I came out as transgender, specifically as non-binary, in late 2014. I had just graduated from high school, cut my hair, and begun a new chapter of my life in post-secondary, but I told no one about my recently-discovered identity. I flew under the radar for close to a year, having to deal with the fact that I was constantly being referred to with the wrong pronouns and being assigned an identity that was not congruent with who I really was. When I finally came out to my family I was told that it was “just a phase” because I’ve “always been rebellious”, making me feel worse and worse and less and less confident in who I was. Being non-binary, it seems that most people find it difficult to truly believe my identity because it does not fit into the typical male/female dichotomy so prominent in Western society. People gripe and groan about having to use pronouns like ‘they/them’, and I get stares and experience harassment from people who want to know whether I’m a boy or a girl. These are only a few of the struggles I have faced since coming out but many other transgender people, non-binary or not, receive a much worse fate.
November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day to acknowledge those murdered by acts of transphobia as well as to raise awareness of the struggles faced by transgender people all over the world. In 1999, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a trans woman and activist, founded TDOR to memorialize the murder of trans woman Rita Hester, and every year since then people around the world conduct vigils, marches, food drives, film screenings and more to express their condolences and to raise awareness.
Unfortunately, violence against trans people stems not from a few misguided citizens with bad intentions but rather from many interlocking systems of oppression that are reinforced by varying institutions. Gender, along with race, class, ability and many other categories, are expressed in very specific ways in schools, the media, and even within families, in such a way that breeds a society that disproportionately targets those who do not ‘fit in.’ This results in the harassment of, violence towards, and murder of transgender people, as well as the increased mental health issues they face. It is important on this day to not only acknowledge that justice and equality must be achieved for all transgender people, but to also acknowledge the fact that systemic societal issues affect transgender people differently.
All we can do is our best. If your best is sharing a post on Facebook, attending a candlelight vigil for those we have been lost, or simply having a conversation with a few friends on how you can change your language to be more trans-inclusive, then please do it. Although my being transgender has brought me some hardships and discomfort, it has also allowed me –as cliché as this is- to truly find myself. Two years ago I would have never dreamed of writing a blog post about being trans, being a Pride Representative for an entire college, or being this happy in my own skin. It was a journey to get myself here, but the support from those around me has given me the ability to be the most confident version of myself. It is days like today that scare me about being trans, of course, but the growing support behind this occasion gives me hope that there will be a day –in my lifetime, even- when people are not harassed, harmed or killed because of being transgender.
Stay safe, and happy Transgender Day of Remembrance.