Color naming

Transgender people of color face unique challenges as gender discrimination and racism intersect

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Gabriel Lockett, University of Florida; Jules Sostre, University of Florida, and Roberto L. Abreu, University of Florida

(THE CONVERSATION) Throughout history, transgender people of color have had a place of honor in many indigenous cultures around the world.

This changed in many places, however, when European colonizers began to force Indigenous peoples to follow white social norms. These include anti-darkness, Christianity, and a gender binary that narrows gender down to male and female. Colonizers assumed that being cisgender, or having a gender identity consistent with the gender assigned at birth, was the only acceptable norm.

For trans people who refused or were unable to conform, colonial societies often used racism and cissexism, or behaviors and beliefs that assume the inferiority of trans people, to invalidate their existence, limit their access to resources and threaten their well-being. For example, colonizers in some cases viewed people who expressed their gender outside of the binary as sinful and deviant, and punished them with emotional and physical violence.

The repercussions of these colonial beliefs are still felt today. In the first three months of 2022 alone, more than 154 anti-trans bills have been proposed in the United States to limit the rights of trans children and their parents.

And for trans people of color, the challenges they face because of gender discrimination are exacerbated by the struggles they face because of racism.

We are researchers who study how LGBTQ people of color build resilience, resist oppression, and promote well-being within their communities. We examine how having multiple identities like being trans and a person of color intersect and interact with each other in ways that affect how someone navigates their life.

Trans people of color who have multiple marginalized identities face higher levels of stress from being a minority compared to those with fewer marginalized identities. Although there has been a lack of research on the experiences of trans people of color, numerous studies suggest that many of the challenges they face stem from the intersection of racism, xenophobia and cisnormativity.

Common challenges and barriers

The healthcare system has always been a danger to trans people of color.

Over the years, people of color have been experimented on without consent, denied ownership of their own test results and bodies, and denied access to care. Some have played a vital role in transforming medical research and science without any knowledge of doing so.

Suspicion is amplified towards trans people of color, who can be dubbed (called by the birth name they no longer have), abused, and racially discriminated against in a single medical appointment.

Medical professionals and lawmakers have also imposed screening measures that require additional steps to qualify for gender-affirming care such as hormones and surgery. Trans people are asked to prove that they have a persistent experience of dysphoria, defined as an incongruity between the gender assigned at birth and gender identity. It treats being transgender as a disease to be cured based on what cisgender people think bodies should look like. It erases gender euphoria, or a feeling of joy or satisfaction associated with a separate gender from the one assigned at birth, as a reason to continue transitioning.

With only a limited number of providers who can competently and respectfully help them navigate these life-changing services, trans people of color are often left on their own. With current legislation prohibiting gender-affirming treatments for trans children, they and their families are forced to travel long distances to seek care, or have no access to care at all.

The continued exposure to stressors resulting from this discrimination has negative physical and mental health consequences for trans people of color. And these challenges are compounded by other common barriers, including homelessness, employment discrimination, and restricted access to legal documentation, among others.

Targets of violence

Trans people of color face disproportionate rates of violence due to racism and transphobia. Compared to their cis peers, trans people are four times more likely to be victims of violent crime.

And trans people of color have been the overwhelming targets of this violence. The Human Rights Campaign has recorded more than 256 cases of deadly violence against trans people since 2013 in the United States, 84% of whom were people of color. In 2021 alone, 57 trans people were killed, and more than half were black trans women. Black trans women continue to be most at risk of violence due to the intersection of their experiences of anti-black racism, cissexism, and sexism (also known as transmisogynoir).

The true numbers are probably much higher. Many hate crimes go unreported, due both to fear that their identity will be questioned and to lack of trust in law enforcement.

Additionally, trans people of color often experience violence from police and other law enforcement officials. A 2015 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality in the United States found that 58% of trans people said they had been harassed, abused, or mistreated when interacting with the police. He also noted that police frequently assume that trans women of color are sex workers. A 2021 study showed that trans Latinx immigrants and asylum seekers who enter the United States often experience torture and are denied basic medical care in detention centers.

Resilience and strength

Trans people of color have found many different strategies to help them navigate and overcome these challenges.

One is to build resilience, or to face and adapt to stressors and adversities. Many trans people of color draw strength from supportive role models and community members. Being a positive role model themselves and having a strong sense of their own worth are also key factors in building resilience.

For example, a trans person of color who survived a traumatic event shared in one study that resilience meant to her being proud of her gender and racial and ethnic identity, while acknowledging and negotiating the challenges she faces. faced because of systemic oppression. They also built their resilience by engaging in activism, standing up for themselves, and connecting with trans communities of color.

Trans people of color continue to find strength in collective action. Trans women of color have been at the forefront of social justice movements, and black trans women have been a central driving force in the fight for LGBTQ rights.

Towards liberation

There are countless ways to support trans people of color who are working toward their release.

One way is self-education. This includes learning about privilege and how it gives certain groups power over others in ways ranging from microaggressions to physical violence. It is important to note that self-education is an ongoing journey that requires humility.

Another way is to follow attacks on marginalized communities and be a co-conspirator. Instead of just being a passive ally, ask yourself how you can leverage your privilege to support trans people of color. This could work to provide inclusive and safe work environments, schools and medical systems, among others. It could also include fair and equitable compensation for trans people of color for their work.

Finally, call and call. Speak up when someone is hurting a trans person of color. Listen and take responsibility if called upon.

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