Trans Awareness Week and Why It Matters Now More Than Ever

Last Updated 07.12.2021
15 min read

In November, many cities and LGBTQ+ organizations all over the world celebrate Transgender Awareness Week. Essentially, Transgender Awareness Week is the week leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which is the day when we honor the lives lost to transphobic violence. 

Both are very important since trans folks still deal with a lot of discrimination and misunderstanding, even inside the LGBTQ+ community.

So what's the history of Transgender Awareness Week? What are some of the most harmful myths about trans people? And how can you show support to trans people in your community and beyond? Here's everything you need to know. 

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What does "transgender" mean?

When a person identifies as transgender, it means that their gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Assigned sex is a label that is given to every child by a doctor based on their genitals and chromosomes. 

As they evolve and grow up, children also grow into their gender identities, which contrary to popular belief, aren't defined by the person's body and sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity describes how the person feels on the inside and how they express themselves through their behavior, personal style, or gender roles. 

Therefore, it is possible for a person who was assigned female at birth to identify and express themselves as male, and vice versa. Such people are referred to as transgender or trans. Sometimes, a person may not identify with male or female and feel like their gender identity doesn't match their assigned sex. In that case, they would identify with non-binary, which is one of many trans identities. 

Unfortunately, many people don't know the difference between sex and gender, so they might argue that being trans is unnatural, just a phase, or a choice rather than just the way someone was born. There is a lot of stigma and harmful stereotypes surrounding the transgender community that don't allow trans folks to live healthy fulfilled lives. The law still doesn't sufficiently protect the human rights of trans people, so they often suffer from depression, poverty, discrimination, and anti-transgender violence. 

Transgender Awareness Week 

What is Trans Awareness week about?

Trans Awareness Week is the weak leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance. According to GLAAD, "people and organizations around the country participate in Transgender Awareness Week to help raise the visibility about transgender people and address issues members of the community face". 

Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual observance on November 20. Its main goal is to honor the lives of trans people who were murdered that year. Transgender Awareness Week focuses on the lives of trans people and the ways we can make them safer, healthier, and happier. It is a great time for advancing advocacy around transgender rights and bringing the attention of the authorities, businesses, and the general public to problems trans people deal with. 

Here's how Transgender Day of Remembrance, and consequently, Transgender Awareness Week came about.

Gwendolyn Ann Smith — the founder of Transgender Remembrance Day

When trans activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith found out about the death of Rita Hester, a black transgender woman who lived in Boston, she knew something had to be done. Looking at the number of trans women who were being killed and the lack of positive publicity their cases got in media, she created a web project called Remembering Our Dead to honor trans folks who were murdered. 

Next year, other activists got involved, and they helped her organize the first Transgender Day of Remembrance marches in San Francisco and Boston. Smith hosted the event in San Francisco, where she gave a speech and read the names of people lost to anti-transgender violence that year, which is a tradition kept to this day. The year after that, more communities join TDOR, and the rest is history. Smith admits that she didn’t expect so many people all around the country to participate, and while she is happy about it, she has some reservations as well. 

“A lot of TDOR [events] are, for obvious reasons, focused around our deaths and our dying. And can we be something more than our deaths? That's something that I personally wrestle with, which, of course, makes me happy that other events have cropped up since that are more celebratory,” said Smith in her interview for Vogue.

Rita Hester — the woman who inspired Transgender Remembrance Day 

Rita Hester was born in 1963 in Hartford, Connecticut. According to her sister, she has always been Rita and expressed herself as a girl since early childhood. Her family and friends accepted her, and she grew up a confident, outspoken, and outgoing black trans woman. 

She lived in Boston, which at the time wasn’t always a welcoming and safe environment for black trans women, but she fit right in. Her charming nature won her many friends and admirers, and unlike other LGBTQ+ people, she frequented even predominantly straight rock bars. 

On November 28, 1998, Rita’s neighbors heard a fight in her apartment and called the police. When the police arrived, they found Rita lying on the floor with multiple stab wounds, still alive. An hour later, she was taken to the hospital, where she died of cardiac arrest. 

Twenty-three years later, the murder of the woman whose death inspired a worldwide movement remains unsolved. Rita’s neighbors saw two white men exiting her building on the night of her death. It is known which bar she visited hours before she was killed. Her friends told the police about the men she met the night before, the fight she had with someone a couple of weeks prior, and her then-boyfriend who mysteriously disappeared after she died. 

When another black trans woman, Chanelle Pickett, was killed in Boston in 1995, Rita gave an interview to a local paper saying the killer can’t be punished lightly, otherwise it will inspire even more transphobic violence and send the message that it’s okay. 

Rita was right. Pickett’s killer was acquitted of murder — his actions were justified by “trans panic defense”, implying that he got scared after finding out during sex that Pickett was trans. Hester’s murderers still haven’t been found. The outrage her case has caused, multiple testimonies of her friends and neighbors, dozens of calls from Hester's family — none of it turned out to be enough to get justice for Rita. 

Myths that harm trans community

Myth #1: Transgender is a sexual orientation like gay or bisexual 

Terms like trans, cis, or non-binary refer to gender identity and have nothing to do with who the person is attracted to. If a person's gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth, they are cisgender or cis. If it doesn't, they are trans or non-binary. Regardless of their gender identity, a person can be attracted to men, women, both, or neither. 

If someone is assigned male at birth but identifies as a trans woman and is attracted to women, then they are a trans lesbian. Trans people, just like cisgender people, can be gay, bi, pan, queer, or ace. In other words, it's totally normal for trans people to hold other identities since some of them refer to your sexuality and others to gender identity, which aren't related to each other. 

Myth #2: Transgender inclusive healthcare cannot be covered by insurance because it’s too expensive

While trans-specific treatments are quite expensive, they are not as costly as other treatments that are covered by most insurance policies. 

Transgender-specific care may cost around $25,000-$75,000 per person, but less than 1% of the population is transgender, so including trans healthcare in the healthcare plan won’t affect its cost.

When the city of San Francisco first introduced the Transgender Health Benefit Program, it added a small surcharge to its clients. However, the city ended up spending only 7% of the collected money, so the surcharge was dropped altogether.

Myth #3: Kids are too young to know they are trans, so they shouldn’t be allowed to transition

Only kids who are insistent, persistent, and consistent in their gender identity are allowed to medically transition. It’s not a decision that’s taken lightly by parents or medical professionals. 

Studies of prepubescent cisgender and transgender kids show that trans kids identify with their gender just as strongly as cis kids, meaning that trans boys and girls feel and act just like their cis peers. 

Myth #4: Transgender athletes have an unfair advantage, so they shouldn’t be allowed to compete with cisgender women

Many people still think that trans athletes, specifically trans women, have an unfair advantage because of their “male biology”. However, it is very wrong to assume that there are just two types of bodies — strong male bodies and weak female bodies. Trans women don’t become great athletes just because they were assigned male at birth. All women have different genetic make-up and physiological characteristics, yet no one would claim it’s unfair for tall women to compete with smaller women.

Transitioning is a long process, so a trans woman is not a woman in a man’s body. Hormone therapy does great changes to trans people and their bodies, making them very similar to cis people’s bodies in terms of athletic performance. 

Sporting administrators that allow trans women to compete also impose special rules for participation such as mandatory suppression of testosterone levels down to cis woman’s levels for at least a year before competing. 

Finally, the debate around trans athletes only targets transgender women, highlighting the underlying assumption that men are inherently stronger than women, which is simply not true. Trans men also participated and succeed in men’s sports, and no one has any objections to that. 

Myth #5: Allowing trans people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity is dangerous

Some states still don’t allow trans people to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. They claim it puts cis people at risk of being harassed by “sexual predators”.

In reality, states that allow trans people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity have seen zero increase in crime rates. 

The so-called “sexual predators” are nearly always cisgender men, who threaten the safety of trans people and cis women. We need laws that would target actual predators, not laws that would discriminate against trans folks based on nothing but stigma and stereotypes.

Myth #6: Being trans is a new western trend 

There have been transgender people even in Ancient Greece, and the first documented sex reassignment surgery in the world took place as early as 1930

There is also historical evidence of genderqueer communities all over the world, like cohijra in India, waria in Indonesia, muxes in Mexico, or two-spirit in North America. It’s not the number of trans people that has changed recently, it’s the public awareness and acceptance, which is undoubtedly a good thing. 

Myth #7: It is okay for cisgender actors to play trans people in shows and movies

By allowing cis actors to play trans characters, we only reinforce the myth that being trans is a performance or a “costume” cis people can wear. 

We learn to understand foreign cultures and experiences by seeing them in the media, that’s why it’s crucial that we see realistic trans characters in mainstream media. 

A token trans character played by a cis actor is not enough. We need complex storylines that would show the inner worlds of trans people instead of objectifying them and fixating on their bodies. 

Myth #8: Many trans people regret their transitioning and detransition later on

Some media purposely make it sound like many transgender people detransition. They want to create an impression that being trans is a phase (and a regrettable one), but of course, that’s not true at all.

A 2015 study conducted in the US showed that 8% of trans adults detransitioned, and 62% of them only detransitioned temporarily. 

What’s even more important is that the most common reason for detransitioning was pressure from a parent. Only one in 250 respondents said they detransitioned because they decided it wasn’t right for them.

Challenges that trans and non-binary people face

Discrimination in healthcare

The transgender community faces a lot of discrimination in the healthcare industry. As we discussed earlier, some healthcare providers don't cover trans healthcare. As a result, trans people get into debt or simply can't afford to transition. Not being able to transition, they suffer from gender dysphoria — the inability to live according to their true gender identity. Besides, 55% of trans people also suffer from depression. 

Transphobic violence

At least 231 trans and gender-nonconforming people have been killed in the US in the last 8 years. Anti-transgender violence is an epidemic, and it's not taken as seriously as it should be. There are not enough laws protecting trans people, and the homicides of trans people often stay unresolved. 

Workplace and housing discrimination

More than half of trans people face discrimination around housing and employment. Housing discrimination leads to a high rate of homelessness — 20% of trans people experience homelessness at some point in their lives. That in turn lowers their chance of getting a job thus reinforcing the cycle of poverty.

Racism and sexism

Five out of six trans people killed are women, and four out of five of those women are black. We need to admit that trans rights are human rights, and transphobic violence is also a feminist and racist issue. We need to tackle sexism and racism and include transgender people in the conversation about them. 

Social exclusion

When trans people are excluded by their peers at school or work, they can't focus on their education and careers. We need to raise awareness about transgender issues and trans experiences in schools and workplaces so that transgender people can feel safe and better connect with people around them.

How can you be a better trans ally?

  • Watch your language and discuss with your friends the impact offensive language may have. Ask people for their pronouns and never misgender or deadname trans people.
  • Educate yourself on the variety of trans experiences. The lives of trans women in New York City are very different from the lives of trans men in Brazil. 
  • Speak up for trans people and publicly address issues members of the community face. Highlight the importance of diversity, amplify trans voices, and share their stories to increase the visibility and awareness of trans people.
  • If you're a student, get to know the transgender students in your school. Find out whether they have access to organizations and resources where they can find support for their education. 
  • Participate in activities organized by your local trans community during Transgender Awareness Week. Support your local trans businesses, artists, and organizations all year round.


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