A lot of the time, we talk about the ways that cisgender people harm us. And yes, those are critical conversations. But right now, I want to talk about trans people harming other trans people.
Because at the moment, I’m seeing an awful lot of it.
I think it’s time we had a heart-to-heart about the ways that we treat each other.
Whether it’s telling other trans people how they should or shouldn’t transition, criticizing the language folks use to self-describe, centering ourselves and stepping out of our lane, or simply not believing each other when we come out, we can be our own worst enemies.
But we can do something about this.
We can renew our commitment to this community and to each other. We can be mindful of the ways that we’re upholding one another’s oppression, we can self-reflect, and we can call each other in.
Because in this moment, in a world that is so hostile towards and dangerous for trans people, the last thing I want to see is us hurting one another.
We need to show up for each other. We need to protect each other. In so many ways, we’re all we’ve got.
So where do we start? Here are five ways we can better support one another.
1. Believe Trans People
I remember when I found a slew of tweets in my inbox from other trans people, accusing me of lying about being transgender.
They misgendered me, hurled unfair accusations towards me, and they began a concentrated online campaign to discredit me in this movement.
They reached out to a number of my Twitter followers, calling me a cis woman and saying that I was only pretending to be trans in order to get “Internet famous.”
Why? Because I hadn’t yet started testosterone, and in their minds, the only valid transgender people were those who were medically transitioning.
There is a lot of gatekeeping in the trans community, and it’s really heartbreaking to see. There are countless trans folks who feel that they can decide who is and isn’t transgender, and they exclude other trans people based on their own assumptions.
Sometimes, like in my case, this escalates into harassment and even violence.
I’ve experienced it firsthand many, many times. And it has hurt more than I could possibly express.
When that online campaign to discredit me began to take hold on Twitter, the timing couldn’t have been worse. As someone who had been struggling to come out to my family and was unable to access hormones, it was a painful time in my life.
Being bullied because I wasn’t on testosterone – something I desperately wanted, but couldn’t access – made an already difficult time in my life even more agonizing.
Why were hormones even relevant in the first place? Since when do they know my gender better than I do?
I often wonder: If we want to convey to the world that misgendering someone is an act of violence and that gender is a deeply personal thing that belongs to each individual, why do we do this to each other?
Why are we such hypocrites when it comes to others in our own community? Why do we ask for our gender identities to be respected, and then completely disrespect the identities of others in our community?
Rather than attacking each other and attempting to ostracize one another, we should be investing that energy into advocacy and supporting one another – not tearing each other down.
2. Don’t Place Judgments on How Other Trans People Choose to Transition (Or Not)
The reality is that transgender people are incredibly diverse and no two journeys will look exactly alike. We all have to decide, as individuals who know ourselves and our genders, what decisions are best for us and our happiness.
We also get to decide the timeline in which we make those decisions.
Some of us will pursue hormones. Some of us will not. Some of us will socially transition. Others won’t. Some of us need surgery or multiple surgeries. Others do not.
It isn’t anyone’s business but our own what we do with our bodies. And we are not more or less transgender because of our choices – because being transgender is not about the bodies that we inhabit, but rather, our sense of self and our identities.
It took five years of identifying as transgender before I finally pursued hormones. Five years. This was largely due to a lot of internalized self-hatred that made it difficult to accept that I needed to medically transition.
With everything I was going through, I still endured a lot of judgment from other trans people who questioned my authenticity because I didn’t make the same choices that they did within the expected time frame.
Can we just let other trans people make decisions about their bodies without judgment?
3. Hold Space for Trans People Who Are Non-Binary, Non-Conforming, or Questioning
Alternatively, this could be called “not being an asshole,” but I want to dive a little deeper than that for a moment.
Not all transgender people are binary. Some of us have carved out our own unique identities and our own expressions. It doesn’t make our oppression less painful. It doesn’t make our dysphoria (if we have it) any less real. It doesn’t make our gender any less valid.
Please don’t exclude us or ostracize us from the community because we don’t conform to your arbitrary rules. Instead, support us, include us, and celebrate us.
Not all transgender people are even sure of what their gender really looks like or how it manifests in the world. Some of us are still exploring this. Some of us aren’t sure what we need. Some of us have more questions than we do answers.
Please don’t push us to the margins because we aren’t so sure. Hold us in compassion, support us, and give us the room to figure out who we are without judgment.
Sometimes trans people can be very protective over the idea of what it means to be transgender. But this needs to be said: It is oppressive to deny people the right to self-identify. It is oppressive to exclude people because they do not fit your idea of what transness should be.
And it is a real waste of energy and effort to marginalize other trans people when we could, instead, collectively endeavor towards our liberation.
4. Be Mindful of Centering Yourself and Advocate for All Trans People
Trans folks of privilege – those who are white, able-bodied, or have class privilege, for example – may feel tempted to place their experiences and needs at the center of this movement. But in doing so, they fail to uplift all trans people.
This often happens when transgender people who have privilege assume that their narratives are representative of all trans people, or they fail to include diverse voices in their organizing.
Trans women of color, for example, feel the compounded effects of transphobia, misogyny, and racism. They face higher rates of violence, harassment, poverty, incarceration, suicide, and endure countless obstacles in their transitions.
Ignoring this reality and prioritizing the voices and experiences of white trans people only serves to further marginalize trans people of color, whose needs are arguably most urgent and life-threatening.
Giving more visibility and resources to trans folks of privilege does not liberate all trans people – it only upholds other systems of power that already benefit those with more privilege, and it serves only a small part of our larger community.
This is why it is crucial that trans folks who have privilege be constantly mindful of the ways that their privilege operates both within the community and outside of it.
I know in the work that I’m doing, I’m constantly assessing and reassessing where my lane is and how to stay in it. And truthfully, I don’t always get it right.
But self-reflection and self-criticism need to be an intrinsic part of the work. We keep working at it, because we care about one another and we want to liberate everyone, and not just ourselves.
We must acknowledge difference rather than assuming that our community is a monolith in which we are all the same. We must work collectively to ensure that the voices of all trans people – especially those who are most marginalized – can be amplified and given a platform in our movement.
A movement that only aims to benefit those who already have privilege simply replicates existing oppressions. And that? That’s not justice.
5. Call Other Trans People In
This is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. When we see other people in our community engaging in problematic or oppressive behaviors, it is important to call them in.
When I was being attacked by other trans folks for not being “trans enough,” there was a shocking amount of silence from others in the community who would privately console me, but make no attempt to stand up for me.
The harassment continued for some time because very few people stepped in and made it clear that this kind of behavior wasn’t tolerated in our community.
I’ve seen trans people engage in vicious gatekeeping, followed by radio silence from the folks around them because they’re afraid to call in one of their own.
I’ve seen trans people find out that someone in the community is an abuser, followed by complete inaction because they aren’t willing to show up for survivors.
I’ve seen white trans people observe racist behavior, followed by complacency because they didn’t want to make things “awkward.”
I’ve seen trans people speculating about the authenticity of other trans people’s identities (“but are they really trans?”), followed by, you guessed it, no willingness to challenge that kind of behavior.
When someone in our own community is doing harm, we are arguably in the best position to engage. Our ties to one another and shared struggles mean that we can call each other in skillfully, if we’re willing to step up.
I know this is difficult work, because we share very intimate spaces with one another, spaces in which we can’t avoid each other. And obviously, when our safety is at stake, it can get more complicated.
But how many opportunities have we missed to make this community safer and more affirming because we were unwilling to make ourselves uncomfortable?
And I’m not exempt from this, by the way. I’ve missed a lot of opportunities, too, when I reflect back.
Our connections and ties to one another position us to do really transformative, healing work with each other. I think it’s worthwhile work to be doing. And I want to see our community embrace that, especially those of us that already have access to power and have the least at stake when they engage.
If we don’t believe each other, support each other, uplift each other, how can we begin to create a world in which transgender people are thriving?
If we continue to hurt each other in these ways, where will trans people go to find a safe space? If we don’t have each other in this struggle, who can we count on?
The transgender community has shown up for me in so many ways, ways I will never forget.
It was a small community of trans people in Lansing, Michigan that embraced and affirmed me when I first used the word “transgender” to describe myself. That’s a moment I will never forget — that room was filled to the brim with validation and care.
It was a trans man that opened up his home to me when I first moved to the Bay Area, when I knew literally no one here. Total strangers helped me get my bearings, find housing, find community, and find my way thousands of miles away from the life I’d left behind, only knowing that I was trans and believing that this made us family.
Hell, when I was psychiatrically hospitalized and at the end of my rope, who visited me in the hospital? Who sent me books? Who wrote me? (A lot of you did, trans readers, and while hospital staff misgendered me and while I came undone, your emails reminded me that my life had real value and importance, that I always had a community to come back to, a community that truly saw me.)
I would not be who I am today without the love and support of transgender people.
That’s why I’m so passionate about trans people supporting other trans people – not because I want to pick apart our community, but because I see the difference that this support makes in each of our lives.
I believe in the power of our community. And that’s exactly why I believe it’s important that we are accountable to each other and that we strive to be a safe and supportive space for all trans people.
It’s my hope that we can and will do better. It starts with each and every one of us. And it must begin now.
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An earlier version of this piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.