Leo Sheng

Trans People Are Here And Always Have Been

Here’s what you can do to help trans people feel safe and accepted — not just this week, but all year round

Like a lot of people, I thought Hillary Clinton had the election in the bag. I took for granted the assumption that enough members of my generation, as well as those older than us, were ready for change, that there were enough people willing to fight for equality and justice. I stayed up as late as I could to watch the results roll in, but eventually had to turn off the TV and log off of Twitter. That night I dreamed that Trump had won the presidency. As soon as I woke up, before I even checked my phone, I knew it wasn’t just a dream. I was completely numb throughout the entire day. I missed class and spent my time surrounded by people I care about.

My immediate fears of a Trump presidency involve my ability to keep my health insurance, which I only have because my two moms are legally married. As an open transgender man on social media, I’ve always known the risks of using the public bathroom that corresponds with my gender identity, but for the first time, I personally felt this fear. I wondered what would happen if someone saw me, recognized me, and decided that they wanted to beat me up. What would I do without health insurance? How would I heal, physically and mentally?

But despite these real threats, I also quickly recognized the privilege I do have. I reminded myself that this fear is not a new one for many trans people, particularly those who are black and brown, as well as gender-queer folx and nonbinary people. The 21 transgender people who were killed in 2015 and the 26 transgender people who have been killed this year alone — the majority of whom are often black and brown women — are proof of this. And these losses are only the deaths that are reported: Deaths of trans individuals are often reported using their birth names and incorrect pronouns. What's more, these murders don’t even account for the reported 41 percent of transgender people who attempt suicide — which is terrifying enough.

So as afraid as I am, I know that the likelihood of facing this violence — violence many already face — is slim. But of course, I’m still working on processing everything that has happened. I’m sure it’ll take a lot longer before I’m OK. A lot of people are mourning and grieving for very different reasons. The shock and the fear that the election results ignited aren’t going away anytime soon. Fear has always been present for those of us with marginalized identities; it has only intensified now. People of color, Muslim folx, Latinx folx, people with disabilities, and trans and queer people of color are all objectively more likely to face violence and hatred, and always have been. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia are nothing new in this country.

The only thing that Trump’s election has really changed so far is that many people who were once blissfully unaware of this experience are now waking up and recognizing it. I can’t help but feel frustrated, therefore, when I try to explain that to friends — that while their own grief and sadness is valid, it isn’t comparable to that of those who have always been marginalized.

In my own community in the days after Trump’s election, I have watched countless trans people share resources on social media: names of lawyers to help change legal documents (by January), doctors that specialize in gender-affirming surgeries (by January), and call centers for suicide hotlines. I’ve watched as close friends have asked whether they should “go stealth,” meaning go back in the closet. My fellow trans brothers who take testosterone have been trying to figure out whether they should stock up on prescriptions, for fear of health insurance no longer covering those needs.

With all of that said, I don’t feel that there is really any insight I can give that hasn’t already been given by hundreds of other transgender people over the years, let alone the last few days. All I have to offer are just a few words of advice (pleas, really) in the form of a few things you can do to help trans people feel safe and accepted — not just this week, but all year round.

Know your trans history.

Understand that transgender people are not new to this world. We have not only existed for centuries, but have also been on the front lines of battles for equality. Transgender women of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were integral to the Stonewall Riots, for example, and fought for and with a predominantly white community to achieve justice.

While we may be more visible now, thanks in no small part to social media and the slow progress of television, we have been here. The problem is that our histories have been erased.

Respect our bodies.

Not just those that fit white, cisgender standards of beauty — which are often the ones glorified in the media when trans individuals are represented at all — but all of our bodies. Short and tall, skinny and fat. Able-bodied and non-able-bodied, pre-op and post-op. Covered in tattoos, or a blank canvas. Like cisgender people, our bodies are what carry us through life. My body is my home; it is not a walking art exhibit. You can appreciate our beauty without fetishizing our bodies.

Use your resources.

Personally, I’m all right with sharing my journey. I don’t answer personal or private questions, but I do talk about my past and my transition. That does not mean every trans person does the same. Respect our boundaries. Curiosity may be natural, but please don’t ask us about what surgery we want to get or for us to represent multiple communities. Google, YouTube, Tumblr, and Twitter are great ways to learn more about people’s experiences without being intrusive or offensive.

Additionally, organizations like the Trevor Project, the Trans Youth Equality Foundation, and the National Center for Transgender Equality are great resources for struggling trans individuals and their allies alike.

I understand that a lot of people are hurting. I understand that a lot of people are afraid. I hope that those in positions of power and privilege use those abilities to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized — not just transgender people of color, but women, Muslim folx, Latinx folx, undocumented LGBTQ folx, and people with disabilities as well. This year, on November 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance, keep in mind that trans rights are not relegated to one week or one day. Trans people are here and always have been, no matter how many people have tried to silence us.

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