The Life-or-Death Struggle for Trans Visibility - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Life-or-Death Struggle for Trans Visibility

The Life-or-Death Struggle for Trans Visibility

By J. Bob Alotta



Because at least eight trans women have been murdered this year. 

By J. Bob Alotta

The author, who recently spoke at the Women’s March on Washington, is an activist, filmmaker and executive director of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. 

Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to recognize the diversity and accomplishments of the trans community around the world. But a terrible juxtaposition is at play. This year is on track to be another record-breakingly violent year for transgender individuals. 

In just the first three months of 2017, at least eight trans women have been murdered in the United States. This figure is unacceptable. And we know that is only the number of documented murders. Meanwhile, neither the administration nor the mainstream media has addressed this figure — making the problem and its potential solutions largely absent from our national conversation. Does nobody care these women are being killed? Why do we seem so comfortable with the violent erasure of their lives?

Invisibility has life-and-death consequences. For trans people, being invisible, or having to hide their identity, fosters negative perceptions of “otherness” predicated on stereotypes and fear-based bias. A Day of Visibility centers on actual trans lives so that we may, among other reasons, begin the critical discussion of the dangers trans people face. Everywhere.

All eight of the transgender individuals killed in 2017 were women of color, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Why does this particular overlay of race and gender identity spark such unprecedented levels of violence? To even begin to answer such a question, we first need to be aware of the statistics. 

In fact, while the homicide rate in the U.S. is about one out of every 19,000 individuals, for Black transgender women this rate is much higher: an estimated one out of every 2,600. The combined forces of racism, transphobia and sexism — all of which are perpetuated by the policy recommendations of our current administration — have resulted in a reality where transgender women of color are exponentially more likely to experience hate crimes and commit suicide. Research compiled by Mic uncovered 111 murders of transgender and gender-nonconforming Americans between 2010 and 2016. Of these cases, 72 percent were Black trans women or gender-nonconforming femmes. Despite this, there remain no federal laws that explicitly outlaw discrimination based on gender identity. The Census Bureau just this week announced that the next census will not include questions related to sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Visibility is not just about making sure people are seen, but that they are represented on their own terms.

When government undermines the assertion that all people be afforded equal rights before the law, never mind dignity and respect, the floodgates open for hatred and bigotry. We cannot rest comfortably as long as this is so. We must pressure on as advocates, agitators and activists to ensure civil rights for all people — regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, class or ethnicity.  Our most basic freedoms must include the right to live free of violence and discrimination.

Unfortunately, much of this discrimination is fostered by media that misgenders or uses coded language to report the violence trans people incur. Visibility is not just about making sure people are seen, but that they are represented on their own terms through accurate portrayal. Too often, the few conversations on violence perpetrated against the LGBTQI community are sullied by this violent form of erasure. Reporting homicides with inappropriate pronoun usage signals the victim’s agency is unimportant and their story and reality are somehow untrue. In the face of this administration’s anti-LGBTQI agenda, we need to reaffirm to women like Alphonza Watson, Ciara McElveen, Chyna Doll Dupree, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, JoJo Striker, Jaquarrius Holland, Keke Collier and Mesha Caldwell that we see them and their lives matter to us. We must love these women.

We must love trans women of color enough to know their truths, believe in their rights, honor their choices, advocate for their survival and insist on circumstances that will allow us all to thrive. In fact, it is the act of radically loving that will undermine the bigotry that could have any one of us believe a world where trans women of color are able to live freely and fully would be anything other than a world where every one of us was free to do so. We must resist any divisiveness, whether from our own communities or from the administration, so we may recognize our shared humanity, stand together in our differences, learn from each other and build the world in which we intend to live.

To get involved in the International Day of Trans Visibility, consider supporting organizations that have been at the frontlines of transgender advocacy. And hopefully, next year, I won’t have to ask why no one cares that so many women are being killed.

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