By: Domonique Henderson
Monika Diamond, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Bree Black, Dior H. Ova, Queasha D. Hardy, and Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears (Human Rights Campaign, 2020). This is a list of names of transgender women or gender non-conforming people who have been killed this year. Often the killings of transgender people or gender non-conforming people are not reported compared to those not of trans experience. The transgender community has experienced significant loss and Black transgender women are at a higher risk of losing their lives. We will explore the intersectionality of Black transgender women, the violence they face in society, mental health concerns, and their needs. It is important to know that LGBTQIA+ is an acronym to represent those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersexed, agender, asexual, and ally. Queer is an umbrella term to describe those within the LGBTQIA+ community. Transgender “is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth” according to GLAAD (a media monitoring organization founded by LGBTQ people).
Please note the following information will discuss sexual assault, suicidal ideations, mental health, slavery, and violence, which may be a trauma reminder. If you would like to explore counseling or hotline services, please contact the Trans Lifeline’s Hotline (877) 565-8860, (713) 529-3211Burke Center (800) 392-8343, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-TALK (8255) or (800) SUICIDE, or Harris Center Crisis Line (866) 970-4770.
Intersectionality of Black Transgender Women in Society
Intersectionality considers the multilayered identities that an individual or group may align with (Wesp et al., 2019). Understanding intersectionality provides a foundation of knowledge to better perceive the experiences of transgender people (Wesp et al., 2019). Over the years, the mental health community has made efforts in studying, incorporating queer health in professional training, and advocating on behalf of the transgender community (Gerwe, 2019). However, there is still room for improvement in researching those who identify as transgender women, are non-white, and have multilayered identities (Gerwe, 2019). In society, African Americans have to take precautions to ensure their safety, tirelessly aim for equity and equality, and deal with the pressure of societal expectations, or ensure their counterparts feel safe. Within the culture of Black people, it is difficult for some families, parents, and friends to accept and respect queer people, especially transgender women and gender non-conforming individuals. Imagine the psychological stress of advocating for acceptance and equality in society, within your community, and within your family.
Some roots of discord regarding the acceptance of queer people in the Black community stem from slavery. It’s important to note how slavery and generational trauma contributes to this cultural stigma. The atrocities committed against enslaved Africans extend beyond what is read/taught in textbooks. What is often unspoken are the sexual misconducts of slaveholders to same-sex slaves. In some cases, slaveholders would force same-sex slaves to commit sexual transgressions with one another and sometimes with their same-sex master (Staidum, 2007). All of which connects to the generational trauma and difficulty in accepting the Black trans experience for some African Americans and subconscious desire to disassociate with the queer community. Within the Black community, the idea of being queer, let alone transgender, is complicated to comprehend, accept, and respect for some people.
Returning to the focus of intersectionality, it is important to consider how the previously briefly described experiences of Black people weigh on Black transgender women. The pressure is heavy enough without having to worry about passing as a woman, hormones, insurance coverage, elevated HIV risks, and seeking acceptance from family and friends.
Violence against Black Transgender Women
During the Black Lives Matter movement spiking after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the Black Trans Lives Matter movement also grew as the number of transgender people, especially Black trans women were murdered. The Black Trans Lives Matter movement differs from the Black Lives Matter movement because it focuses on the lives of Black transgender people and their experience within society. During protests and amid discussions about Black trans people and queer rights, folks learned about the contributions made by Black trans women to secure queer rights in this country such as Marsh P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracey, and Andrea Jenkins (Aviles, 2020). With such significant strides towards progression, the threat of violence is still a primary concern for the transgender community.
In 2019, at least 26 transgender people were murdered, and of that group, 22 were transgender women and 21 were Black transgender women (McBride, 2019). The National Center of Transgender Equality and the Human Rights Campaign reported for the year 2020, the trans community has lost 28 transgender or gender non-conforming people, and of that group, 21 were transgender women and 13 were African American. Being that the killings of trans people often go unreported or misreported, the data and identifying information currently consists of the lost lives that have been reported thus far. With such large numbers of Black transgender women losing their lives and experiencing violence, learning how intersectionality along with trauma contributes to mental illness within this group can assist health professionals in advocating for proper resources with research to support their advocacy.
Respect and Resilience
The transgender community is unapologetic in living their truth and celebrating their pride. Their sense of community is unyielding and creates an environment of acceptance and resilience for one another. Living with intersecting identities can be challenging, especially for minorities of the trans community. Nonetheless, consistent strength and resilience have been observed amongst transgender people despite discrimination and inequality. How can cisgender folks also provide this environment for transgender people? The first step to supporting transgender people is having respect for their humanity. The beauty of being human is our ability to live life in a way that brings happiness; and happiness looks different for each person. How can we advocate for the basic human rights of others or teach the human-first perspective, if trans people are dehumanized in society? How can we advocate that transgender people deserve to live in their truth without being subjected to conform to societal norms (such as heteronormative relationships) or fear of violence? Undoubtedly, those who are not of the trans experience will never understand the day to day circumstances of transgender people. Yet, all people understand what it is to want to be respected and seen as a human first. Fostering space for resilience and resources to support resilience within the trans community is vital as professional helpers and future mental health providers. How will you contribute to support resilience for transgender people?