This week, both nationally and at the Claremont Colleges, people are celebrating Transgender Day of Remembrance. To start off, let’s discuss what it means to identify as transgender. While it is certainly impossible to speak for every single transgender person’s lived experiences, the term is generally taken to indicate someone who doesn’t allow the sex a doctor assigned them at birth to determine their gender- something that is strictly regulated and constructed through social pressure.
There are transgender people who believe that they were meant to live as the role generally assigned to the other sex, and there are transgender people who don’t believe they belong to the gender binary at all. Some people who are transgender want to modify their bodies to match their gender performance, some don’t. The main point: there is no one singular transgender ‘experience’. However, there are a variety of issues that are of particularly importance to the transgender community because they are statistically a target for violence and hate crimes.
Why is this a day of remembrance, and not celebration? Hundreds of transgender people have been murdered since information began to be collected by activist organizations in response to the growing epidemic. While no list could ever be complete, in part due to a large underreporting of crimes that happen to transgender individuals out of fear of documented police indifference or cruelty, I invite you to read some of the stories on transgenderdor.org. In addition, in 2003, 55% of transgender youth in the US reported either physical harassment or assault because of their gender presentation, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Statistics are hard to compile on a group as diverse and marginalized as the transgender community- completely randomized samples are nearly impossible to obtain. But numbers and statistics should not be the focus here- we must instead place an emphasis on the fact that American society has reinforced and furthered oppressive gender roles to such an extent that some of its citizens are willing to kill those who transgress them.
What can you do to help this situation? In my opinion, it begins with little steps to dismantle the rigid constructs that surround gender and gender performance in our society. Question gender! Why do you feel most comfortable wearing the type of clothes you wear regularly? Do you actually think something as fickle as fashion can be determined by biology, or do you think that we’ve been socialized into gender roles from day one?
If women were more or less forbidden from wearing pants until relatively recent decades, how can we even begin to say that the way we perform gender isn’t evolving, or that what it means to ‘be a man’ or ‘be a woman’ is a fixed concept? Let’s move away from the ‘biology is destiny’ trope and think critically about the ways gender is constructed in society. Who are you to tell someone that their gender or gender performance is incorrect?
The colleges have taken steps to protect those with non-normative gender identities- from the push to ensure transgender and gender non-conforming students have safe bathrooms to use (the gender neutral bathrooms many of you have seen around campus) to the option of gender-neutral housing, available at Pomona, Pitzer, Harvey Mudd, as well as Scripps and is currently being discussed at CMC. But more allies in the fight are always needed. The Queer Resource Center will be hosting and sponsoring several events over this week to support Transgender Day of Remembrance, including a 5C candlelight vigil on Friday evening and a Transgender, Queer and Allies Social on Thursday night- check out the QRC’s facebook page for more information.
These are complex issues that use complex language, and they can be difficult to work through. If you want to be an ally to the transgender community, never hesitate to ask respectful questions if you want to further understand the subject. The QRC is open 1-8 PM Monday-Thursday and 1-5 PM on Fridays, feel free to stop by any time if you want to discuss issues you’ve experienced as a transgender student, want to learn how to be a better ally or just want a safe space to relax.