After I finished my previous series on my transition and what it’s taught me, I realized that while there was much to celebrate about trans identities, I hadn’t really gotten into the darker aspects of trans life. After all, in addition to the often-exhausting psychological struggle of gender dysphoria, trans people also still face considerable oppression, both legally and socially- and the numbers are truly staggering.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2011[1], 90% of trans people faced harassment in the workplace,  78% at school, and 53% while trying to use public accommodations.


Statistically, we are twice as likely to be unemployed, and 19% of us have been homeless at one point in our lives due to our gender identity (with 11% being evicted from our homes and apartments for being trans). 19% have  dealt with police harassment (particularly trans people of color)- a specter even more alarming when the near-universal policy of housing trans people with their assigned-at-birth gender (e.g., trans women with men) is factored in.  57% have reported significant family rejection, exacerbating much of the difficulty trans individuals face.  Finally, the cumulative effects of this intense discrimination is clear- 41% of trans people have attempted suicide, an order of magnitude above the general population.  Worse yet, an alarming number of trans people are murdered each year, with trans women of color being especially vulnerable.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had a comparatively easy transition- my family, friends, partner, and colleagues have all accepted, and often even celebrated, my identity- but even I have been subjected to my share of hatred.  In 2014, when I started my transition, my fiancée was in her final year of veterinary school at Washington State University.  After word of my transition began to circulate, we discovered that at least three of her fellow vet students had spent some of their break time between shifts at the veterinary teaching hospital having rather involved conversations featuring gross speculation on both my anatomy and the nature of our sex life.  The matter was serious enough that she  filed a complaint with the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity, which subsequently launched an investigation into the incident.  Unfortunately, nothing came of the investigation, as none of the other students who witnessed it directly were willing to come forward (something that is all too common in these scenarios).

After three and half years of being told that her fellow students would have her back, the fact that no one would speak up for her was a tremendous betrayal- one that was honestly traumatizing for her, and which she has only recently begun to recover from.  For me, it was a rude awakening to the fact that I was now part of a marginalized community. It may not seem like much to the outside observer, but it’s hard to describe how crushing it is to be dehumanized in such manner- to have an identity that you, or someone you dearly love, have fought hard to accept and embrace, only for it to be reduced to a spectacle, a sideshow, for the entertainment of others.  And that’s the best case scenario- after the incident, we never really felt safe at the university, since casual Othering can easily evolve into more overt forms of discrimination, or even violence (for example, we had genuine concerns of whether or not it’d be safe for me to go to her graduation ceremony, since what if some of those students’ family members considered me an abomination that needed to be purged?)


And yet, this only a minor example of the transphobia my community faces on a regular basis.  It doesn’t just come from our coworkers or fellow students, either- we see it in the media (where we’re often portrayed as either mentally ill and dangerous villains, or pathetic, deluded victims), in the punchline of jokes, and in our places of worship.

More ominously, we’ve seen it coming from our governments- in the past year, an increasing number of anti-LGBT legislation has been proposed in state legislatures (often under the guise of “religious freedom” bills), with actual laws being passed by in North Carolina and Mississippi.  Many of these target trans people in particular- so-called “bathroom bills”, which, if passed, would legally require trans people to use the sex-segregated facilities of their assigned-at-birth sex, regardless of how they identify or where they are in transition [2].  The rationale for these bills is based on the myth that trans people- and trans women in particular – are dangerous sexual predators, who dress as the opposite sex in order to gain access to gendered spaces so they can commit sexual assault.  This is despite the fact that no such incidents have ever been reported: as John Oliver aptly observed, it’s like dragon rustling- sure, it’s terribly, but it doesn’t really happen.  Additionally, these bathroom bills make life even more difficult for non-binary trans people who don’t necessarily identify as male or female, and for people who are cis but gender-nonconforming.


Other proposed bills would make it harder for trans people to change their legal identification or birth certificates (which is often already difficult as is, since many states require proof of sexual reassignment surgery, which many trans people cannot afford or simply do not desire in the first place),  or allowing therapists to refuse service.  The timing of these bills suggests a coordinated effort- one that is at least partially the result of election year politics and a backlash to same-sex marriage- but which has the potential to become what trans writer and activist Brynne Tannehill has described as the cultural genocide of the transgender community.  This may seem like an exaggeration at first, but Tannehill cites a policy white paper published by the ultra-conservative Family Research Council which explicitly call for anti-trans legislation, in an effort to make it as difficult to be trans as possible[3].

These policies, if enacted, would push an already marginalized community to the brink of destruction.  If we are to survive, we’ll need to actively fight for our right to exist as we truly are.  The trans community has never been more visible, even if this visibility has come at the price of increased vulnerability.  This is our moment to seize- to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we really are just normal people, who deserve a shot at normal, everyday life, just like everyone else does.  We are your neighbors and coworkers, friends and family members, and all we ask is that you just accept us in our authenticity.

visibility infographic update 2015

So. This election year, regardless if you’re trans or cis, do something.  Vote against transphobic politicians or referendums.  Educate your friends and coworkers, and remind them that we’re human, too, even if we do have a somewhat unusual condition.  Support trans leaders, artists, business people, and activists.  Like those who have fought for their rights before us, the trans community has come to the point where history will be made.  Do your best to be on the right side of it.

[1] Incidentally, the NCTE conducted an updated version of this survey in the Fall of 2015- results will hopefully be available later this year.

[2] For those of you keeping score at home, these bills could potentially require a post-operative trans woman- who might be physically indistinguishable from a cis woman by everything short of a detailed gynecological exam- to use the men’s restrooms and locker rooms, in the name of preventing sexual assault.

Infuriated yet?

[3] As far as I can discern, the rationale of the FRC is that trans people are just mentally ill, and that making it easier for us to transition is enabling our delusions.  From their point of view, making our lives hell is doing us a favor, since it’s presumably would encourage us to seek out “real” treatment to help us “accept” our assigned-at-birth gender, instead of transitioning.  Keep in mind, these are the same people that still think gay people can be “cured”, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

TessTessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.