by Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, began by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 in memory of Rita Hester who was killed in 1998. Amid a tumultuous year for us all, trans people have continued to experience heightened violence and rejection from society, despite increases in awareness and visibility in the media.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), LGBTQI people are at higher risk for mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD as well as related risks such as homelessness and substance use. Trans people are four times as likely than cisgender (a person whose sense of gender identity corresponds with their birth sex) people to experience mental health issues. These are further exacerbated by race and poverty.
As you may guess, people who are misunderstood are often rejected by their peer groups starting from an early age. Trans youth are much more likely to be bullied and have a difficult time finding a sense of belonging at school.
For trans people, this is without a doubt a life or death situation. For others, the situation of trans people may be a faraway concept: why does this matter if I am not trans?
At its root, the violence against trans people and gender non-conforming individuals stems from the fear of the "unknown other", the lack of acceptance for true identity. When we don't accept something about ourselves, this is likely to reflect in how we relate to others. We may reject people, which thus enables violence, who may exhibit a sense of freedom that we are unable to have for ourselves.
To contrast this, when we understand ourselves and accept ourselves, we will be much more likely to take the steps to understand and accept others. We do this through deepening our awareness of self. In many ways, deepening our awareness of self is the essence of what happens in therapy in an infinite amount of iterations, big and small. Therefore, whether we realize it or not, the work that each one of us does in therapy brings us closer to a world without violence towards trans people.
Until then, it is important to listen on this day (and every day) to the experience of trans people and to honor those who have lost their lives. We in the mental health community have a lot of work to do, de-stigmatizing what it means to be a trans person and treat each individual with honor and respect.
As with any advocacy movement, it's one thing to learn about it or read about it or watch videos; it's another thing to take action and involve yourself in the changes that need to happen. On a person-to-person level, this could be as simple as using email signatures with your preferred pronouns to establish a sense of cultural safety around gender being a conversation rather than an assumption. Using gender neutral language (y'all, everyone, people, partner, etc.) can also provide that sense of safety.
It's important to note that if you make a mistake or mis-gender someone (which is likely, if you have just started to make these changes in your habits), the most healing and helpful thing to do is simply and calmly correct yourself. Phrases such as: "I'm sorry, I meant to say 'they/them'," or "I realize I didn't use inclusive language, I will make an effort to change this," can be so much more powerful than denying or being overly apologetic.
On a larger scale, we can: donate to an organization, join a virtual vigil, upvote and like stories and posts about transgender people, call for action when trans people are discriminated against at work or in your community, and of course, do the work of deeper self-acceptance.
All of our lives depend on it.