The Trans Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 in response to the murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman in Massachusetts. The violence against her sparked outrage within the queer and trans* community, leading to a vigil on December 4th, with over 250 people attending. Twenty-two years after the fact, she remains dead-named and misgendered in most local papers that covered her death at the time, her homicide is still unsolved, and trans people are still struggling to make her story known.
Is that what unites trans persons, what gives us all a common ground—the idea of a shared vulnerability, threat of violence, a common image of despair? Is it the fact that even when we are visible, it is for someone else’s profit, and represents someone else’s idea of us, instead of our own?
I reject this idea of trans unity. What brings us together can’t be the same as what hurts us; we cannot be romanticize and bond over our own oppression without making it central to our identities.
Is it, then, a love for liberation that we share? Are we united against what oppresses us?
Many trans people in the public eye have endorsed governments that pass regressive legislations. Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman and American TV personality, has famously endorsed Trump in the past, and has admitted to being a Republican with conservative views on gay marriage. Closer to home, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the first trans person to represent Asia-Pacific in the UN in 2008, has supported the construction of Ram Mandir, a decision that was met with quick and decisive backlash from the queer community, and has contributed to the idea of trans women as a “Hindu monolith”.
Several trans people declared support for the Transgender Persons Act (2019), too, despite numerous protests against problematic aspects of the law, including the requirement of a certificate to “prove” one’s gender identity.
This is no small difference of opinion but a matter of privilege within the trans community, about who can support an oppressive law versus who is oppressed because of it. There is an ardent need to understand intersectionality within the community. Here, intersectionality does not only mean the ways in which marginalization is made more pervasive or multiple-fold, but the ways in which identities influence each other, for instance, how homonegativity and the caste system are used to perpetuate one another using the idea of maintenance of a “pure race”.
Smiley Vidhya, a Dalit-trans woman actor and activist has spoken about how cis-normativity and caste hierarchies can operate in similar ways. She notes that members of the trans community are forced into begging or sex work, similar to the “occupational fixity” of Dalit persons. These are similar to the views of Grace Banu, India’s first trans engineer, who remarks that the cis-brahmanical patriarchy oppresses Dalit-trans persons by viewing sex work and begging as unacceptable forms of labour, and seeing them as “polluting” the idea of morality.
Intersectionality means that not only do persons with colluding identities face violence on one ground at a time, and on multiple grounds at the same time, but also that the forms of discrimination faced are “qualitatively different” than for those who only share one of the identity markers.
Hence, perhaps it is more important to understand the nuances between us than it is to understand what we have in common (especially since we appear to have little in common to begin with).
The trans community differs greatly along the lines of identity, presentation, caste, class, and even our views on transness itself. It can be tempting but problematic to want to establish a common ground that brings us together, or that makes us who we are. There are no “markers” that establish one as trans, and an effort to develop any would result in the creation of another norm, which is the precise opposite of the goal of gender resistance.
One can be as gender conforming or non-conforming as they like, can be conservative, liberal, or leftist, and still have a completely valid gender identity. Transness does not absolve one of queerphobia, and queerphobic behaviour does not negate one’s trans identity.
The unifying factor is that there is none. Transness rejects homogeneity.