October is LGBTQ+ History Month! With that in mind, it feels like the perfect time to explore the ways in which we can all be better allies to transgender people in our community, as transgender folks tend to be the most marginalized facet of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to a talk by Dr. Bethany Grace Howe at the Driftwood Library in Lincoln City on this very topic. Dr. Howe is a parent, scholar, transgender woman, and a former teacher at Taft High School. She received her PhD from the University of Oregon, where she conducted research on the mental health impacts of transphobia. Specifically, her work examined the ways in which microaggressions impact transgender people in their day to day lives - and the results were staggering.
Microaggression: Everyday verbal, nonverbal, or environmental, often subtle, discrimination (whether intentional or not) against members of a marginalized group.
As a member of the trans community myself (although I identify as non-binary), I found myself nodding quite a bit while I listened to Dr. Howe speak about the myriad of ways that microaggressions impact trans folks. It happens all the time. It can be something as subtle as a "look" from someone else, or as overt as being told you do not belong in a certain space. (Anti-trans bathroom laws, for example.) Microaggressions don't just occur at the interpersonal level. Dr. Howe's research pointed to significant damage coming from media, as well. Particularly in our current sociopolitical climate, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for trans folks to escape the barrage of headlines and commentary by media personalities about anti-trans topics. Just as recently as this past week, the Supreme Court was hearing arguments about whether or not LGBTQ+ people should have workplace protections. Headlines like these, said Dr. Howe, can sometimes be the thing that pushes a trans person over the edge. For many trans people, these microaggressions are frequent occurrences in their daily lives, and can result in increased depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and even feeling suicidal. Imagine your very existence being invalidated day after day.
So how can allies better support the transgender members of their community? Be compassionate. If you're unsure about something, such as what pronouns to use, just ask! Take it as an opportunity to learn. Don't just assume that trans people should educate you about transgender issues - get out there and learn! Read books, read articles, and educate yourself. Validate a trans person's experience - validate their pain, their anger, and their sadness, even if you don't understand. Be an advocate. Find ways to support trans folks in your community. Speak up. If you see or hear something transphobic, don't stay silent - you might not have the power to change someone's mind, but you absolutely have the power to show that trans person that you care. You can show them they aren't alone. There is power in community...lets use it for good.
To learn more about Dr. Howe and her research, you can visit her website.