By Alex Jackson Nelson
This week marks Transgender Awareness Week, which takes place annually from November 13-19. This week provides an opportunity for people to learn more about trans issues, to better understand the prejudice, discrimination and violence encountered by folks who are transgender and non-binary, and to learn to advocate for these communities.
Transgender Awareness Week leads up to the internationally recognized Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on November 20th of each year, which is observed to honor and remember transgender individuals who lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence. Violence that, in my opinion, is rooted in a lack of understanding and the dehumanization faced by the transgender and non-binary community.
I am a white transgender man in my mid-40’s. I was assigned female at birth and came out as transgender in the late 1990’s, when I began my medical transition. Since that time, I’ve lost family, friends, community, a career, and a lot of time living life outside of my authentic self while trying to explain my identity to others. I have experienced prejudice, discrimination, and violence due to my perceived identity as a woman before medically transitioning, and due to my trans identity alone.
And yet, I am privileged and continue to recognize privileges that I regularly benefit from.
For example, my gender expression (what I look like, how I act, and what I wear) and my gender identity (male) align with what society sees, expects and judges as “male.” I have short hair with a receding hairline and a beard. I walk down the street and hear a stranger say, “Excuse me, sir,” which aligns with the language I would use for myself. These days I can easily walk into a public restroom without being looked at, shunned, or told I’m in the wrong place. I don’t worry about my safety when being pulled over by police or walking home on a dark night.
These privileges are rooted in people assuming that I am a cisgender, straight, nondisabled, white guy. They mean that I get to walk through the world freely without daily fear of violence, and that I am not dehumanized like many others in my community because of their gender expressions not lining up with societal expectations.
Violence against the transgender and non-binary community
According to a recent report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 80 percent of murder victims in the U.S. were people of color, 55 percent were transgender women, and 50 percent were transgender women of color.
So far in 2021, at least 44 transgender or non-binary people have been murdered – 33 of them being people of color. (It’s important to note that violent and fatal incidents against transgender people are often unreported or misreported, so the actual number is likely higher.) This continues the horrifying and ongoing reality that transgender women of color are at the most risk for being murdered, harassed and victims of violence.
That’s why I say that despite painful aspects of my journey, I am privileged. My journey as a trans person has been frustrating, dehumanizing, and at times devastating. But I can walk down the street daily without fear. I am protected by my whiteness, and the way my gender expression conforms to masculine expectations of what a man “should” look like. This is not a protection or right that many trans folks have in this country or world.
This year during Transgender Awareness Week, I hope people will commit to increasing their understanding of the distinctions between sex assigned at birth, gender identity and gender expression, and explore these distinctions within their own identities. I believe this will help stop the dehumanization of transgender and gender non-binary people and will decrease the harassment, prejudice, discrimination, and violence toward trans communities.
And on Transgender Day of Remembrance, please find and join an event to recognize and honor those who have lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence, oftentimes brought on by them being who they are – their authentic self. I dream of a day where we all support each other in finding our authentic selves and celebrate one another for doing so.
About the author: Alex Jackson Nelson is the Gender Services Consultant for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. Through Blue Cross’ Gender Care initiative, Alex provides guidance and support to Blue Cross’ transgender and non-binary members and their families, helping manage care and navigate insurance. For more information about Blue Cross’ Gender Care program, visit bluecrossmn.com/gendercare.
Definitions used by the author:
Fatal Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2021 | HRC
Transgender Day of Remembrance Resource Kit for Journalists | GLAAD