Yesterday, I received a question on one of my Facebook posts about how people can support trans* women of color. Immediately, a few simple ideas came to mind; however, instead of rushing to type out a fast (and underdeveloped) response, I wanted to write a more thorough list with some explanations. So, here goes...
1. Talk with trans* women of color.
It may seem axiomatic, but all too often people who consider themselves to be "advocates" or "allies" are not even in touch with the communities on whose behalf they are attempting to advocate. Even as someone who is trans*, it is my responsibility to reach out and talk with trans* women and trans* people of color. I say this for a variety of reasons, one of which is that my Whiteness allows me to navigate social spaces and institutions differently than trans* people of color (read: I do not face the same scrutiny due to my Whiteness).
Trans* women of color know what they want and need to be safe; they know what changes they want to see at a micro- and macro-level. Not talking with them and rushing to do whatever we as "allies" or "advocates" think should be done further silences and marginalizes trans* women of color. It reproduces the same sort of oversight and violence trans* women of color may experience regularly. Instead, we need to be talking with trans* women of color to hear what they are experiencing, what they need, and how they envision getting what they need.
This may be hard. You may not know where to go, to whom to turn, or what to say. That's okay. You don't need to say anything most of the time; you just need to listen, and do so in a genuine way. Once you establish a pattern of listening and caring, you will create good relationships with trans* women of color and can then begin to work alongside each other. Oh, and one last thing -- don't barge in to spaces created for trans* people of color until you ask for permission. Again, there are so few spaces for marginalized populations, so jumping into these spaces without seeking permission, no matter your good intentions, may also feel like a further act of aggression. Seek permission, listen deeply, and create lasting relationships so you can hear what trans* women of color are thinking, experiencing, and wanting.
2. Learn about trans* women of color.
It's true that trans* people, and in particular several trans* women of color, have garnered more media attention lately. Laverne Cox became the first trans* woman of color to grace the cover of TIME magazine, Janet Mock's memoir was released and has led to an extensive book tour, and CeCe McDonald has been speaking across the country. However, you don't need to wait for any of these three amazing women to come to your area before you learn more about trans* women of color...nor are these the only trans* women of color you should learn about or from whom you can learn.
It is up to us as people with more privilege to seek out our own information about the experiences of trans* women of color, and trans* people of color more broadly. You can do this by seeking books, articles, Facebook pages, and following Twitter hashtags about trans* women of color. There are also several national reports about the experiences of trans* women of color that may be helpful in gaining a sense of what some trans* women of color confront regularly. Injustice at Every Turn is a comprehensive (and incredibly chilling) report documenting the experiences of trans* people in the U.S. It has breakouts based on race and various trans* identities, which makes it a pretty complete portrait. For people who are on Twitter, check out the backchannels of #twoc (trans* women of color), #girlslikeus, and #TransLivesMatter, among others. These hashtags are good ways to learn about and connect with trans* women of color.
You can also check out videos of trans* women of color speaking online, like this gem by CeCe McDonald. Trust me, it's worth the hour and 17 minutes, and she makes some amazing points.
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Dean Spade's book Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. This book is amazing, and very much highlights the experiences of trans* people of color as well as various other intersecting identities and how social institutions and opportunities are foreclosed to many based on these identities. It's admittedly a bit more of an academic read, but is also highly approachable for someone looking to stretch a bit. Eric Stanley and Nat Smith's Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex also has some amazing, and highly readable, chapters focusing on trans* communities of color.
3. Support organizations working alongside trans* women of color.
There are many amazing organizations doing great work alongside trans* women of color and trans* people of color communities. Some of these groups are very well known, such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Audre Lorde Project, and FIERCE. There are plenty of other groups across the country, too, so do some exploring in your local areas. Even if the organization is not solely focused on issues related to trans* women of color, that's okay; if there is a focus on trans* women of color, or good attention paid to the concerns of trans* women of color, see how you can support them.
"Support" can mean many things, too. Volunteer your time, mentor trans* youth of color, write letters to trans* women of color who are enmeshed in the Prison Industrial Complex simply for being trans* women of color (Black and Pink can hook you up with a penpal), post things on Facebook and Twitter that you are learning, offer financial support if you can (any amount helps), and talk to your friends, family, and colleagues about what you are learning. These are all ways you can support trans* women of color and the organizations working alongside trans* people of color communities to increase their life chances.
4. Talk to people about what you are learning/doing.
You know, that last point about talking to other people about what you are learning and doing is hugely important, so I am going to pull it out and put it right here. Don't keep this stuff to yourself. Share it widely with others. And when people ask why you care so much, tell them what you know. Speak from the heart, and let them know that violence against some is never justifiable. Ever. And that you will not stand for it.
5. Believe in the journey.
Working toward justice for trans* women and trans* people of color is hard (unfortunately), complex, and something which needs to be addressed over time. If you are waiting for a Big Win as a measurement of your progress, then you may be in for a rude awakening. Big Wins don't often come...in any social movement. I mean, they can, but if that is all you're looking for, or the measuring stick you use for determining success, then you may be setting yourself up for something less than success.
I don't say this to be a downer. In fact, I share it to point out that being in community, solidarity, and situating ourselves alongside others is itself an important "outcome" of activism. The journey of activism, the work we do engaging, living, loving, and learning about/from/with each other is hugely important. As CeCe McDonald has said, "We keep each other safe." Rather than waiting for politicians, police, or other social institutions to protect us (in fact, these are often the very institutions that continue to perpetrate violence against trans* women and trans* communities of color), we need to think about how we can come together, be in community, and keep each other safe. It's in the journey that this happens, not necessarily only in the arrival.
There are lots of other steps that folks can take, lots of steps I still need to take. I would love to hear other thoughts, comments, and suggestions from folks, so feel free to comment if you have them! Let's build this list together, and continue engaging in the important work of resistance that recognizes that all trans* lives matter.
This blog is a space where I share my thoughts on trans*-related issues. I also will share my own research as it develops, including papers, presentations, and the development of my dissertation study with trans* college students.