Existing While Trans [part 1]

Being publicly and openly trans and/or gender nonconforming is a tough thing to do, even in this day and age. I wish it weren’t, as being trans/gender nonconforming is just one part of a person and is an incredibly valid part of someone’s identity and experience. Even in feminist spaces like the recent Women’s Marches, it can be tough for trans and gender nonconforming folks.

So what do I mean with I say it’s hard for trans and gender nonconforming folks? It’s true that we’ve come a long way over the years and decades and it definitely feels like there are more trans people in the public eye. Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Caitlyn Jenner, and Gavin Grimm are just some of the people that have (for better or for worse) brought trans issues to the forefront of many conversations. And over the years, there have been many legislative and legal wins for trans folks around the United States.

But sadly, even with all the wins and with more folks understanding what the term/label ‘transgender’ even means, many trans and gender nonconforming folks still face many issues and obstacles for simply being their authentic selves.

Walking while Trans
Trans Health Care

Over the last year, the current ‘POTUS’ has been making waves with so many controversial moves. One of the more recent moments was when he helped to overhaul an office within the Department of Health and Human Services to shield health care workers from providing care that they might religiously or morally object to. In addition to being exempt from participating in abortion care, health care workers could use this new office as a way to be exempt from providing any sort of care for trans patients.

Tyra Hunter was a young trans woman living in Washington D.C. when she was in a serious car accident with a friend in 1995. According to witnesses, when EMTs arrived on the scene and eventually discovered that Tyra was in fact a trans woman, they stop providing critical medical treatment and made several derogatory comments. Tyra died because of her injuries soon after the accident but there are many that argue that the few minutes of interrupted care could have saved the 24 year old’s life.

Tyra Hunter is, unfortunately, just one example of how the health care system and professionals have failed trans people. There are too many others who have also faced significant barriers to accessing even the most basic medical care and transition related care still remains even more difficult. Last year, Abby Ellin wrote about the challenges that some trans patients have faced at the hospital for The New York Times a couple years ago and cited a 2010 Lambda Legal survey about health care discrimination against LGBTQ+ folks and those that are HIV+. In this survey, 70% of trans and gender nonconforming respondents had at least one experience of discrimination within health care and 27% reported being flat out denied care.

Violence Against Trans Folks

During my senior year of college, I did a presentation on LGBTQ+ hate crimes and because of it, I actually learned that trans people, especially trans women of color, are significantly more likely to face violence or be killed for their gender identity than others. Even in the years after doing this research and presentation, trans folks still face a disproportionate amount of violence for their gender identity.

The National Coalition Anti-Violence Programs recently released a report about the anti-LGBTQ+/hate based violence and homicides in 2017 and found that last year had the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ homicides in the 20 years they have been tracking this type of information. Sadly, there were 52 reported anti-LGBTQ+ deaths in all of 2017 and there could be even more deaths, as some that are ant-LGBTQ+ in nature aren’t reported or investigated in that way. Most of those who died last year because of transphobia and homophobia were trans women of color or cisgender bi/gay men.

The ways in which anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes and homicides are reported and collected aren’t perfect and even in 2018, those who track these kinds of acts of violence and homicides might have differing numbers.

The ‘Trans Panic’ Defense

Sadly, there’s a defense still being used nowadays to help protect those who inflict violence or death against trans individuals: the ‘trans panic defense’. This defense essentially says that a defendant’s acts of violence were a pretty natural reaction to finding out that the victim was transgender; there are some that use this defense to argue that finding out someone is trans is something that would cause a fit of passion. Similar defenses aptly called ‘gay panic defenses’ have also been used in connection with hate crimes and homicides of gay and lesbian folks as well. Both of these defenses very much blame the victims for their identities causing others such passionate rage.

There is a little bit of good news about these defenses. In 2013, the American Bar Association passed a resolution urging all forms of government in the US to end the effectiveness and use of these two defenses. And just last December, Illinois passed a state law that bars attorneys from using these defenses! California was the first state to do ban the defense in 2014 and there are other states looking to do the same.

I write about all these things because I really want cis folks to understand some of the obstacles that many trans folks face on a regular basis. We’ve accomplished a whole lot over the years and there have been many victories. But sadly, we still have a long way to go. There are so many amazing things about being trans and gender nonconforming though. Next week, I’ll be writing about some of these things and some of the incredible possibility models that exist.