Families preparing to gather for Easter and Passover brings into focus this most elusive, but essential, of all human institutions especially for trans people. That’s why I decided to dedicate the entirety of Episode 3 of TransLash to family in all its forms.
The goal of TransLash is to tell trans stories in order to save trans lives during this time of social backlash. There is no greater story for all of us than family.
The story around family for too many trans people, especially those of color, remains a harsh one. According to the National Center for Trans Equality, nearly half of all black trans people have experienced hostility from their family around their gender identity, with 1 out of 8 having been physically attacked or thrown out of their homes. Black trans people are twice as likely to experience homelessness as a result. But trans people of color are not isolated in these harsh realities. Overall 2 out 5 trans people have experienced antipathy from their family members.
As we explore in Episode 3, I am fortunate that my story is somewhat different. Though I grew up in Atlanta, my family is from Southwest Georgia (an overwhelmingly rural region of the state) and they are Christian, many serving in leadership positions of their churches. On paper it would be assumed that they would be disapproving, if not downright caustic, about having a trans member of the family. However they are the exact opposite, overwhelmingly loving and supportive. By their own admission they have been on a journey of acceptance parallel to my own. But it wasn’t always this way.
Facing various forms of threats from my immediate family growing up, I like many hid my gender identity under a thick layer of conventionality and an ultimately failed attempt at gender norms. Had I expressed my inner truth earlier as a child I could have easily faced the worst case scenario. The impact of violence and exclusion is explored in Episode 3 through conversations with trans people from all walks of life.
Even as trans people can experience tremendous pain from our birth families, there is tremendous power and resilience in that we create new forms of family as an antidote. Chosen family, as well as kinship ties through partnerships and marriage, sustain trans people at the most difficult times. They underscore the point that family is not only what we are born into, but what we build.
In a hostile world, newly developed families can be the key to making it. That’s because the world does actually remain a punitive place for trans people. Recent history speaks for itself. Continuing a grim trend from late last year, all transgender people killed this year have been Black trans women. On the policy front, when asked at a recent Congressional hearing if she knew that rescinding discrimination protections for trans students would cause harm to those students, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos replied, “I do know.” At another recent Congressional hearing on trans equality, transgender witnesses were berated by the GOP. And the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender military service went into effect on April 12. All clear signs underscore the point that the backlash is real.
But trans families, especially those through choice or kinship, also form the basis for fighting back. This has been true since Stonewall and it remains true now. Organizer Micky Bradford of the Transgender Law Center and Southerners on New Ground (SONG) tells us specifically how this works. The point of coming together to love and protect each other “is so that eventually we won’t have to fight this hard.”
Overall this episode, probably the most difficult for me because it was so personal, is undoubtedly hopeful. As my fourteen year-old cousin, who discovered transness on Instagram years ago, says in this episode, “God made you just like you are and you are a beautiful creation.”