Although I’m posting this as the day draws to close for me, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. I’ve wanted to write about this topic for a long while and Transgender Awareness Week is as good a time as any.
About twelve years ago I had the idea to photograph different presentations of gender, sex, and sexual identity. A lot of the photographic work I’d seen on the subject was meant to be shocking and I wanted to counter that. I began by asking friends and looking for others online with a the goal of including as many variations as possible (heterosexual and cisgender included). Subjects were photographed in their homes, dressed in their everyday clothing, and as simply as possible. Once completed and exhibited, the work produced some interesting responses. Random people would tell me about their own experiences and reactions. An older gentleman who had seen the work in the ICA at Maine College of found me while I was attending an unrelated event. He told me about his friend who who had just come out as trans. The work had struck a chord with him and it helped him understand just a little bit more. Another person emailed from the UK to tell me she and her co-workers had seen the work online. She wanted to let me know how much she loved it and wanted to voice her support after her co-workers ridiculed it. And, despite these normalcy and simplicity portrayed in the work, one gallery decided it was too offensive for their guides to mention in tours.
Since that time I’ve stayed in touch with many of the people I photographed, met other trans and gender-non-conforming people and family members, and tried to keep aware of the issues. Gender and sexuality have moved to the forefront in news, politics, and pop culture. And while it’s great that more people have become aware of the issues and many advances have been made, there’s still much work to be done.
- There were 81 known homicides of transpeople worldwide in the last year.
- At least 21 murders of transwomen have been reported in the US this year, particularity women of color.
- An increasing number of bills are appearing that would deny transpeople from using the bathroom that best fits their gender, along with other discriminatory measures.
- Prisons often jail transwomen with men, and transmen with women, resulting in violence, suicides, and deaths.
And while it’s important to remember those we’ve lost, it’s also important to take care of the living. There are some things we can all do.
- More bathrooms should serve any gender and laws should be passed that allow trans/gender-non-conforming people to use the bathroom they feel best fits their identity. Don’t worry, you’re safe, I promise, especially since the violence involving transpeople happens against them, not by them.
- More representation in entertainment and media is important, including more positive portrayals. Sorry cop shows, most transwomen aren’t prostitutes.
- More transpeople also need to play transpeople (and play cispeople, too).
- People need a better understanding of the word gender and the differences between gender, sex, and sexual preference. For example, a sonogram can’t tell you the gender of a baby – only a person can tell you their gender. Gender is a social construct that we’ve defined over time, and it’s determined by your mind, not defined by what’s in your pants (that’s sex).
- If someone asks you to refer to them by a different name or pronoun, respect them! In fact, don’t “gender” someone unless you’re sure (and even then, ask yourself if it’s necessary). I know your parents told you it’s polite to say sir, miss, or madam when greeting someone, but it’s not necessary anymore. Not sure? They/them/their are all perfectly acceptable these days.
- There are far more than two genders (again, you’re thinking of sex and there are more than two of those as well). Facebook alone lists 71 different gender options as 2014.
- If you’re a service provider that works with transpeople in any capacity (particularly the medical industry), know those you serve! Doctors asking a transwoman if she may be pregnant after they’ve come out or asking the patient to explain what hormones do sounds like a joke, but it actually happens – a lot.
To be clear, I don’t consider myself an expert, far from it. I’m sure there are issues I’ve forgotten or something I’ve misstated (expect some edits to this post!). What I’ve learned has come from friends, media, and a few books. But it doesn’t take much work to be compassionate and loving to fellow humans.