This year, there have been no less than 9 reported murders of trans women of color in the United States. You won’t find these women, these victims, on magazine covers and the ones who survive won’t be on Diane Sawyer’s couch either.
While we celebrate the bravery of Caitlin Jenner, we must acknowledge that unlike her peers, she will never be fired from her job because she came out as trans and she is far less likely to be murdered than a Black trans woman. She will never be forced by lack of access to perform sex work or face homelessness. The experiences of an elder, White, rich trans woman are vastly different from my own as a younger, Black, poor, trans woman. While I do believe that the visibility of Jenner’s coming out process is necessary to the possibilities of a larger conversation, I do think that the sensationalism of her identity prevent us from going deeper into the complexities of being visible. But let’s try anyway.
We want to use this reflective moment to honor not just Jenner, but the women who have graciously fought to stay alive in a world that doesn’t allow trans people of color to exist. We honor the trans women of color pioneers such as Miss Major, and Marsha P. Johnson, celebrities like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock and modern-day revolutionaries like Aaryn Lang and Wriply Bennett, whose efforts have created visibility for trans women of color and also for Caitlin Jenner.
While we have your attention, here are 5 things you need to know about Black trans women:
1) Our Black Lives Matter, Too : Your liberation as a Black person is dependent upon the liberation of Black trans women. Understand that #BlackLivesMatter is a movement to reflect the violence that we all face as Black people and connect the dots by researching the violence TWOC experience and how that is linked to a greater system of oppression that harms us all.
2) We Have Names: Making the mistake of misgendering or referring to a Black trans woman by their name given at birth is an absolute no no,and could very well put someone at risk to be fired,to be denied access to housing, or even worse, murdered. Respect the pronouns we referred to by, you expect the same.
3) Our People Are Killing Us: Black trans women’s deaths are happening at the hands of folks who look like us, whether that’s through religious discrimination that further colonizes us as Black people, through intimate partner violence, or through the shaming of men who are attracted to us. White supremacy harms us all, but those are Black fists raining blows on trans women for the crime of being alive in public.
4) We Aren’t Punchlines:-Sharing viral videos of Black trans women being attacked further perpetuates violence against us, as do photos of trans women being used to “trick” men into publicly calling them attractive, only for their Twitter friends to have a field day laughing.
5) Numbers Don’t Lie: According to The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, for Black 34 percent of Black trans women live in extreme poverty with an average household income of less than 10,000 a year and Black trans and gender non-conforming people are 4 times more likely to live in extreme poverty compared to the general Black population. Per the National Coalition of Anti-Violence, 72% of hate crime homicides committed against LGBTQ people in 2013 were against trans women, and 90% of those crimes were against trans women of color.
The struggle for Black trans women is real and we need our brothers and sisters to recognize this, and to fight the barriers that prevent us from living the full lives we deserve.
Elle Hearns is a organizer,writer, the Central Region Coordinator for GetEQUAL, and a Black Trans Revolutionary