24 Actions You NEED to Take to Help Trans Women of Color Survive

Feature image via EP Li

I’m 24 years old trans latina woman and a bay area native. I graduated from San Francisco State University in 2013 and have worked in the nonprofit sector for the last eight years, since I was 16. I have done research with/on trans women of color sex workers, trans women of color living with HIV, and transgender history. I previously worked in direct service with trans women of color living with HIV. I have been privileged growing up in a middle class white household, which has also given me my own unique struggles (as a transracial adoptee) of learning to love my brown skin and claim my femininity, which almost left me homeless. I have had access to doctors and therapists, since I started my transition and have been blessed to have my father’s rock solid support unconditionally these past few years. I also have been raped, threatened, harassed, almost jumped, tokenized, and abused. My privileges have not protected me and my young body has survived a lot. The subjects in this article are not to be generalized into each trans woman of color’s life, but it is my experience that many of us have experienced these issues and will continue to struggle without drastic transformative change.

K.C. Haggard. India Clarke. Mercedes Williamson. London Chanel. Kristina Gomez Reinwald. Penny Proud. Taja DeJesus. Yazmin Vash Payne. Ty Underwood. Lamia Beard. Papi Edwards. As of July 25th, this is the list of trans women murdered in 2015. However, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. The trans community knows that we lose our sisters to more than just murder. Suicide. Overdose. Domestic Violence. HIV/AIDS. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

This isn’t just exhausting. This is intergenerational trauma, oppression, and maybe even genocide. This violence is specifically targeted against black and brown women, gender non-conforming folks, and especially trans women of color. Living at the intersection of blackness and browness and transcendence of gender normativity leaves us particularly visible and vulnerable to a lot of violence. We lose our jobs. Housing. Family. Support systems. We have to rely on sex work to get by. We have to rely on social services by nonprofits that fall short of meeting all of our needs. We welcome dangerous lovers into our lives because we don’t have intimacy or human touch. We think not using a condom will keep him with us and swallowing his cum will make him want to cuddle us a bit longer. (Not that all of us are straight or even attracted to men.) We are left starving for love, touch, intimacy, appreciations, and human contact. We might turn to drugs to escape the monstrous reality that awaits us when we wake up. This is the lived reality of trans women of color’s daily lives.

With all of this in mind in one of the most visibly bloody years we’ve witnessed of violence against trans women of color, I wanted to make a list of things you can do to begin to change the culture of violence against trans women of color into one of love, appreciation, and transformative change.

1. Listen. Trans women of color are brilliant, strong, powerful, and know our own experiences. When we tell you something has hurt us, you need to listen and work to understand what we’re saying instead of glossing over it. Also, listen to our stories, our histories, our tales of resilience and survival as well as our tales of violence and loss.

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2. Read. Read the books that have been written and published by trans women of color. There are a number of them that talk about the author’s history and life journey. Other books also capture the brilliance and raw emotion of academics and artists. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock is strongly recommended. Decolonizing trans/gender 101 by b. binaohan. Trauma Queen by Lovemme Corazon. Seasonal Velocities by Ryka Aoki. I Rise by Toni Newman. Cooking in Heels by Ceyenne Doroshow. Other writers include Morgan Collado, Micha Cardenas, Dane Figueroa Edidi, TS Madison, and soon Laverne Cox!

3. Volunteer. There are numerous organizations across the country that serve trans women of color and are under resourced. Volunteering your time, energy, skills, ears, and money are all welcome to many of these organizations. You can also find one closer to home but these are some of my favorites:

Transgender, Gender-Variant, Intersex Justice Project

Trans Women of Color Collective

Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Audre Lorde Project

Gender Justice LA

Casa Ruby

Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement

4. Donate! Many organizations don’t receive grants, sustained funding, or major donors and have to rely on community wallets to sustain their programming. We can change this!

5. Hire us. Give trans women of color jobs! Job security, benefits, consistency in schedules can help someone turn their life around.

6. Nurture our brilliance. Give us professional development opportunities. Help us dream and manifest magic in the world. Trans women of color are some of the most brilliant, powerful, and biggest change-makers this world has ever seen. We need the opportunity to shine, grow, and create. If you work in a clinic give them a job or volunteer opportunity. Have them run your programs or intern for you. Teach us the process you go through to make things happen. Teach us the skills that you have learned.

7. Allow us to be our full crazy-beautiful selves. So often we don’t want to know the entire person and we just want to know the ‘good’ parts. Employees. Partners. Friends. Family. We need to be there for each other and learn to fully accept each other for our flaws, troubled pasts, traumas, and insecurities that we all hold. These are sacred pieces that make the complete picture of who we are. Welcome our whole selves into the light.

8. Increase stipends/gift cards for participation in studies. We offer up our lived experiences, trauma, blood, opinions, and thoughts for $50 gift cards. Non-trans women of color often make careers off of our struggles. Our lives are sacred and many of us are unemployed, living off social security,  and/or sex workers. Bring trans women of color into the fold and teach us these skills/give us an opportunity to learn and conduct the research ourselves. Figure out a way to funnel more money into our pockets.

9. Work against the erasure and white washing of our community history. Recently there has been a movie and a number of claims that white gay men played a significant role in Stonewall. The Stonewall riots were led by trans women of color, primarily Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. We have historical accounts and evidence that this is the case (shoutout to Reina Gossett, who has done the important work to save this herstory!) We also have a surviving veteran in Miss Major, who was there.

The Stonewall movie that erases trans women of color

Meet Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

10. Organize with us. There has been an increased effort from the amazing trans activists to organize die-ins and other actions bringing awareness to the epidemic of violence our community has faced. Fight for our federal and state protections in housing, employment, access to health care and more! We need YOUR help to bring this awareness to the mainstream consciousness. We need to begin to make a cultural shift towards valuing all trans women of color lives.

11. Love us. Romantically. Platonically. Appreciate us. Fall in love with us. Be our best friend. Go out in public with us. Claim that you are dating/loving/friends with/attracted to a trans woman of color. And DEMAND that we are treated with respect.

12. Refuse to give up on us. We all make mistakes. Given the pure amount of trauma, violence, and abuse we hold, we’ve often been unaware of the impact these moments have had on us, and our behaviors. Bring this behavior to light and if you’re able, help us work on creating healthier habits that are not destructive.

13. Get over our looks. In the end we will never look like a cisgender woman. And that’s totally, absolutely ok. It’s okay to still have facial hair. It’s ok that your body fat is still moving around and if you don’t have wide hips and are still struggling with having broad shoulders. Unless we ask for it specifically, don’t give us advice or tips on being feminine and passing. Not passing is okay. We are still beautiful and goddesses that are fortunate to grace this world.

14. Ask us what we want. From this life. From this world. From you. We all have dreams, wants, and needs. Trans women of color NEED to have these met. I need you to challenge yourself to make a difference in our lives.

15. Create a scholarship fund for trans women of color. So often we have to face decisions between our survival, housing, healthcare, food, or our femininity. If each community and nonprofit that works for the betterment of our lives put aside a small pot of money after each fundraising event to help cover cost of living expenses or 1-2% from your paychecks, we could make a real difference in a lot of trans women of color lives.

16. Spread your resources/assets around. Personally, I’m preparing to undergo a career change and am intentionally sharing some of my books from college with trans women of color as a gift. When cleaning out your closets, ask where you can donate clothes and other lightly used items that can go to a trans woman of color.

17. Safety plan and follow-up with your trans women of color friends to make sure they are safe and okay. This means going out of your way to pick them up, walk with them, text them after they leave you, and asking them what support they might need to get to a location.

18. Reflect on and challenge your own internalized trans misogyny. Be intentional with your friendships, actions, and thoughts about trans women.

19. Fight larger institutional systems that commit violence against us, like the prison industrial complex, deportations and ICE, the policing of sex work and drugs, laws that fail to protect gender identity and expression in employment and housing, and the medical industrial complex.

20. Remember that there are trans women of color who have survived and are thriving now. We even have a hashtag, #twocthriving (twitter and tumblr), created by the amazing Luna Merbruja.

21. Pay/Center/Include Trans women of color to talk about our own issues. There is a very deep ocean of trans women of color leadership out there that has been doing this work for decades to fight for this change. We need the visibility, resources, and space to hold these conversations about our needs and the change that needs to happen.

Brouhaha’s Trans Women of Color Storytelling is Healing, is the Revolution

22. Re-frame the ‘fight for equality’ to something more foundational, like the right to survive. That’s our struggle right now. Surviving in a world that cannot handle our black and brown gender transcendence.

23.Take the next year to implement some of these things into your life. Challenge yourself in ways that you didn’t imagine. Trans women of color are losing our lives. Our community is under attack. We are an endangered species.

24.Trans women of color: Add your own to this list. What do you NEED from the world to help you survive?

There is a myth that trans women of color can only pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty and violence. It’s a direct parallel to the American dream mythology of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” This doesn’t work in a cycle of violence. I have seen too many trans women of color think they are out of the cycle but get sucked back in because they quickly lost their housing, failed to get a job, were arrested, or fell back into drug use; the reasons are endless. We need to learn to communally take care of trans women of color and support them so we can move to dismantle the institutional cycles of oppression that we are caught up in.

This piece is dedicated to the trans women of color ancestors that fought hard and gave their lives so I could be here to write this piece today, my trans women of color elders who continue to share their brilliance and herstories with the world, my trans women of color sisters who have survived, cried, struggled, and helped change this world for the better just by being themselves. Finally, I hope that this can help build communities that are safe and uplifting for future generations of trans women of color. We cannot continue to lose our sisters at such an astronomical rate. Please remember, your actions have consequences.

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Profile photo of Lexi Adsit

Lexi Adsit, native to the Bay Area, is a fierce translatina. She graduated with a Bachelor’s in Women & Gender Studies from San Francisco State University in 2013. She was also awarded the Social Justice Award from the Dean of Students for her work founding and organizing the Queer Yo Mind Conference. She recently worked with a group of dedicated trans women of color to organize the International Trans Women of Color Network Gathering, bringing together over 24 trans women of color from around the world to envision the empowerment of trans women of color across the world. She also produced Brouhaha: Trans Women of Color Comedy-Based Storytelling, a night of riotous laughter brought to you by trans women of color from California. She has previously worked at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center on projects that center and impact the lives of trans women of color living with HIV.

Lexi has written 1 articles for us.


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    I am Iranian(but I live in Los Angeles) and been reading and re-reading about the trans community there. I guess I will add, is there are people who are trans women, who are not into men(something that people in my culture can’t understand). Also, let’s get away from this idea that trans women and drag queens are the same thing.

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    Thank you so much for all of this! I would like to point at transhousingnetwork.com, an organization by and for transfolks that helps trans people who need housing find people who need roommates, or who have a couch or spare room for emergencies. Although they are not specifically directed at trans women of color, many twoc use the site. Listing yourself as a host is simple and can really save someone life!

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    That was very well written article with some very useful information. I am a transgendered soul and would just love it if you would add in some help for us “other-non color” people as well I realize the black transgender society is much more targeted than any other.

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    Ali Forney Center in NYC isn’t specifically TWOC but it’s a shelter for LGBT youth and serves a lot of trans women of color. LYRIC in SF is a teen drop in space that does a lot with TWOC too.

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    1. Quit tribalism. Everyone was black in the Long Night – the epoch beginning with Lord of the Star Ocean, Enki effecting the Second Creation and coming to an end only now, first sign of the Dawn being 1930 – and there was no sunlight to tell otherwise.

    2. Contribute to envisioning and construction of generation/colony ship mixed on a clone factory, tentatively designated Coral Dawn.

    3. (Optional) learn something about WMD manufacturing. Just in case.

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    I’m so glad this exists – even the women who consider themselves the most open-minded and enlightened could learn something here, and that’s humbling. Good luck to you, and I hope all the positive feedback here drives you on as you keep moving onwards and upwards.

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    If you can write or draw, and want to work on a role-playing game that explores gender issues in an alternate history, write to me. My product line does not have a large budget, but there’s money available for people who want to help me sneak in New ideas under cover of a game.

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    #22 in particular (“Re-frame the ‘fight for equality’ to something more foundational, like the right to survive”) really hit me. Concerning the LGBT community and causes, the very loud voices of cis, white men and white liberal causes (HRC and marriage equality, I’m looking at you) routinely drown out everyone else, especially the voices of TWOC fighting for the right to live with dignity and respect. We all need to do better for our trans* sisters of colour and help them without the tears of guilt and expectations of ally cookies. Thank you for this brilliant and detailed list of actions, I’m keeping this bookmarked for future reference.

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    Great list! I have a question about #11: What is a way that a person can talk respectfully about trans women they love/date/admire without outting them and potentially putting them in danger? I’d love input. Thanks!

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      Yes, I would love an answer to this! My partner is a very visible, out trans woman and is usually fine with my talking about her being trans in appropriate contexts, but I still feel uncomfortable and don’t want to out her. I second Anna’s question!

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      I think that’s probably a good conversation to have with the women you love/date/admire. I know for me it’s not something that I feel a lot of people *need* to know [like extended family or people’s parents], but as they get to know me they will of course learn about it because it’s such a huge part of my identity and life.

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    Thank you so, so much for writing this piece! Vital reminders for those of us trying to be better allies/partners.

    Question: would you like people to mention you if we link to this on Twitter? I really want to share it, but I don’t want to make you more of a target on Twitter. Again, thanks.

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    Thanks for writing this article and for providing people with possible resources! I just wanted to share another resource with you, the Trans Justice Funding Project. TJFP is a community-led funding initiative founded in 2012 to support grassroots, trans justice groups run by and for trans people. We make grants annually by bringing together a panel of six trans justice activists from around the country to carefully review every application we receive. We center the leadership of trans people organizing around their experiences with racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions. http://www.transjusticefundingproject.org. Just FYI!

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    I’m a cisgender larger sized female. I have some beautiful clothes, sizes 14-18, that I would love to see make another woman feel beautiful. Some of it would work for job interviews, etc. Where in the Bay Area can I donate this? I am in SF proper. Thank you in advance.

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