This is not the story I planned to write today.
I intended to write about the distress I experienced yesterday, when I was misgendered as female for the first time in years. This was likely due to wearing a mask that covered my beard and a patterned headwrap that covered my balding scalp. But however innocent the mistake, being addressed as “ma’am” still stung, especially as it happened on the sixth anniversary of my legal name and gender change.
Today, that distress increased tenfold when I read a graphic death threat on the Wikipedia talk page of Valentina Sampaio, who is in the news for being the first openly trans model featured in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. As a long-time Wikipedia editor who has given talks about trans representation and harassment on that platform, you’d think I’d be used to trans-antagonistic vandalism and hate speech by now. But the violent language in this particular threat left me physically shaking and in tears.
The edit, made this morning by an anonymous user, had been reverted by another editor by the time I read it, but was still visible in the talk page history. I reported the user and got them blocked and their edit suppressed from view. The page itself was protected from anonymous edits, but talk pages are very rarely protected, so anonymous and new editors frequently post their hateful views there when they are thwarted from misgendering, deadnaming, or attacking trans subjects. The general public might not be aware of these comments, but trans editors like myself who monitor the pages of trans subjects see them, and the attacks on our existence take their toll.
My complaint today is not against trans-antagonism on Wikipedia specifically. The people who attack trans subjects on that platform are reflective of anti-trans sentiment in society. Trans people —trans women of color in particular — aren’t merely threatened with death, they are actually being murdered in epidemic proportions. In the last two weeks alone, six Black trans women were found dead. Say their names:
Brayla Stone, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Merci Mack, Dallas, Texas.
Shaki Peters, Amite City, Louisiana.
Draya McCarty, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Tatiana Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Bree Black, Pompano Beach, Florida.
These killings are why trans people of color like myself — though I’m transmasculine, not a trans woman — cannot simply ignore or dismiss death threats posted online as a harmless joke. The hatred and violence against us is real, and has real-life consequences.
Once I calmed down a bit from my distress, I realized that the verbal and physical attacks on trans people expose the fragility of cisgender people desperately clinging to an unscientific, binary model of sex and gender. If these cis people were truly secure in their identities as men and women, they wouldn’t feel the need to mock or attack those of us whose genders have diverged from the sexes we were assigned at birth.
Seeing trans people experience joy in our authentic selves is enraging to those whose gender identities are so fragile that they cannot even articulate what being a male/man or female/woman is without referring to genitalia or resorting to outdated stereotypes. So they insist that anyone who doesn’t conform to their idea of womanhood or manhood must be a danger to themselves and society.
This insistence on conformity results not only in verbal and physical attacks, but legislation that puts trans women in men’s prisons, bans them from women’s restrooms and shelters, and forces them to suffer myriad other indignities and dangers under the guise of protecting (cis) women. Trans men and nonbinary transmasculine people are oppressed by this treatment as well; as a timely example, those who insist that only females menstruate or become pregnant erase our lived experiences and medical needs.
Cisgender people who want to stop these harmful attacks can help in many ways. Here are a few suggestions:
Elevate the voices of trans people. Share stories of us writing and speaking for ourselves, in blogs like this one as well as other media. The new Netflix documentary, Disclosure, is an excellent (though disturbing) watch that centers trans voices.
Pay trans people for their labor. Don’t ask us to educate people at your organization (even if it’s a non-profit) for free; hire us as consultants. Promote us to positions of authority. Support independent trans writers and artists on platforms like this one as well as Patreon and other crowdfunding sites.
Call out misgendering and deadnaming. Politely but firmly correct friends and acquaintances who use the birth-assigned pronouns or names of transgender people, both in person and online, every single time. If doing so feels awkward to you, remember that it’s far more awkward to be on the receiving end of these micro-aggressions on a regular basis.
Fix your churches. Christian institutions in particular are major sources of LGBTQ oppression in the USA. If you belong to a church that disrespects trans people, don’t make excuses for this behavior; either fix it or leave it.
Want to Support Queer and Trans People? Fix Your Churches.
Protecting our rights and dignity at a more fundamental level than “getting out the vote”
Coping with the violent backlash against the greater visibility of trans and non-binary people has been exhausting. Cis allies, please do what you can to relieve the burden on us for simply trying to live and thrive as our authentic selves.