November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. This is a moment to gather together in a collective memorial for people killed because their gender identity does not fall within social construct norms. Gender is often a socially-constructed binary deeming how one ought to appear as male or female (Weir & Piquette, 2018). United States of America society correlates gender to one’s biological sex, yet gender performance ebbs and flows on a spectrum, shifting throughout generations and cultures. Transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people identify or express gender within the spectrum, while cis-gender people perform their gender according to the binary that matches biological sex.
TGNC are at higher risk of violent death
Because society affects individuals, it is important to recognize and name how much impact social structure has on those who break away from social construct and live into their authentic identity. One of the harshest and most significant impacts on TGNC people is the increased risk of violent death. In 1999 transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil in honor of Rita Hester, a transgender black woman violently killed in 1998. Smith’s actions became the first practice of Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual vigil in memorial of TGNC people killed in the past year (GLAAD, 2020). This year, a little over two decades later, Transgender Day of Remembrance will be tragically honoring a record amount of TGNC people who lost their lives to violent death. According to the Human Rights Campaign, as of November 1, 2020, at least 33 TGNC people have been killed within the United States. It is imperative to highlight that most of these victims are Black and LatinX transgender women. Unfortunately, even this count may be low because many transgender deaths continue to be underreported or misgendered in reports (Human Rights Campaign).
TGNC persons are at higher risk of poverty
While Transgender Day of Remembrance is valuable as an embodied and communal reminder that TGNC people are murdered every year due to their lived identities, other experiences of risk and violence go unsaid and unremembered the rest of the year. Transgender people are more likely to experience discrimination of housing, employment, education, health care, military and veteran status, as well as sexual assault and murder. Furthermore, people who have intersecting marginalized identities, especially transwomen and people of color, experience a disparate amount of discrimination and extreme violence, compared to other trans-identifying people (American Psychological Association, 2015; Weir & Piquette, 2018). Additionally, TGNC individuals may experience economic disparity as they are “four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 compared to cisgender people, and almost half of a sample of TGNC older adults reported a household income at or below 200% of poverty” (American Psychological Association, 2015, p. 838).
TGNC increased risk of violence
Because of life-impacting discrimination TGNC individuals may turn to distribution of drugs, “sex work or survival sex (e.g., trading sex for food)” (American Psychological Association, 2015, p. 839). Being pushed into illicit business potentially increases the risk of exposure to physical and sexual violence and death (Weir & Piquette, 2018). One study found “on average, transgender individuals experienced 3.97 physical attacks on their body, with half of these violent attacks attributed to one’s gender identity or expression” (Weir & Piquette, 2015). Needless to say, these adverse experiences compound and impact the mental health of TGNC individuals. Across studies, researchers found 44% to 60% of transgender participants experiencing depression, as well as 30% to 60% attempting suicide at least once (Weir & Piquette, 2018).
Honor TGNC lives November 20th
So, on November 20th please take a moment to join a community vigil, honoring the unnecessary violent deaths of 33 TGNC individuals this year, as well as find a way to year-around honor and offer a greater quality of life for those courageous and resilient TGNC human beings. To all those identifying as transgender and gender non-conforming: you are strong, courageous, and if you are struggling please do not be afraid to find trustworthy people, including therapists, who can fight on your behalf.
About the author– Rachel Zeller is a therapist at Pacific Mental Health, Seattle. They help clients with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma and grief. They also specialize in working with LGBTQIA+ adolescents and adults, treating the challenges that come with identity.
American Psychological Association. (2015). Guidelines for psychological practice with transgender and gender nonconforming people. American Psychologist, 70(9): 832-864. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039906
GLAAD. (n.d.) Transgender Day of Remembrance Nov 20. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.glaad.org/tdor
Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.) Fatal violence against the transgender and gender non-conforming community in 2020. Retrieved November 1, 2020, from https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020
Weir, C., & Piquette, N. (2018). Counselling transgender individuals: Issues and considerations. Canadian Psychology / Psychologie Canadienne, 59(3): 252-261. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cap0000129