“Happy Trans Awareness Week”

Transgender Awareness Week 2021

I use that blog title with sarcasm because when it comes to Transgender Awareness Week there is nothing “happy” about it. I have woken up to private messages from people this week who I personally know who do see themselves as allies, and truly they are allies and I do appreciate them for this, but sometimes I feel like screaming or crying because this is not a time to be “happy”.

Before I continue I would like to acknowledge elders from the LGBTIQ+ communities. I want to express gratitude to these elders who, through tireless advocacy in the face of adversity, have paved the way for me to continue this important work, and there is a lot of important work that still needs to be done.

I ask myself all the time that if we had better support of our gender diverse communities, better education, and understanding of who we are as gender diverse people, would we still see transgender people in Australia be nearly 11 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, or would we still be working to uncover 15 transgender hate crime murders over the last 40 years in Australia. It is sad knowing we have struggled to find an accurate number of those who have been murdered due to anti-transgender attitudes.

The best way I can describe this is feeling is to imagine the loneliness one might feel during most family-focused holiday seasons. Now I love the holidays, and anyone who knows me knows how over the top I get with decorating and creating a welcoming space of joy encouraging laughter, and being aware of gratefulness, generally thinking of these holidays as a time of joy and love. Many people who live far from their families though miss seeing their loved ones during these holiday periods struggle with being a part of the festivities around them when hearing “happy wishes” at this time; I know some people who dread going to holiday parties and celebrations and end up staying home because of how hard it is. They aren’t happy during these times, this is not a happy time for transgender people. 

There are so many positive stories and successes that can be shared from the gender diverse communities (these include transgender, gender-diverse, and non-binary people but will refer to them as Transgender or Trans for short) there truly are, but then Transgender Awareness Week arrives and you are reminded in many shared articles that 2021 is set to be the deadliest year for transgender people since we began collecting data in 2008, it often feels like we are no longer working toward the same goals as part of the wider LGBTIQ+ community.

For those who aren’t aware, Transgender Awareness Week is celebrated annually in November from the 13th to the 19th and is a crucial time to uplift the voices and experiences of the transgender communities through education and action. The week’s activities culminate on November 20th, Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day in which transgender people, along with their allies, across the globe come together to memorialize those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence. This year we have 375 registered murders between 1 October 2020 and 30 September 2021. This represents a 7% increase from the 2020 update, which was already a 6% increase from the 2019 update. 

It’s fine if you don’t feel like you know very much about transgender people – a lot of people don’t. I am the first to admit we don’t make it very easy sometimes but reading what I have shared in this article so far you can have an understanding as to why. As a population, we make up around 1% of the population in Australia, but once again the recent census failed to accurately collect data on sex, sexual orientation, and gender diversity leaving the need for wider support like unemployment unknown. As a transgender person in the workplace, I am often the only visible or out transgender in that space that I or any others are aware of leaving the burden of representing an entire community on my shoulders as well as others like me. The lack of visibility doesn’t show we actually are a group of people who are living in every community, in every neighborhood, working in every industry, contributing positively to society, but there is just so much negativity around who we are as people.

I am often told “It all feels complicated and I’m frightened of saying the wrong thing”, which is why it is really important for individuals who are not transgender themselves to understand who we are as a people. Unfortunately, we find them judging us more for what we are and not for who we are, let alone learn about the barriers and challenges we as a people face when it comes to things like isolation, homelessness, employment, healthcare, aged care, issues at school, domestic violence, in restaurants, restrooms, our interactions with law enforcement, and if you’re part of other intersectional identities such as a person with a disability, or a person of color you are compounded even further by your gender diversity. 

Because we are lumped together in one acronym, LGBTIQ+, people often confuse being transgender or gender diverse, with sexual orientation. Being transgender isn’t the same thing as being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Gender identity is about how you identify as male, female, both, or none of these. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight describes emotional and sexual attraction to others, the person who you’re attracted to and who you feel drawn to romantically, emotionally, and sexually. The LGB community is not seeking surgery or hormone treatments. They love the same gender/sex; they don’t want to be a different gender. But it isn’t known that there is a lack of understanding among each of the L G B T I Q communities as a whole as well.

I admit I have started to feel slightly sour that most posts I make about this particular time and issue need to at least have two paragraphs explaining what this time, these days, and events mean. I am serious that as I am writing this my chest is tight and I have tears in my eyes. It is hard as an advocate to try to balance the use of your voice, often the most powerful tool I have in my arsenal, when it is honestly tired, angry, and sad and you are trying to pursue a “normalized” life as a societal minority within a career, balancing being a single parent, a relationship, etc. I never was very vocal before I came out because I did not have the same barriers as a “white man” vs a “queer woman”. I needed to learn to communicate publicly, assertively, and honestly for the rights and needs of myself and others like me. Speaking up is at the root of all social change and when you are a single minority person you sure as hell stand out.

You find yourself labeled as a difficult person, avoided professionally and socially, put in the too-hard basket, told you to need to hold back more, and called an angry “tranny” or many other labels. The best way to help understand the frustration is it feels like we aren’t progressing further because we are still educating people on the same things over my last 8 years of being out as a transgender woman. Also while pursuing this “normalized” life and standing up using my voice I take that risk to create a wedge between myself and a community I want to speak for. I know I do not speak for myself alone as an advocate but as “Mama Mish” I put my own issues aside and speak for the youth I have met over the years, the parents of those youth, the unemployed mid-career transgender people who now find themselves now unemployed post-transition, the parents who transitioned and now trying to navigate this social change, the transgender person who is in the midst of a divorce where their trans identity is used by the other spouse as evidence that the trans person is an unfit parent or even a danger to the children, the older generations who have finally left the workforce and not as afraid to be themselves, the list goes on.

It stands out to me that Trans Awareness Week in Australia falls at the same time as the statistics, quality, and integrity report was released to the public on 15 November 2017 for the Australian marriage law postal survey. Further on 9 December 2017, the right to marry in Australia was no longer determined by sex or gender. Based on conversations I have had in most workplaces most Australians think that now we have marriage equality, LGBTIQ+ people’s rights are fully respected. But they don’t realize, most states and territories imposed additional requirements for gender recognition of transgender people, requiring the person to undergo sexual reassignment surgery and, in jurisdictions until 2018, to divorce if married. The legalization of same-sex marriage in 2017 had the effect of removing the requirement to divorce if one was already married. This took effect on 9 December 2018, a year after marriage equality here in Australia for same-sex attracted people, unless the state or territory government has already removed this requirement beforehand, part of the reason why celebrating the Australian marriage law postal survey is not exactly a positive experience for many of us in the gender diverse communities. 

Some of the biggest battles we still face here in Australia as transgender people are Religious Discrimination Bills allowing direct discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity organizations or organizations such as Binary whose main goal is to affirm the “fact” that gender is binary and protect our children from the “LGBTI agenda”. Recently Senator Claire Chandler has announced she will be introducing a private members bill to get “sex” reintroduced into the Sex Discrimination Act, the definitions of male and female were removed in 2013 to make it more inclusive. Transgender as of May 2019 will no longer be classified as a mental and behavioral disorder, with some nations having until January 2022 to put the changes in place, under the World Health Organization’s global manual of diagnoses. Even the federal Fair Work Act does not provide protection on the basis of gender identity or intersex status. Only under federal laws and ACT, South Australian and Tasmanian laws are intersex statuses and non-binary gender identity explicitly protected from discrimination, recent proposed changes were voted against in an amendment to the Fair Work Act that would have protected transgender and intersex persons from discrimination at the workplace as part of the Respect@Work package.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has added even further pressure and complexities for the wider transgender community. During this time, many transgender people have been unable to provide in-person support to one another financially, emotionally, and physically. Plus globally we have seen an escalation in legislation that targets transgender, gender diverse, and non-binary people with such things as legislative anti-trans bills using biology, not identity, to determine bathroom usage, banning sports involvement, attempts to limit access to health care sends a very specific message to the trans community that we are not welcome. 

According to the website TGEU (Transgender Europe e.V.) TDoR 2021 data shows that:

  • 375 trans and gender-diverse people were murdered, 7% more than in the TMM update 2020;
  • Cases from Greece, Kazakhstan, and Malawi were reported for the first time;
  • 96% of those murdered globally were trans women or transfeminine people;
  • 58% of murdered trans people whose occupation is known were sex workers;
  • Murders of trans people in the United States have doubled from last year; people of colour make up 89% of the 53 trans people murdered;
  • 43% of the trans people murdered in Europe were migrants;
  • 36% of the murders took place on the street and 24% in their own residence;
  • The average age of those murdered is 30 years old; the youngest being 13 years old and the oldest 68 years old.

The majority of the data was collected from countries with an established network of trans and LGBTIQ+ organizations that conduct the monitoring. In most countries, data is not systematically collected. Most cases continue to go unreported and, when reported, receive very little attention. This is why many transgender people I have met over the years still feel the pressure of hiding their transgender identity for fear of discrimination and violence which can be a damaging experience and increase feelings of isolation, stigma, and shame for transgender people. Standing out as a transgender person can make someone a target for humiliation, discrimination, or violence daily.

Please take part by reaching out to a transgender friend and by sending your support during this difficult time. This is a time that transgender activists/advocates need to try and rally the wider LGB and heterosexual communities to help raise awareness of these barriers and challenges before the numbers get even worse. The marriage equality campaign is over and we need to finally highlight the fact that gender-diverse groups here in Australia were targeted by the “No Campaign”. We must use this as an opportunity to strongly recommit to transgender inclusion at all levels of our work, providing support to people who are transgender and advocating for protections at all levels of government, workplaces, schools, etc.

Don’t wish me “Happy Trans Awareness Week”. The truth is I am lonely being the only transgender person in most workplaces. I am sad by the laughter or violence in stores and cafes or on public transport for just living my life. I am angry to see numbers rising because people feel they have the right to destroy us in the most brutal ways possible because they see us as “less than”. I am sad to see the lack of change and support and understanding of the things shared above as the murder rates rise year on year, while the most we are able to do is keep educating on the same “101” principles of sexual diversity and gender diversity and avoid being labeled an angry “tranny” for speaking up.

Published by mishsheppard

Michelle's powerful combination of self and community shines through the platform of radio which has helped raised the public profile and national dialogue of transgender, gender diverse and intersex issues on a national scale. Surprisingly nothing is off limits with Michelle who connects with her audience brilliantly; obviously through her humor and unapologetic blunt honesty. She is often labelled as an inspiring advocate and role model for youth and adults alike and hers is a powerful story to tell. We know that when a woman has the support of her community, especially her sisters, she is unstoppable. Michelle’s wider support from the women around her, LGBTI+ or ally alike, has helped develop her own unstoppable resilience and body positive confidence that she inspires others with. Now a sought-after public speaker Michelle is admired for her bold public representation of the Transgender community as works to break through the barriers of unconscious bias, cultural and structural issues to ensure equality of opportunity for all Australian work spaces. Winner of the ANZ Excellence in Business Award, ‘LGBTI Jobs’ a relatively new project, they pair LGBTI graduates and jobseekers to companies that embrace inclusion initiatives. “We’ve started a business that helps anybody who’s in the LGBTI Community. We go to companies and see what they are you doing. This isn’t just for me, this is for the entire community and we are going to make a massive change.” Michelle was recently celebrated alongside some truly amazing individuals from our community as part of the ‘The LOTL Power List 2016’ as someone who does everything in their power to make life that little bit better for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities: sometimes with blood, sweat and tears; and sometimes just by being themselves. Michelle is also a finalist for ‘MTV – LGBTI Broadcaster and Presenter’ in the Australian LGBTI Awards 2017. Awards Globe Awards 2016 - ANZ Excellence in Business Award The LOTL Power List 2016 (28/40) Finalist for ‘MTV – LGBTI Broadcaster and Presenter’ in the Australian LGBTI Awards 2017

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