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Cisgender Queer People Owe Transgender People

I was a transphobic piece of garbage.

I was the smallest chunk of trash soaking in the grimy pool of sludge leaking from the tiny hole in the trash bag. I had a heart that pumped compost juice instead of blood, and I purposely hurt people, great people.

There is no excuse for the harmful behavior I exhibited. I can’t say that I was too young. I can’t say that I was raised around transphobic people. All I can do is acknowledge who I was, hold myself accountable, and make sure that I check my privilege as a cisgender queer person.

I can never take back my transphobic actions, but I am forever indebted to the transgender community — as is the entire cisgender, queer community. We, cis-queer people, owe the transgender community more than we care to admit. Because like it or not — we’re all transphobic — and we have to make up for that.

When I researched underground ballroom culture, I watched Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning. I watched how older transgender women and genderqueer individuals took on leadership roles over queer youth who often lost their homes because of their sexual identity. They were mothers. They were mentors. They were everything a queer teen or young adult could wish for from their elders.

Also, transgender activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both prominent participants of The Stonewall Riots, are the reason us queer people are afforded a Pride month. With laws prohibiting their free gender expression, they — and many others — stood at the forefront of a long-lasting fight against anti-queerness and helped us win.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, another prominent transgender activist and participant of the Stonewall riots once said, “Just because there’s this umbrella — ‘LGBT’ — we’re all grouped together. But guess what? Someone poked a hole in the umbrella, and the girls are still getting wet.”

In other words, we’re grouped together, but it’s transgender people who are excluded from discussions about the LGBT community — this includes discussions that are about them.

I asked my transgender Twitter mutual, June, if she feels represented in the LGBTQ umbrella. She told me she feels visible, but undervalued.

“I definitely don’t feel erased, per se,” June said. “I think it’s very known when we’re in the room. But I would say that trans people are not cared for. Not valued in the same way that others are because we are always present.”

“As it relates to a formation of a larger community, I’d definitely say being acknowledged but unvalued is detrimental,” she continued. “No healthy family survives watching a member starve while others eat. Curiously enough though, we haven’t starved. I think that the trans community, so to speak, largely supports itself. On a very individual level, the girls stick together. We make our legacies by paving the way for the younger ones coming up behind us. We create our own systems for sharing information and other resources, and most of these things exist unaffected by the larger LGBT community — of course barring intersecting identities — mostly because there are many who don’t care to help us. And more who wouldn’t know where to start if they did.”

During Pride this year, Black transgender writer Tori Cooper wrote on Huffington Post, “The transgender community is often merely an afterthought in much of the modern LGBTQ movement.” 

While we celebrate our queerness, we often forget to include trans people. As transgender activist and media creator Raquel Willis said, trans voices are “often the target of ridicule and erasure.” We, the cisgender, queer community, are cognizant of this, but we don’t do enough to fix the problem. We just keep erasing trans people from every discussion, especially the discussions about them.

It is our job as cisgender people to converse with transgender people about how we could better include them in discussions about the LGBTQ community. It is our job to research opinion pieces written by transgender men and women. It is our job to be proactive. It is our job to check our cisgender privilege and transphobic behavior, then call out our transphobic friends and relatives. It is our job to make transgender people feel like they are members of the LGBTQ community — as the giant T at the end might indicate. We don’t have to engage in uncomfortable discussions about genitalia. We don’t have to tell transgender people how brave they are every thirty seconds. We have to listen to trans people. We have to fight for trans people the way they fight for us. We owe them.

Image via Getty


Arkee E.

Arkee E. is a writer based in the Bronx.

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