. Though we must point out that these studies have not yet proven conclusive, there is more research to be done. Yet when we say socially constructed we mean that gender identity is created by the surrounding society. We have spoken at length about the various gender identities in other cultures in times past and today. One of our most in depth episodes spoke about the Two-Spirit individuals of the North American tribes. Almost every Indigenous society in America – pre-Columbus – recognized 3-5 genders. And this was not central to North America by any means. In 2015 PBS produced a map which shows multiple gender identities all around the world. We’ve shared and linked the map in our script for our listeners to check out as well.
Gender Expression – This is the outward expressions of gender through name, pronouns, clothing, etc. The final ladder on the rung of gender is by far the most culturally obvious and most dangerous. Most people in Western Society today won’t argue that an individual can dress and express themselves how they please (we emphasis MOST PEOPLE). Provided of course that the individual chooses a “gender” and sticks with it, except when entertaining – such as in Drag. And this is where our non-binary friends truly struggle. Because while a binary trans person “sticks to their role” so to speak, a gender queer or non-binary individual does not fit any role. There is certainly a large amount of hate spewed at trans people daily simply because they ask to be acknowledged for who they are. But Ironically, it is often the binary trans community which gives their non-binary trans friends the most trouble. For instance, a transgender man wanting to put on a dress draws much harsher criticism than a cisgender man doing the same thing. No doubt this is a result of fear of further backlash from the bigots. Yet this reaction ignores the lines between identity and expression. Every individual – trans or cisgender – has the right to identify and express themselves how they please. And if the expression doesn’t seem to match the identity, then it is our perception of expression that is skewed and not the expressive individuals error.
Misconception #3: It’s Easy to Transition – That’s such a loaded and false statement. The reality is there are many layers to transition and most transgender people never feel that they are quite done transitioning. The three stages of transition are Social, Legal, and Medical. Not every trans person will undergo all of these stages. This does not make them more or less trans. Transition is a personal journey that varies from individual to individual. Each stage comes with its own risks and rewards. There are as follows:
Social – Coming out as transgender, possibly changing names or pronouns, possibly changing clothing and grooming habits.
*POSSIBLE REWARDS – living openly. Expressing how one pleases. Being true to one’s self
*POSSIBLE RISKS – Loss or ostracization of friends and family. Loss of job or housing. Social ostracization. Physical harassment and violence.
Legal – Changing one’s legal name and gender identity on government documents.
*POSSIBLE REWARDS – less risk of being outed by documents. Ability to pursue surgery if one chooses. Having the correct information on one’s I.D.’s
*POSSIBLE RISKS – Often lengthy and expensive process. Chances of denial by schools or government branches. Having to come out every time you go to have a new form/I.D. corrected
Medical – The first step for most trans people who want to medically transition is hormones. Testosterone for trans men and Estrogen for Trans women. Many transgender women will also take testosterone blockers in order to aid the Estrogen as testosterone is the more aggressive hormone. Surgery is a different topic all together and there is no such thing as “the surgery”. Meaning, there is not one single surgery which makes a person a man or a woman. Our identities make us who we are, not our genitals. However, the most common surgeries are as such:
For Transgender Men – Top surgery (male chest reconstruction), Hysterectomy (removal of ovaries and uterus), and sometimes Phalloplasty (construction of a penis) or Metiodioplasty (which causes the clitoris to somewhat grow and work like a penis).
For Transgender Women – Breast Augmentation (implants), Orchiectomy (removal of testes), laser hair removal on face and sometimes body, tracheal shave (reducing adam’s apple), facial feminization (smaller and more feminine face), and Vaginoplasty (inversion of penis to create vagina).
The most important thing to note about medical transition is that it is a very long, very painful, and very expensive process. Surgeries are almost never covered out of pocket and must be paid for up front as they are considered elective surgeries. In addition, few places of work will allow for the months of time off required to heal from these surgeries and even fewer jobs will give paid time off. Because of these many obstacles, the majority of transgender people undergo few if any of the above surgeries. And as we stated, not every transgender person feels it is neccessary to have surgery to feel comfortable in their own skin. But others will struggle with the knowledge that they need a surgery which they will never be able to afford.
Misconception #4: Transgender Kids Get Surgery – One of the biggest lies around the trans community is spun by alt right pundits who write aricles with titles like “Trans Child Expiramental Guinea Pig” or “Transing Kids is Child Abuse” or “Why Are We Encouraging Girls To Mutilate Their Bodies?”. These are all real headlines that spread the myth that young children are undergoing surgeries and life altering transitions during their childhoods. It’s an absolute, flat out lie. Children under the age of 15 do not undergo trans related surgery anywhere in the world. And the few surgeries that teens can go through at age 15 are reversible, require multiple doctor referrals, parental consent, therapist approval that the teen is cognitively aware of the consequences, and generally more than a year of social transition with the teenager living in their correct gender. More advanced surgeries such as genital deconstruction or reconstruction are only available to teens 17 and older and hold the same requirements (minus parental consent).
The earliest a child can start any form of medical transition is at age 12 when they can receive puberty blockers. Puberty blockers are approved by the FDA and have been used for decades to stem hormones in children who hit puberty at an extremely early age. They are completely safe and completely reversible. From ages 12-14 a young teen can use blockers to prevent their body from changes and thus prevent the start of the wrong puberty. Again, this is after doctor and therapist have agreed the child is suffering from Dysphoria and after the parents have consented. In the Netherlands a large study of transgender youth found that only 1.9 percent of participants chose to stop transition after starting puberty blockers. At age 16, in most Western countries at least, a child can begin the proper hormones for their correct gender. Again, these hormones are reversible, though some of the effects may not go away entirely if they are used for a prolonged period of time. For instance, several years of testosterone may cause an individual to always have facial hair. But this is only after a lot of exposure to the hormone and varies from person to person.
Misconception #5: Trans People are Unstable and Unable to Fully Adapt to Society – This is perhaps the most foolish and harmful notion out there about transgender individuals. If you’ve followed our podcast over the last year then you know this is not true. We have covered trans heroes who made advances in the medical industry such as Alan Hart. Business entrepreneurs such as Lucy Hicks Anderson and Reed Erickson. We’ve covered activists like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Author and local character Joseph Lobdell. Even veterans like Albert Cashier and Kristen Beck. Wherever you look in history there the trans community exists; yes, often in the shadows or hidden in the back of history books. Usually overlooked and many times maligned, but trans people have been there contributing to society the same way as every other human. The biggest difference though is we’re still being murdered for who we are. As we end this episode, we will read a list of those we lost to violence this past year. This list contains only America, as we could not include the hundreds of names from around the world. However, we do encourage you to check out tdor.info.com for a complete list.
Transgender People Murdered Nov 2018 – 2019
Tydi Dansbury – A black trans woman shot and killed in Baltimore, Maryland on November 28, 2018
Keanna Mattel -A black trans woman shot and killed in Detroit, Michigan on Dec 7, 2018
Dana Martin – A black trans woman shot and killed in Montgomery Alabama on January 6th
Ellie Marie Washtock – Nonbinary/transfemine person found murdered at home in St. Augustine, Florida on January 31st.
Jazzaline Ware – A black trans woman found murdered at home in Memphis, Tennessee on March 25th.
Ashanti Carmon – A black trans woman shot and killed in Prince George’s County, Maryland on March 30th.
Claire Legato – A black trans woman shot in the head in Cleveland, Ohio on April 15th.
Muhlaysia Booker – A black trans woman beaten and shot to death in Dallas, Texas on May 18th.
Michelle Tamika Washington – A black trans woman shot and killed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 19th.
Paris Cameron – A black trans woman shot and killed in Detroit, Michigan on May 25th.
Chynal Lindsey – A black trans woman found murdered in Dallas, Texas on June 1st.
Johana Medina Leon – Transgender El Salvadorian immigrant who was denied medical treatment by ICE officials and died in custody on June 1st.
Chanel Scurlock – A black trans woman shot in Lumberton, North Carolina on June 5th.
Zoe Spears – A black trans woman shot and killed in Fairmount Heights, Maryland on June 13th.
Brooklyn Lindsey – A black trans woman found beaten and shot in Kansas City, Missouri on June 25th.
Denali Berries Stuckey – A black trans woman shot and killed in North Charleston, South Carolina on July 20th.
Tracey Single – A black trans woman found murdered in a parking lot in Houston, Texas on July 30th.
Kiki Fantroy – A black tans woman shot and killed in Miami-Dade County, Florida on July 31st.
Pebbles LaDime Doe – A black trans woman shot and killed in Allendale County, South Carolina on August 4th.
Bailey Reeves – A black trans woman shot and killed in Baltimore, Maryland on September 2nd.
Bee Love Slater – A black trans woman bound and beaten, shot and burned in her car in Clewiston, Florida on September 4th.
Elisha Channel Stanely – A black trans woman found murdered outside the Westin Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 16th.
Itali Marlowe – A black trans woman shot and killed in her driveway in Houston, Texas on September 20th.
Brianna “BB” Hill – A black trans woma shot and killed outside Vinyard Park in Kansas City, Missouri on October 14th.
This list by no means covers the death of every transgender person in America. Or even all trans people who were murdered in 2019, such as Jordan Cofer who was killed during the Dayton Massacre this year. In fact, since detailed record keeping began in 2008, over 3,000 transgender people around the world have been murdered in the last decade. But this list – which is specifically for America and only in the past year – focuses on those whom police or family (or both) believe that the victim was murdered because they were transgender. There are 24 names on the above list and 22 of them were names of black transgender women. We did not adjust this list to only portray black transgender women, it is simply the ungly truth of anti-trans violence and racism in our country. As we can see, the queer community cannot properly address transphobia and the violence which it stirs without also addressing the racism so often attached. Until we focus on the safety of trans women – on the safety of trans women of color – on the safety of black trans women especially, our efforts to aid the transgender community through funding and support will mean little. As important as those resources are they pale in significance for the individual who fears for their very life.
As we conclude our episode we want to list a few resources for the trans community. We will also include links to these on our website at the bottom of the script page. But some good resources to check out are transequality.org which advocates for transgender rights. Pointofpride.org which funds surgeries, binders, shapewear, and other forms of financial aid for transgender people. Translifeline.org is an online and phone support group for transgender people. You can contact someone there if you need to talk, or you can volunteer to man the phones. There is the Trans Woman of Color Collective (online as twocc.us) which raises money for social justice, education, wellness and survival. Any of those organizations are also a great place to donate if you are on your feet and able to give back. And for our listeners who are people of color, on February 28-29 2020 the QTPOC (Queer, Trans, Black and Indigenous People of Color) Conference will be hosted in Santa Cruz, CA. You can register online through February 7th. And for our final resource, the website seems somewhat still in progress but already has a lot of information. Just go to transgendermap.com, it was created by Andrea James and has a host of other resources and links for trans and non-binary individuals.
- Trans Equality – https://transequality.org/additional-help
- Point of Pride – https://pointofpride.org/
- Trans lifeline – https://www.translifeline.org/
- TWOCC – https://www.twocc.us/
- QTPOC Conference – https://queer.ucsc.edu/resources/qpoc.html
- Trans Map – https://www.transgendermap.com/
- TDOR – https://tdor.info/
- Wiki TDOR – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender_Day_of_Remembrance#Rita_Hester
- Boston Globe (Rita) – https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/11/18/boston-transgender-community-gathers-remember-rita-hester/xEY2u9oPCQ95LAuVkpF3HO/story.html
- GLAAD – https://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender
- WHO – https://www.who.int/genomics/gender/en/index1.html
- How Many Sexes – https://news.cnrs.fr/articles/how-many-sexes-are-there
- PBS MAP – https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1zDWxhBN5aOofwpE-FkZWQsiFDlE&ll=22.971037270290825%2C151.896973&z=2
- Brain Scans – https://news.usc.edu/158899/transgender-research-usc-brain-gender-identity/
- Trans Kids – https://www.vox.com/2018/10/22/18009020/transgender-children-teens-transition-detransition-puberty-blocking-medication