Outward

Five Things Trans People Teach Us All About Ourselves 

People gather at a vigil for slain transgender woman Islan Nettles at Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem, New York City, on Aug. 27, 2013.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Transgender Day of Remembrance, marked each year on Nov. 20, is a somber day of reflection on the lives we’ve lost to hate and ignorance. It’s also a day of heightened visibility of trans lives and experiences more generally. This year in particular offers up a strange paradox—we’ve seen a heightened number of murders of trans women of color in particular, while also enjoying greater mainstream exposure about what it means to be transgender from public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Jazz Jennings and shows like Transparent.

Weird contradictions played out politically this year in trans rights as well, with places like Houston voting to repeal civil rights protections for a broad swath of people after conservative forces exploited ignorance around trans bathroom panic, while states like New York and Illinois extended protections for trans people and acknowledged the need for trans students to use facilities that align with their identities.

While trans people may be targets for murder and mockery and be used as pawns for misguided and perilous policymaking, the last thing they are is victims. History will mark that trans people were the pioneers for showing cisgender people the reality of our own diverse lives and identities.

Here are five lessons trans people have taught cisgender people about ourselves.

5. Gender is not a fixed thing. Our society polices gender in so many ways, from the seemingly mundane, like sports teams and clothing sections in department stores, to bathrooms and locker rooms and jails and prisons. Trans people have helped to demystify the truth about gender fluidity and shine a light on the ridiculous ways we enforce gender compliance. Small changes, like Target announcing it was removing the gender labels from its toy section, are starting to pave the way for others that will surely follow.

4. Neither is sex. Not everyone fits into neat categories of male or female, and genitals make not a woman or a man. Trans people have helped blow the lid off the long outdated notion that genitals alone determine someone’s sex. While this is still the go-to method for doctors at the time of a baby’s birth, it is potentially harmful for many people

3. If you fight, you will win. Trans individuals have unfortunately encountered some of the worst vitriol from strangers on the street, elected officials, law enforcement, and everyone in between. Many have been kicked out of their homes, rejected by their families, fired from their jobs, beaten, shamed and misunderstood. Yet there are so many beautiful souls who continue to get up and carry on. They stand in front of their perpetrators and all who are trying to keep them down and continue to live their lives and fight for equal rights. Trans people’s resilience of spirit should inspire us all to keep fighting for what we know is right.

2. Stand up for what you know to be true. Everybody has an opinion, but few people are willing to stand up and express it in the face of opposition. Of course, not all trans people are activists or advocates or willing or wanting to be public, but many have led the way on equal rights from Stonewall to today, and it’s those voices that have helped us move toward greater equality for everyone. What’s more, when you stand proud and tall, you will move others to listen, and people will join you along the way. You will not stand alone.

1. Authenticity is the most important character trait you can embody. Being your authentic self may come at a cost if others don’t understand or approve, but the most important thing you can do is to stay true to who you are. Trans people have taken the biggest hits for this and bravely continue on their own paths to truth. I am empowered by trans people to not feel ashamed of my own gender expression, regardless of how it might vary from the binary system we’re taught to fall into.

On this transgender day of remembrance, I remember all those souls who helped light the way and call on all allies to stand together as we continue the march toward full equality.