Ideas to Make the World Better for Trans Folks, from a Trans Wizard Activist
by Kiran Kumar (they/he)
Ideas for casting your Protego spell
Content warning: transphobia, racism, censored slurs, death
Safe spaces are so, so important. As a South Asian trans boy who lives in the South-ish, finding a space where I feel safe has been a real challenge. While I’m still a teenager, I can’t recall feeling welcome in a professional setting, and the common factor has always been race — or gender-based prejudice and discrimination. It’s an ongoing issue that marginalized communities face everyday — and, to be honest, that sucks to deal with on a daily basis.
Over the years I’ve dealt with discrimination and bullying, and it leaves a lasting impression. Oppression has a real impact on our mental health. I’ve been to a bunch of treatment programs, from alternative schools to inpatient programs to all the therapists my insurance will pay for. I’ve been transferred and placed in special education in my school, and what I’ve learned through all of it is that, while therapy and treatment can be helpful, they don’t stop oppression and bullying.
Transphobia and racism pop up everywhere I turn. Everywhere I go, the bathrooms are always gendered and transphobic “bathroom bills” keep getting in the news. Everyone around me acts like my trans identity is a “phase” I will grow out of — as if the sun could grow out of being a burning ball of gas in the sky (okay, yes, it’s going to burn itself out eventually but you understand what I mean). People of color are targets of violence everywhere, including in my own town where people have called me a “dirty t*rrorist” and thrown honest-to-God rocks at me. Hate-speech gets flung around like a Golden Snitch on the Quidditch pitch, and it’s become so commonplace that often no one does anything about it. We live in a society built on queerphobic and racist structures, and sometimes it seems, in my everyday life, like no one cares to try and undo the damage they’re doing.
But we can be different. There are steps that fans and activists can take as a community to help create safer spaces and prevent terrible experiences like the ones I’ve been through. We can decrease the stigma and increase the education around non-binary gender identities. We can encourage ourselves and others to stop assuming we know someone’s gender based on their appearance. We can check out action guides, like the Protego toolkit, that help us build safer spaces.
Think about it: our lack of safe spaces for trans people of color is a reflection on all of us. Do you ever feel so anxious that your stomach feels like it’s caving in? Has it ever happened to you over something as mundane as a restroom? When having to go to the bathroom becomes a political statement, you know something is very wrong with society. One way we can fix that wrong is to make bathrooms gender neutral. Just let people pee in the restrooms they want, because it’s no one else’s business. We’re not going to attack you — in fact, trans people are more likely to be victims of violence at the hands of cisgender people. Supporting bathroom bills and denying the reality of violence against trans people protects the oppressors from threats that don’t exist and allows them to get away with hate crimes.
Another thing I believe helps make spaces safer for transgender people is when we spread awareness about marginalized identities and demystify them. Some schools or businesses have mandatory seminars to educate their teachers and employees about different identities, how to address people properly, and ways to demonstrate respect and support. All employers — especially those that work with young people and the public — should offer these trainings.
Employers, schools, and other organizations could also provide resources to spread awareness beyond their doors. I don’t have enough time in a day to educate everyone I meet on how to be a decent person and ally, and I shouldn’t have to. But, education is important to me, so I do carry around mini pamphlets to give to people if they misgender someone or say something offensive. Why can’t workplaces, businesses and schools do the same? Hold seminars, pass out pamphlets, spread the word about people like us. Just help people learn — maybe if they understand us, they won’t be so hateful and afraid.
Education can also go a long way in reminding us to stop gendering people based on their appearance. Have you ever noticed how we tend to immediately gender someone as soon as we see them? We do this because we’ve been taught to do it, but that doesn’t mean it is natural or positive. For example, I take the Metro quite frequently. I could describe the people I meet there as male or female, but I don’t really know that about them. I don’t know a stranger’s gender identity, or what pronouns they use. I don’t know what makes them uncomfortable. Hell, I don’t know their name. But I know that when I see an ethereal, incredibly dressed person with the greatest contour I’ve ever seen (as I did the other day on the train), I want to honor their awesomeness. Honestly, there aren’t many people who can rock a fuchsia pantsuit, mustard yellow lipstick, and a neatly trimmed beard, but they were doing it wonderfully. So, if I can’t ask someone their pronouns — such as when I don’t want to make someone uncomfortable or unintentionally force them to out themselves on the train — I use they/them/their pronouns. This is an easy and common solution for people you don’t know, regardless of outwards presentation. If you can safely ask someone’s pronouns, do.
Remember that outward appearance doesn’t equal identity. How society expects you to look doesn’t change who you are. I’m a trans boy, even if you wouldn’t know it just by looking at me and my “traditionally feminine” appearance. I know that some trans women love wearing makeup, but I also I know a trans woman who feels most comfortable shopping in the men’s sections at stores and despises wearing cosmetics. How someone presents does not define who they are — what matters is that everyone feel safe and accepted enough to present however they want.
To that point, we still have work to do. If you’re a cis man, a trans man, a cis woman, a trans woman, a nonbinary person, an intersex person or anybody, what’s stopping you from wearing a dress? It might be disinterest, or anxiety, or a very real fear arising from the historical and current treatment of trans people.
How we regulate gender isn’t even really consistent: In Western culture, it’s totally accepted that everyone can wear pants — why can’t everybody wear make up? Why do people think wearing eyeliner invalidates my masculinity? I want us to live in a world where everyone can present in a way that feels true to them, but today, many people are still holding off. They are waiting — longing — to have a safe space, free from prejudice and hatred.
We can and we must be part of building that safe space for everyone. Start by treating trans people with respect. Help others in your life to stop automatically gendering others. Stand up when people say cruel, bigoted things. Listen when trans folks tell our own narrative. Educate others. Cast a Protego spell, and help make the world safer for people in your community — people just like me.
About the Author:
Kiran (he/them) is a Slytherin trans boy who’s super passionate about cartoons, superheroes and that giant dissertation and zine they wrote about marginalized identities in Harry Potter. Also, he thinks sparkles are pretty rad. Feel free to hit them up on social media (@hlfbloodprincex on twitter) for lots of livetweeting shows and Star Wars.