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.

Essential Things to Think About for the Best Possible First Date with a Trans Woman

GLAAD adds transgender equality to its mission

LGBT activists call for new focus on violence against transgender community

Jewlyes Gutierrez Enters Conflict Resolution Program, But Systemic Violence Against Trans Women of Color Remains

Graduation to Womanhood: Navigating Trans Identity at a Southern College

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.