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What Transgender Awareness Week Means for Students in 2020


By — Danny Kistner

Last week was Transgender Awareness Week. Most people don’t know this. They don’t know that the week’s end is marked by Transgender Remembrance Day on November 20th. They don’t know that this day is meant to memorialize transgender and gender non-conforming people that have been murdered on the account of transphobia. They don’t know this, quite often, because they do not care and this, this is horrifying. 

In 2020, wherein chaos and pain seems to be the running theme, these deaths have hit record numbers. 350 people have been murdered this year around the world simply as a result of hatred. The worst part of this number is that it is the assumed least amount of deaths. We will never know this full amount because these murders are often never reported. This is equally horrifying. 

As with most hatred, there is no simple solution, nor is there an easy way to fix the fact that people die as a result of this hatred. However, it is easy enough to know where to start. 

What Does It Mean To Be Transgender?

It is first extremely important to differentiate between biological sex and gender identity. Sex, as its defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) is “refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex persons, such as chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs.” Contrarily, gender refers to characteristics that are “socially constructed”, in other words, gender is what society says gender is and just as with anything in regards to culture, changes over time. 

Indeed, the two binary genders as we know them now, didn’t emerge until the 1700s and even then, only meant exactly how we saw them to people in the west. Thousands of cultures all around the world have (and had) third and sometimes fourth genders, most prominently in the Indian subcontinent, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Not to mention, to say that there are only two sexes is overly simplistic, with most scientists acknowledging at least five or six chromosomal combinations in humans, which can be read about here

This is all to say that being transgender is not only not a modern pheminenom, but similar to how what a “woman” and what a “man” is over time, its definition has changed over the years. Now, however, most people understand it to mean someone who identifies as a different gender to the one they have been assigned at birth.

What Does It Mean To Be Gender Non-Conforming? 

Gender non-conforming (GNC) is an umbrella term. It means different things to different people and sometimes it’s an identity in it of itself. Most GNC people consider themselves trans however, as they don’t identify as men or women and within this community a number of different terms have also arisen, such as agender, genderfluid, non-binary, or demigender. What this all means? For those who are cisgender, i.e. you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, I can answer that question quite simply: it doesn’t matter. What does matter? That these identities are respected and recognized. 

Language is inherent to culture, it shifts and changes and new words are created and fall out of fashion all the time. This same phenomenon occurs with gender identity and pronouns. Something doesn’t fit, so something new was made. It’s really quite simple and as I said before, not something new at all, as can be seen here

So, to backtrack, to be GNC is to be neither a man or a woman. 

What Does It Mean To Be an Ally?

First and foremost, it means respect and solidarity. Respect in regards to personal pronouns and names, as well as a recognition to someone’s gender identity. This can be as small as putting your own pronouns in your social media bios, trans or not, or it can mean giving people a safe space to state their personal pronouns without being ridiculed, particularly in schools. Respect also revolves heavily around personal questions. In truth, how or why a person transitions is none of your business and it never will be unless that person discloses it you. Don’t ask them about surgeries or deadnames, it’s invasive, its dehumanizing, and extremely harmful. 

Transgender people do not transition to replicate cisgender people.

Solidarity, on the other hand, speaks volumes more. It is coming to the defense of trans people, to be there for them, to ensure that they are not hate crimed simply for existing. But also, very simply, to be a friend and to be understanding. 

To be a trans ally is also to educate yourself, research and learn about trans and GNC people, as well as how to empower them as both peers and adults. You can also donate to foundations like the Trevor Program or GLAAD and read about their goals and articles. Know what gender dysphoria is and know how this impacts the everyday mental health of trans people.

Given that 80% of all American adults say they have never met a transgender person, someone of the best resources can also be found in entertainment or on popular streaming sites. The Netflix original “Disclosure” produced by activist and actress Laverne Cox is a documentary in regards to the trans experience, particularly in regards to film. TV shows like “Pose” and historical films such as “Paris Is Burning” are just important. 

What Does This Mean for Students?

The better question is perhaps what it doesn’t mean. 

As was said in the beginning of this article, it is easy to know how to stop hatred and transphobia before it starts as it is a learned behavior, something learned from friends and peers in an environment where gender is rarely discussed in a constructive form and gendered spaces are overtly enforced—school. 

In short, a lack of education leads to misunderstanding, misunderstanding leads to ignorance, ignorance to fear, fear to hatred, and hatred to the very worst. 

Transphobia (overt or not) means, for transgender students, isolation and anxiety, it means depression, and more often than not, it means death. In a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was reported that 50.8% of all transgender youth and 41.8% of gender non-conforming youth have attempted suicide. That is the result of unaddressed hatred in schools. That is the result of transphobia on students. To say that a school does not accept transphobic behavior is one thing. To create genderless bathrooms is another. To create genderless changing rooms is another. To inform students on the use of pronouns is another. To educate students on gender identity is another. Complacency towards transphobia is just as bad as enforcing it and in many ways, they are one in the same. 

This is harrowing. This should be harrowing. And it is no understatement to say that it is a matter of life and death.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies as a transgender person please visit or call at (877) 565-8860.

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