So far this year, there have been at least 22 transgender people murdered in the US. Given that such numbers are gleaned from news sources–as far as I know, there is no coordinated national-level tracking–the real number is almost certainly higher. Of the 22 known for certain, 19 were people of color. Today is a day for remembering trans victims of violence.
Transgender issues rarely get serious attention in the US. The greatest exception in recent memory is the public coming-out of Caitlyn Jenner, which has improved the visibility of trans people in general even if Jenner herself isn’t the best advocate for trans issues. (For some reasons why, look here.) Nevertheless, visibility is visibility, and transgender issues get much more coverage now than they did a few years ago. Jenner isn’t solely behind that increase, of course. Trans women like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox have used their own notoriety to promote awareness of trans experience and the particular problems trans people face.
To get a sense of scope, it helps to have numbers. About 700,000 American adults are transgender. Of those, 41% report having attempted suicide. 19% report having suffered abuse at the hands of a partner or family member as a result of their trans status. But only 18 states (and the District of Columbia) have specific laws to protect trans people from discrimination, and there is no federal law providing any such universal protection. More than a quarter of trans people report having lost a job due to their identity. Due to a lack of social support and solid public resources, trans people face instability in almost every respect. Many are homeless, cast out by their families. Some have difficulty securing jobs that treat them fairly and equitably. Trans people–pre-operative male-to-female trans women in particular–are overrepresented in sex work and the porn industry, as well. This does not suggest a problem in those industries, but rather that trans people are marginalized out of other fields of work and left with few options except sex work or porn–industries where they are actually in-demand. But this is a fraught prospect, as well, since trans women in sex work are at high risk of HIV. This is the intersection of multiple factors:
- Trans sex workers are disproportionately women of color.
- People of color have higher rates of HIV due mainly to socioeconomic factors, which are generally consequences of structural racial discrimination.
- Due to a frequent lack of understanding, care, and respect from family members and romantic partners, instability in personal relationships is high, which is a major contributor to depression, and combined with limited financial means and poor access to healthcare, substance abuse rates are higher, which are a major contributor to HIV risk.
- Once infected, detection rates are low–again, due to lack of medical resources, but also at least in part to the criminalization of sex work and the risk of being imprisoned for admitting to such.
HIV is mentioned, not with the intention of presenting it as a central issue (though it is an important one), but to demonstrate how the confluence of numerous structural factors puts trans people at exceptionally high risk for poverty, violent victimization (sexual and otherwise), serious illness, and suicide.
Transgender people are dying and it isn’t because there is something wrong with being trans. It is because family members, romantic partners, friends, and employers are less supportive than they could be, or even downright hostile. It is because little public policy has been shaped to address the particular needs of trans people–or even give them basic protection from discrimination–nor have the resources they need been allocated. It is also because of broader structural issues outside of transgenderism: sexism, racism, income inequality. Trans bodies are fetishized and trans lives are criminalized. Trans people have lacked strong advocacy networks until relatively recently, in part because it has remained exceedingly dangerous for trans people to even live openly (much less advocate for–and thus identify–themselves), and also because transgender is frequently lumped in with gay and lesbian issues, when the central advocacy issue for gays and lesbians has been achieving marriage equality, meaning that issues more specific to trans people have long gone ignored.
So, today we remember the trans lives lost to violence, those who died at least in part because of who they were, and because they existed in a society that failed to treat them equitably and value them as much as people who aren’t trans. With a rising awareness that trans people exist and a greater public focus on addressing trans issues, maybe someday Transgender Remembrance Day will have to look back years or decades to find people to memorialize, instead of having to examine only last week or last month.
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