By Nyra Wekwete
Trans Day of Remembrance is upon us (November 20), and we as the trans community sure have come a long way—but still have far to go. Being trans, black and an immigrant in 2016 has its own set of unique challenges. Different from those behind us. In my trans experience, I’ve learnt many things but these are at the top.
1. Non-binary identities exist, and there is no such thing as “trans enough”.
Transgender is an umbrella term used to refer to all people who do not identify with their assigned gender/sex at birth, or the binary gender system.
Non-binary describes folks who choose to identify themselves as such when their gender identity does not fit within the gender binary.
Trans-ness comes in all shapes and sizes, in different variations crossing multiple lines and just as the entire sexuality spectrum is fluid so is being trans. There is no specific point where you are deemed worthy enough to fly the trans flag. If you are trans, and identify with that term, then you will know it. It’s something you will always be no matter what critiques or policing others may try to impart on your identity from the outside.
2. You don’t have to transition to be trans.
For a long time, trans women who have undergone MTF transitions have been the poster girls for all trans people. This is understandable as many of those women have had it the hardest, but this image has also allowed us to think that the only way to be a “true” trans person is to “fully transition” and that is not the case.
Transitioning is a privilege experienced by people with the resources necessary to pursue transitioning, and more often than not, they are surrounded by people who understand and are willing to listen. These folks are, by and large, safe and tend also to have the ability to move to a new place where no one knows who they used to be. Transitioning is a process that is only available to very few and I myself know many trans folks who can’t transition for a whole slew of reasons…
So let me ask you: does that make them less trans? Because they can’t afford the hormones, medical care, clothing or other resources? Because it isn’t safe to? See my point?
3. POC folks are already outsiders...
Without even telling the world I am trans, I am black, followed by the fact that I am a (perceived) woman and an immigrant. Already the odds are not stacked in my favor. The sad truth is that white queers are treated a million times better than their PoC counterparts. I am surrounded by white supremacy, hoteps and misogyny, all of which are trying very hard to break me (as a black woman), to eradicate me from the world, and make me “know my place.” Add in being an immigrant and we reach a new level and in addition to racism, xenophobia kicks in. Mix that in with being queer and we have a lifetime of hell.
Growing up, I have gotten used to how the world sees and treats me and it has made me resilient. Being raised in countries far from home has taught me how the real world treats little black children, especially girls who are far from their people, far from home. I grew up thinking I was wrong, I was broken, that the skin I was in was a curse, that I was less than human, that I was a savage from Africa…
This went on for many years and it took many years to unlearn it all. But through it, I did learn one thing: being different doesn’t make you wrong it just makes you different. Your self worth is not defined by what others think and say about you. The only opinion that matters is your own. Being a minority helped me in being trans, as I was already accustomed to rude remarks and hate speech. Suffering gracefully had become second nature.
4. Pronouns matter. (AKA: #Pronounsmatter)
This cannot be stressed enough. I have always said that misgendering someone by mistake is fine (it happens) but continuing to use incorrect pronouns is an act of violence and is transphobic. There is no excuse under the sun that excuses you from using the wrong pronouns. None. No, not even the one you are thinking of now.
No matter what you think or how you feel if someone tells you their pronouns, you respect them, use them, and correct the next person using the wrong ones too.
That said, a note for all my trans people: don’t be afraid to enforce your pronouns. Don’t let people erase how you feel. Feel free to get mad at people who don’t listen and cut off those who don’t comply. It’s your right to be addressed how you want to be; the same way no one would stand to be called the wrong name their whole life, you should never stand to be misgendered
5. We (you) don’t HAVE to explain anything to anyone.
Believe it or not my story is no ones business but my own which I can choose to share or not to. Many people harass transgender people with 101 questions that most of us don’t want to answer. Constantly have to deal with ignorant people asking the most personal and invasive questions gets old really quickly and I soon learned that it is not my job to educate anyone on being trans. For many trans people this has been a hard and heavy road and not something we want to have to relive by talking about it. You do not have to tell anyone anything if you don’t want to. You don’t have to explain your choices to anybody. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. If people can’t accept you without you having to prove yourself then they don’t deserve you anyways.
6. Intersectional trans experiences are valid.
As a queer black trans person who is perceived as a straight cisgender black women, my trans experience has collided head on with many different aspects of my life and as a result my trans experience has been different from the rest. Being trans is not an isolated event in one’s life and cannot be treated as such there are many things that shape and define it. Just because one experience doesn’t reflect your own or one that you know of doesn’t make it invalid. There is not a single trans person who has not suffered in some way at the hands of society and we must all be sensitive to the pain that has been endured. Everyone’s story is different and every story is valid.
7. It gets better—but it’s nowhere near perfect yet.
I know it often doesn’t feel like it doesn’t but the world is slowing getting better and like I like to say “The Revolution is coming”. This is a time of change all around the world we can clearly see that things are moving more drastically than ever and the same goes for the trans community. More and more people are coming out every day. Trans brothers and sisters holding their own and providing hope for those of us who are lost. Stay strong but remember it’s ok to fall, have faith in yourself, surround yourself with people who really love you and learn that it’s ok to cut people off (even your own blood). This life of yours is precious. Don’t let anyone take that from you.
Nyra is a 22 year-old transmasculine science student and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa.