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T is for talk: creating awareness about the experiences of trans* folk

Social Change

Last week, the YWCA Anti Sexualization Task Force invited QMUNITY to deliver training and answer questions about the LGBTQ community.

The experience was enlightening and a great reminder that sexualization affects a broad range of people in our communities and we must stay informed on the various impacts it has.

Here are just a few of the things we learned. 

The silent T

When conversations about equality and basic human rights take place for members of the LGBTQ community, the T is often ignored, silenced or pushed to the side. This exclusion of trans* folk has led to the expression: the Silent T

Talking about the T can be intimidating because it comes as a new experience with new language and unfamiliar nuances, but it is up to us to overcome these barriers and bring awareness and understanding to this issue. 

This terminology guide will assist you in navigating any unfamiliar language you may encounter - from words like cisgender to concepts like trans*misogyny.

A key learning from last week’s session that resonates strongly with the work of the YWCA is the concept of developing allies. Whether it is encouraging men and boys to take action on violence against women or working to connect with groups outside of our own circles. Being an ally gives us the power to create safer places for communities who are often silenced.  For helpful tips, check out this guide on how to be an ally.

Skewed representations

The team from QMUNITY reinforced the power of developing a critical eye for the way trans* folk are portrayed in the media. According to QMUNITY Education/Outreach Developer, Robin Parry, images in the media pertaining to members of trans* communities are often sexist, harmful and stereotypical. 

Lucas Wilson, a QMUNITY GabYouth Worker, pointed to a common gimmick used in many plotlines: men or women dress up as the opposite sex, eventually evoking feelings of betrayal in other characters as they learn of their ‘deception’. He added that trans* women are more often than not sexualized in their portrayals – her sexuality becomes an integral part of her story, at the expense of her other characteristics – a defining characteristic of sexualization.

Think back and try to remember the numerous times you’ve seen this storyline in movies, TV shows and even plays. (Does the Merchant of Venice ring a bell or She’s the Man? How about White Chicks?) 

These harmful images stay with us beyond the on-screen world and negatively shape the way people think about trans* folk. 

The impacts on trans* communities

The 2013 annual report on Hate Crimes against LGBTQH (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer, HIV-infected) communities released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, paints an unsettling picture of the violence against trans* individuals. The report shows that almost three-quarters (72%) of hate crime homicide victims were trans* women, and that they also face more severe and deadly forms of violence while simultaneously having less access to anti-violence services and support.

It may be hard to imagine the extent to which gender expression effects the life of a trans* person, so here is a helpful guide which highlights some of the challenges faced by trans* folk. It delves into a range of issues—from the legal challenges of obtaining pieces of ID to parenting. 

However, efforts to be more inclusive to trans* folk are happening: take a look at the steps the Park Board is taking to make Vancouver the ‘most inclusive city in the world’ by approving the recommendation to install new universal signage for all single stall washrooms and changing rooms to make it clear that trans* and gender variant people are welcome.

Having our new friends from QMUNITY come and talk to us about these issues was a reminder that we must continue to build allies, learn about the range of issues related to sexualization and gender-based violence and work together to build stronger communities that educate the public and advocate for change.

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