How intersectionality makes the Black transgender community one of the most targeted demographics in America.
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As conversations continue about the racism experienced by Black people in this country, we are not truly standing for justice if we forget about the marginalized groups within the Black community. Today, we are going to talk about a specific kind of violence: violence towards Black trans folx.
Before we dive into statistics, let’s break down terminology and stereotypes:
Being transgender means that the sex someone was assigned at birth does not match their identity.
Your sex is determined by your biological makeup but your gender identity is who you are. A fantastic analogy from Jay Michaelson of the Daily Beast is, “Sex is what is between our legs; gender is what is between our ears.”
An example: a baby is born with reproductive organs that are traditionally recognized as belonging to a male and named Robert, but eventually comes to realize that she doesn’t feel at home in her body. After years of trying to conform to society and suppress her true self because of fear that is not wrongfully placed, she finally tells her family she’s a girl. She no longer wants to be referred to as Robert, but as Julia instead.
Julia is not harming anyone. She isn’t lying to anyone. She is solely trying to feel comfortable in her own skin and be true to who she is. Yet people respond to her identity with hatefulness and fatal violence. Why?
The most prevalent misconception is that transgender people choose to be the way they are, which is as wrong as it is dangerous.
Some transphobic individuals believe that trans people are not born that way, but rather they are simply “cross-dressing”. Transphobes don’t know that gender identity is not defined by any singular article of clothing; that dreams of being accepted for who they truly are follow them into their sleep, after their clothes are hung up on the rack.
America is still extremely racist. If you deny this statement, you are a part of the problem.
When racism meets transphobia, you get something known as an intersectional struggle: when struggles converge and make someone's life especially difficult.
It is hard to be transgender, but it is harder to be transgender and a Black person. And even harder than that is being a Black transgender female or femme because of misogyny and toxic masculinity. Moreover, a Black transgender queer woman has to battle racism, transphobia, sexism and homophobia.
The estimated life span of a Black trans woman in the U.S. is 35 years; the same life expectancy of people in 18th century Greece. The life expectancy of a white cisgender woman is roughly 81 years, while a Black cisgender woman’s is approximately 78 years.
In 2019, at least 27 trans or gender non-conforming people in the U.S. were the victims of hate crimes who died due to their injuries. Of the 27 murders that were recorded, the majority were Black transgender women.
As of last month, 26 hate crimes that resulted in death have been confirmed in 2020. However, advocates are certain more deaths go unreported or unnoticed. That means that in the middle of a pandemic with five months left in the year, the United States is about to surpass the trans or gender non-conforming murders of the previous year.
"This is the deadliest period we have on record. While we are still awaiting facts on the ground, it is clear that members of our beloved community are being killed because of who they are," Tori Cooper, the director of community engagement for HRC's Trans Justice Initiative said, "Racism, toxic masculinity, misogyny and transphobia are destroying lives and taking away our loved ones."
In the wake of a movement that is supposed to amplify Black voices, the names of the victims this year are unfamiliar to many. The violence towards the trans community is not just physical — being trans means that you are more likely to be unemployed, impoverished, homeless and/or forced to do sex work as a means of survival. But another form of violence is erasure.
Mikah Amani, a Black trans musician and NYU student, frequently asks himself, “Am I doing enough?”
“As a Black transmasculine person who is often perceived as a woman, I know I have a privilege that Black trans women don’t,” he said in an interview with Rowdy, “There are feelings of guilt when I worry if I’m not doing enough for them, and I still fear for myself at the same time.”
What does doing enough look like? He said that Black trans people usually struggle with security and a sense of community.
“Sending a few dollars to a GoFundMe can make such a difference if enough people do it. Befriending them and letting them know that they are welcome in your life can also speak volumes.”
Mikah said that sometimes, he’s guilty of focusing his support on famous Black trans women, like the cast members of Pose. He said that we need to start from the bottom. Support the people who aren’t famous. Support the Black trans community around you. Support them for existing in spaces they are often unwelcomed in.
Natalia Dupree, a Black trans woman who is the president and founder of the Unspoken Treasure Society in Gainesville, said that everything is scary here too.
“Honestly, I don’t have any sense of security. Being a public figure who advocates for the trans community and minorities of color, I always have to watch my back,” she said to Rowdy, “But before myself, I have to watch out for my trans youth. I would die if it meant I’d be keeping them safe.”
Natalia described how she doesn’t go to crowded environments because they make her feel extremely nervous. Even things like going to Walmart whenever she wants isn’t an option. She waits until 3 a.m. when she knows there won’t be a lot of people. And like most members of the Black trans community, she is constantly looking over her shoulder, waiting for someone to strike.
Her dream is to raise enough money to create the first transitional housing project in Gainesville. The trans community’s lack of security stems from not having a place to call home. Unspoken Treasure Society is working every day to change that. Even though it was founded to support Black trans youth and minorities of color, UTS would never turn away anyone in need. Any race is welcomed.
Although we haven’t knowingly had a Black trans murder in Gainesville this year, we have to actively prevent that from ever happening.
The lives of Black trans folx are frequently celebrated after they’ve come to unnatural, violent ends. We need to cherish and uplift this community while they’re still alive to see the support and to feel the love. But first and foremost, we need to make the space for them in this movement that they so rightfully deserve.
“Don’t forget us,” Natalia said, “We stood up for heterosexuals. We stood up for George Floyd. We stood up for Breonna Taylor and so many more. Now, we need people to stand up for us.”
To support the first transitional housing project in Gainesville, please go here.
To support Mikah’s top surgery and music, please go here.
This page is filled with resources and educational tips you should utilize when becoming a better ally.
Never forget, All Black Lives Matter.
Grace Romo is Rowdy Magazine’s Copy Editor. When she isn’t writing poetry or taking pictures, she is listening to indie music way too loud. You can follow her on Instagram @msromoo for anti-racism tips and song recommendations.