In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, MTV News asked young trans people: “What does Transgender Awareness Week mean to you?”
2015 has been a monumental year for the transgender community, but there’s more progress yet to be made. Not only do we want to highlight the powerful personal stories of these individuals, but we want to know: “What’s next?” Let’s shine a light on what has been accomplished — and what still needs to be discussed.
By Leo Sheng, 19
Growing up, I watched way too much television for my own good. Like, way too much. And still, even before I came out as a transgender man, I never saw anyone like myself -- not really.
A Chinese adoptee with two white moms, I’m not exactly a common story in movies and TV shows. And then, after I took one of the biggest chances of my life and came out as trans, the only trans guys I saw were white. Don’t get me wrong, those guys gave me so much hope when I felt trapped and couldn’t see a future for myself. Somewhere along the way, I turned to the trans guys on YouTube, who eventually made me feel like everything was going to be OK. I always messaged them with questions about testosterone, questions about binding and top surgery, questions about workout regimes, etc. We looked nothing alike and we came from completely different backgrounds, and yet, we still had a connection. The sense of community was one of the strongest things I’d ever experienced.
Today, I’m 19 years-old and I’m seven years into my transition. I’m just over 17 months post top-surgery and 16 months on hormones, and I’ve finally found a place of comfort and confidence in my body and in my life. Through the support of my family and friends, and complete strangers, I’ve made it this far. But my transition is never going to be over. It doesn’t have an end point. I believe that I will always be transitioning somehow, even if not medically. For me, being “out” is a continual action; a continual state of being.
Two years ago, I took another big chance and began sharing my journey on Instagram, so I’m basically out to the entire world (or, rather, those who follow me). I’d made a few videos before, but I didn’t really have a big audience, so I didn’t think many people were watching. As of today, I have more than 40,000 followers on Instagram. That’s not a brag, but something that truly blows my mind. That something so simple as me being me has drawn in so many people I’ve never met -- it’s just incredible.
2015 was a huge year for the trans community. Slowly, more and more transgender characters have been written into TV shows. However, that doesn’t mean they've always been positive representations. In GLAAD’s annual report about LGBTQ representation in the media, they revealed that of all on the online streaming networks, only four shows have regularly occurring transgender characters. Four. I could only name three, and I still watch too much television for my own good.
Aside from the gradually increasing representation in the media, many in the trans community have also experienced grief. This year alone has seen the loss of nearly 25 transgender women, the majority of whom were women of color; their lives taken by violent acts of hate. Not to mention four youth suicides, including Leelah Alcorn, whose death reignited the conversation around conversion therapies and LGBTQ persons. Every time I see another article headline with the words “transgender” and “death,” my heart drops to my stomach. It never gets easier. It’s never not painful.
There are a lot of things I could say about Transgender Awareness Week, what I believe it represents and what it means. But to be honest, it’s the same thing that I always say. It’s a time to do things that should be done any other day of the year: respect people’s pronouns and names, don’t out folks, listen if they tell you they feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and understand that trans people are still people and that you’re not entitled to information about their bodies and lives.
Transgender Awareness Week is really about being there for those in the community and finding ways be better, to help each other stay afloat. I’m proud of my trans identity and I’m proud to be visible, but that isn’t an option for everyone -- not when so many are still targets of violence and hate. Not when we are still denied basic human rights like using the bathroom when we need to. And frankly, not everyone wants to be visible or have pride. That’s OK.
Sometimes it’s hard to remain hopeful for future progress. Sometimes it’s easy to say that nothing will ever get better. There are days when I don’t feel as inspired as people may assume. But through the mess and the tragedies, there are rays of hope that peak through. When I watch friends like Precious Davis really go and make differences in the lives of LTBGQ+ youth, or passionate entrepreneurs like Aydian Dowling challenging the ideas of how people perceive trans men, I am reminded of that sense of community I found when I was 12.
I still don’t see myself in television shows or movies, but I’m no longer waiting to. I, like many activists, do what I do because seeing someone like myself as a kid would have made life a lot easier. Because knowing that there is someone out there like you is comforting. Knowing you’re not alone can be life-saving.
If you are transgender and thinking about suicide, or know someone who is, please contact The Trevor Project at (866) 488-7386.