In 1998 Rita Hester, a transgender woman, was brutally stabbed to death in her apartment in Alston, Massachusetts. When reporting on the crime many media sources relentlessly disrespected Rita’s memory by continuously referring to her as a man and using male pronouns.
To honour Rita’s memory Gwendolyn Ann Smith founded the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) and for the past 14 years it has steadily spread to various countries around the world. TDOR is observed on November 20th and is a day dedicated to remembering and honouring the many transgender people whose lives have been unjustly taken from them.
Hear Their Stories
I AM: trans people speak is a great project that gives voice to various transgender people and explores what being transgender means to them, and it has been one of the focal points of this year’s Transgender Awareness Week.
The Fight for Equality
A fundamental weapon in the battle for equal rights for all LGBT community members is education; the fact that most people are ignorant of the plight of this minority is the root of the problem.
In the last few decades recognition of L, G and B members of the community has expanded greatly and as a result society as a whole has become much more accepting. Unfortunately the T in LGBT seems to have been left behind and that needs to change.
How You Can be an Ally
Many people are supportive of transgender individuals, but feel uncomfortable when it comes to addressing them or showing their support. Here are some quick lessons everyone should learn in order to be the most accepting and supportive ally they can be.
• Transgender is the appropriate term for someone who identifies with a different gender than the sex they were assigned at birth. Sex is classified at birth according to physical attributes, not the gender that person identifies as.
• Transsexual is an older term that some trans* people identify as but others don’t, when in doubt either use ‘trans*’ or ‘transgender’ as they are umbrella terms that won’t be offensive when used appropriately.
• Transition – the process transgender people go through that can include changing their name, ID documents, coming out to people, hormone therapy and possibly (but not always) surgery.
• Sex Reassignment Surgery is the surgery some (again, not all) transgender people opt for in order to have their body reflect their identity.
• Cross-dressing is when someone wears the clothes usually attributed with a different gender. People who cross-dress can be completely comfortable with their sex and identify as their assigned gender. Cross-dressing is separate from being trans* and sexual orientation.
• Offensive Terms: ‘transvestite,’ ‘tranny,’ ‘she-male,’ ‘he-she,’ ‘gender-bender.’
• Offensive Questions: do not ask about a transgender person’s birth name, or if they have or plan on having surgery.
When it comes to pronouns just ask. Or, if you think that could be offensive let them know what your preferred pronoun is when introducing yourself and they’ll respond in the same way.
For example, I would say “hi, my name is Lene and I prefer feminine pronouns” as I identify as a woman. (Avoid saying ‘female’ or ‘male’ pronouns and simply use ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine.’)
There are a broad range of resources available (especially online) that are incredibly useful for learning more about transgender people and where you can find support if you identify as the gender generally attributed to the other sex. Here are just a few:
• Trans Youth Family Allies
• Transcending Boundaries