“The Transgender Tipping Point,” cried TIME Magazine back in June. “Another social movement is poised to challenge deeply held cultural beliefs.” Trans activism is here. And on the front cover of the magazine and the movement is the gorgeous Laverne Cox, trans star of cult sensation “Orange is the New Black.”
The thing is, we really need it all to be true.
The statistics surrounding this issue are truly horrific. In 2013, 72% of all American LGBT homicide victims were trans women. 41% of trans and gender-nonconforming adults have attempted suicide in their lifetime. Trans people are 49 times more likely to contract HIV than the general population. And whilst trans people are clearly amongst the most vulnerable members of our society, transphobia is rampant on an institutional level. There have been multiple reports of trans people being arrested as prostitutes when they were simply walking down the street, or suffering from general police harassment. Litigation is still pending against Hobby Lobby, who recently made headlines over another case, because they have refused a transgender employee the right to use the ladies’bathroom. And even well-established media outlets have come under fire, such as the UK’s Observer, which printed an opinion piece by writer Julie Burchill in which she described trans women as ““a bunch of dicks in chicks’clothing.”
Given all this, you might be forgiven for asking why the LGBT community has for so long been fixated on other, less life-threatening causes. Gay marriage, of course, is an important stepping stone towards true equality, yet will probably do little to help trans individuals tackle some of those alarming statistics. Of course, in the Western world, the marriage battle has all but wound up. France, Spain, Canada, most of the UK has it. Even the National Organization for [heterosexual] Marriage’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher admits that the US is “now in the ‘gay marriage in all 50 states’phase whether we like it or not.” It’s just a matter of when the fall-behinds will catch up.
Too often, the “T” in LGBT is forgotten, and the focus is on the far larger “LG” contingent. There are lots of reasons for this. Firstly, they have been more successful in politicizing themselves. Gay men may be the only minority disproportionally represented in the British Parliament. And their representation in our culture, if still leaving something to be desired, at least has a longer history than ‘Orange is the New Black’and the few shows which have given a voice to trans people without fetishizing them or making them the butt of some joke. In many ways, fighting for marriage equality, by no means an easy battle, was far easier than the war we must now wage against transphobia. A war we must all fight, whether LGB, T, or straight and cis*.
Progress has been made. In the US, Obama’s signing of an executive order has made it illegal to discriminate against federally-contracted trans workers, and the Department of Education recently noted that an existing policy, Title IX, already prevents discrimination in the education system. And the role of Laverne Cox as a champion for trans rights and recognition cannot be understated.
But whilst so many people still see gender as something innate and immutable, trans vulnerability and transphobia will continue. That is why the “transgender tipping point” needs to become reality. We all need to stand up for our trans siblings and become allies. We need to stand up against jokes about “trannies” and “shemales” and reject the antiquated assumption that one’s gender is defined by what is between one’s legs, understand that not everybody feels comfortable defining themselves as male or female, but might be something else, or nothing, or both. We have to call upon our governments to address the needs of the trans community. If this is the new social movement, then it’s long-since overdue. It’s time we become the transgender tipping point together.
* Cis, cisgendered – not trans or genderqueer
Image Credit: Medina, John. SAN FRANCISCO, CA – MAY 11: Laverne Cox addresses the attendees the 24th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Hilton San Francisco – Union Square on May 11, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Flickr: Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 30 July 2014. <https://flic.kr/p/eiEaCA>.