Transgender Awareness Week (13th to 20th November)

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13 November 2020

Five-and-a-half reasons why we should all care about Transgender Awareness Week

NOTE: “trans*” (also known as “trans asterisk” or “trans star”), is used to indicate the inclusion of gender identities such as gender-fluid, gender non-conforming, agender etc., alongside transsexual and transgender – it is a more inclusive term that acknowledges a spectrum of gender identities.

Transgender Awareness Week is typically observed each year during the second week of November and is a one-week celebration that leads up to Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) – a day memorialising victims of transphobic violence.  The week focuses on education about the trans* experience and the issues associated with gender transition and identity.

Here are five-and-a-half reasons why we should all care about Transgender Awareness week

1. Chances are you know very little about transgender experiences

You may be gay or lesbian, or have gay and/or lesbian friends, family members, or work mates, and through them you may have gained an understanding of their lived experience - both the triumphs and the tribulations. You may even call yourself an ‘ally,’ and firmly believe that all LGBTI+ people should have the same rights as the rest of the community.  But there is a really good chance you don’t know much about trans* identity, politics, and the experience of trans* people.  It’s okay, it’s not your fault. Openly trans* people make up a very small percentage of our overall population, so gaining a good understanding of their lived experiences is difficult. This is why it’s so important to have a Trans* Awareness Week.  Most people (even in the broad LGBTI+ community) are, in fact, quite naïve about the experiences of trans* people – so this week is dedicated to trans* awareness and highlighting narratives, issues, and perspectives that are often lost or overlooked in our heteronormative, cis-gender-dominant culture.

If all of this seems confronting, confusing, or you just want to know more, I highly recommend the Netflix documentary Disclosure. It's an important and timely film about trans* representation in the media, and the ripple effects that it has. View the trailer.

2. Allies are so important

One of the major lessons that the “gay rights” movement has (historically) taught us, is visibility can be used as power: “Out of the closet, into the streets!” was a 2016 short documentary examining the importance of allyship and progressing social causes.  The idea was the more ‘out’ people there are, the more we can change societal thinking to be more embracing of a person’s identities. That said, this sort of logic doesn’t have as much clout for the trans* community.

Considering the percentage of openly trans* people in our society is relatively small and the marginalisation of trans* issues by even mainstream queer and human rights organisations, means the usual approaches that privilege visibility are more difficult for trans* people. Certainly, trans* visibility and trans* people speaking about their own experiences is crucial (increased media exposure and social media have enhanced the capacity for this). However, considering the small size of the openly trans* community, few people may encounter openly trans* people on a day-to-day basis. This is why critical, educated, and self-reflective allyship for trans* people is so important.

Who is going to bring up trans* issues in spaces where there are no trans* people to speak for themselves?

What we do know is that we all have the ability to create safe and affirming spaces for everyone. Individual actions have the deep-seated potential to contribute to the creation and nurturing of these safe spaces. You never know, posting a Transgender Awareness Week flyer on your Facebook or attending an event could actually save someone’s life - because they are reminded that people care about their experience; they may think of your small act of kindness, your small signal of solidarity, in potentially one of their darkest moments.

Want to know more about allyship? Check out this interesting piece by Minus 18.

You can also watch “Out of the closet, into the streets!” (12mins) here.

3. Trans* experiences are crucial to our analysis of inequality and our desire to ‘save the world.’

We often speak about ‘poverty’ and ‘inequality’ in monolithic ways – failing to recognise that poverty is racialised and gendered. What does poverty look like in our world and why does it look that way?

Trans* people experience some of the most severe discrimination across the globe. While there have been major victories in queer rights over the years, only a privileged subset of people (mostly gay and lesbian) have seen positive changes to their lives.  Trans* people experience double the rate of unemployment, with rates for trans* people of colour up to four times higher than the national unemployment rate. The systems established to protect minorities fail the trans* community: trans* people are often refused appropriate or respectful health care due to their identity and fall victim to harassment and assault at higher rates than the general population. Sadly, due to a combination of systemic inequalities and interpersonal prejudice, the rate of trans* people that self-harm, is almost forty times higher than the general population.

By viewing trans* experiences as a lens of analysis, we can better appreciate the dire need to restructure our society, our economic institutions and both our individual and collective thinking around all people experiencing disadvantage and hardship. If these changes occur, to better accommodate trans* people – the most disadvantaged in our society – then they will become better for all citizens. It is crucial that we come to understand a trans*-specific analysis of poverty and inequality if we are genuinely interested in making widespread change.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing distress or is in crisis please seek support for you or for them.  Here are some LGBTI+ resources that are available to help:

The Rainbow Door (free specialist LGBTI helpline providing information, support, and referral to all LGBTI+ Victorians, their friends and family during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond: 1800 729 367 or visit the Rainbow Door website.

4. Trans* Awareness Week is crucial for everyone, regardless of gender identity

Regardless of your work role, social circle, or even educational pursuits, if you have not already, chances are you will one day interact with a trans* person.  So, it is vitally important that we know now how we would approach that interaction.

Let’s say you’re a reception staff member: What are you going to do when a transwoman walks up to your desk? Will you be prepared? Will you call them by the wrong names?  Let’s say you are a support worker in aged care or disability: What will you do when one of the ‘men’ you support wears a dress? Or when another person makes fun of them, or says something insensitive? Will you know how to intervene, or will you do nothing – potentially contributing to the psychological harm.

Let’s say you’re an office-based staffer: What if a workmate came out in a team meeting as transitioning? Would you know what to say, and how best to say it? How would you reassure and affirm their disclosure? How quickly would you adjust to different pronouns?

The more we know about ‘different’ experiences the more empathic, compassionate, and professional we can interact with one another.

Pronouns can be tricky when we aren’t using them frequently, but using the wrong pronouns (known as “misgendering”) can be an upsetting, traumatic, or hurtful experience for someone.  Watch this short video that is a useful intro to pronouns, the best way to use pronouns, and why it’s important to get it right.

5. Trans* experiences can teach us all so much

By dedicating a week of awareness to trans* people we are taking what is normally thought of as a ‘minority’ subject and universalising it – attempting to show everyone that we all – regardless of our gender identity – have so much to learn from trans* experiences.

Since our very early days growing up, we have mostly come to view sex and gender as being binary (only male/female and man/woman). The wonderful diversity of nature means that gender is not binary, and the experiences of trans* people remind us of the inadequacy of this paradigm. Indeed, trans* activism and advocacy encourages people to self-fashion and to self-determine their own gender presentations (a lesson that we can all learn from).

Recognising the false construction of these binaries is liberating!

Humans are wildly complex critters and don’t fit so narrowly into strict categories. The experiences of trans* people should motivate us to contemplate how suffocating the boxes we get placed into are. Trans* experiences remind us of the importance of self-identification and self-realisation. We should be able to construct and present our own unique identities, regardless of dominant assumptions of what is considered right or wrong.

View this Ted Talk about Jackson Bird’s lived experiences of being trans*, with a load of accessible and practical “lessons”.

And this link to an editorial series in the New York Times, features a number of personal stories that reflect the strength, diversity, and challenges of the trans* community.

5.5 The half reason

And so, what is the “half” reason left? Well, it’s an understanding by us all that we need ensure we are fully committed to understanding, appreciating, supporting, and celebrating trans* people in our workplaces, our homes, and our community.  Getting it half right, isn’t enough.  Just because something doesn’t directly affect us, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fully care, or only care in half measures.

Transgender Awareness Week has a fabulous range of activities, events, and resources you can all access, just head over to these websites for more details:

Transgender Day of Remembrance
Minus 18
What are pronouns and why are they important